Test­ing La­mont’s Hard­ing his­tory

Can­di­date has of­ten touted work at school

Connecticut Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Lock­hart

BRIDGE­PORT — Con­sid­er­ing how of­ten Ned La­mont tells vot­ers about vol­un­teer teach­ing at War­ren Hard­ing High School in 2005, one might as­sume “La­mont High” would have made a re­cent list of pos­si­ble new names for the build­ing. But it did not.

Start­ing when La­mont ran for U.S. Se­nate in 2006, then for gov­er­nor in 2010 — and now as the Demo­cratic Party’s en­dorsed gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date — the Green­wich ca­ble tele­vi­sion en­tre­pre­neur and millionaire has name-dropped Hard­ing in in­ter­views and on cam­paign lit­er­a­ture.

“As a teacher, Ned also sought to give back to his com­mu­nity by vol­un­teer­ing at Hard­ing High in Bridge­port,” reads La­mont’s cur­rent on­line bi­og­ra­phy. “In an ef­fort to pass on the en­trepreneurial spark, Ned taught stu­dents about the inner work­ings of small busi­nesses, bring­ing in lo­cal busi­ness­peo­ple to share their own ex­pe­ri­ences, and help­ing to place stu­dents in lo­cal in­tern­ships.”

That piece of La­mont’s re­sume comes in handy for con­vinc­ing ur­ban Democrats their coun­try cousin has some inner-city cred­i­bil­ity. But it was 13 years ago. What has he done lately?

La­mont and his staff in­sisted that in quiet ways the can­di­date has re­mained en­gaged with the Hard­ing com­mu­nity.

“I fell in love with those kids,” La­mont said in an in­ter­view.

In re­cent weeks, as Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia made in­quiries about La­mont’s re­la­tion­ship with Hard­ing over the last 13 years, the can­di­date contributed $5,000 to­ward an ef­fort to raise $20,000 for foot­ball equip­ment at the school.

“It was out of the blue,” Hard­ing Coach Ed­die Santiago said. “I didn’t reach out to him. And we still haven’t pub­licly said any­thing, ei­ther. We made some se­ri­ous head­way with that amount of money.”

The tim­ing was in­trigu­ing, be­cause of Hearst’s ques­tions and be­cause Bridge­port Mayor Joe Ganim wants to face La­mont in a pri­mary. Ganim is court­ing inner-city Democrats and por­tray­ing La­mont as out of touch with those vot­ers’ lives.

Hard to quan­tify

As for what else La­mont has been up to at Hard­ing, that in­for­ma­tion has been slow in com­ing and, when even­tu­ally pro­vided by him or his cam­paign, vague. La­mont said he has spon­sored non­profit Teach for Amer­ica teach­ers at Hard­ing and helped launch and fund a schol­ar­ship for Bridge­port stu­dents who at­tend his alma mater, Har­vard Univer­sity.

Har­vard did not re­spond to an in­quiry about the David L. Evans schol­ar­ship. A 2006 ar­ti­cle from “The Har­vard Gazette” said the schol­ar­ships are of­fered to stu­dents from un­der­rep­re­sented back­grounds — Evans was black. La­mont’s cam­paign claimed his con­tri­bu­tions are ear­marked for Bridge­port stu­dents, but could not say how many stu­dents have ben­e­fited.

“It's the same thing the col­lege does for a lot of cities,” La­mont said. “I put it to­gether specif­i­cally for Hard­ing and Bridge­port.”

The La­mont cam­paign also said the can­di­date has tried over the years to get par­ents more in­volved in the Hard­ing com­mu­nity, and that he hosted a lunch last fall en­cour­ag­ing at­ten­dance at par­ent/teacher meet­ings.

Hard­ing As­sis­tant Prin­ci­pal Kathy Sil­ver said La­mont has spon­sored an “an an­nual honor roll event for stu­dents and their par­ents.”

La­mont said he tries not to over­state his vol­un­teer­ing at Hard­ing: “It was an im­por­tant ex­pe­ri­ence for me. And I hope it was great for the kids.”

But as far back as his 2006 Se­nate bid, La­mont’s claim that he was a teacher at Hard­ing has been crit­i­cized by op­po­nents. Then-U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieber­man’s cam­paign said La­mont was “mis­lead­ing” the pub­lic.

Un­of­fi­cial teacher

Hard­ing Prin­ci­pal Hec­tor Sanchez, in a 2006 in­ter­view, cred­ited La­mont for the time he spent vol­un­teer­ing, but said call­ing him a teacher was “stretch­ing it.” Sanchez said La­mont part­nered with a cer­ti­fied teacher on Mon­days for two pe­ri­ods.

Max Me­d­ina, a prom­i­nent Bridge­port school board mem­ber from 1993 to 2009 who is back­ing La­mont’s cur­rent bid for gov­er­nor, re­called be­ing in­tro­duced to La­mont through Sanchez: “He (Sanchez) says, ‘ Max, we got a Har­vard guy vol­un­teer­ing at Hard­ing.’ I thought it was fan­tas­tic. Back then he wasn’t run­ning for any­thing.”

Bridge­port City Coun­cil­man Ernie New­ton grad­u­ated from Hard­ing in 1974. He said he was un­aware of La­mont’s con­tin­ued in­volve­ment at his alma mater, but gave the can­di­date credit.

“Not many mil­lion­aires come to our schools,” New­ton said. “I would like to see some young peo­ple who ben­e­fited (or) went to Har­vard — that’s how you know if he was a suc­cess in Bridge­port.”

La­mont’s tele­vi­sion and ra­dio ad­ver­tise­ments from 2006 fea­tured mi­nor­ity stu­dents who called him their “teacher.”

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing the sur­prise $5,000 from La­mont for the foot­ball team, Santiago needed no con­vinc­ing.

“He didn’t come to take a photo — none of that,” Santiago said. “Some­times you get a do­na­tion like that, peo­ple want to shake hands, take a pic­ture, es­pe­cially in the po­lit­i­cal game. To us, it felt real gen­uine and gen­er­ous.”

Chris­tian Abra­ham / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Ned La­mont, right, chats with Wil­lie Mur­phy dur­ing a visit to Bridge­port.

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