Nobody needs the federal investigation that is under way to grasp the basics of the racket that was being run from the state budget office — the Office of Policy and Management — by its deputy secretary, Konstantinos Diamantis, who a few weeks ago was fired by Governor Lamont, not by OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw.
Diamantis, who was in charge of state government’s financing of municipal school construction projects, steered no-bid contracts to a construction management company that employed his daughter, Anastasia. Diamantis also facilitated Anastasia’s hiring as the $99,000-a-year assistant to the chief state’s attorney, Richard Colangelo Jr., while Colangelo was seeking the budget office’s approval for raises for prosecutors.
Diamantis, a former Democratic state representative from Bristol, was also supervising for OPM the redevelopment of the State Pier in New London, a project that has been botched. It is a year behind schedule with costs of $235 million, 2½ times the original estimate, $93 million. Nothing corrupt has been exposed there yet, but maybe Anastasia will turn up again, this time as the vice president of a dredging contractor. At least that $142 million cost overrun provides lots more room for political patronage and payoffs.
In his address to the General Assembly on Feb. 9 the governor felt compelled to acknowledge the smelly transactions in his budget office.
“I have zero tolerance for any ethical malfeasance,” the governor said. “We hold ourselves to the highest standards. If you see something, say something, and if you don’t get the response you deserve, give me a call.”
But who wants to cross the agency that has so much discretion over state and municipal spending, discretion Diamantis abused to benefit his daughter? The governor himself should be doing the calling — starting with budget director McCaw.
Did McCaw know what her deputy was doing, fixing the job for his daughter in the chief state’s attorney’s office and steering the school construction contracts to her other employer? Was McCaw demanding explanations for the grotesque overruns in the pier project? What other business in the budget office might the FBI want to look at?
At a briefing about the governor’s budget Feb. 9, McCaw said she has a “close working relationship” with Lamont, but she signified resentment of his top aides. “As a Black woman and the first woman of color to hold the position of OPM secretary,” McCaw said, “it is not easy to work professionally at this high level in a field that has been dominated by white males.”
Since McCaw omitted specifics, her insinuation of racism may be construed as a cheap distraction and evasion of responsibility for the corruption that had exploded right under her nose, a big embarrassment to the governor in an election year. But she well may figure that because she’s Black, as a political matter she can’t be fired.
Meanwhile the governor said he hoped McCaw would remain budget director. This sounded more like nervousness than a proclamation of confidence. With the FBI rummaging through budget office records and interviewing the neighborhood, the Republican opposition also may hope that McCaw doesn’t leave too soon but sticks around for indictments.
Chris Powell has worked for the Journal Inquirer in Connecticut since 1967, first as a reporter, then as an editor, and now as a columnist. He was managing editor from 1974 until retiring from that position in 2018.