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Connecticut city ponders renaming Paul Manafort Dr.

Connecticut city ponders renaming Paul Manafort Dr.
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In New Britain, Conn., Paul Manafort Dr. has been the site of at least one protest. It’s occasionally used as a backdrop for semi-ironic selfies. And a petition to rename the street after New Britain native and 2017 World Series MVP George Springer has just short of 1,700 signatures.

But not everyone agrees that the name should be changed.

A small city in Connecticut is wondering if it should rename Paul Manafort Dr., a small street that has become both a source of amusement and embarrassment amid an explosive fraud trial for the former Trump campaign manager.  (Al Drago / Bloomberg file photo)

That’s because Paul Manafort Dr., which runs alongside the campus of Central Connecticut State University for nearly a kilometre, is named for Paul Manafort Sr., the late father of the embattled former Trump campaign manager. The elder Manafort served as mayor of New Britain from 1965 to 1971, when Paul Manafort Jr. was in high school.

“The street is named after the father,” New Britain’s mayor, Erin Stewart, a Republican, told the Hartford Courant on Wednesday. “Mr. Manafort served the city for a long time, he was a war veteran. You can’t control what your kids do and what they don’t — that doesn’t take away from the service that the father gave to the city.”

The New Britain city council has yet to entertain a formal proposal to rename the road. But the council’s majority leader, Carlo Carlozzi, Jr., a Democrat, told The Washington Post that he would be open to the idea.

“It’s something where it’s totally an embarrassment — New Britain being in the news because of this particular situation,” he said.

Carlozzi used to live nearly a kilometre away from the senior Manafort, who died in 2013, and often crossed paths with him due to his involvement in the local Italian-American community. “He was a good man,” he said. “His political record — we were on opposite sides on pretty much every issue. But he did love his community.”

Still, a name that has some connection to Central Connecticut State University might be more appropriate, he said, given that the road passes through their campus.

“I would support looking at it, considering other names, seeing what support in the community there is,” Carlozzi said. “If there’s no support in the community, then obviously we’re not going to go forward with that.”

New Britain is a city of some 72,000 people located about 20 kilometres from the state capitol in Hartford. Once known as “Hardware City,” it used to be home to factories that manufactured belt buckles, coffee percolators, measuring tapes, door locks, hinges, and bolts. Aside from Stanley, Black & Decker — which originated in New Britain as Stanley Works and later merged with Baltimore-based Black & Decker — most have shut down or moved their jobs overseas. These days, it’s better known as “Hard Hittin’ New Britain.”

But during the early 1900s, when factory jobs were still easy to come by, recent immigrants from Italy, Poland, Ireland, and Ukraine flocked to New Britain. Manafort’s family was part of that wave, migrating from Naples, and starting what grew into a successful construction business, according to a March cover story in the Atlantic.

In the 1960s, Paul Manafort Sr.’s personal charisma helped him to become the Republican mayor of a Democratic stronghold. It also “made him the sort of figure whose blemishes tend to be wiped from public memory,” the Atlantic wrote. In 1981, he ended up facing perjury charges after testifying as part of an investigation into police corruption in the city. The charges were dismissed in 1983.

“People like the father,” Tony Antonaras, the owner of Tony’s Central Pizza, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “He was a popular guy. Good guy, from what I hear. But his son? I dunno about the son.”

In New Britain, Manafort Jr. is known as “P.J.” The city overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and visiting reporters have been hard-pressed to find locals willing to defend the town’s most infamous former resident.

Still, there hasn’t been a strong push to replace the street’s name. Tom Hazuka, an English professor at Central Connecticut State, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that renaming Paul Manafort Dr. “would take away our amusement factor.”

Others are indifferent or unfamiliar with Manafort Jr.’s alleged crimes. When CNN’s Jeanne Moos travelled to New Britain for a recent segment, she encountered a number of residents who offered noncommittal responses, including, “What did he do? I don’t even know who he is.”

But momentum is growing now that the issue is getting more attention from the media, Carlozzi, the city council’s majority leader, told The Washington Post.

“Council members are being contacted by members of the community asking, ‘Are you guys going to change the name or what?’” he said.

Even without the mayor’s support, the street could still get a new name if at least 10 of the 15 aldermen vote to override her veto. But Carlozzi emphasizes that stripping Manafort Sr.’s name will require serious consideration.

“We can’t just make a policy decision on a whim,” he said. “There’s a lot involved in that — we don’t want to be accused of making decisions the same way the White House makes decisions, sporadically and haphazardly.”
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