Ricci suit spices up mayoral race

The latest controversy to strike New Haven’s mayoral race has been eight years in the making.

Mayoral candidate and budget watchdog Jeffrey Kerekes held a press conference at Dixwell’s Stetson Library Tuesday afternoon to call for Mayor John DeStefano Jr. to pay the $5 million settlement reached this year in the 2009 Ricci v. DeStefano Supreme Court case personally. Kerekes said that he had contacted Connecticut’s attorney general to investigate his claim, adding that he had uncovered evidence that DeStefano had purposefully sabotaged promotional examinations of city firefighters for personal reasons and illegally transferred property to avoid liability in the settlement.

“This move is an effort to protect the citizens and taxpayers of New Haven since John DeStefano continues to act in his own best interest and not ours,” Kerekes said in a Monday press release.

The Ricci case began in 2004 when the city’s Civil Service Board, in an attempt to avoid violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, threw out the results of a firefighters’ promotional tests in an attempt to avoid violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Because white firefighters had performed better than black and Hispanic firefighters, the test would have resulted in nearly all promotions going to the white firefighters. Twenty city firefighters who would have been promoted contested the action and eventually won a settlement in a landmark Supreme Court decision.

The Supreme Court decision in the Ricci v. DeStefano case stated that “a jury could rationally infer that city officials worked behind the scenes to sabotage the promotional examinations because they knew that, were the exams certified, the Mayor would incur the wrath of [Rev. Boise] Kimber and other influential leaders of New Haven’s African-American community.”

Kerekes said that DeStefano’s electoral successes have depended on Kimber’s support, adding that Kimber has received city land and an assignment on the City of New Haven Fire Commission from DeStefano.

DeStefano’s campaign manager Danny Kedem denied the allegations and described Kerekes’ claims as nothing more than “sleazy personal attacks” and a “fantasy” in order to help him win votes. City Hall spokesman Adam Joseph declined to comment on the accusations because, he said Kerekes’ claims were a campaign matter.

But Kerekes also claims that DeStefano committed a fraudulent property transfer during the trial. In April 2008, at the height of the Ricci trial, DeStefano transferred his two real estate properties in New Haven to his wife, which Kerekes said was done to avoid personal liability in the trial.

“The mayor transferred his assets to protect himself when he knew he made a bad decision,” Kerekes said, adding that this also means DeStefano is no longer a New Haven taxpayer.

In his letter to state Attorney General George Jepsen, Kerekes requested that Jepsen hold DeStefano personally liable for the costs of the Ricci settlement, as well as for the “apparently fraudulent transfer of assets” in 2008.

In response to these claims, DeStefano’s campaign said that accusations against the mayor were distractions from the city’s real issues.

“Mr. Kerekes isn’t talking about creating jobs, isn’t talking about keeping our families safe,” Kedem said. “Without any experiences and without any ideas, he has to resort to distracting the public with dirty politics. It is an act of desperation.”

Kerekes’s call for the mayor’s liability hit a stumbling block Tuesday afternoon, when the attorney general issued a statement following the candidate’s press conference.

“My office is not authorized to oversee the manner that municipalities handle litigation and settlements in cases against them. Nor are we authorized to review municipal decisions regarding indemnification of local government officials and employees,” Jepsen said in a statement released by his office.

Despite this setback, Kerekes said he is still looking at other methods to hold DeStefano accountable.

In the settlement, the city will pay the firefighters a combined total of $2 million over the next two years, and each complainant’s pension plan will be treated as if he had been on the service for an extra three years.

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