Thursday, July 31, 2008

Petitioners BOOTED off New Haven Green Petitioners Booted Off Greenby Paul Bass July 23, 2008 1:00 PM Permalink Comments (40)The Squirrel Nut Zippers had the mic. The cops told Ralph Ferrucci andhisband of petitioners they had to exit the Green stage right.Or, if they preferred, given their political leanings, stage left.Ferrucci - a New Haven political activist who has run for mayor and U.S.Senate and Congress on the Green Party ticket - is no stranger toflyeringand collecting signatures on petitions at public events, such as lastSaturday's city-sponsored Squirrel Nut concert on the Green. He didn'tthinkhe was breaking any rules when he brought a team of six petitioners togather signatures of voters to place presidential candidate Ralph Nader'sname on the state's November ballot.The cops thought otherwise.Ferrucci said the "lieutenant in charge" approached him "and told me I'llbearrested if I didn't get the petitioners off the Green."Ferrucci said he protested that he had a right to be on public land."This isn't owned by the city," the cops told him, according to Ferrucci.(It's true; a not-for-profit organization known as the Proprietors of theGreen controls the space.)"But this is a public space," Ferrucci said he (correctly) pointed out."Myrights apply."For at least three decades, volunteers and staffers from politicalcampaigns - including those of Mayor John DeStefano and Democraticcandidates like U.S. Senate hopeful Ned Lamont - have routinelycirculatedpetitions or handed out flyers at summer events on the Green.Which lieutenant was it who threatened the arrest?"I should have gotten his name," Ferrucci said. "But I was more concernedabout getting arrested. I didn't mind taking the bust," but he worriedabouthis crew of volunteers. So he sent them off the Green, to surroundingsidewalks (uncontested public space), where they harvested signaturesfrom asmaller, less compact field of passersby.Ferrucci said he remained by the middle of the Green, where he received"nasty looks" from five cops on duty.Since the weekend, Ferrucci brought his complaints to the mayor's chiefofstaff, Sean Matteson.According to Ferrucci, Matteson confirmed that the petitioners should beallowed to work the Green. Matteson promised to investigate the matter,Ferrucci said. Ferrucci asked for a letter confirming the permission topetition. "That way if the cops bother us I have a letter saying we'reallowed to be there."Matteson didn't return repeated phone calls to confirm the conversation."There is no letter," mayoral spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said. "There'snodiscussion about a letter."Mayorga said Matteson "has had a discussion" with Assistant Police ChiefStephanie Redding about the matter. She said Redding "has agreed to lookinto it."Mayorga said that while it's Matteson's "personal opinion" that the Nadercampaign should be able to petition on the Green, the city does not yethavea position on whether it can at another concert this coming weekend. Shesaid she wants to wait to hear back from Redding."I don't know what the turnaround will be on that," Mayorga said."We're not trying to make things difficult for anyone. We're trying tomakesure we're on the same page."Mayorga said it would not be possible to identify the lieutenant whothreatened Ferrucci with arrest.(Update: Reached at a press event at City Hall Wednesday afternoon,Mattesonsaid he plans to make clear to the cops that the Nader campaign maypetitionat Saturday's concert.)One member of the Proprietors of the Green, Anne Calabresi, was surprisedthat a petitioner would be removed or threatened with arrest."How could they?" she asked when told of the incident Wednesday. "TheGreenis dedicated to free speech. It's that simple."A TrendThis is the latest in a string of embarrassing cases of city governmentflouting the constitution or the public's right to know.Some incidents have occurred at the hands of mid-level or lower-levelemployees who acted on their own (though in the spirit of higher-ups).City government lawyer Dinella Dodd, for instance, last month booted thepress from a public hearing on parking ticket appeals.The city's elderly services chief suspended an employee for, in part,speaking to the press on off hours, without first checking in with themayor's spokeswoman.The mayor has implemented a press policy - blasted as flagrantlyunconstitutional by the ACLU - which forbids thousands of city employeesfrom speaking about anything with reporters at any time without expressprior authorization from his press office; that has set a chill overgovernment.The DeStefano administration has also subverted the intent of a ruling bythe State Freedom of Information Commission that required that jobevaluations of top administrators be publicly available. Theadministrationhas basically stopped doing written evaluations as a result.He's BackRalph Nader is running as an independent in this year's presidential racerather than as a Green. Nader ran in 1996, 2000, and 2004 as well. Hedidn'twin.Ferrucci said the campaign technically needs 7,500 valid signatures ofvoters to make the Connecticut ballot. In actuality it probably needs tocollect more like 12,000, he said, because election officials ofteneliminate many signatures as invalid. The deadline is Aug. 6."We're at 5,500 signatures," Ferrucci reported. He said he's confidentthecampaign will make its goal.Assuming the law doesn't shut them down.(Nader, a former Green candidate, is running as an independent thisyear.)

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