Troubles, change and joy in 2017

December 31, 2017

To many, 2017 might be remembered as a year in which there never seemed to be money.

If you live in Connecticut, you couldn’t escape the never-ending and mind-numbing state budget crisis. The megabucks shortfall started at $5 billion, but was whittled down to $3.5 billion thanks to a deal with state unions, and finally hacked back in a historically late deal four months after the start of the fiscal year.

Meanwhile, municipal officials from Greenwich to Pomfret were complaining that they had no clue on how much revenue-sharing money that they’d be getting — something they needed to know in order to prepare their 2017-18 fiscal-year budgets. Every week seemed to bring a new proposed state budget with a new revenue-sharing formula.

Now the current budget, in the equivalent of governmental Whack-a-Mole, is already more than $220 million in deficit for the fiscal year that ends next June 30.

Stratford also seemed unable to agree on a budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. It wasn’t until its Democratic-majority Town Council was replaced by a mostly Republican panel in the November election that a spending plan for the current fiscal year finally became a reality.

That’s entertainment

But there’s always one source of money for the taking — the human brain’s desire to risk it all on games of chance.

In May, MGM floated a proposal to build a $675 million waterfront casino in Bridgeport, on the shorefront tip of the East Side, saying that it would create thousands of jobs — many filled by locals.

The idea has seen more than its share of twists and turns.

The idea faces legislative and legal hurdles because the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Indian tribes for years have had an exclusive deal with the state to operate casinos in Connecticut’s southeastern corner. Now they are saying that they want to be part of the plan. too.

Meanwhile, religious leaders, activists and some politicians have lined up against the idea.

But if the casino is built, there may be more to draw people to the Park City than just slot machines and roulette wheels. In August, two promoters, along with Mayor Joe Ganim, said that they intended to turn the Harbor Yard home of the Bridgeport Bluefish into an amphitheater that would host music acts on what used to be a baseball diamond.

The plan got the OK from the City Council, but there are still details to be ironed out.

Since that announcement, the management of the Bluefish said that the team will be moving to High Point, N.C. While it was in Bridgeport, it was one of the last of the Atlantic League teams to play in its original ballpark, which it has called home for two decades.

I’m not running

It was also a year of announcements of incumbents not running for office, headlined by the not-so-surprising press release on April 13 stating that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wouldn’t be seeking a third term.

On March 21, Stratford Mayor John Harkins made a surprise announcement during his State of the Town speech, saying in a shaky voice that he wouldn’t be seeking a third four-year term.

“There is always a time when we must move on,” said Harkins, a Republican.

Less surprising was the announcement on May 4 from Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst that he would not seek a fifth two-year term, and at the time he left convincing clues that he had set his sights on the governor’s mansion.

Herbst made it all official on June 8. In a speech in the atrium of Trumbull High School where he graduated as a letter man 19 years earlier, he announced that he’d seek the Republican’s nomination for governor.

On Jan. 17, Monroe First Selection Steve Vavrek, also a Republican, announced that he, too, wouldn’t be running for re-election in November; he was first elected as first selectman in 2009. But he’s not running for governor. Vavrek said he’d like to spend more time with his family.

Scene of the crime

Bridgeport had 23 homicides is 2017, the most shocking one being that of Jayson Negron, 15, who was shot on May 9 by James Boulay, a rookie police officer.

Police Chief Armando Perez said Boulay fired at Negron after the teen backed a stolen car he was driving at the officer on Fairfield Avenue near the Park Avenue intersection. Negron died, while his passenger, 21-year-old Julian Fyffe, was wounded.

Upsetting to many was the treatment of Negron’s body, which was left lying in the street for about six hours while the investigation took place. The still-ongoing investigation into the death of Negron is being conducted by State Police.

Not every case of wayward behavior resulted in long, drawn-out investigations. Take the case of former Bridgeport Ethics Commissioner Dr. Noel Kayo.

Cops said Kayo told them that he answered an advertisement on Backpage.com for a “petite shy Latina new to the area,” and arranged to meet the woman outside the Quality Suites hotel on South Avenue in Stratford for a “massage and happy ending,” police said.

But the woman who he thought was the “petite shy Latina” was someone else, and Kayo was squirted with pepper spray by the woman, who said she thought he intended to assault her. The woman’s boyfriend gave him a squirt of pepper spray, too. The mix-up took place on June 26.

Kayo soon resigned from Bridgeport’s Ethics Commission, but did not rule out getting involved in city politics later. His charges were soon dropped by prosecutors after they decided not to pursue the case

Check your toothbrush

One of the most-read stories of the year came out of Ansonia. It was about a Milford woman who was charged after she smeared her poop on her estranged husband’s toothbrush in mid-September, according to police.

Leslie Laing, 48, was charged with violation of a protective order. Police said the warrant for Laing’s arrest was the result of an investigation into a complaint filed by Laing’s estranged husband that she had tampered with his “personal property.”

“The investigation revealed that while Laing was retrieving property from her soon-to-be ex-husband’s home, she put what appeared to be feces on his toothbrush,” Ansonia police said.

Just to be sure, police sent a DNA sample taken from Laing to the state lab for testing along with the toothbrush. The lab confirmed that Laing’s DNA matched the feces on the toothbrush. That case is still winding its way through the courts.

But not news involving cops was grim and disgusting. Take the case of little Saydie Ramos, 4, of Bridgeport, who dreams of being a police officer when she grows up.

On Sept. 7, Saydie was surprised by a visit from four Bridgeport police officers, who presented her with a police uniform, complete with a cap and a badge.

The visit melted the hearts of everyone in the neighborhood. It was initiated by officer Sandra Quinonez, who reached out to Saydie’s dad, Alex, on Facebook after he asked his friends if they knew any police officers who could help him give his daughter a special surprise.

“The officer has changed my daughter’s life,” Alex Ramos said.