Too much going on in her life already? Two of her businesses have been dissolved by the State, a lien has been filed against one of her restaurants for more than $16,000 in back taxes, and Pioneer Valley Balloons is defunct. Venus and the Cellar Bar announced they were closing today.
The other day Lisa Fusco threw her hat in the ring for the city council race in ward three to succeed Angela Plassman at a well-attended press conference at the Northampton Airport. Widely known in the community as a co-owner of the airport and member of the Conservation Commission, Fusco talked about her record at bringing the airport back from the brink of bankruptcy, creating a flight school, a hot air balloon business, and a summer program for kids learning to fly.
“We took a business that was teetering on the edge” she said, “and created jobs.” As a city councilor she said she would bring her business background to the task of creating jobs and economic development in the wider community. Introducing her was former Ward Three councilor Marilyn Richards. Attending the press conference were about forty people, including some of Mayor Higgins’ biggest backers including Lisa Baskin. Four city council members were there, David Narkewicz, Paul Specter, Jessie Adams, and Maureen Carney. Lisa, wearing a black suit, read from notes and was nervous, but was able to throw off some jokes and received a warm reception.
A cursory look at public records raises a lot of questions about Lisa Fusco and whether she is what she says she is, a businesswoman with a proven track record of success, and whether she really played a key role in the airport’s renaissance. The beautiful downtown Easthampton restaurant that she owns with Mike Vito, former assistant to the Mayor, the Venus and the Cellar Bar owes the State of Massachusetts more than $16,000 in unpaid food taxes dating back to 2010. Today, April 26, their website announced that the restaurant, voted best place to eat in the Advocate in 2010, has closed. I talked with Mike Vito last night on the street outside the restaurant, and today with one of the people who founded the restaurant, and it seems to be a familiar story. No matter how good the food and how big your reputation, restaurants have to carry their debt load, and the renovation costs for “Venus” were a killer. More on this later. She has no office at the airport and no office hours at the airport and no equipment stored there. The manager refers all enquiries about ownership to Bob Bacon, owner of Elm Electric in Westfield, and the person who is, I believe, the majority owner of the Airport. The manager of the airport has no phone number for Lisa.
The Hot Air Balloon business that she is now sole owner of seems to be defunct. Call the number for Pioneer Valley Balloons and you find out the number has been disconnected. The business was operated out of her home at 130 Cross Path Lane, but she has never filed a DBA (doing business as) license at city hall. The last DBA certificate, according to City Clerk Wendy Mazza, expired in 2008 and was filed by Bob Bacon. There is no home number for her in the phone directory.
Wanting to talk to her and verify much of this information, but fed up with chasing a ghost around, I finally called Bob Bacon in Westfield and he called me back. Look, said Kirby, we know her here as co-owner of the airport, and she spent a lot of time in her press conference taking credit for the airport coming back from the grave. Is she really a co-owner of Northampton Airport, or is she just a minority partner? Bacon took the fifth. His is a private corporation, an LLC who is not obligated to tell us what the percentage of interest Lisa has. I raised the issue with him whether her use of the airport for her press conference was a violation of state laws that prohibit contributions of corporations to individuals. He said he gave Lisa the use of the conference room at the airport just the way he does to a lot of community organizations. Normally, however, institutions that have rooms that can be used by the public will shy away from letting political candidates use them for kick-off announcements for their political campaigns.
“How can we make this go away?” he asks Plassman. Some kind of settlement is worked out. The sale goes through. If you look through the paperwork filed with the State during this period on ownership of Pioneer Balloons you see all kinds of mysterious changes. At one point, Guisto gave himself all the positions on the board, changed the name and cut Fusco out. Then when Bacon takes control of the airport he gives her his blessing and he too cuts her loose. On January 18, 2006, Pioneer Valley Balloons is a sole proprietorship, based in Lisa’s home on 130 Cross Path Road. From being the biggest balloon company in the Northeast, it had shrunken to near nothing. Lisa never has filed any annual reports on the business with the Secretary of State since its incorporation, and the corporation was dissolved by the State on April 19th of this year.
So where does this history take us? It’s the trend, these days, for businessmen to run for political office. They usually say, like Lisa Fusco did at her press conference, that their record for creating jobs prepares them to create jobs in public office. But Lisa Fusco has no track record of being able to build businesses. She picks up things with enthusiasm, and then drops them. The first business she was involved in, Barnstormin was organized in April of 2001, and dissolved in July of 2002. She bought Casey’s Big Dog Saloon in Easthampton in June of 2002, and the State dissolved the corporation on April 19 of 2011. Again, its failure to file yearly reports. She volunteers for Labs4Rescue, a nonprofit working to place Labs and Lab mixes in permanent homes, she is a part time police officer in Hatfield, and in her liquor license application for Venus & the Tunnel Bar, she pledged the liquor commission that she was going to work there 30 hours a week. She co-owns a investment club with Mike Vito, former Gazette reporter and city employee, and former aide to John Kerry. One wonders where she is going to get the time to do her city councilor work.
A lot is hanging on who is the next Ward Three councilor. The ambitious partnership inherent in the Three County Fair Redevelopment Agency brings together the city, the airport and the business community. In the past, concerts and other large events at the airport were a major bone of contention between the airport and the neighbors. If the new councilor from ward three is a partner in the airport, the homeowners will loose their voice. Angela Plassman fought for the neighbors on the construction plans for the fairground, and I think she paid the price.