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Complaint: Bristol Rep. Pavalock-D’Amato doesn’t actually live in district

The apartment building that is the legal residence of Rep. Cara Pavalock-D'Amato.
The apartment building that is the legal residence of Rep. Cara Pavalock-D'Amato.

Rep. Cara Pavalock-D’Amato, R-Bristol, the married mother of a 4-year-old boy, attests in her reelection registration that since selling her 3,000-square-foot colonial on Nov. 30, 2021, she has lived in a 250-square-foot efficiency apartment in a building fronted by a vacant pawn shop.

Leasing the modest apartment was intended to be a way for Pavalock-D’Amato to maintain a bona fide residence in the 77th House District that she represents for the remainder of her term, a legal necessity once her family sold the colonial at 182 Rossi Drive and moved to 1960 Perkins St., a Bristol neighborhood in the 78th District.

Her ability to run for reelection from the new home is not in question: A new legislative district map adopted by the bipartisan Reapportionment Commission moved the Perkins Street neighborhood from the 78th to the 77th, effective with the 2022 election.

At issue is whether she currently is a bona fide resident of the 77th District living at 467 Farmington Ave. #20 — as Pavalock-D’Amato, a practicing attorney, certified “under penalties of false statement” when she registered as a candidate for reelection on Jan. 12, 2022.

“I sleep there every night,” Pavalock-D’Amato said.

Morris Patton, the Democratic town chair of Bristol, isn’t buying it. He filed a complaint Wednesday with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, asserting Pavalock-D’Amato is no longer an elector in the 77th House District and should be removed as its representative in the General Assembly.

Patton says it is laughable to believe she lives in an efficiency whose neighbors are Kentucky Fried Chicken, a Harley-Davidson dealership and an Auto Zone, and not with her husband and son in the three-bedroom Cape with an in-ground pool on 12 acres purchased for $850,000 in June 2021.

Pavalock-D’Amato grew up in Bristol in a prominent family, the daughter of a dentist. She got a law degree from Georgetown, relocated to South Florida and then returned home and married Tony D’Amato, an executive at D’Amato Construction, the company founded by his grandfather in 1961 and now involved in a federal investigation into school construction contracts.

“I’ve known Cara since I was 14 years old. We were very good friends for a very long time,” Patton said. “You’d have to be crazy to believe that the daughter of a prestigious dentist … a graduate of Georgetown Law, married to a guy from one of the prestigious families in our town, lives in a 250-square-foot efficiency apartment above a former pawn shop.”

Pavalock-D’Amato said her husband used to own the building. Land records show it was sold in June 2019 for $2.1 million to a New York-based LLC, which she says rehabbed the apartments.

“I’ve lived in worse,” Pavalock-D’Amato said.

While she says she sleeps every night at the apartment, the mailing address she used to file for reelection is the home at 1960 Perkins St. The mailbox on Farmington Avenue was not secure, she said.

In his complaint, Patton said he has regularly checked the parking lot at 467 Farmington Ave. “For at least three months, her car has not been observed parking at the apartment complex on Farmington Avenue, but it has been observed regularly at 1960 Perkins Street.”

There is no definition in state law of what constitutes a bona fide residence.

But the elections commission, citing case law, has concluded “an individual’s bona fide residence must qualify as the place where that individual maintains a true, fixed, and principal home to which he or she, whenever transiently relocated, has a genuine intent to return.”

“In other words, ‘bona fide residence’ is generally synonymous with domicile,” where a person actually lives, the commission said.

However, the commission has reserved a degree of wiggle room regarding students, the homeless and “individuals with multiple dwellings.”

The State Elections Enforcement Commission has no authority to remove a lawmaker. Its jurisdiction in determining bona fide residence relates to the eligibility of a voter to vote in a particular district or town.

“In the course of an investigation in which violations of election law are alleged, SEEC has the authority to make bona fide residence determinations for purposes of determining who is qualified to be an elector in any particular municipality or district, but that does not extend to making determinations about a person’s qualifications to hold public office,” said Joshua Foley, a staff attorney.

Under the state Constitution, any question of expelling a member is up to the House of Representatives.

House Republicans had expected Pavalock-D’Amato to step away from the legislature when she informed them that she and her husband had purchased a new home in the 78th, a district represented by Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol. In fact, 1960 Perkins is next to Betts’ home.

(Technically, the home was purchased by an LLC controlled by her in-laws, Edward D’Amato Jr. and Lori D’Amato.)

Then Betts announced he would not seek reelection after two decades in the House, freeing House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, to negotiate new district lines that would allow Pavalock-D’Amato to keep much of her district, while encompassing her new home.

The new map was adopted on Nov. 19, and Pavalock-D’Amato and her husband sold their Rossi Drive home on Nov. 30. She already had rented the apartment, advised she would need a residence in the district.

“Our staff looked into the legalities and confirmed that she does need to live in the district, the old district, until her term expires.” Candelora said.

Pavalock-D’Amato announced her new living arrangement in a Facebook post on Dec. 7.

“All moved in to the new apartment! Recently, Tony & I sold the first home we bought together. I had the best neighbors. I will miss them and my closet. I will be living in an apartment in district so that I can carry out my duties as state representative. Love you guys! Merry Christmas.”

Her post said nothing about the new house.

One man replied, “Hope your constituents appreciate your sacrifice!”

Patton said the Facebook posting sparked a backlash, at least in his circles.

“Some of the people in her district have said, ‘Hey, are you guys gonna escalate this?’ And someone took it upon themselves to say ‘I’ve been to her real house several times, and her car is always there,’” Patton said. “It has never been at this efficiency apartment.”

Pavalock-D’Amato said it is there every night, though it does not have legislative tags.

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