By Ken Krayeske • 5:31 PM EST
Abe Giles hung up the phone with me before I could ask him what he thought of Mississippi’s famed civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer.
I called him to inquire about a number of topics, and I started with the hard one first. Maybe I should’ve led with Hamer.
But I wanted to know how Giles’ business, G & G Enterprises, Inc., won the low bid on the Contract for Miscellaneous Services #4076, On Demand Moving and Storage Services of Personal Effects of Evicted Tenants.
The scope of services in Contract #4076, when put out to bid, originally called for the winner to move the voting equipment, too.
Let’s put aside the fundamental question of why the city has to subsidize landlord-tenant relationships rather than working to guarantee housing for all, and focus on why the contract when Giles signed the contract July 13, 2007, it didn’t have that voting equipment provision.
“The only reason why, because people like you ask damn, dumb stupid questions,” Giles said. “You didn’t start it, it started years ago. That’s the only reason why.”
Giles then hung up the phone. Before ending the conversation, Giles said he hasn’t moved voting machines for the city in at least five years, maybe more. He acknowledged that he won the moving contract for the city. But he wouldn’t tell me what it was worth.
“Investigate it. Go to city hall to ask that,” Giles instructed me. “See who the next highest bidder is.”
The contract is worth between $50,000 and $60,000 annually, according to Marc Turcotte, the city’s procurement manager, who signed the Contract with Giles for the City of Hartford.
“It’s really ballpark,” Turcotte said, noting that he didn’t have the precise amount purchasing spent on it last year. “It varies all the time based on the number of evictions that are done.”
G&G Enterprises was one of two companies responding to the bid, Larock’s Cleaning Services in Bridgeport had the second highest bid, which came in at $775.00 per eviction. Giles’ price was $225 per eviction.
“They are in Bridgeport, which is why their price is probably so much higher,” Turcotte said.
And the moving of voting equipment isn’t in the contract because in previous years, Giles political involvement forces his exclusion from handling voting machines, Turcotte said.
“When someone is politically active, you don’t want them to have responsibility for moving voting machines,” he said.
The person most affected by the contract to move the voting equipment is the Registrar of Voters. The registrar position comes up for election during the presidential cycle, every four years.
Based on the Democratic party monopoly in Hartford, though, voters in November will just confirm the will of primary voters on August 12 as to who the next Democratic Registrar will be.
Shirley Surgeon, the current Democratic registrar of voters, is in a pitched primary battle for Registar with Giles’ daughter-in-law Olga Vazquez.
If you don’t think that family connections matter with Giles, consider that his wife Juanita and grandson, Miles Wiles, sat as members of the Democratic Town Committee back in March. At that meeting, Giles came out of illness forced retirement to resurrect his political career, as his consanguine slate helped Sean Arenas win town committee chair.
Giles is now challenging Marie Kirkley-Bey for State Representative in the Fifth District. Kirkley-Bey is no saint either, as her daughter Kelly Kirkley-Bey has had issues with the law, but been protected in a pretty good job at the state house.
Giles’ daughter drives around his mini-van, plastered with Giles for State Representative placards, which also plug Obama for president. A placard in the rear driver-side window notes that a state marshal drives the van.
So Giles rakes it in off public contracts, perhaps not as much as our friend State Representative Kelvin “I don’t get not respect” Roldán, but, Giles knows how to milk the public teat.
Surgeon had no idea what Giles’ moving contract is worth either. But Surgeon, who bested Vazquez for Registrar in 2004, has a pretty good idea why Giles doesn’t have the voting machine contract.
“Purchasing said Giles won the contract for the city and I said no, I will not do that. I will stay with the state contract,” Surgeon said.
The Secretary of the State’s office has a standing contract with several movers who will transport voting equipment for cities. Using that contract, Surgeon works with Amodio Movers, among others, to haul the equipment from the basement of City Hall to the 23 precinct stations.
The contract is worth about $3,000 per election, and while the new machines are less cumbersome than the old Sequoia machines, they are more labor intensive to assemble, Surgeon said.
It’s not the labor she is concerned about, though. It’s the appearance of impropriety.
“When I protested, Purchasing decided it would be unethical to do the voting equipment, and they left Giles out of the contract,” Surgeon said. “The state companies have no affiliation, no political connections with the city. This is where the integrity of the process begins.”
Even the appearance of political connections with the Mayor’s office, or someone running for office like Giles is, would damage democracy, Surgeon said.
“I’m not saying Giles is a criminal. He’s not,” Surgeon said. “It’s just the appearance that he’s on the town committee.” And, he has $30,000 in state financing to run for state representative against Kirkley-Bey.
That might cause people to stop believing the integrity of the voting process won’t take ownership of their government, she said.
“If the ownership is not there, we’re worth nothing,” Surgeon said. “We need citizens to take ownership in their rights as citizens in this country.”
Should Vazquez win, Surgeon is quite confident Vazquez could not award the contract to her father-in-law Abe Giles.
“She can’t shift the voting machine contract,” Surgeon said. “The City of Hartford purchasing department would have to put out a new RFP and open bids for the voting machines.”
Surgeon and Vazquez will debate the issues surrounding the office of the Registrar of Voters Thursday, August 7 at 6 p.m. at the Hartford Public Library on Main Street. Republican candidates Salvatore Bramante and Kevin Brookman will face off, too. A meet and greet precedes the forum at 5:30 p.m.
Bicycle advocate, friend of the 40-Year Plan and League of Women Voters’ representative Sandy Fry will moderate the forum.
Giles appeared in one last week, unfortunately, I had to leave early and didn’t get to see him spar with Kirkley-Bey. Even then, I would’ve asked him about the contract, and about what his thoughts are on Fannie Lou Hamer’s famous line “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Like Hamer, Giles has registered lots of voters. In fact, at one point, more than two dozen of them lived at his house. What would Fannie Lou Hamer, who was beaten within inches of her life by sheriffs wielding rubber hoses for registering voters, think of that?