- Associated Press - Friday, December 2, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A lawmaker wants the state to bail out about 20 people and businesses in Connecticut that are owed a total of about $270,000 by a now-defunct organization that operated the state’s official flagship, the Amistad schooner.

Democratic Rep. Diana Urban, of North Stonington, said Friday that she will propose a bill for the 2017 legislative session that calls for the state to borrow the money to pay only the Connecticut-based creditors of Amistad America Inc. The group went into state receivership and was dissolved last year after running up $2 million in debt amid allegations of poor management and bad record-keeping.

The group oversaw the Amistad, a 129-foot Baltimore clipper and replica of a slave ship taken over by African captives being brought to Cuba in 1839. The real Amistad landed on New York’s Long Island, but the captives were captured and jailed in New Haven. With help from abolitionists, they won their freedom in a landmark legal case that started in Connecticut and ended in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The replica ship has sailed around the world teaching people the Amistad story since it was first launched in 2000 as a symbol of America’s early anti-slavery movement.

A new nonprofit group, Discovering Amistad, is now overseeing the vessel with plans to continue its educational mission.

Urban said about $9 million in taxpayer money was spent building, maintaining and operating the schooner over the years, and it’s only fair that the people and businesses in the state owed money by Amistad America recoup their losses.

“Small businesses’ tax dollars helped pay for the Amistad, and then they did work and didn’t get paid. So they got stiffed twice,” Urban said. “I do not believe us leaving those small businesses hanging is right.”

Mystic Seaport, the maritime museum where the ship was repaired and maintained over the years, never received the $45,000 it was owed by Amistad America.

“It was a bitter pill to swallow,” seaport President Stephen White said. “It was a real disappointment to so many people in the region who reached out to help and support Amistad America’s mission.”

White said he wasn’t expecting to recover the money since Amistad America was dissolved. He welcomed Urban’s bill but noted that the museum hadn’t lobbied for such a proposal.

Urban expected to file her bill Monday. She said she also wants to end state payments for operating and maintaining the ship, saying Discovering Amistad should be able to raise enough money.

The schooner is now docked at Mystic Seaport.

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