In Connecticut, a little street named 'Paul Manafort Drive' is a source of shame and amusement

In the town of New Britain, Conn., a state college is bordered by a little street with a big-time name: Paul Manafort Drive. It's starting to get 'embarrassing' for locals, amid a high-profile federal trial for U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign manager.

'We're kind of haunted by the name' of ex-Trump campaign aide's family legacy, resident says

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, right, shown in his mug shot, is currently on trial for financial crimes from charges brought by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller. The news has been 'embarrassing' for some locals from his home town of New Britain, Conn., where a street is named after his father, Paul Manafort Sr. (Associated Press, Twitter)

Turn on Paul Manafort. Continue on Paul Manafort. Cross Paul Manafort.

If you think that sounds like courtroom strategy in the ongoing federal trial of Donald Trump's former campaign manager, try again.

In the town of New Britain, Conn., those are driving directions.

"We have to cross over Paul Manafort every day," says Darlene Gable, a secretary at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). "We cross Paul Manafort just to get to our faculty buildings."

Since 1994, the main entrance of the state college where she works has been bordered by a little street with a big-time name: Paul Manafort Drive. On weekdays, university staff who arrive early are usually fortunate enough to snag a spot in the Paul Manafort Lot.

Saying it out loud over the phone, Gable cracks herself up.

It sounds absurd, she concedes, to use that name to explain how she gets to her office. Manafort, a native of New Britain, is facing financial charges brought by the U.S. special counsel investigating Russian election interference.

Darlene Gable, who works at Central Connecticut State University, poses with a Paul Manafort Drive sign on campus. (Courtesy Darlene Gable)

Gable says other people in town "feel embarrassed by that."

It doesn't even matter that the street that shares Manafort's name isn't truly his to claim. It was meant to recognize his father, Paul Manafort Sr., a former Republican mayor of New Britain whose fortunes in the construction business buoyed his run for municipal office.

"It's not even his. It's kind of a joke," Gable says.

But it's a joke that won't be getting old any time soon. Particularly as the Trump-Russia probe carries on, and as Manafort faces a jury in Virginia for allegations of bank and tax fraud. His former deputy, Rick Gates, testified on Monday that the duo committed crimes together. If convicted, Manafort could end up spending the rest of his days behind bars.

'The shame of New Britain'

That possibility, along with his murky past lobbying on behalf of the Russian-friendly government of Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych, has earned the younger Manafort an unflattering nickname from Scott Licamele, a renewable energy developer from Weston, Conn.

"The Shame of New Britain," Licamele called him.

In this July 17, 2016, file photo, Manafort talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

The Manafort Bros. Construction firm, founded by Manafort's Italian-immigrant grandfather, is well-known throughout the state, Licamele said.

"The state of Connecticut has to see this guy's name plastered all over trucks," he said. "As his legal troubles mount, it's just odd to see the trucks, knowing it was — or is — connected to him."

Heavy machinery bearing the "Manafort" marquee can be seen all over campus, Gable adds.

"We're kind of haunted by the name."

So much so that Dan Russell, a digital marketer who drove to work nearly every day on Paul Manafort Drive, started a petition last year to change the street name to honour a different New Britain native, Houston Astros all-star and 2017 Major League Baseball MVP George Springer.

"It's definitely embarrassing as an American to see something like that," he said, given the current street sign could be mistaken for one that honours an emissary for pro-Russian interests.

But is it fair to punish the father for the alleged sins of his son?

"Definitely a conundrum," Russell said. "But the name is the name. The sign doesn't come with an accompanying paragraph or an asterisk declaring what happened. It's just a name that's tarnished."

Russell's petition garnered about 1,500 signatures. His renaming proposal was rejected by the city. Shortly after the election, the chief of staff for the Republican mayor of New Britain released a statement.

"Most people don't know Paul Manafort Sr. is who that street is named after," the staffer told The Courant newspaper. "It was named in honour of him and we're going to honour him — we're going to leave the road the way it is."

Contacted by CBC News, the mayor's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Alex Kuzma, a Ukrainian-American activist in neighbouring Glastonbury, has organized four anti-Manafort protests between April 2016 and November 2017 in front of the Paul Manafort Drive sign outside CCSU's main gate.

If Manafort is convicted, Kuzma said he'd prefer to see the street renamed for the so-called "Heavenly Hundred" protesters who perished during the 2013-2014 Ukraine uprising.

"It could be a Heavenly Hundred Drive," Kuzma suggested.

A movement was also afoot at CCSU before the summer break to rename the street in honour of the founder of the university's library, or one of its prominent first African-American faculty members. A university spokesperson said the decision to rename the street would be left to the the city of New Britain.

But Paul Manafort Drive continues to baffle newcomers.

When political science professor Trevor Allen first drove onto CCSU's campus last August, he knew nothing of the Manaforts' deep roots in New Britain.

"The sign certainly caught my eye," he wrote in an email. "No one informed me about the family."

Paul Manafort Drive has since become a "source of amusement" to share with friends from grad school.

Many locals aren't bothered by it, said Mike Wojas, a landscaper who lived in two apartments on Paul Manafort Drive about 15 years ago.

"I used to call it 'Manafort Drive.' It was a cool spot, right in the centre of the college," he said. "I don't follow politics, but I was seeing his name on my computer. It's a little funny."

At Tony's Central Pizza, less than a minute from Paul Manafort Drive, owner Tony Antonaras said most of the college kids who come in for a slice "couldn't care less" about the name of the street so close to their campus.

"People like the father. He was a popular guy. Good guy, from what I hear. But his son? I dunno about the son."

Tom Hazuka, an English professor at Central Connecticut State University, took a selfie in August 2018 with the Paul Manafort Drive sign, then posted it to Facebook. (Courtesy Tom Hazuka)

Manafort's trial was expected to last about two weeks. In the meantime, the street sign has become something of an attraction, with motorists jumping out to take selfies with it.

Tom Hazuka, an English professor at CCSU, took a photo there during a lunch break last week. He wouldn't be too thrilled with the street being renamed.

"It would take away our amusement factor," he said.

About the Author

Matt Kwong

Reporter

Matt Kwong is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News. He previously reported for CBC News as an online journalist in New York and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at: @matt_kwong