April 3, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • Hartford • 5:00 PM EST
There is no coincidence, according to the hero V in the great Alan Moore graphic novel "V for Vendetta."
With that in mind, what should we make of the turn of events on Thursday, March 29 at VibzUptown, 3155 Main Street, Hartford?
A city health inspector showed up for an inspection at the club less than two hours before mayoral candidate I. Charles Mathews expected about 100 people for a campaign fundraiser.
It was odd, Mathews said Tuesday, April 3.
"At the end of the day, it may be just a tempest in a teapot," Mathews said. "But we were all set up and getting ready to have our fundraiser, at around 3:30, a health inspector waked in and indicated she had a responsibility to inspect the place."
She found nothing wrong with the place, restaurateur Yvon Alexandre said. Alexandre has been at that spot for seven years, although up until a few years ago, his place was called the Pyramid.
In all that time, the authorities have only taken issue with his food preparation once, and that was when the Hartford Police were inspecting the Pyramid, Alexandre said.
Thursday, March 29, the health inspector showed up as part of the routine annual inspection, Alexandre said. He had been expecting her for the previous three weeks.
"We are inspected once a year," he said. "Normally, it is done before June, because our license goes to the end of June."
Thursday morning, the inspector called to say she would be in that afternoon.
"It seemed a little peculiar, but looking back on it, it could’ve happened any day," Alexandre said. "I don't know if the inspector was held off when I had asked them to come in two weeks ago. I don't have any information to say."
The delay could be attributable to the idea that the health inspectors never come when they tell you they are going to come, he said.
"They may hold off to try to catch you by surprise," Alexandre said.
Or, is it feasible that Mayor Eddie Perez might have tried to use the Health Department to exert pressure on a political opponent?
It's not like Licenses and Inspections hasn't been used as a tool of retaliation before. Recall in February 2003, how Chris Allen-Doucot and the folks at the Catholic Worker house managed to defeat – albeit temporarily – the grandparents housing project from eating the park on Barbour Street.
Shortly after Allen-Doucot and his crew showed up at a city council meeting and nearly beat City Hall, an L&I inspector was at his door based on an anonymous complaint.
Inspectors found no violations. But, as City Councilman John Kennelly told Courant reporter Mark Pazniokas, "The timing is highly suspect."
Mathews isn't ready to point the finger at Mayor Perez. But more than a month ago, Matthews said he scheduled the $15 a head fundraiser, which he advertised in local newspapers and online.
"I would like to believe it was merely a coincidence that she came out on the day of the fundraiser," Mathews said. "But I don't want to be naïve, either. I’m not in a position to actually accuse the administration of playing a dirty trick. It just looks odd."
About 93 people showed up to Mathews' event, which he said was a success, raking in about $9,000. His campaign currently has about $40,000 in the bank, far less than Perez's war chest, which Mathews estimated at more than $60,000.
Mike Pascucilla, the assistant director of the City's Department of Health, said that his office on 131 Coventry Street is insulated from the politics at City Hall.
His inspectors are not motivated by elections, he said.
"We're part of the city, but what we do day to day is driven by state regulations," Pascucilla said.
Local health inspectors are city employees but licensed by the state, said Bill Garrish of the CT Department of Health.
"In terms of regulatory authority, it is possible complaints would be filed and we would investigate it," Garrish said.