CONECT has founding meeting, 1,500 pack East End church

by John Burgeson for CT Post

November 30, 2011

BRIDGEPORT ---- A significant new multi-faith organization, united to fight such social ills as unfair banking practices, high health insurance costs and abusive treatment of immigrants, got a rousing start Wednesday night as about 1,500 packed an East End church to incorporate CONECT.

The name stands for "Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut." It's a multi-faith amalgam of 25 houses of worship in Fairfield and New Haven counties, encompassing Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and Unitarians. Organizers said that CONECT might eventually span the state. The event took place at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on Union Avenue, which was packed to the rafters with supporters.

There were about a dozen VIPs seated behind the pulpit, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who pledged to work with CONECT.

"I'm always happy to meet with your representatives," he said. Other politicians and officials there included state Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield; state Insurance Commissioner Tom Leonardi; Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport.

Member houses of worship in Fairfield and New Haven counties pledged nearly $101,000 Wednesday night to get CONECT going, and another $70,000 in grant funds were taken in as well. Some small churches from poor neighborhoods pledged a few hundred dollars, while churches and synagogues from wealthier towns contributed many thousands.

"The idea is for people to get power ---- safe streets, quality health care and so forth," said Peter A Rosazza, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford, and one of CONECT's founders. "These issue come from the people."

CONECT leaders said that they expect its numbers to swell.

"We have a number of faith organizations here who are observing us tonight who are interested in becoming members as well," said Elizabeth Keenan, coordinator of the Pastoral Council at St. James Parish in Stratford, and another one of the organizers. "We've gotten to the tipping point where we could incorporate tonight. We'll be here for a long time."

The group is co-chaired by the Rev. Anthony Bennett of Bridgeport's Mount Aery Baptist Church and the Rev. James Manship of East Haven's St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church.

Bennett is well-known in the city's faith community; not only does he lead one of the largest congregations in the region, but he has also delivered eulogies at a number of high-profile funerals in recent years and is involved in dozens of organizations that promote everything from black pride to literacy.

Manship has become something of a folk hero after his booking in 2009 by East Haven police for videotaping the arrest of an Ecuadorian shopkeeper in his store. Manship has maintained that East Haven cops have systematically harassed Latinos and immigrants, and in late 2009, the U.S. Justice Department agreed to investigate the East Haven Police Department. The charges against Manship were later dropped.

Other religious leaders at the Wednesday night gathering were Rosazza, Bishop James Curry of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, and Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the founding director of Just Congregations.

CONECT's agenda consists of the following:

The state should require public hearings before the state Insurance Commissioner approves excessive increases in health and long-term care premiums requested by insurance companies.

Job training dollars need to be directed to training that is connected to actual jobs.

Undocumented immigrants should be able to get drivers licenses, get their cars registered and also to carry motor vehicle insurance.

The state attorney general should conduct an investigation into the amount of financial harm to homeowners from unscrupulous mortgage companies, before he signs the agreement giving those banks immunity.

Malloy said that he would work with CONECT on all of these issues. On the matter of providing driver's licenses for undocumented residents, he said that, as a matter of safety, all drivers in the state should have insurance and should be licensed.

"Let me be very clear -- no car should be driven in the state without insurance, and we in state government should not be an impediment to having insurance," the governor said.

"This is an exciting new start to something that will change the world, little by little," said Rep. Steinberg.


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