Greenwich Native Luke Bronin and his campaign operatives bristle at the notion that, having never run for office or been involved in municipal government, Bronin’s brazen decision to grace Hartford with his presence by moving to the capital city and running for mayor is the work of an outsider.
They say Luke Bronin is no outsider.
And maybe they are right…
The truth is that Bronin is looking more and more like just another political insider every day.
Luke Bronin’s $1 million dollar campaign has already broken the record for the most expensive mayoral campaign in Connecticut history.
Bronin has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from state contractors, Hartford contractors, state lobbyists, out-of-state contributors and residents from his home town of Greenwich.
But the fact that one of his “most generous” campaign donors can be found on Park Street in Hartford speaks volumes about Luke Bronin’s approach to politics and governance.
Like so many others who contributed to Luke Bronin, Republican Farmington resident and Park Street businessman Carlos Lopez donated the maximum allowable $1,000 to Bronin’s campaign.
Lopez also dropped $2,000 on the Hartford Democratic Town Committee to help with Bronin’s Get-Out-The-Vote effort.
In addition to owning Connecticut Parking Services, which has a lucrative contract with the City of Hartford to run the MAT garage at the corner of Trumbull and Church Streets in Hartford, Lopez owns the El Mercado Food Court and Luis of Hartford, a furniture store. Both are located on Park Street, which is also the address where he registers a number of other companies.
In addition to the $1,000 from Lopez, Bronin collected $1,000 from Lopez’s daughter, Maria Lopez, who works as a supervisor for Connecticut Parking Services. A manager and clerk at the Hartford parking garage also kicked in $1,000 each, as did one of the merchants who rents space from Lopez on Park Street.
For those who know Hartford politics, controversy is hardly new to Carlos Lopez.
Some may recognize Lopez’s name from March 2010 when Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez, former State Representative Abraham Giles and Hartford City Councilor Vernoica Airey-Wieson were all arrested following a grand jury investigation into municipal corruption in Hartford. It was Mayor Perez’s second arrest that year on corruption charges.
The fourth person arrested that day was Carlos Lopez.
As NBC Connecticut reported at the time, Hartford Mayor Arrested, Again
Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez walked into the state police barracks to face corruption charges just after 11 a.m. Wednesday for his second arrest in eight months.
This time, the charges involve former Hartford State Rep. Abraham Giles, 83, who turned himself in to state police Wednesday morning. City Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson also turned herself in Wednesday. All three have been charged with criminal attempt to commit larceny in the first-degree by extortion and one count of conspiracy to commit larceny in the first degree by extortion.
Perez’s arrest comes after state investigators and a grand jury looked into a no-bid parking lot deal between the city and Giles’ company to run a city-owned parking lot at Main and Trumbull streets.
Carlos Lopez, 63, of Farmington, was also charged with three counts of fraudulent voting. The warrant alleges that Lopez unlawfully voted in three Hartford municipal elections between 2004 and 2007.
As the arrest warrant made clear, in addition to living in Farmington, being a major donor to Eddie Perez and hosting a fundraiser for Perez at his Farmington home, Carlos Lopez “derived an income of approximately $125,000 yearly from the MAT Garage.”
The more immediate problem, however, was that Lopez had been illegally voting in Hartford.
The MAT Parking Garage
While Carlos Lopez has been involved in a number of business deals in the City of Hartford over the years, he gained the most notoriety surrounding his parking garage contract with the city.
As the Hartford Courant reported in October 2003, Governor John G. Rowland, “along with prominent Republican businessman Carlos Lopez, campaigned Friday on Park Street with Republican mayoral candidate Michael T. McGarry and incumbent council candidates Veronica Airey-Wilson and Robert L. Painter.”
A few months later, Lopez was back in the news as a result of his contract with the City of Hartford. Turmoil Seen At Parking Agency (Hartford Courant 2/21/2004);
The terms of the contract, offered to a politically connected Hartford businessman, were so sweet that they were bound to raise questions: exclusive control of a Hartford parking garage until 2020 and the guarantee of at least $1 million in fees.
The proposed contract with Lopez did, in fact, raise questions — the acting director of the parking authority refused to sign it and its former chairman publicly opposed it. The deal was so out of touch with industry standards, they said, that it “jeopardizes the legitimacy” of the agency.
But instead of answering the troubling questions about the contract, three members of the parking authority board secretly signed it — without the knowledge of the director or the fourth member of the board, but with the blessing of the city’s top lawyer.
The contract guarantees Connecticut Parking $5,000 a month in fees after expenses, with additional “incentive fees” of up to 10 percent of the garage’s net income. The base fees alone would amount to about $950,000 between 2004 and Feb. 28, 2020.
The contract offers $20,000 in attorney’s fees, an item frequently found in legal settlements but rarely on garage contracts.
In addition to the MAT garage, Lopez also picked up a city contract to run one of the parking lots that Abe Giles had been running. Parking Lot Deal Awarded To Rival (Hartford Courant 6-15-2007)
North End political boss Abraham L. Giles has lost his controversial deal to run a city-owned parking lot, falling short in a bidding contest to manage the property.
The Hartford Parking Authority awarded a new contract Thursday to run the Main Street lot to Connecticut Parking Services, which bid more than four times the $12,000 that Giles had been paying to run the 225-space lot.
Connecticut Parking Services is run by Carlos Lopez, who already has a contract to run the city’s MAT garage. Lopez offered the city $50,000 a year for the contract.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez’s administration gave Giles a license agreement last year to run the lot without a bidding process, without consulting the city council and despite interest from the parking authority to take over the property.
But when The Courant reported the deal in February, many of Perez’s critics cried foul, saying the arrangement was old-style patronage that hurt taxpayers in exchange for helping Perez on Election Day. Giles, a former state representative and current member of the Democratic town committee, is said to control key votes in a district long considered one of Perez’s weakest.
Under political pressure to correct the mistake, Perez asked the parking authority to hold a competitive bidding process.
[When the new contract was handed out, what was Perez ally Abe Giles’ loss became Perez ally Carlos Lopez’s gain.]
And by March 2010, Perez, Giles and Lopez had all been arrested.
As the Hartford Courant later reported, Lopez paid a $4,000 fine and the charges against him were dismissed.
Now, years later, Republican businessman Carlos Lopez, who recently gave Presidential candidate Marco Rubio $4,000, is pumping money into Luke Bronin’s campaign.
And if victorious, Luke Bronin will preside over Hartford City Hall when it comes time to consider renewing the lucrative MAT garage contract.
So maybe it really is time to stop calling Luke Bronin an outsider. It certainly seems he has mastered the tricks of a true insider.
Meanwhile, some of the other campaign contributions Carlos Lopez has made include donations to Dannel Malloy and to two of the Political Action Committees associated with the Democratic Leadership in the Connecticut General Assembly.