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Docile Debate Turns Raucous As Candidates Go On The Attack

State Sen. Ed Meyer takes issue with challenger Cindy Cartier's record as fiscally responsible businesswoman in debate that tackles variety of issues; One overriding issue, candidates agree is economy, job creation.

 

In a wide-ranging political debate that came back often to the struggling economy and the importance of job creation, incumbent state Sen. Ed Meyer (D-12th District) characterized Republican challenger Cindy Cartier as a job-jumping political climber who puts herself forward as a fiscally responsible small business owner who believes government does not do enough to help business.

Instead, Meyer told a sometimes hostile crowd of debate watchers at Madison's Memorial Town Hall Wednesday night, the Cartier's family-owned business has paid its business taxes late and was the subject of a tax lien. He questioned her assertion that government does not do enough to help small businesses by saying her family's own company has taken advantage of government largess to grow and expand. 

Meyer, speaking forcefully and brandishing time-stamped records from the town of Branford, said those records show that the business run, first by Rich Cartier, and later by both Rich and Cindy Cartier, was delinquent in paying taxes to the town and has had a lien filed against it by the town. Those assertions were confirmed Thursday by Branford Tax Collector Joanne Cleary, who said the business has paid taxes late at least five times since 2000 and at one point had a tax lien against it, filed by the town.

Cindy Cartier said Thursday that the tax problems occurred when her husband was running the business.

Mechanic's lien for almost $240,000

Meyer also said the business, formerly a gas station operated under the name Richael Properties Inc., and which is now operated as New England Car Wash at 379 East Main Street in Branford, had a mechanic's lien "slapped" against it because at one point the business for a period of time was unable to pay "almost $240,000 for services rendered at the site." Meyer said the bill was later paid and the lien lifted.

Meyer, at several points having to raise his voice against catcalling and jibes from members of the audience sympathetic to Cartier, also took issue with Cartier's stance that government does not do enough help businesses.

"It's an odd sentiment for a small business owner who received almost half a million dollars in the form of a small business loan from the federal government in 2008 during the worst economy in the last 70 years," Meyer said during the debate.

"No fisticuffs!"

The debate featured Meyer and Cartier, who are battling to represent the 12th District, which includes Branford, Durham, Guilford, Killingworth, Madison and North Branford. Also featured in the debate were incumbent state Rep. Noreen Kokoruda (R-101st Assembly District) and her challenger Democrat David Dwyer. The 101st Assembly District includes Madison and part of Durham.

The debate was attended by several dozen area residents, some of whom angrily took Meyer to task for his assertions, and others who applauded him after he made his remarks. The debate was ably moderated MPOA Secretary Bob Maloney, who had to firmly counsel the audience several times to simmer down.

"No fisticuffs!" he remarked congenially at one point, after the candidates and audience took a short break for cider and goodies, and were about to reconvene in the second half of the debate.

Kokoruda says "Ed, shame on you"

One of those who challenged Meyer on his approach was Kokoruda.

"Ed, shame on you," Kokoruda said. She later characterized her own debate opponent, Dwyer, as "delightful."

Kokoruda challenged Meyer, who said Cartier's tax problems dated back to 2005, by saying that the car wash business opened in 2008.

Her comment brought applause and cheers from some audience members.

But the Cartiers said after the debate that the family-owned business was a gas station before becoming a car wash and that they did own it in 2005. Cartier's website say the gas station business opened in 1997. The Cartiers were married around the same time the gas station business was opened.

Cindy Cartier said Thursday that, prior to 2008, the business was owned soley by her husband and that she became a partner in the business in 2008.

Cartier says Meyer's assertions are a "sign of desperation," blames Branford for mistake

Cartier said during the debate and afterwards that Meyer's accusations were a sign of desperation. She and her husband, Rich, challenged Meyer's assertions Wednessday night by saying that the lien was the result of a mistake on the part of the town. They said the town incorrectly asserted that the car wash had one more bay than it did and that the tax problems were the result of the town incorrectly charging them too much in taxes as a result. They said they ultimately prevailed and were given a refund by the town.

"It's kind of sad," Cindy Cartier said with indignation during the debate. She characterized her relationship with Meyer, prior to the debate, as friendly.

"He must be desperate." She said during the debate that the tax problems were a result of a mistake by the town, that the town "inappropriately gave us an extra bay in the car wash. It took us six to eight month" to work it out, she said. Cartier said that the assessor's office "will tell you we were not delinquent."

Branford tax collector says taxes were paid late, lien was filed

But Branford Tax Collector Joanne Cleary said Thursday morning that taxes on the business were paid late and that a lien was filed against the business by the town.

She said taxes on the business were paid late in the second half of 2002, the second half of 2004, in 2005 when the lien was filed, in the first half of 2006, and in both halves of 2007.

She said that if property owners challenge an assessment, that they were still required to pay at least a portion of the bill, according to state statute.

State law requires you to pay

"When you have something under appeal, when you are appealing an property assessment, that state requires that you pay. If the assessment is over $500,000 you must pay 90 percent. If the assessment is under $500,000, which this property was, you pay 75 percent of the tax," Cleary said. In 2005, the second half of the bill was not paid on time and that delinquency eventually resulted in a lien that appears, according to town hall records, to have been released by July 1, 2008.

Cleary said the bill did appear to have been cleared up within about six to eight months, and she said she was not sure why it took so long for the lien to be lifted. She said it may have been due to the fact that a small amount, under $2, still had not been paid, but she said she was not sure about that.

Meyer, challenged by some of Cartier's supporters Wednesday night, insisted he wasn't making it up.

"I have records ... and the record speaks for itself," he said Wednesday night, waving them in the air in front of him. "I would be happy to withdraw my comments if the tax collector says it did not happen. It shows taxes were delinquent for thousands of dollars including penalties."

"Off his rocker"

Documents provided by Meyer following the debate show that the 2005 tax bill for the business was the subject of a lien, with taxes due in the amount of $3,990.78. A handwritten note says it was "released" on July 1, 2008.

Cartier said following the debate that there was no delinquency and that Meyer was "off his rocker."

"The issue was with how they assessed the property," she said, referring to the town. "We were delinquent because they were in the process of assessing it ... they [town officials] make a mistake." She said the taxes were later adjusted by the town of Branford. "Often there are disputes between parties and the town was wrong," she said.

Thursday she said the business was her husband's prior to 2008, when she became partners in the business.

U.S. Small Business Association loan for $495,000 helps Cartier business expand

Rich Cartier said following the debate Wednesday night that the family-owned business at one point did receive a U.S. Small Business Association loan of about $495,000.

He also said the business did at one point have a mechanic's lien against in in the amount of about $210,000 related to a construction project, while the business was transitioning from a gas station to a car wash, and the project was stalled by environmental problems.

He said the environmental problems, which occurred after tests showed that part of the property was contaminated and had to be cleaned up, caused a delay of about six months, which created unexpected problems with the financing of the project.

Site now "100 percent clean"

Rich Cartier said the environmental problems were ultimately resolved and that the site is now "100 percent" clean.

Cindy Cartier said the site was deemed clean in the 1980's, but that some of the dirt on the property was found to be contaminated as it was being removed during the construction process when the business was changing over to a car wash.

As a result of the environmental problems, the banks were not willing to provide additional money for the project, which became more expensive as a result of having to clean up the problems, she said. "So we had to come up with more money," she said. "The contractors did not know we would ultimately be able to pay" so there was a lien. "Mechanic's liens are often found on construction projects."

Company also taps into DEP Superfund program, Cartier says

Cindy Cartier said she and Rich had hoped to tap into a "great DEP Superfund program" that would have provided financial help in cleaning up the site. She said they got all of their bills together in 2009 and that they were awarded money after a hearing. But then the money became unavailable, she said, because legislators "swept" the accounts due to financial problems relating to the budget.

"We got the money in 2011," Cindy Cartier said. "Senator Meyer voted in 2009 to sweep the accounts. So we had to wait two years to get the money."

Rich Cartier said the company ultimately received about $150,000 in reimbursement for the environmental clean up, and that the money was used in part to open a second location for the business. The company opened a second location in Waterford in 2011, according to Cartier's website.

Sweeping of accounts was alternative to raising taxes

Meyer, when asked at the issue relating to the sweeping of the account, said he was not sure why or how that affected the Cartiers. He said that his recollection is that in 2008 or 2009 that Gov. Jody Rell, scrambling to deal with a large deficit in the state coffers, moved various funds from different accounts into the state's general treasury.

"She swept the accounts so that she would not have to raise taxes," Meyer said. "The alternative would have been to raise taxes."

This past year, by contrast, Gov. Dannel Malloy opted to raise taxes instead when faced with a deficit. The state's high tax rate has been criticized by many politicians in both parties, including Cartier.

"I talked with him about this issue over coffee"

Meyer said he was not sure exactly how the sweeping of the accounts in 2008 or 2009 affected the Cartiers. He said the company that did the environmental remediation on the gas station property was not paid for a period of time, and so filed a lien in Branford for about $240,000.

Cindy Cartier said she knew that Meyer knew about the issue relating to the Superfund reimbursement. "I talked with him about this issue over coffee," she said.

One of her supporters, standing with her following the debate, said Meyer's comments "sounded like desperation."

Cartier supporter characterizes Meyer's statements as "reprehensible"

"It's reprehensible to misrepresent things the way he did," said Lou Iorio.

Also during the debate, in addition to attacking Cartier's reputation as a small business owner, Meyer took issue with her work and political record, saying she was "job jumper" and a "political climber" who took one office just to jump to the next one. He said Cartier told a prominent area Republican that her goal, after being elected senator, was to be appointed to a judgeship.

"This prominent Republican told me it was such a cynical view that he would not support her," Meyer said, again drawing jeers and catcalls from Cartier's supporters.

Moderator Maloney implores audience to behave

Maloney, the moderator, again implored the audience to behave.

Members of the audience, and Cartier, asked Meyer to identify the prominent Republican. Meyer said he did not know if the Republican wanted his name to be used and that he would check. If it was OK, he said, he would release the name.

Cartier disagreed with Meyer's characterization of her record as being a political climber. She said, instead, her government service is a solid record of evolving from one position into another. "I choose to serve on different boards" to help solve a variety of problems and to gain a variety of experience, she said. She said during the debate that "it wouldn't be her choice" to be a judge.

Time to wrap it up

Maloney asked the crowd whether they thought the debate should continue, or whether it was time to wrap it up. "This is just getting good," he said. Several members of the crowd said they thought it was time to wrap it up.

During their wrap-up, the candidates touched on many issues but most came back to the issue of the faltering economy, the painful problem of job losses and the difficult climate for businesses.

Cartier again defended herself against the charge of being a job-hopping political climber by saying that most people would find her wide range of experience as a worker and volunteer on political boards as a solid positive.

Cartier says her experience is wide ranging and a positive

Her experience is, in fact, wide ranging. She has been a secretary, a receptionist, an aerobic instructor, a law clerk, a private practice lawyer, a trial attorney for an insurance company, a business owner, senior trial counsel for another insurance company, and an assistant general counsel at another insurance company. She also is a certified yoga and fitness instructor who has taught at In-Shape Fitness.

Her political experience includes the Board of Education, the Board of Selectmen, and Planning & Zoning Commission in Guilford.

"I have to take issue with the job-jumping claim," she said. "I have fourteen years of local government experience. I consider it evolving into different boards. I choose to serve on different boards. It wouldn't be my choice to be judge. It's absolutely not somthing I'd be looking to do."

"The full flavor of the differences between us"

Meyer said in his closing statement that he brought up the issues he did "because I just wanted you to get the full flavor of the differences between us."

He said he, like the other candidates, is very concerned about the economic climate in the state, a concern that was excerbated recently when he learned his own son was unwilling to move back to Connecticut in part because of the business climate. His son started a business and took it to Texas, Meyer said. "That was a wake-up call to me," he said.

Cartier said during her closing statement during the debate that she believes she's the best candidate to turn things around in Hartford.

"Our district deserves more"

"Sen. Meyer didn't start the problem, but he didn't help it," she said.

She said she thought Meyer's focus on the environment has blinded him to problems related to how hard it is to do business in the state.

"Our district deserves more than a one-issue senator who is resorting to desperate tactics." She said her goal is to get elected and make Connecticut a more business-friendly state.

Editor's note: This story was changed Thursday at 4:39 p.m. to clarify Cindy Cartier's ownership position in the family-owned business. Cartier said Thursday that the gas station business was owned by her husband, Rich, and that the car wash business, opened in 2008, was owned by both of them.

CAC October 19, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Cindy Cartier is an impressive hard working mom, attorney, and public official. I have to wonder if she were male, whether Senator Meyer would criticized her climb through her private and public life as "job jumper". As a man, Senator Meyer fails to understand the sacrifice women have to make in changing careers in order to raise a family. No man would receive this type of criticism. Shame on Ed is right.
Michael October 19, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Senator Meyer is a honest hard working Senator who has wonderfully represented this bi-partisan district of many years. He has a clean record professionally and privately. He has brought jobs to this district and his moderate views on solutions to what ails us are well thought out and effective. What else are you looking for? Do you really want to take a chance on a Republican newcomer who will never have the power in a Democratically run Senate? Moderates of both parties and all independents should vote to continue his representation. He is effective and we do not want to encourage that bad behavior and disruptive tactics we see coming from the Republican fringe and represented all to well at the debate at town hall. . All of a sudden it is ok to cat-call candidates, yell at candidates whether at State of the Union Addresses, or local (and Presidential) debates. DO NOT reward bad behavior (read: you are who you hang with) . Not once did candidate Cartier ask her supporter to stop being so disrespectful to a sitting Senator. And finally, no one has ever claimed our Senator shows a bias against any of his constituents. To claim a gender bias is ridiculous. If you want to talk party affiliation and degrading female party platforms Republican should check their own positions first and see which ones hold water.
CFX October 19, 2012 at 02:08 PM
This debate was about 90 minutes long, which featured a wide range of important, relevant issues for Connecticut voters. It is sad to see this article written almost exclusively about this irrelevant issue, which is merely a desperate attack. Perhaps the author of this article would like to fact-check some of the claims that Senator Meyer has made about his record during the campaign (things that actually matter and effect to voters and to the State of Connecticut)--instead of focusing on the minutia.
ted Aub October 19, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Interestingly enough , the many Veteran issues that are and have been of State , Local . and National concern were not even mentioned at this event . Just purely by numbers should Veterans be included in every aspect of life because they are the ones who established the groundwork for Freedom that we operate on in this country .
eileen banisch October 19, 2012 at 04:19 PM
So, rather than talk about the real issues discussed, this article focuses on the desperate, mean-spirited attacks by Mr. Meyer? I would expect this of the New York Post, not Patch. Why weren't all the other issues and answers from the candidates outlined in this article?
Henry Owen October 19, 2012 at 04:38 PM
As a Vietnam era vet attending the meeting, I concur with the observation. With the recent endeavor of one town (not Madison) trying to get around the property tax adjustment to assesments it may should have been discussed but time was limited. Maybe some veteran's orgaqnizations could mail out a questionnaire to each candidate with the intent of posting their remarks. I'd find that useful. They could cover the broader issues of Veteran's disabilities, employment (or reemployment), tuition breaks at state colleges, etc.
Pem McNerney (Editor) October 19, 2012 at 05:15 PM
I think you raise an excellent point. It took me most of yesterday to do reporting on this and write it. We also had an incident at the high school involving the police, a bank robbery in a town nearby, an arrest relating to a gun incident in another nearby town and several other news items of interest yesterday. And, as you know, I have a wide range of other responsibilities associated with the site, including moderating comments. To ignore what was the most contentious part of the evening, along with new information presented relating to an important issue--whether government does enough to help small business--was not an option. There were very few people who left that debate talking about the candidates prepared talking points on the other issues. Everyone was talking about the exchange between Meyer and Cartier. I could hardly ignore it. Still, my intent, time allowing, is to try also to do a story on the rest of the debate, which essentially will be a matter of presenting the candidates prepared talking points. Having said that, working through me is only one way to get information posted on Madison Patch. I have ____repeatedly____ implored the candidate and their supporters to use Patch directly. They could be posting every single day and reaching every single one of our readers if they so desire. For the most part, they have chosen not to. So now they have to wait for me and I will do my best to get that other information out in a timely manner.
Pem McNerney (Editor) October 19, 2012 at 05:18 PM
To the person who used a fake email and name in an effort to post an unsubstantiated allegation about one of the candidates ... not allowed. I tried to respond to the fake email you used and it bounced. If you want to discuss the specific reason why the comment did not make it through moderation, please email me at pem.mcnerney@patch.com.
Pem McNerney (Editor) October 19, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Ok, so someone using a fake email just tried to post a picture to this story ... of someone wearing a hoodie, holding their head in their hand, next to what looks like a bowl of what might have at one point been chicken soup. ??? While I have no specific objection to the picture, I'm not sure how it relates to the story and am wondering if it was posted in error, or if there is some meaning to it that at this point eludes me. Since the email address bounced back, I have no way of knowing. Again, write me if you want to clarify your intent in posting this picture ... use a real email address if you want a response ... pem.mcnerney@patch.com
Neck Road October 19, 2012 at 06:48 PM
We received a phone call from someone purporting to be taking a survey about local politics. When we mentioned we favored Cartier in this election, the "surveyor" launched into a speech about the Cartiers' tax/debt arrears (specifics left out). We found this to be shameful and base. If you want to campaign, say so - don't misrepresent 'surveys'. Reading the details of the event in your article cleared the air even more. But this should not be a focus. Meyer sounds desperate - and underhanded to boot. We attended the candidates' previous debate at Woodwinds on October 16th and this topic did not come up. Why does Meyer make a big deal of it now? Backfire.
eileen banisch October 19, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Pem, thank you for monitoring comments to the story, and not allowing unsubstantiated allegations to appear. But Ed made an unsubstantiated allegation about Cindy planning to pursue a judgeship after 2 years in the State Senate during the debate, and attributed it to an anonymous source. When urged to reveal who that "prominent Republican" was, he refused to tell the group. Why would you allow this idle rumor to grow legs by printing it in Patch? You have always been pretty fair in your reporting, but repeating what I consider to be gossip is out of character for you.
Pem McNerney (Editor) October 19, 2012 at 09:12 PM
@ eileen banisch: Darn you Banisch! Stop asking good questions or I'll never get that other story finished! =) JK ... other story on the rest of the debate almost done ... hope to roll it out this weekend. To your question: "Ed made an unsubstantiated allegation about Cindy planning to pursue a judgeship after 2 years in the State Senate during the debate, and attributed it to an anonymous source ... Why would you allow this idle rumor to grow legs by printing it in Patch?" Because the "allegation" came up in the context of a public debate by someone identified (namely, Meyer). And Cartier promptly said it was not true, as I report above. So the difference is that it related to the campaign, it was brought up in a public forum by someone who identified himself, and Cartier was afforded to opportunity to refute it. Also, I trust my readers to take away from the exchange what they will ... as you can see from the comments in this story, that is exactly what they are doing. My goal was to report on the exchange between Meyer and Cartier, and to provide readers with enough information so that they could judge for themselves whether any of what was said made a difference to them when it comes to deciding upon a candidate. I hope the other story on the debate, which I hope to finish soon, will do so as well. And, seriously, just kidding about asking good questions. I appreciate them.
Shane October 19, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Pem, I've always been a big fan of the patch and the job you do reporting what is going on about town. However, with regard to the debate, you completely dropped the ball. Since I obviously have a personal interest in how it went, I was really looking forward to reading your article. Boy was I disappointed. The article went on and on about a topic that has zero relevance to the election and the people of Madison. It was "Jerry Springer" meets the Madison Patch. During such a critical time in our country, our state, and town, you had an opportunity to provide substance that could actually inform the voters of Madison about the candidates and their position on the issues (e.g. Jobs, taxes, education, small businesses). Instead you chose the path of sensationalism. And your full schedule is not a valid excuse. The people of this great town would have been better served if you did not write anything at all, or at least waited until you had the time to devote to writing something of substance. Again, I have always enjoyed the Patch, which is why this is so disappointing. I certainly hope you take the time as you said you would to write a detailed article that outlines the issues and the positions of the candidates that were discussed the other night.
Janet October 20, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I totally agree with you.. where is the "meat" of this story? I still don't see how the candidates differ on the real issues. Why so much time spent on Meyer's attacks?
Pem McNerney (Editor) October 20, 2012 at 04:19 AM
Jerry Springer?!? Jerry Springer?!?! Actually ... Jerry Springer. Maybe I could be that for Halloween. I was going to be Pollyanna, but have not been able to find an appropriate costume. In all seriousness Shane, the debate between Meyer and Cartier is entirely relevant to the election and anyone who is interested in making an informed choice. How candidates present themselves, represent themselves and take issue with each other is all part of a political campaign. Like most everyone else attending the debate, I was expecting another nicey nicey Madison garden party Wednesday and what happened surprised me. Like it or not, Meyer and Cartier actually had a debate and it was news. And, another story on the rest of the discussion is a great idea. I just now at 12:06 p.m. finished writing it. I will proof read it Saturday and it is scheduled to go live at 7:03am Sunday. It will include the candidates' comments on business and industry, education reform, underfunded state pension liabilities, Hammo, consolidation of state government departments, teachers unions, tax breaks for seniors, STEM education, and traffic safety. Thank you for your patience. Thank you to the MPOA for sponsoring the debate, preparing excellent questions and to Maloney for not putting up with any malarkey.
Pem McNerney (Editor) October 20, 2012 at 04:26 AM
ooops I meant 12:06 am ...
Jon October 22, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Meyer is a JOKE, he has done NOTHING while in office. Time to send him to Florida! I bet he was bright red when he raised his voice. Of course he was upset and heated he will be losing his job shortly. Vote CINDY

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