Callahan’s Primary Post Mortem

Veteran political columnist Jim Callahan assisted OIB’s election coverage. Here’s his take on the primary results:

Mayor Bill Finch had a nice win over challenger Mary-Jane Foster in Tuesday’s primary. A nice, solid, win.

The mayor’s forces carried 20 out of 23 precincts on the voting machines. The results demonstrate no trend against the administration. Hell, compared to the narrow win four years ago, the results are positively a landslide (OK, not that far). But the mayor’s people should be happy with the mayor’s status among party voters, and the job they did to get them out.

The vote showed nothing other than Foster’s ability to overcome the political status quo in three areas: Black Rock, her home precinct; the South End’s Roosevelt, where University of Bridgeport students helped the school administrator; and Geraldine Johnson in the Hollow, the base of John Gomes who gave up his own challenge for to support Foster. That last precinct was narrow. There were several narrow ones that went the other way for the mayor.

You look at a ballot sheet without ever knowing the election and you think it was a competitive little race. Certainly not a blowout by the winner but nothing that tight either.

A couple of Dems at the mayor’s victory party at Tiago’s on State Street Downtown would agree. John Stafstrom, a leading Democrat from the West Side, is convinced the mayor’s opponents had him beat–at 5:30pm, more than two hours before the polls closed. He gave them credit. Their side had to make sure they were getting all their vote out and they won.

Others at the victory party seemed to indicate the same. They had been tested by the opposition, and they had delivered for their man the mayor.

Of course, you throw the absentees in there and it is an entirely different critter. The mayor’s forces made absentees a priority. They got them. It’s always nice to hear when you ask questions, “But he won on the machines anyway.”

OK, I’ll play nice: “The absentee ballot vote was very high for Mayor Bill Finch over challenger Mary-Jane Foster. They were also highly concentrated in certain areas of the city, notably the East Side. A lot of experienced politicians looking at the number combined with the concentration will chuckle and maybe concede something fishy was going on. But Finch won on the machines anyway.”

Next up on the election agenda for the mayor is Republican Rick Torres in the November election. But people campaigning for Foster who emphasized the primary was really the election are probably right. The Republican numbers are too low to be competitive without a major push from outside forces to help.

The outside forces aren’t likely to come from the Foster camp. The crowd at the Bijou Theatre was in a generally good mood. They knew what was coming a few minutes after getting comfy with their drinks at tables or seats in the beautifully refurbished theater.

A good number chose to stay in the bar rather than witness the cold black-and-white results projected onto the movie screen. The movie screen results, never to return, were taken down just after 8:45. Enough was enough. Generally upbeat–and short–speeches led up to Foster’s gracious concession. It was all over but for the second round in the bar.

Foster goes back to UB as an administrator, probably a one-and-done candidate. If so, she sounded like she had a whale of a good time running for office, and working with the people on her campaign.

The only sign of political cold-bloodedness normally characterized by angry politicians was the Foster defense of UB.

The mayor had gone out of his way to whack UB as the Moony School because of a bailout from the controversial Unification Church 20 years ago. There is a history here that can run for, oh, eight or nine yards.

Foster took her own potshot back at Finch defending the institution, and its contributions to the community. She promised she is not going away.

The Foster people feel they brought several issues to prominence, including the budget.

The Finch people essentially say “so what, we have it under control.” That remains to be seen. “Trust us” is not good advice from a Bridgeport politician talking about budget matters. If this budget has slipped, there is a certain justice that Finch will have to fix it. He’s probably going to have to be less secretive than he has been to convince people he is sincere. That might not be easy. Old habits die hard.

There are no trends here. There are plenty of tidbits in here to chew over in the days ahead. I hate editors who force writers to find “the big story” in something. Usually the direction these days involves some bogus application of statistics so the writer can describe how “people really feel.” (See wacky stories about the 2012 presidential race.)

OK, here’s the scoop: People in Bridgeport were more concerned about their kids, getting to work, paying their bills, and doing other stuff than voting in the Democratic mayoral primary Tuesday.

Those who voted generally supported Finch. Many of them work for the city or are affiliated with the Democratic Party organization. Those who supported Foster are upset about the budget, public education or just Bill Finch, mayor.

There is something “there” there. Polling shows a vague disquiet. The economy stinks. Bridgeport’s economy stinks. Projects to move the city ahead economically are stalled by the economy or city bungling or both. But it is not enough to move this electorate.

The challenge folks bemoan the low turnout. The turnout is consistent over the years. When people are angry, they vote. When they are not, they do not. Yo, challenge folks: Look in the mirror. You didn’t excite folks. Did you expect the party to help you? I want to hear the arguments it is the mayor’s job, or the Democratic organization’s job, to give you anything more than a level playing field for the election.

Which they did. Of course, it took state monitors to make sure there was no horsing around, but complaints were few and fell into the category of Election Day Headaches, and not Only In Bridgeport.

The best controversy was at Roosevelt School and involves the aforementioned students registered over the summer. Most voted, no problem. Some were turned away: they were not on the rolls period, or they were registered unaffiliated and not Democratic. A few addresses were wrong.

There were no riots, some loud talking, maybe a yell or two. Everybody was cool.

The lesson out of this, students, is to make sure this matter is straightened out for the future. The adults running the system figure you guys will be moving on anyway so they really don’t care. This kind of problem isn’t chicanery, but a normal foul-up. If someone wants to redefine “normal foul-up” to “less fouled up”, that might be a modest goal to investigate.



  1. Hey Callahan, go back to Pennsylvania, you are full of it. More concerned with their kids, more concerned with paying bills doing other stuff other than voting. What drivel.
    The people of Bridgeport who were registered Democrats were just too lazy to get off their fat asses and vote. It’s easier to sit home and piss and moan about what’s wrong in Bridgeport than it is to take 15 minutes and go vote.

  2. My good friend tc,
    I stood at a school yesterday as a Demon Strater. There was nobody at the polls at 5:15 AM but us poll workers. And we were there past 8:00 PM as well. But in between, I saw parents, grandparents and family friends deliver and later pick up lots of students. Most of them passed the sample ballot and me more than once. Only the kids were curious. Why is that? In Callahan’s story-telling logic, adults were not excited and did not see the connection between voting for change and having a job, or having a school for their kids, etc. And the folks delivered by Bonnie or Wanda must be pretty happy with their housing, health services, etc. or a ‘payment’ for voting as one young man announced to a friend by cell phone before entering the gym.

    So connecting the dots like we have done is not the province of too many people. The only dots they understood yesterday were those filled in on the palm card for Line A.

    City pigeons will come home to roost for Finch and company in the next four years but the fouling of the fiscal nest will show up in ways that the CT Post 10-year retrospective this past Sunday could only hint at before his term ends. Look at how long it took for that ‘hot’ financial story to percolate at the Post. tc, it was actually a shorter time than for Bridgeport citizens to get a look at last October’s monthly budget financials. That took five months! And the outstanding audit of the Board of Education is still incomplete and that is over four years and counting. (Bob Trefry, new chair of the BOE, was the instigator of that audit as Chair of the BRBC, he told me. He also mentioned the final report is due soon.) I hope that means all systems and financial issues between City and Education are settled; that listings of potential efficiencies in Education practices will have been seized; and a view of people and processes will become public so Bridgeport taxpayers as well as those who contribute to “educational cost sharing” from the State of CT recognize the value for their taxes.

    Mary-Jane Foster use the word “hope.” And the Mario Machine ultimately laughed at that sentiment and called us “dopes.” For those who have felt betrayed by elected public officials who favor commands of an invisible machine that operates out of clubs, restaurants and bars, that is not a good feeling. What Callahan says is ‘pissing and moaning’ is inadequate to get people to the polls and yesterday proved it once again. Not enough energy. It’s a real ground game and the players change often, because many capable residents decide it is not worth it to bloody yourself in such battles. Rather, move on, to one of those AA or AAA communities where your voice is respected, your public finances are transparent, and the officials are open and accountable. What a concept, eh? And it leaves only the “winners” staying in the City. The teachers and the police who move to other towns, must be the “losers?” Do I have that right? Time will tell.

    1. Coming from a family of solid registered New York Democrats for over a century, now transplanted to B’port, I find there is no way I can in good conscious vote for a Democrat of the Mario Testa/Bill Finch ilk. I am uncertain if I could pull a GOP lever for someone other than a Senator Javits or Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz, but Testa/Finch is certainly pushing me in that direction.

      I cannot ignore my duty to vote. My ancestors made great sacrifices to come to a place where all the people are the government. Recognizing their sacrifices, I cannot disrespect them or myself and vote for the Testas of the world.

      Unfortunately, I have been instilled with the concepts of integrity and fair play, concepts which are anathema to Testa/Finch’s version of the DTC.

      1. Citytruster (and others),
        I was not raised to the tune of the PARTY LABEL or UNION LABEL, though family members have labored in both vineyards. So I have a hard time understanding the antipathy to the two-party system based on representations by Bridgeport voters about Republicans. Yesterday, people actually believed Line A was for Democratic party and Line B was for Republicans. When I explained and pointed to the Democratic Party printing at the top of the sample ballot and then said all of these folks are Democrats, my statement was met by disbelief. Political ignorance goes a lot deeper than I knew. Lots of education necessary, I guess. Wonder if there is time?

  3. Enough with the drama. CityTruster, could you possibly be more melodramatic?

    Pretty simple … MJF waged a solid campaign but Finch and power of incumbency could not be overcome.

    There is also a reality few seem to discuss although B2 just mentioned. There are a lot of stupid, lazy and dysfunctional people living in Bridgeport. That’s pretty apparent both by the voting results and also driving around looking at the trash and squalor that could easily be cleaned by residents. Lennie G is the local expert but I would expect other gritty, urban cities have the same percentage turnout.

    I go back to earlier observation. If you want to make a change, it has to come at the DTC district level and the City Council seats. All it would take would be five/six Councilmen acting strategically as a block and change would happen very quickly.

    Frankly the City would be far better off if MJF, Torres, Andy Fardy and others got seats on the Council. They would be very effective and would force the administration to raise the game level. A term there and then they would have a huge platform to leap into a Mayoral election.

  4. Mary-Jane had some great volunteers. She just didn’t have the right stuff. John Gomes, Tito Ayala, Andre Baker, Ernie Newton are future mayoral hopefuls who need to start raising cash NOW and even then it won’t be enough. You need a strong team that knows how to run a gotv operation.

    Now on to the Town Committee races.

  5. FBD,
    Not sure I agree. I know this strategy has been attempted in certain districts in the past by diehard Democrats who came away empty.

    So let me propose an alternative idea. You may be surprised to observe some similarity between my concept and Bill Finch’s actions of the past year.

    Follow this please:
    * When Pension Plan A called for funding exceeding what OPM and Finch desired, he went to Hartford first with Michael Feeney in 2010 and with ? in 2011. Scored a deferral deal and came home free without disclosing how much closer would be the day the investment funds would be gone. The City got no financial relief from the State on this, just a blessing, if you will, from State OPM, and what is that really worth to the retirees or to the taxpayers for that matter?
    * Multiple problems in the Registrar of Voters office. Head to the state. They’ll have answers or at least cover. Others head for the State Courts, but it gets settled outside the City. (Have a sense where I am going with this?)
    * Bridgeport BOE members “frustrated” and getting nowhere fast, (not even with a job description for the Superintendent that could provide a “data driven” metric with which to judge his annual performance) even though they had a 6-3 majority? Call Ghostbusters? Not exactly. Get to Hartford? Right on. Jettison the elected. Bring in the appointed. No money promised, but what do you think the new BOE will request? There is an open meeting upcoming. May be interesting for budget mavens. Like chicken soup, couldn’t hurt anyway.

    There it is. All zipped up. When the money problems get more desperate, and they will, take a ride back to the State. Won’t they love being involved in municipal governance of the Bridgeport variety once again? Maybe it will help downtown restaurants or other local venues? When will Mayor Finch and the BRBC put all the bright minds together and make an offer for Bridgeport to become the State Capitol? Mayor Finch can turn his brownfields into “greenfields.” Bring in lots more in PILOT funds. A new capitol building can sit on Steel Point with a water view. Malloy will be closer to home. And a new rapid transit to State Office buildings that can be located on the Remington property will copy that wonderful concept for Bradley. The East End will not have seen such development ever and will not have to depend on former UConn sports stars for ‘speedy’ development. And when the redevelopment happens and the gentrification begins, where will those displaced go? Isn’t that the real Regional Plan? Keep all the those people down (and that means in Bridgeport). Is that the economic formula in play? Where is the justice in that prescription? Time will tell.

  6. Beacon,
    You’re a much smarter guy than I on matters financial. But I think you need to take some time off and regroup. Or maybe you should follow my lead and call yourself Frustrated BEACON2.

    I am sure you are correct that Mayor Finch is going to hope for some kind of bailout from the state. There is also some justification for some help. But realistically very doubtful.

    The grown-ups in Bpt are going to have to figure it out. I consider you one of the grown-ups with your research in this area. Would it ever be possible to put an ad hoc committee together, joined by some council people and ask for a session with Sherwood? With the right people and the right leverage, I would expect it might be possible.

    1. Not frustrated at all. Disappointed, yes. No need to add that to my name, since everyone has learned who I am anyway. Keep it rational. Keep it factual. Inform lots of people. They all become observers and begin to speak up. Pretty soon the multiplier effect cuts in and lots of people ask questions, for which there are no answers provided, or no good answers provided, or just bad attitude is provided. That creates the proper conditions for people to vote, doesn’t it? Just the prescription to get at what ails us.

    2. The state doesn’t have the money to bail out Bridgeport. Obama is big on stimulus packages. Maybe there’s some federal money that could come our way. It needs to be managed by an entity other than City Hall. Finch can’t be trusted; he’s too secretive.

      The time for bitching is over. The time for action is now. I’m getting off my ass tomorrow to do the do and walk the walk. I’ve been in contact with one GOP candidate for City Council, there are more out there. Fortunately for the average voter Bridgeport Republicans tend to be of the moderate variety. Partly that has to do with being outnumbered by Democrats 10 to 1.

  7. I think it might be interesting in the next few weeks running up to the election to see if the candidates in Black Rock, whether incumbent or Republicans might want to attend some open meetings along with the voters to see how things are stacked against citizens now, to understand how things are arranged with Council members for information purposes, and to see if any outrage surfaces that might become discontent.

    In January 2009 on a Sunday afternoon, the largest local meeting of homeowners gathered while the Giants and ? Eagles or Redskins were playing. Over 130 people came out because of assessment change. The routine was explained. Questions were asked. People came away more informed. Let’s start that way perhaps. And Sue Brannelly is on the Budget and Appropriations Committee so she is not handicapped for information. And Marty McCarthy attended a number of the meetings of that Committee also though he is not on that Committee. The public will gain rights of input into the process only when our representatives know people are serious about being left out. Who knows, even Adam Wood may attend, in a non-texting role of course, should we plan several gatherings. It couldn’t hurt the body politic as much as being closed out of the process is hurting us now. I have said the City Council is over its head in the work they are charged with. The public needs to see this, and begin to frame a solution for this problem. The Council cannot fix it by itself, or overnight. Time will tell.

  8. BEACON2–That is the approach that is needed. The constant rants by residents of “Machine” and “Corruption” need to stop. Going forward, everyone needs to put their animosity away and put their love of this great city as their number-one priority. I think the city is on the verge of many positive developments, the city though is not in total control of our economic future as we are victims of this brutal economy which is taking its toll not just upon our city but our country and the entire world. It is time for the people with good ideas who are ready to volunteer their time to contact their council representatives, tell them your qualifications and get on city boards/commissions. Keep The Faith!

    1. Horseshit. It will get worse. These people have been driving us into the ground for 40 years. Now you think they have become altruists? I believe in epiphany, but not with this bunch of bandoleros.

      1. yahooy,
        I think he was referring to my writing as an example of ‘naive altruism.’ But that is what Bill Finch’s hero, JFK, called a generation to nearly 50 years ago.
        Unfortunately there are a lot of ‘victims’ in this City from a wide variety of traumatic events. One only has to volunteer regularly at food pantries, kitchens, mentoring programs, sports efforts, community re-entry efforts, 12-step programs, Habitat home building, reading and language programs for English language learners or veteran’s support efforts to name a few, to meet your neighbors who need assistance. Perhaps the most dire are the elderly who have trusted Social Security, Medicare, and certain party candidates to assist them, and today finding their entire financial world is in trouble. Too late to recover. Too much trust. Too little curiosity and oversight as time went on. The diversity of their stories and how they came to where they are is compelling. The machine understands the vulnerability and has placed DTC personnel with those folks to deliver the vote when necessary. That is one bit of lifetime learning I observed fully on Tuesday. Nevertheless, my hope is in the broad group of non-voters this City includes. They register. Most of them pay taxes. But they have not connected how the added $180 Million of debt and obligations of the four-year Finch tenure and his unbalanced budgets will force larger tax increases in the near future. Time will tell.


Leave a Reply