Proposed aid for left-leaning center sparks bond dispute

A proposal to give more than $300,000 in state assistance to a New Haven community center with ties to the Communist Party was pulled abruptly off the State Bond Commission agenda Friday.

And while Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose budget office sets the agenda, insisted the item was tabled only because the New Haven People’s Center wasn’t ready to use the funds, a key Republican on the commission called the proposal an inappropriate use of state funds and charged the administration with conducting sloppy research.

“An organization like this should never have made it onto the bond commission agenda,” Rep. Sean J. Williams of Watertown, one of two Republicans on the 10-member bond panel, said after Friday’s meeting. “The responsibility of the governor and his budget office is to vet this stuff.”

Williams was referring to a proposal to give a $343,500 grant to the Progressive Education and Research Associates, a nonprofit entity that runs the New Haven center. According to the center’s website, it is “a meeting place of labor, community, peace and social justice groups.”

It hosts the Connecticut bureau of the communist newspaper “People’s World.” But the center also provides space for poetry, music and film, various training programs, meetings for community groups and Food Not Bombs — an anti-hunger, peace organization.

The center also is a site on the state’s African American Freedom Trail.

Malloy declined after the meeting to discuss the proposed funding, which would have paid for masonry repairs, new roofing and other improvements to the center at 37 Howe St. The governor referred questions to his budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes.

But during the meeting, both Barnes and Malloy said the proposed funding was being pulled from the bond commission’s agenda at the request of a Progressive Education and Research Associates.

“The project is not ready to go forward,” the governor said.

Barnes also told Williams that political affiliation is not a factor when the administration weighs applications for bonded state assistance.


“We don’t make decisions based on the political leanings of leaders of organizations,” OPM spokesman Gian-Carl Casa added afterward. “The project was pulled at the request of the delegation member that originally submitted it. It may be resubmitted in the future. The administration is satisfied that the project is eligible for funding once any concerns of its legislative sponsors are resolved.”


Still, Williams said afterward that the center’s political connections are significant enough — regardless of where they lie on the political spectrum — that they shouldn’t be receiving public assistance.

A representative of the center and of Progressive Education, Joelle Fishman, could not be reached for comment immediately after Friday’s meeting. Fishman chairs the Connecticut Communist Party.