A New Haven community center whose bid for a state rehabilitation grant stalled due to its ties with the Communist Party has apparently won the blessing of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration.

Malloy’s budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, confirmed Thursday that the center’s request for $300,000 to upgrade a facility that houses, arts, youth development, and other social service programs, would be placed on the commission’s June 4 agenda.

OPM sets the agenda for the bond commission, which is chaired by the governor, has sole authority to determine when — if ever — state government actually will finance most capital projects approved by the legislature.

“They clearly have a community mission,” Barnes said, adding that state government routinely finances capital improvements for private, nonprofits with a community-based mission, such as Progressive Education and Research Associates, which runs the New Haven center at 37 Howe St.

But the administration pulled the funding off the bond commission’s April 27 agenda moments before the meeting began. Malloy said the matter was tabled because the administration learned planned masonry work, roof repairs and other improvements weren’t ready to begin.

But a key Republican on the bond panel, Rep. Sean Williams of Watertown, said the proposal had stalled in part because of the center’s ties to a political entity, adding that the project would be an inappropriate use of state funds.

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.” The chairwoman of the Connecticut Communist Party, Joelle Fishman, serves on the center’s governing board.

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 site is recognized on the state’s African American Freedom Trail.

Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, who asked the administration to consider releasing funds for the project, said Thursday that “this is a center that is really important to the community. If they are political, it is with a small ‘p.’”

Since funding stalled in late April, Harp said she has heard from several labor and civic groups urging state support for the repair work.

Harp added that the center routinely makes it meeting and activity spaces available to many groups, and to assist a wide array of social programs, and this is its primary focus.

Alfred Marder, the president of Progressive Education and Research Associates, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

But in a statement issued two days after the April 27 bond commission meeting, Marder wrote that the center “has been a vibrant, all-volunteer, community and labor center for education, cultural and social activities since 1937.”

He added that some of the community group’s currently housed there include:

  • New Elm City Dream, a local youth support group “which has taken a lead in organizing for jobs and an end to violence in New Haven.”
  • Unidad Latina en Accion, an organization dedicating to protecting the rights of immigrant workers.
  • Free 2 Spit, a monthly poetry venue.
  • And the Greater New Haven Peace Council.

But Williams said Thursday that regardless of the center’s community-based activities, it should not receive state funds at this time.

“I have no doubt that the people who run it are good people, but this is not a state project,” said Williams, who has argued that state government can’t afford pet projects in lawmakers’ home districts that don’t address pressing public health, public safety or infrastructure needs. “It is the epitome of earmarks, and that it’s one for a group with political ties particularly concerns me.”

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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