The short answer is yes, unless the city’s legal counsel finds some reason it can’t be done under Bridgeport statutes.
After winning a close race for City Council in the highly-taxed Black Rock neighborhood, Rick Torres will now be the lone Republican member of Bridgeport’s 20-person legislative body.
Torres in an interview following Tuesday’s victory claimed he wanted to start a “fusion” caucus with some of the more independent Democrats who also won their races Tuesday and have been critical of Democratic Mayor Bill Finch’s administration.
When Council members of the same party huddle behind closed doors before and sometimes even during City Council meetings, those are caucuses. And since in recent years the Council’s had 20 Democrats, they’ve all caucused in one side room in City Hall.
So technically that means Torres should be a caucus of one, sitting alone in another side room. He’d like instead to huddle with some of the other newer faces while the Council’s incumbent Democrats hold their own caucuses.
According to Thomas Hennick, a spokesman for the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, Torres’ plan could work, but there are requirements.
“They would have to submit a letter to the City Clerk that says, for the purposes of FOI (laws), we choose to caucus with a Republican,” Hennick said. “If they did that they could form their own caucus, but it would have to remain thus for the remainder of their terms. They couldn’t switch back and forth.”
Hennick said it’s actually a relatively new provision of the state’s FOI Act that was added because of an issue in Hartford.
Bridgeport Council President Thomas McCarthy, D-133, who was re-elected Tuesday and hopes to retain his leadership position, said he had not researched whether Torres can start a mixed caucus and was unaware of the state rule.
“I was under the impression it had to be one party,” McCarthy said. “I’ll certainly look into it.”
McCarthy added, “Listen, Rick is welcome to reach out to whoever he wants to form whatever caucus he wants. He’s more than welcome to do that. I’m pretty confident the great majority of Council members will continue to caucus with the Democratic Party.”
But Torres and his allies may want to think this idea through a bit. Many of them have pledged to govern more openly. But in order to do that, they need to be getting the same inside info from the mayor and his administration as the rest of the Council Democrats. And that might not happen if some of the Democrats choose to break away from the others.