Amistad to try and attend New London festival [AP]

July 11, 2014

Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Gov. Dannel P. Malloy threatened Thursday to reconsider supporting additional state funding for the replica Amistad slave ship if the schooner follows through with plans to skip this weekend’s Sailfest in New London.

The governor’s move prompted the organization that operates the schooner to announce hours later that it would “exhaust every resource” to try and attend.

In a letter to Hanifa Washington, executive director of Amistad America Inc., Malloy said the schooner should be made available to Connecticut residents and the public. Nearly $400,000 is included in this year’s state budget for the ship, dubbed the Freedom Schooner Amistad. Amistad America works to raise awareness about racism and intolerance.

“Failure to bring the Amistad to New London would force me to reconsider support of additional state funding when negotiating future budgets with the Connecticut General Assembly,” Malloy said in his letter.

That letter led Washington to release a statement saying that if the organization can satisfy maritime safety regulations, it would “gladly participate” in the festival. “Next to upholding our mission, our priority has to be the safety of our crew and compliance to maritime regulations,” she said.

Earlier this week, Washington cited preparations for the upcoming Coast Guard inspection and what she described as hostile local newspaper coverage for the group’s decision to forgo the festival.

Malloy said it was “wholly unacceptable for Amistad America to break its commitment to a festival that brings hundreds of thousands of people to southeastern Connecticut” and that he doesn’t believe “any problems exist which could not have been raised in a more public manner months ago.”

On Wednesday, Washington said The Day of New London’s coverage of her organization’s financial problems has been hostile and inaccurate. She said given that coverage, she was unwilling to postpone crew training and rush inspection preparations to attend the festival. She said the schooner will be open this weekend at its dock in New Haven.

Tim Cotter, the managing editor of The Day, has said the newspaper’s stories have been accurate and he doesn’t see how the coverage is relevant to the decision to attend Sailfest.

Also Thursday, Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, sent a letter to Malloy asking him to support the suspension of state funds to Amistad America until an independent financial audit is complete. He said there are many questions about how the organization has spent the taxpayer money it has received.