As reported last week, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed as part of her updated two-year budget closing J.M. Wright Technical School in Stamford to save about $5 million annually.
She proposed the closure despite the fact that Stamford legislators have been working for months with Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, also from Stamford, to ensure Wright’s future.
Fedele stood quietly by while Rell unveiled her budget during a press conference and afterward said he continues to hope Wright can be saved but was careful not to criticize Rell’s decision.
Wright’s closure is not certain, regardless of Rell’s proposal. The Governor’s budget still needs the approval of the Democrat-majority legislature in the coming weeks and months, and since most of Stamford’s lawmakers and its mayor are Democrats, it’s likely everyone is on the same page in terms of trying to save Wright Tech.
But just in case, the Stamford delegation came up with another idea today. They inserted into a big bill conveying state land to various cities and towns a piece requiring the state lease Wright Tech to Stamford for $1 annually for 20 years if the school is shuttered.
They are concerned that the school will wind up an abandoned eyesore and figured the move might cause the administration to reconsider.
But guess who doesn’t like the idea?
“The Lt. Governor feels he wasn’t consulted,” Rep. Livvy Floren, R-Greenwich, who also represents a portion of Stamford, told me.
I’ve so far been unable to discuss the issue with Fedele, who has been, understandably, quite busy presiding over the Senate debates. In the meantime his staff has been engaged in some increasingly intense talks with some of the Stamford legislators.
“I don’t think we can get the Lt. Governor to change his mind,” Floren said.
In fact the land conveyance bill, which was just called for a vote in the House, was “passed temporarily” by House Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, over threats by most of the other Republican minority, lead by Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, to eat up the last 40 minutes of the session debating the proposal.
Unless raised by midnight and passed in both the House and Senate, it dies.
“It makes our delegation pariahs,” Floren said, noting many other lawmakers were counting on the bill’s passage because other parts of it benefit their districts.
A few minutes earlier Rell’s budget director, Robert Genuario of Norwalk, explained to me the administration’s opposition.
“The decision of whether we close Wright or not ought to be based on the viability of the school, the history of the school, its future … It ought not to be driven by this type of financial rigmarole,” Genuario said.
Perhaps. But there is no doubt Fedele, who one would expect might have the Governor’s ear on this matter being her lieutenant, has so far been unable to convince the administration to save Wright Tech.
Admittedly he’s in a tough position. Fedele technically was not elected to represent Stamford in Hartford but the entire state and Rell is his boss.
But Fedele has also portrayed himself as fighting to save Wright Tech. And trying to intervene in tonight’s bi-partisan attempt by his city’s legislative delegation to compel a reversal by Rell might not be the best way to reassure hometown constituents he wants to keep the school open.