- Associated Press - Thursday, June 5, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The New Britain Rock Cats reached out to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office to discuss its future in Connecticut, just days before the minor league baseball team announced plans to move 15 miles north to Hartford.

But Andrew Doba, the governor’s communications director, told The Associated Press on Thursday that “those conversations never happened” and the administration ultimately learned about the deal when it was announced Wednesday.

Republicans have been critical of the deal, which moves the Rock Cats from a city run by a Republican mayor to one run by one who is, like Malloy, a Democrat.

Malloy, who is seeking re-election, has said his administration was not involved in the proposed move, which took New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart by surprise. Malloy’s possible foes in the general election have been critical of the stadium deal, with Senate Minority Leader John McKinney saying Thursday that Malloy “needs to step forward and let the people of New Britain and to a degree the people of Hartford know this will not happen with any state money.”

McKinney added, “I think it’s a bad deal. I think it’s unfair to the city of New Britain.”

Doba said aside from that call from the Rock Cats, Malloy’s administration has “no involvement” in the deal. Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said the city plans to build a new $60 million city-financed stadium to house the Rock Cats.

John Healey, Stewart’s chief of staff, said Malloy and his administration have made it a point to assure Stewart of the same thing. He said Malloy’s chief of staff, Mark Ojakian, called Stewart on Wednesday to stress that Malloy played no role. Healey said Malloy also announced that publicly during an event in New Britain.

“(Stewart)’s been assured the state is not involved and will not be involved,” said Healey, adding that “Until we hear otherwise or see evidence otherwise, we’re going to take the governor at his word.”

Since the team’s announcement, Healey said Stewart has also heard from McKinney and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, another Republican gubernatorial candidate who called the stadium proposal “a very, very bad investment” that doesn’t create real economic opportunities for people.

Segarra said at the announcement that the planned move is “responsible” and he’s convinced it will be a positive economic development.

Healey said both Republicans urged Stewart to stay strong. He said the mayor has not given up on keeping the team in New Britain.

“It’s our hope we will find a way to retain the Rock Cats,” he said, adding how the team needs to inform the city by March 2015 whether it plans to renew its lease for the stadium. In the meantime, he said Stewart is talking with other teams about the possibility of moving to New Britain, but said Stewart is not looking to “poach” any existing in-state teams given this experience with the city of Hartford.

Asked about Malloy’s opinion of the deal, Doba said it was up to the mayors “to decide what’s in the best interest for their cities.”

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Associated Press writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this report.