Archive for March, 2010

Downtown Hartford’s Oldest Restaurant Closes
March 29, 2010

Long time city eatery and gathering place Hot Tomato’s has closed.    The sign on the door says “closed for renovations,” but sources told Eyewitness News the restaurant known for garlic cheese bread simply shut down suddenly for no reason.   I am waiting for owner Melissa Altman to return my telephone messages to get her side of the story.

Hot Tomato’s has been a downtown mainstay for nearly 30 years, and in all the times I have eaten there it was busy.     That’s why I doubt the closing is related to the economy.   The renovations story sounds  a little hard to believe for a few reasons:

1.      A high ranking Hot Tomato’s employee told me he has been told not to talk to reporters for “legal reasons.”       What would be harmful about answering my question about when the renovations will begin, and when the restaurant will re-open?

2.      A source who works at another downtown restaurant told me Hot Tomato’s employees have been calling looking for work.  

3.      That source also told me the owner of Hot Tomato’s is looking to sell items from the restaurant, including wine.

4.       Hot Tomato’s just unveiled a brand new wine room on Valentine’s Day.  Why would they close for more renovations a month later?

5.       The spring is the worst time to renovate a restaurant because it is a busy season.   Rehearsal dinners, bridal showers, graduation parties, etc.,  not to mention the weather starts to get nice and Hot Tomato’s has an outdoor patio overlooking the State Capitol and Bushnell Park. 

We do know that former Hot Tomato’s general manager Jimmy Cosgrove recently opened a new restaurant on the other end of side of Bushnell Park.  “Salute” is off to a great start, and several former Hot Tomato workers are now there.    Many Hot Tomato’s customers have also become regulars at Salute.    We should also mention that the Tavern restaurant on Allyn Street will honor the Hot Tomato’s  “Better Connecticut” deals that were issued not long ago. 

If you have a Hot Tomato’s gift certificate you may want to contact the Attorney General’s office of Department of Consumer Protection.

We’ll keep you posted.

Back from Vacation
March 29, 2010

The Houses:  L-R rear   Chris, Jodi, Kara, Dennis  L-R front Tommy, Matt, Julian and Helena

I’m back from a week in South Florida visiting my brother, sister-in-law, and their children.  They moved to Naples in December,  having had enough of  New England winters.     They are not alone.  We saw plenty of license plates from cold climate states, with Michigan taking the prize as the license plate we saw the most. 

We also visited Fort Lauderdale, where I went to Spring Break with my college buddies in the 1980s and lived briefly for a winter after college.   The old Spring Break haunts like Penrod’s and the Button are gone, along with the cheap oceanfront motels that lined the strip, including the one where we crammed nine people into one room   It was crowded, but the price was right.  Fort Lauderdale has since gone upscale, building luxury hotels and high rise condominiums.  The spring breakers have moved on to other locales.

We drove by my old apartment which is slated for the wrecking ball along with the neighboring Howard Johnson’s hotel that Kara visited during a vacation 20 odd years ago.  Truth be told, I kind of miss the old Fort Lauderdale. 

the old pad surrounded by chain link fence, overgrown trees,  and “keep out” signs

Fedele’s Big Chance
March 29, 2010

Lt. Governor Michael Fedele is in charge of the state until Wednesday.  Governor Rell is out of state, due to return Tuesday night  after a trip to  Colorado to visit family.

This is a  great opportunity for Fedele to show off his gubernatorial skills.   The City of Norwich is bracing for flooding from the Yantic River and if disaster strikes, the Lt. Governor will be front and center.   

That’s a photo op Ned Lamont and Tom Foley just cannot buy.

How a person handles a storm or weather crisis can define him or her politically.  Governor Tom Meskill’s ski trip during an ice storm sealed his fate as a one term governor.  Governor Ella Grasso’s handling of the Blizzard of 1978 raised her popularity and helped define her legacy.  Depending on what happens in Norwich, Lt. Governor Fedele will get to show voters what he is made of.

More on Eyewitness News tonight.

Rell and Rowland at St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast
March 17, 2010

Kara and I attended the annual Archbishop’s St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at the Connecticut Convention Center, along with a thousand other people.  We usually go every year and it is a great event for a great cause.     I was the featured speaker a few years back, invited to talk about my education at Catholic schools, which are the beneficiary of the breakfast.

It is a must attend event if you are in politics, and today was no exception.   Linda McMahon was there, beaming over her new poll numbers.  Oz Greibel was there telling me about some new endorsements and Lt. Governor Michael Fedele was talking about his news conference planned for later in the day.  He also ribbed me about what he perceived to be negative comments about him in my blog.   I told the Lt. Governor Fedele I had only written about how the lack of an endorsement from Governor Rell was hurting his candidacy.

Speaking of Governor Rell, Kara and I spotted her walking by our table as we were talking to former Governor John Rowland, who was seated at our table reserved for former breakfast speakers.  Rowland is also an Catholic school alum.    For a few seconds,  the former ticket that made Connecticut history by being elected three times, were within inches of each other.    The Governor was then seated at the adjacent table with breakfast organizer and our friend Laura Flynn Baldini.   Kara and I went over to the Governor and we chatted briefly about her grandchildren.    To give you a sense of how close we were, if I had stretched out my arms, one would have touched Governor Rell and the other former Governor Rowland.  Wouldn’t you love to see them both during a joint appearance on “Face the State?”

The reporters in us were waiting for Rell and Rowland to have some sort of an encounter, talk or shake hands or even exchange a glance, but we saw none of that.    Although, out of fairness it is possible they did so after the breakfast was over when people were walking out of the Convention Center.    As soon as the breakfast was over, both were approached by several people wanting to talk to them.

They certainly didn’t seem tense about their dining  proximity that was noticed by many people.  I had to wonder what Governor Rowland was thinking sitting in this beautiful massive building in the massive Adriaen’s Landing development, none of which would have been built without him.    Judging by the steady stream of visitors to the table, people still want to talk to John Rowland despite his irrevocable status as a convicted felon.    I have heard from several people, even Democrats (especially Hartford Democrats)  who still say he is their favorite governor.

For the  record though, more people were lined up to say hi to Governor Rell.

Hartford St. Patrick’s Day Parade 2010
March 15, 2010

One of my favorite days in Hartford is the St. Patrick’s Day parade.   It gets bigger every year, and even though the rain kept some people home, it was still a very good turnout.   Marchers come from all over Metro Hartford and spectators number in the tens of thousands.

I did notice fewer families this year, and that was to be expected considering the weather.  It was raw, wet and cold.  In fact, Kara stayed home with the kids while I was in the parade with some of my Channel 3 colleagues:  Irene O’Connor (whose husband stayed home with their kids,) Hallie Jackson, Heather Hegedus, and Mark Dixon.     We decided to put the top down on the 1965 Buick Electra and really we didn’t get too wet.

Parade goers fill up the sidewalks, stoops, and bars.    This was the scene outside McKinnon’s on Asylum. 

If you have youngsters you may not want to camp out in front of a bar, so I would recommend Bushnell Park or the Wadsworth Atheneum areas.   Great places to see the parade, alcohol free.

My favorite stretch of the route is Capitol Avenue between Hudson Street and Main Street, my old neighborhood:  SoDo, for South Downtown.  The folks who live there and across the street in the Linden look forward to parade day for months.  They throw parties, decorate their brownstones, and give the parade marchers a boisterous reception.    I’m always amazed by the people who are stunned that there is fun in their own capital city.   Whenever people would visit our neighborhood they were pleasantly surprised to learn that young professionals lived there, lots of them.  This past weekend, I met someone from West Hartford who has never been to the parade.    That stunned me.  

Here is a picture fellow blogger Kerri Provost took of us in a rain drenched SoDo:

When Kara and I lived there we were part of the celebrations for several years, along with Irene and her husband (they were our neighbors on the block.)   Now that we have children we live in neighborhoods with yards and swingsets but we fondly remembers those parade days on Capitol Avenue.     We still get people (Al Terzi, Scot Haney) and others who miss coming to our home to watch the parade. 

The old neighborhood:

Mark your calendars for March 12, 2011.  Plans are already underway for next years’s parade.

Downtown Hartford Loses Only Bookstore
March 12, 2010

Downtown Hartford’s only bookstore is no more.   The Catholic Book Store on Market Street closed its doors last week and headed for suburbia, a story that is becoming all too familiar to Connecticut’s capital city.      This fall would have marked 50 years in business downtown, but the store just couldn’t make it. 

Store manager Donna Doutney told me Hartford had changed.   There are fewer people downtown these days, and many people don’t want the hassle of parking.   

The store wasn’t a typical bookstore…those shops left Hartford years ago, but it sold religious books and items, that made great gifts for religious occasions.   Denise, Kara Al, and I along  with many other Channel 3 folks often went there for christening items and the like.    The people who worked there were always friendly and helpful.

The store will re-open in Bloomfield. 

Sometimes I’m amazed that when I moved to Hartford in 1992 I could shop at a major department store (G. Fox,)  buy clothes at the GAP, see an NHL game, buy UConn and Whalers souvenirs at a store, and plenty of other things.

Malloy: “Maybe” on Tolls
March 11, 2010

Dan Malloy is against tolls, but might sign them into law if a bill ended up on his desk.    During a taping of “Face the State” the former mayor of Stamford gave the conditions needed for tolls to be resurrected here.   

Malloy is a “Face the State” veteran,  having appeared on the program several times since his first run for governor in 2006.    He knows the drill and is very television savvy, answering questions succinctly from our panel of Daniela Altimari of the Hartford Courant and Ted Mann of the New London Day.    However, our  final question he obviously did not like.

In February of 2009,  Malloy was asked if he agreed with calls by the New York Times and the  Courant and the New York Times that Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez should resign.    Here is what he told the Courant’s Chris Keating:

          “I’ll give you a prediction. I predict that Eddie will rapidly do what’s in the best interests of the city, and I think he needs the time to figure that out,” “But I think that decision is going to come much more rapidly than any of us think. Eddie loves this city. He’s going to do the right thing for the city.”     

Thirteen months later, I read this quote to Malloy and asked him what Mayor Perez should do now.   When you watch on Sunday you’ll see how Malloy wished this quote had never been recited and the question had never been asked.   After all,  Mayor Perez was a big supporter of his in 2006, and Malloy needs those Perez supporters this year.    I followed up by asking Malloy if he could have run the city of Stamford while being in court all day.   “That would be tough,” Malloy said, obviously relieved the taping of “Face the State” was nearing an end.

The Perez issue was a small part of the end of the show, the bulk of “Face” was spent on all sorts of other questions.  When asked about Governor Rell’s new plan to rebuild the UConn Health Center,  Malloy was critical of it.   Malloy called the budget crisis a “bipartisan train wreck,” and was asked whether the Democratic leadership in the General Assembly also needs to be changed.    We talked transportation, infrastructure, Sunday liquor sales, the brain drain, Connecticut’s lack of coolness, whether the state should buy cars built overseas and more.    There is a good exchange about keeping jobs here in Connecticut. 

Daniela asked Malloy to spell out the differences between him and his fellow Democrat Ned Lamont, and Ted followed up the hot button issue of paid sick time.

Another short but “must see tv” moment of “Face the State?”     Archival footage of our political analyst Duby McDowell as we wish her a very happy 50th birthday. 

See you Sunday at 11.  Photography courtesy our Face the State intern Joe Melillo.

Can the City Council Remove Mayor Perez?
March 10, 2010

The Hartford Courant has called for Mayor Eddie Perez to step aside, at least until his trial is over.    The state’s largest newspaper summed up the feelings of many city residents and supporters of Hartford who live in the suburbs with this line:

          “A man accused of corruption should not be this struggling city’s public face.  It just isn’t fair.”

If the Mayor doesn’t take the cue from the state’s biggest newspaper he will likely become embroiled in an ugly debate at City Hall.    It is highly likely some members of the city council, pressured by constituents, business leaders, and state lawmakers, will be forced to look into what power they might have to temporarily strip Mayor Perez of his powers.   This issue was raised last year when Eyewitness News questioned who will run the city during the Mayor’s absence at trial.    This week   Channel 3′s Hallie Jackson asked Mayor Perez that very  question, and his answer, well, wasn’t an answer, at least not to that question.  She rephrased the question and asked it again, and again did not get a specific answer. 

When the Mayor stands trial, he will be in court for most of the business day.  Experts have told us they expect the trial to last four to five weeks.   Mayor Perez won’t be able to answer his cell phone in court, and I can’t imagine the judge will allow him to leave the courtroom whenever he wants.     The Courant spelled out the concerns of many:

“Hartford, with all its troubles, needs a chief executive working overtime to prevent more flight, to create jobs, to fight crime, and to make a budget that keeps taxes down if that’s possible, but one that provides good basic services for the city’s residents.  A man fighting for his reputation and his freedom in a courtroom is not likely to be that executive.” 

So what can the city council do?   I’m told the City Charter does allow the council to remove a mayor if that person becomes incapacitated.   There’ll be a big argument over it, but Mayor Perez will be incapable of his carrying out his duties by virtue of his confinement in court.    He would still be paid during this leave, but the Deputy Mayor would make sure the city has a 24/7 chief executive.   

Such a battle between council members, attorneys, the Mayor and his supporters will certainly bring more negative attention to your capital city.   

There is no doubt about it, the corruption scandal gripping City Hall is damaging the city.    It used to be we were known around the country for the Whalers.  Now, it is for scandal.   A buddy of mine from Pittsburgh learned about our Mayor getting arrested in his paper, and ribbed me about it.  “Hey, Den…first it is your Governor, now the Mayor, what is the deal?    That rap also tarnishes the suburbs, especially the ones with “Hartford”  in their names.     If you live outside New England, you don’t know West Hartford from West Palm Beach…you just know Hartford, and you don’t hear good things about it.

We don’t know for sure how much the Perez scandal is impacting business, but look around downtown.  There are plenty of empty storefronts, even while new shops and restaurants pop up in suburbia.   The Aldi supermarket chain just spent millions opening several new stores in Metro Hartford.    They opened stores in East Hartford, West Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, New Britain and Vernon.  They did not come to the most populous community in the region, you know where the call of “we need a grocery store” couldn’t be louder.   The same city where a brand new empty grocery store sits at the base of a brand new skyscraper financed by the state?  There are vacant lots, some city owned that could easily have housed a store.   It is definitely curious.  Why did Aldi avoid Hartford?      You can’t use the argument Aldi doesn’t like urban areas because it also has stores in Waterbury and New Haven. 

I’m going to venture to guess there are people who do not want to do business with the city right now because of Mayor Perez and his legal situation.    It’s uncomfortable.  Does a developer, investor or business leader want to negotiate with someone who could be headed to prison?   

Here at Channel 3 we are not allowed to make public appearances with the Mayor at this time because of his pending trial.     News anchors often serve as emcees at various events, and as part of our job, we occasionally introduce dignitaries.   We will not be appearing with the Mayor in an emcee capacity unless he is acquitted.   Other television stations undoubtedly have similar policies.   I have turned down invitations, including an offer to emcee Hartford’s 375th birthday celebration.   

Mayor Perez is innocent until proven guilty.   The serious allegations against him and the pressure of a trial are burdensome for him and his family.     The Mayor has said he loves the city, and I don’t think anyone doubts that.   But since the Mayor was arrested more than a year ago, the city he loves has suffered, and that should be a burden to him, too.

Here is a link to the Courant Editorial  http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/editorials/hc-mayor-perez-should-go.artmar10,0,4053224.story

Foley: Blumenthal’s Lawsuits Hurt Connecticut
March 4, 2010

 Tom Foley has become  the second Republican candidate for Governor to break ranks with Governor Rell.  During a taping of “Face the State” the former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland was asked about Rell’s controversial decision to skip 4 out the past 5 meetings of the National Governor’s Association, even though her office shelled out more than $450,000 in NGA dues.   Dues paid by you, the taxpayer.    Foley said  membership in NGA is important and he would have gone to those meetings if he was governor.

Foley also said he would have been a better negotiator than Governor Rell, and would have vetoed the Democrats budget, and said Rell should have done just that.     He also disagrees with Rell’s opposition to Sunday liquor sales, saying the government shouldn’t be preventing one type of business from opening.

The Greenwich businessman also disagreed with Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s claim that his lawsuits create jobs, a subject that came up during this week’s senate debate .   Albert      Foley argued Blumenthal’s legal actions hurt the state and the economy.   You can see more of his explanation and answers to other issues this Sunday at 11AM for the entire interview.    Our guest reporters Fran Schneidau of WCBS Newsradio 880 and Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer.

Fran Fans
March 4, 2010

The excitement in the air was palpable as staffers here at Channel 3 awaited the arrival of a guest for Face the State.    Was it Rudy Giuiliani, Linda McMahon, or one of the other celebrity politicians who have walked through the WFSB doors?    Nope.  It was a woman very few people have actually ever seen:   legendary radio reporter Fran Schneidau.   Yes, the Connecticut bureau chief for one of the most powerful radio stations in America, WCBS Newsradio 880 had come to Channel 3.  

Schneidau is part of our guest reporter panel this Sunday on Face the State along with Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer.    When she arrived at our studios, a small crowd was waiting to meet her.   Denise stayed late to express her admiration for a trailblazer in journalism.   “Your generation paved the way for women like me,” Denise gushed.  Susan Raff came over, as did Len Besthoff and others.    Our intern also posed for a picture with Fran, a woman he said he grew up listening to.    Kara spoke to her over the phone, bummedf about not being able to come in and meet this broadcasting icon in person.  One of our associate producers who also works in radio, later confessed he was so starstruck he couldn’t muster the courage to come over and meet Fran!

 Schneidau has been a fixture on  880 for 33 years, and that was not her first radio job.  Before radio she was a trader on Wall Street.  She’s a mother, and a grandmother with no plans to retire.   She is also a “Face the State” junkie who brags she never misses a show.   

Schneidau is a hard nosed reporter who has covered it all here in our state, from the Rowland resignation scandal to the Skakel trial to the Mianus River Bridge collapse.  I remember seeing her back in the early 90s when we both covered that Woody Allen Soon-Yi Previn nonsense in New Haven and Bridgewater.

We are honored to have Fran Schneidau on our air.   This is only the second time in her career she’s been on television. 

Tune in this Sunday at 11AM to watch Fran help question Former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, who is running for governor.

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