Okay, class, report card time. Poise your pens. (Or should it be poison your pens?)
Mayor Bill Finch has just completed his first 18 months in office fighting through the worst national economy in 70 years, budget deficits, union concessions, tax increases, battles with the Board of Education and a state legislative session he hopes will provide some extra goodies to save a fragile budget.
Since taking office Finch has proclaimed the following battle cry: “Together we are making Bridgeport the cleanest, greenest, safest most affordable city, with schools and neighborhoods that improve each year.” Tall order.
Finch got off to a wobbly start that began with his impossible campaign pledge to cut taxes $600. Then he tried to double dip his state senate position with his newly elected mayoral position. He abandoned that when the editorial board of the Connecticut Post reminded him he had promised to give up his state senate seat should he win the mayoralty. Then he spent far too much time trying to keep one of his chief fundraisers John Stafstrom de facto head of the Democratic Town Committee. That fell flat when former chair Mario Testa regained his old power seat.
Running the state’s largest city is a pain in the butt and some require more time to settle into the job, especially a guy such as Finch who’s the classic legislative mind cast into a chief executive’s role.
Finch never aspired to be mayor. He liked being one of 36 state senators in Hartford. (Full disclosure: I managed Finch’s senate victory in 2000.) Finch was courted by Dem party regulars such as Stafstrom and Tom McCarthy, president of the City Council, to run because they were terrified what a Chris Caruso mayoralty would mean to the city and to their respective financial livelihood.
Party polling showed that John Fabrizi, following disclosures of cocaine use and asking leniency in court on behalf of a sexual offender, couldn’t defeat Caruso, the veteran state representative. So, party pols threw Fabs under the bus and said, okay here’s our boy.
Finch’s last six months have been much better. He achieved significant union concessions to lessen the tax blow during a revaluation year starting July 1, and is close to closing what was a projected $20 million budget gap for the current budget year that ends June 30.
He’ll probably only get close because education officials have told Finch the $7 million in givebacks he requested for their portion of the burden is unrealistic.
Bridgeport mayors, for the most part, live and die by their budgets. And it appears Finch has stopped some of the bleeding as he heads toward the halfway point of his mayoralty. He also already has a cool $100k in the bank for reelection in 2011. The mayor runs every four years. This is a reelection year, however, for the City Council which runs every two years.
What’s Finch’s Democratic competition in 2011? Caruso, who twice lost by close margins, is likely to try again. Johnny Fabs, who’d love his old job back, is waiting in the wings just in case there’s an opening for him. The city’s GOP is having a hell of time simply fielding City Council candidates this year.
So, what say you? How do you grade Finch’s first 18 months?
Young At Heart
When the folks at the Connecticut Post asked me to write a blog it was like déjà vu all over again. I was a kid reporter for the Post 30 years ago before the Internet and compact discs. Yeah, baby, where’s my 8-track!
I’ll be here a couple of times a week serenading you from a political junkie’s perspective. When you’re done getting your daily fill of the Post web site come check out my daily blog at www.onlyinbridgeport.com where we pry open the juicy stuff in the crazy world of city politics.