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Monday, May 13, 2024

Biden's Infrastructure Bonanza - Free Rides, Meal Tickets, And Millions Under The Table

Giuseppe Palumbo came to this country from Naples in 1902, worked as a laborer in New Haven rebuilding the port, laying track for the railroad, and digging the new turnpike north to Boston.  He never flinched at the hours, the work, or the pay.  He had come to America to prosper, knew it would take time, but was armed with the patience of Job.

He had left his village in Southern Italy reluctantly.  He knew that once he boarded the liner for New York he would never see his family or his country again.  A distant cousin in West Haven would be his only link to the hills of Vico Equense. 


Life on Wooster Square was hard, but promising.  The doors to America had been opened wide because the country needed strong backs to carry the sacks of coal to fire the steam engines, the hods to haul bricks and bags of sand, and feed for the hundreds of dray horses pulling endless cartloads of iron and steel. Only work was expected, and only labor rewarded.  New immigrants relied on family, community, and La Cosa Nostra for everything else. 

In time Giuseppe prospered.  Like many new Italians he saw advantages in his construction job, and soon he and five other Vico Equense men formed their own small business, subcontractors who guaranteed their customers on-time delivery and unquestionable performance. Within two years 'Palumbo Brothers' was on a fleet of five trucks, and after ten they were working major construction. 

The construction business in those days was a quid pro quo affair - money exchanged hands a hundred times before a project was done, the idea of 'cost overruns' was born, and barely half the original funds from the city and New Haven County made it to actual bricks and mortar, and both the Palumbo Brothers, their subcontractors, and the Mafia saw the rest.  Everyone was complicit and everyone was happy. 

The city knew it could rely on the county for replenishment - the roads, tunnels, and bridges built within the city jurisdiction connected the county to Hartford, New York, and Providence and they had to be completed.  The city knew it had to pay off the mafia to stem the new labor restlessness stirred up by Chicago organizers and to kick back percentages to the County Supervisor.  The Palumbos had to remember their suppliers to assure timely deliveries, and the suppliers were in league with the manufacturers for their shipments. 

In short, government money enabled the whole friendly system to operate.  It was the mother lode, the gold mine, the fountain of prosperity. 

By the time Anthony Palumbo, Giuseppe's grandson was managing the family business, the scope of 'friendliness' had expanded geometrically.  The federal government was now in the business of open financing - i.e. massive grants for infrastructure projects to rebuild the bridges, trestles, and tunnels built in his grandfather's day.  The money simply poured in to municipal and county coffers, a real bonanza.  While the system had been configured to limit the diversion of funds so common a generation or two ago, government overseers and auditors could never possibly stem the tide, pinpoint the leakage, or even discourage it.

When President Biden signed the now famous infrastructure bill, earmarking billions to be allocated throughout the country, the only question was how much Connecticut, New Haven and the Palumbos would get.  Anthony, his Wall Street investors, and his government associates leaned on their representatives in Congress to assure that a good portion of the largesse would come their way.  To do this, they advanced 'promissory entitlements' to the Congressmen who were on the committees that determined fund allocation.

As a result, major funds for the restoration of the City of New Haven and its environs were secured.  To be sure the funds were needed - the city's port had long ago ceded influence to New York, Boston, and Baltimore. Decades of affirmative action municipal mismanagement had drained the treasury - no show jobs for the inner city, shadowy social welfare programs and walkin' around money all took their share. The City Council were kindergartners in the games of leakage and diversion, and before long the city was a wreck, money gone, and political influence a thing of the past.

Soon however, Biden Administration monies for social reform would soon start flowing, and while they were insignificant compared to infrastructure, they would be enough to get the 'collusive coalition of graft', as a New Haven paper had called, it going again. 

Anthony Palumbo was by now a respected member of the greater New Haven community, mingling with the old English families descended from John Davenport and the founders of the city over three hundred years in Groton Long Point and Old Saybrook but happier at the Knights of Columbus in Wooster Square.  At the same time he was the mastermind behind the 'reapportionment' of funds coming from Washington.  He had learned from decades in the family business exactly how to manage the accounts in his favor, to throw federal investigators off the track, and to keep his friends in Jersey happy.


'This infrastructure thing is a good thing', Anthony said to his partners at Tiro a Segno over coffee and anisette as they drew up plans to spend the first tranche of the Biden money.  The grant was designated to rebuild the bridge on the Pulaski Skyway and to repave and repoint the Q bridge, recently designed by a Calatrava architectural affiliate and done in graceful arabesques, then built by none other than the Palumbo Brothers.  

It was not quite a tourist attraction but an impressive sight for anyone travelling from Boston to New York.  Now it was time to work on it again - unnecessary, given the relative newness of the structure, but Washington had lumped every bridge in the Northeast Corridor under the transportation portion of the bill so needy or not, the money was allocated. 

Anthony was used to no-work jobs like this, an opportunity to clear the books of all outstanding debts - to the Rizzos for example who had resolved a labor dispute at the port and freed up 10,000 metric tons of gypsum from Winnipeg for the twenty-story mixed use building on Whalley Avenue; and to the Petrucci cousins who lent him a detail of plumbers to fix a problem on the 14th floor of the same building in time to show completion to the building inspectors from Hartford.

So when the Biden money started to flow the Rizzos and Petrucci cousins were more than satisfied with the fat envelopes sent their way as were their bosses and their bosses' bosses.  There was plenty of cash to go around, and the cost of the desultory work on the bridges almost nothing. 

Once the bigtime favors had been repaid, the unions taken care of, and the Tammany New Haven bosses satisfied, there was plenty left over for Uncle Louis' new El Dorado, Auntie Angie's summer home in Branford, and Anthony's pied a terre in New York. 


The thing of it was, it was like taking candy from a baby so clueless and indifferent were the President and his lieutenants.  Had Trump been in office, he would have known the ins and outs of every racket on the East Coast, and far from shutting them down, would have demanded his cut - not necessary since he was a billionaire but to send a message, a threat as serious as breaking kneecaps, cement shoes, and swimming with the fishes.  'Our kind of man', said Anthony. 

Infrastructure projects have been cash cows from India to Grover's Corners, every day of the week, under all conditions.  Bridges to nowhere, unnecessary curb cuts, replacement of perfectly good piping and electrical cables, pink elephant projects, ground breaking and ground filling, tracks upheaved and replaced, new filtration plants for perfectly good water.  

The list is endless, and the unreported, undisclosed profits worth millions for each.  Across the board, big city and little town, local authorities have lined up for the kind of largesse the Biden Administration was doling out. Christmas in July, a bonanza, a high holy day, a three ring circus. 

'The business of America is business', Engine Charlie Wilson, industrialist, entrepreneur, and government civil servant had said. How right he was, knowing that such business happened above board and below it, black market and white, official and unofficial.  There were businessmen making money hand over first everywhere but never were noticed.  They were the real underground economy. 

There was a plaque to Giuseppe Palumbo on Olive Street in Wooster Square, a tribute to the man who got the ball rolling for Italians who wanted  the riches of l'America; and for sure there are similar plaques in South Philly, Southie, and Federal Hill where Irishmen made their fortunes.  It was harder for the Irish to make big money - they were always attracted to low-level, arm-twisting jobs like the police and city hall while Italians made millions from the really big, lucrative iron and steel contracts. 

'I'll vote for the old man two or three times if necessary', Anthony Palumbo said to his mates about Biden at Tiro a Segno. 'He's a fucking idiot, but generous? Generous to a fault'. 

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