Debicella says Himes 'covered up' shipyard involvement, Congressman responds
Dan Debicella, the Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Jim Himes for Congress, said Monday morning that Himes wasted $3 million in stimulus-related money for a yacht builder, visited the Bridgeport shipyard the next year, and then said he had nothing to do with it less than two years later.
Himes’ staff says that Debicella is criticizing the congressman’s vote for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was passed to help stimulate the economy during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. And they also were quick to point out that Debicella voted for state money for the same shipyard when he was in the State Senate.
Debicella held a press conference Monday morning, Sept. 8, at the site of the former Derecktor Shipyards in the city’s East End. He said the congressman had “wasted taxpayer money on special interest friends, destroyed jobs in Bridgeport, and attempted to cover it up.” A new television ad by Debicella addresses this accusation and calls Himes “part of the problem now.”
Derecktor received nearly $3 million in government assistance in 2009 as part of the Recovery Act, which Himes voted for shortly after taking office. That money for the Bridgeport company was not listed in the bill at the time but was awarded to Derecktor from the stimulus’s roughly $100 million in shipyard grants in August 2009.
Along with building yachts, Derecktor built high-speed ferries and other commercial boats.
In January 2010, Himes visited the Derecktor Shipyards for a tour of the facility. Photos of this visit are among those on Himes’ Flickr page, an online photo gallery.
Derecktor filed for bankruptcy in 2012 — for the second time in five years — and closed its Bridgeport location, leading to the loss of 300 jobs, Debicella said Monday.
When Himes was asked about Derecktor by his opponent, Republican Steve Obsitnik, during a 2012 debate — after the company went bankrupt — he said: “I had nothing to do with Derecktor. That was before I was in office. I had nothing to do with it.”
When asked this week about his involvement with the grant, his visit to the shipyard in 2010 and why the congressman said he wasn’t involved, Himes’ campaign spokesman on Tuesday morning told Hersam Acorn Newspapers: “Mr. Obsitnik said that Jim was ‘instrumental’ in bringing money to Derecktor, and Jim believed Obsitnik was referring to the multiple grants that Chris Shays touted for Derecktor in the past, before Jim was elected to Congress.”
In April 2008, U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, who Himes beat that fall, announced an $863,000 federal Department of Transportation grant for Derecktor to purchase welding equipment and a hydraulic bending machine.
But on Monday, Debicella was focusing on the $2.947 million for a new dry-dock facility in Bridgeport.
“The timeline here is very clear,” Debicella — while standing in front of photos of Himes at the shipyard and his own campaign signs — told several reporters on a Bridgeport sidewalk. “In 2009, Jim Himes voted to give $3 million to Derecktor Shipyards, and then came in early 2010 for a photo opportunity with some of the executives. Then in 2012, Derecktor Shipyards went bankrupt. Taxpayers lost all $3 million and Bridgeport lost 300 jobs. But that’s not the end of it because in 2012, Jim Himes then denied knowing anything about it. He said in one of the debates, quote, I had nothing to do with Derecktor Shipyards, that was before I was in office.”
Debicella said this is a case of Himes “not only wasting millions of dollars in taxpayer money — costing Fairfield County 300 jobs — but also then trying to cover up his involvement.”
Added the Republican: “Derecktor Shipyards is a perfect example of why Connecticut is 50th out of 50 in job creation. Jim Himes thinks the way to create jobs in Connecticut is to give millions of taxpayer dollars to mega-yacht builders so he can take a photo op, while I believe it is to reform the tax code, help the long-term unemployed, and empower small business.”
Records from Himes’ Flickr account show he took a tour and photos at Derecktor Shipyards on Jan. 8, 2010. Himes took office in January 2009.
“Creating jobs takes more than a photo op,” Debicella said. “We need adults in the room in Washington. We need leadership that will stop with the photo ops and talking points and put forward real solutions. That is why I have put forward a detailed plan to grow our economy and expand the middle class.”
During Monday's press conference, Debicella was asked if he had ever voted to allocate state money for a business while he was in the State Senate. He said he couldn't remember specifically because he had voted on many bills. But he said he had never lobbied for "sweetheart deals" where the state got involved in picking winners and losers.
Debicella and Derecktor
“Jim Himes did not advocate for Derecktor to win this competitive grant,” Libby Carlson, Himes’ campaign spokesman, said Tuesday. “He went to the site just as he visits hundreds of other businesses in his district, as opposed to Dan Debicella, who specifically voted to authorize funding for Derecktor.”
In 2007, while he was a state senator, Debicella voted for a $373 million state bonding package that included up to $1.75 million for improvements to Derecktor Shipyard, including remediation, dredging, bulkheading and construction of the second phase of the shipyard’s economic development plan. The shipyard ended up getting $1 million from the state.
“Dan Debicella is criticizing Jim Himes for voting for the Recovery Act, which was critical to helping Southwest Connecticut recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Carlson said Monday night. “Dan Debicella is criticizing one Recovery Act project while he celebrated a series of projects in the law that benefited his State Senate district.”
Back in 2010, when Debicella first ran for Congress against Himes, the CT Mirror, an online news site focusing on state government and politics, published an article noting how Debicella blasted the 2009 stimulus bill while also touting grants to his then State Senate district, which included Shelton and Stratford.
The then state senator sent out about six press releases in 2009 “saying the money could reduce traffic congestion, improve safety, and even boost the economy,” according to the Mirror.
While he did celebrate the federal money flowing into his district, Debicella did subdue that excitement by noting he had mixed feelings about the Recovery Act.
“Obviously I am glad to receive funding for projects in our community, which will hopefully create jobs and improve the economy,” he wrote in 2009. “However, I am worried about the massive size of stimulus (almost $800 billion dollars—more than $2,500 for every person in the United States), and the fact that we will be paying for today’s expenses for the next 20 years.”
When asked about his votes for Derecktor money in 2007 and statements about the stimulus package, Debicella said Tuesday: “Jim Himes is trying the old Washington two-step, by changing the topic from the fact that he lost $3 million in taxpayer money and 300 jobs and then tried to cover it up. This is not about our differences of opinion on stimulus package itself, but is about Jim becoming just another politician saying whatever he needs to stay in office.”