Ask Chris Shays to name the biggest disappointment during his 21 years in Congress and he’s quick on the trigger: Bridgeport.
Not what he accomplished for the city — transportation funds, neighborhood renewal dough, loot for community policing — his lament comes from Park City voters’ lack of embrace. Ten years ago, Shays moved from his Stamford home base to a charming waterfront home in Black Rock with the hope of cementing a special connection with the state’s largest city.
What he got instead was an electoral kick in the crotch capped by a meager 20 percent of the vote in the city in Barack’s tsunami that wiped out the last standing New England Republican in the House of Representatives. Had Shays managed reelection he toyed with writing a book: The Last Republican.
Overall, as noted in Post reporter Susan Silvers’ Sunday piece about Shays, no one needs to throw Shays a benefit. He’ll be making a lot more coin in the private sector through a variety of positions. Welcome to the gravy train of the private sector: a large political profile with lots of contacts for appointments to paid corporate boards.
But Shays still aches over lack his of connection with city voters. Just 30 percent of the vote in Bridgeport would have been enough to squeak reelection, and, in fact, Shays had never performed below 30 percent of the vote in the city. He also never saw the Barack bombshell blowing him into involuntary political retirement.
I chatted with Shays in the final months of his 2008 race against Democrat Jim Himes about his lack of explanation to Bridgeport voters why he mattered to them, or why they mattered to him. When I asked why he’d say “I don’t want to look like I’m pandering.”
Shays can be both refreshing and befuddling, and sometimes his rationale can be downright maddening. I’ve managed my share of political campaigns and it seems to me that a candidate — be it incumbent or challenger — has an obligation to tell voters what he did for them/what he’ll do for them. What’s the friggin point of campaigning if you don’t do that?
What galled Shays about his move to Bridgeport was his disconnection from Stamford. Moving to Bridgeport cost him his home boy advantage in Stamford.
Shays has his home for sale for nearly a cool $2 million, an ambitious price in this economy. Whether he stays in the city or moves back to Stamford, Bridgeport will always be his strategic lament.
(After you’ve gotten your fill at the Connecticut Post web site, check out my daily blog at www.onlyinbridgeport.com)