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Leading Republican: Borinqueneers Monument Noble But Not With State Funding

NB sign
Bill Sarno
Editor’s Update: On Tuesday, July 12, the $300,000 for the monument in New Britain honoring the ‘Borinqueneers’ was approved.
For members of Connecticut’s Puerto Rican community who have been working for several years to create a memorial park in New Britain  to honor the 65th Regiment Infantry “Borinqueneers,” it is a recognition that is needed, warranted and should become a reality as soon as possible.
However, a leading Republican legislator last week said a proposed grant for a monument in the park is among the items for state bonding allocations that are unjustified and reflect Democratic financial mismanagement.
“Projects like this monument can be paid for using private donations through fundraising or by waiting for a time when the state can actually afford to offer support to such projects,” said  state Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano in a press release issued Thursday.
Despite Fasano’s objections, the organizers of the Borinqueneer project could get some good news as soon as Tuesday, July 12. Near the end of a 42-page agenda for the state Bond Commission’s special session is a $300,000 bonding allocation to the city of New Britain for the monument.
Time is an enemy for this tribute, in that with each passing year there are fewer Borinqueneer veterans alive to enjoy the recognition earned by this combat unit comprised of men from Puerto Rico in three U.S. wars, most notably in the Korean conflict more than six decades ago.
Carmelo Rodriquez, who heads the Latino Coalition in New Britain and has worked on the project, said, “I would love to see something there soon” for the Borinqueneer veterans.
Fasano, who represents North Haven, took to task Conecticut Democrats, who control both the governor’s office and the legislature, for “borrowing uncontrollably” for a list of projects that would add “more burdens to taxpayers and our children for generations to come.”
The high-ranking Republican legislator said that adding to the state debt for the monument and other “wants” mean “less money in the future for services like education, health care, mental health and substance abuse services.”
Rodriguez, a Republican leader in New Britain,  expressed disappointment that Fasano included the New Britain allocation for “our veterans” among those items the Senate leader says are currently unjustified.
State Rep. Robert Sanchez, a New Britain Democrat who has been spearheading the bipartisan effort to get state funding for the monument, said he “looked forward to having a conversation” with Fasano about the Borinqueneers park plan.
Sanchez has emphasized that he has “always said” this endeavor should get some bonding money and that the state has gone this route in the past for similar projects.
On Friday morning, Rodriguez said he had talked to Fasano and he got the impression that the state senator did not know the monument was for veterans.
Fasano acknowledged later that he talked with some Latino leaders, but he was not retreating from his view that the monument allocation is unjustified, according his press secretary Nicole Rall.
“Honoring our veterans, including the many Puerto Ricans who served our nation, is an extremely noble cause,” Fasano said. “But I cannot justify the state borrowing so much at this time for any monument, no matter how honorable the intentions.”
Fasano’s comments about the items on the bond agenda are not expected to carry much weight in what the commission, whose chairman is Governor Dannel Malloy, approves Tuesday.
Chris McClure, the governor’s spokesman, said Friday, “We are grateful for Senator Fasano’s input. At this point, items may still be removed from the Bond Commission agenda, but we will make those determinations based on the best interests of the state and not based on press releases.”
Moreover, during the Malloy administration,  items on the bonding commission agenda have tended to be overwhelmingly approved, McClure added  So far this year, on 153 items, there have been only 12 no votes cast.
This project is one of the smallest among those projects scheduled to be covered by more than $188 million in general obligation bonds that are on the bonding commission’s agenda.
Fasano’s list of agenda items that are “wants and not needs” includes $250,000 for Hartford to erect a monument to education and sports activist “Doc” Hurley, $1.2 million for the Tennis Foundation of Connecticut in Hartford, $3.1 million to the CT Science Center and $4.75 million for improvements to the XL Center and Church Street garage.
His list did not include $44,473 or a laser scanner that his hometown would share with four nearby communities and is among more than $3.2 million that would go to various towns for equipment.
Moreover, last October Fasano publicly applauded North Haven receiving a $500,000 state grant for a concession stand, restrooms and locker rooms at a local athletic field.
The New Britain park project was originally organized by the 65th Regiment Historical Society and then was picked up by the larger Latino Coalition under Rodriquez, who said Sanchez has been carrying the ball recently.
Sanchez wants to see something in place soon, because the few surviving Borinqueneers in Connecticut are in their 80s.
For more than a year, Sanchez has been working on state funding for what would be the nation’s first park and monument recognizing the 65th Infantry Regiment, which was the last segregated military unit to engage in combat before it was disbanded a half century ago.
The city of New Britain already has acquired at no cost from the state a piece of land on Beaver Street off Farmington Avenue. A groundbreaking was held three years ago and a sign has been installed designating the landscaped area as the future site of the 65th Infantry Regiment Memorial Park.
The monument’s design has not been completely finalized, Rodriguez said, who added that it is his impression that the format may consist of slabs containing engravings
Several fund-raising events have taken place for the project and the city and its public works department are ready to accept the state money, Sanchez said.
Among those welcoming the news that the New Britain project is moving forward is Frank Medina, the founder and leader of the national Borinqueneers Congressional Medal Alliance.
 The former Bridgeport resident cited the naming last year of a street in his hometown for the Borinqueneers, a stone monument in the Jamaica Plains neighborhood of Boston and the “65th Walk Way of Honor” as other tributes in New England to the Puerto Rican soldiers.
Sanchez said that the completed memorial park would put New Britain “on the map as being among the places honoring these men.”

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