The fault lines in this year’s mayoral election, already centered on the role of money in politics, crystallized even further this week over nine $1,000 donations to the campaign of Toni Harp ARC ’78.
The donations all came from employees of Hamden-based Connecticut Orthopaedic Specialists, which previously held an $800,000 annual contract with New Haven. Under the contract, city workers in New Haven who sustained orthopaedic injuries while on the job were directed to COS doctors for treatment. However, the city discontinued its contract with the firm in late July, citing false information on a form filed by one of the group’s most prominent doctors, which excused a city employee from work. One day later, nine employees, including group CEO Glenn Elia, gave the maximum allowable amount to the Harp campaign.
“They are interested in influencing City Hall,” mayoral candidate Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said of COS. “This type of pay to play politics is exactly what we’re trying to get away from in the city.”
Elicker called on Harp to return the donations in a press conference at COS’ main officein Hamden Monday. In a press release issued shortly after, though, Harp said she plans on keeping the donations.
“I fully understand Mr. Elicker’s frustration that his lack of experience is turning voters off,” Harp said, also emphasizing that Elicker had failed to keep his promise to run a positive campaign. “However, what he is suggesting about me is ridiculous. I have a 26-year-old track record of public service and everyone knows that I treat everyone the same, fairly and equally.”
In January 2012, COS doctor and founder Patrick Ruwe signed a form claiming a city public works employee could only work four to five hours per day. Ruwe’s actual medical evaluation, though, had suggested the employee could safely work eight hours per day, which in turn allowed the employee to wrongly receive paid leave from the city. The city employee asked Ruwe to sign the form so he could take a second job while still collecting worker’s compensation.
Ruwe, who declined to comment when contacted, admitted in a July 2012 deposition that no medical reasoning lay behind his decision. The employee was also fired, although a city union appealed. Eventually, the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration upheld New Haven’s decision.
After lobbying the city through the summer, Elia, the firm’s CEO, was able to have COS’ contract with the city reinstated in early September, under the condition that Ruwe not treat city employees. COS has benefitted enormously from the growth in the city’s worker’s compensation costs which, while down in the past two years, have nearly doubled over the past decade.
Campaign finance has come to dominate the current mayoral race, with Elicker making transparent and public financing a cornerstone of his campaign. Harp, meanwhile, has portrayed public financing as a waste of taxpayer money that could be better spent on schools and public safety.
At his press conference Monday with four media outlets and eight supporters, Elicker took care to highlight a recent quote Harp gave to the New Haven Independent that he says suggests Harp’s City Hall would be less than transparent.
“I think people who give don’t expect a quid pro quo,” Harp told the Independent. “They just want a meeting, maybe, to give their point of view. But they don’t expect you necessarily to go along with it or to give them any special favors.”
Elicker said that giving a meeting to a campaign donor itself constitutes a form of quid pro quo. He suggested that constituents unable to donate to Harp’s campaign would be unable to have access to her administration, should she win in the Nov. 5 general election. He added that he has made no effort to encourage bundling — a common campaign practice of making an individual responsible for garnering large donations from their friends, an example of which appears to be the COS contributions — during the campaign.
Harp campaign manager Jason Bartlett declined to comment further on the issue.
New Haven paid $9.6 million last year in worker’s compensation, down from the 2009-’10 fiscal year high of $11.4 million.