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Rell on the Billboard

Governor Rell wants to protect the countryside from commercial crassness, but her own billboards remain

By DANIEL D'AMBROSIO, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer

February 21, 2008

Naugatuck businessman Curt Bosco smells a rat.

If Gov. M. Jodi Rell is so fired up about ridding the state of the scourge of billboards blocking out the bucolic Connecticut countryside, asks Bosco, why does her own smiling face appear on billboards across the state, including one on Route 8 southbound between exits 29 and 30?

Bosco passes the billboard regularly on his way from Waterbury to his glass business in Naugatuck and it gets him steamed every time he sees it.

"Don't talk out of both sides of your mouth lady," he said in a recent interview with the Advocate.

The billboard, which Bosco describes as having "something to do with green tree-hugging crap," is actually part of the governor's environmental campaign onethingct.com. It reads, "Welcome to the Conservation Superhighway," with a small picture of the governor in one corner.

Rell caused a minor uproar last week when she announced she was proposing no new contracts for billboards on state-owned property be allowed and existing billboard contracts not be renewed when they expire.

The legislation would affect only about 120 billboards in the state, mostly along the interstate highways I-95, I-91 and I-84, according to spokesman Chris Cooper. The state would give up about $80,000 in rental fees annually.

"Connecticut is noted for its natural beauty," Cooper said. "People have a certain postcard image in their minds of stone walls and white steeples and quintessential New England towns."

So it's a little jarring, said Cooper, when they are greeted instead by a tangle of billboards, particularly the new electronic billboards with flashing images changing "every six seconds," and the sexually suggestive billboards that are common in the Hartford area.

"The governor's view is the fewer billboards the better," Cooper said. "She's trying to address what she can address, billboards on state lands."

Cooper acknowledges that taking the initiative a step further to try to ban all billboards would "no doubt generate a lot of discussion in the general assembly." That's code for the expected tsunami of opposition that would result from vested interests such as outdoor advertising companies, who are already getting a little nervous.

And what about the billboards graced with Rell's presence that Bosco brings up?

"She's more than happy to have any billboards with her image on it taken down as part of her proposal to take down billboards where we can," said Cooper.

Cooper said there are about 20 "onething" billboards on a mix of public and private land in Rell's environmental campaign, and that most of them will come down by April when the contracts expire.

For the iconoclastic Bosco it's about more than what he sees as the governor's hypocrisy.

"Billboards are very interesting and informative," said Bosco. "They serve a purpose."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
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