For a traditionally sleepy cycle, there’s a wake of moving parts in this election season featuring offices for City Council and Board of Education. One key part is whether City Council President Tom McCarthy will seek reelection to his North End seat. On Sunday Big Mac said he hasn’t made a decision.
He may have very well made a decision but isn’t saying. He can afford to kick back for another month or so knowing he and his council partner Jeanette Herron have competition from former State Rep. Bob Keeley and zoning commissioner Anne Pappas Phillips. McCarthy’s prospects are key because positioning, even if it’s rhetoric, has already begun for a leader of the city’s legislative body, a spot McCarthy has occupied for more than nine years.
The council president is key to moving along city business, assigning peers to legislative committees where detail work is done, and serving as a check on the executive branch. A lot of behind the scenes work takes place negotiating 19 egos involving a variety of matters. Sometimes it’s a throwback to Romper Room. (Did we all have a special day today?)
The council president also succeeds the mayor when a vacancy occurs, be it for several months until a special election takes place or completing the term if a vacancy occurs in a mayoral election year as was the case in April 2003 when John Fabrizi replaced Joe Ganim who resigned following his conviction on federal public corruption charges. Ganim is back as mayor but his statewide ambition has not dampened so the council presidency intrigues.
At least three city pols are in the early stages of positioning for council presidency, assuming they win election in November. Ernie Newton was the first African American to be chosen by his council peers when he was a young city music teacher in 1981. He leveraged it as a platform for nearly 20 years in the state legislature. Following a plea on public corruption charges more than 10 years ago, Newton came up short on two comeback occasions the past five years to regain a seat in the state legislature.
Newton is eyeing a run for council, counting on his East End base to get him there. A council incumbent in the same 139th District, however, Eneida Martinez, is also making noise about running for council president. Legislatively, Bridgeport is broken down into 10 districts with two council members per district. Newton and Walker could end up running together, but this depends on other potential district candidates including Jim Holloway, the longest-tenured council member who’s gone back and forth for years about seeking reelection. What will Jim do?
The East End, like many council districts this cycle, is likely to experience a Democratic primary.
Then there’s Keeley, the mischievous former state legislator. He can argue I’m the man for the job; I spent more than 20 years in the state legislature and I know everyone up there to help bring home extra bacon to Bridgeport.
So much of this relies on Big Mac who’s had a couple of tough years politically. He was all in for Bill Finch whom Ganim took out in a 2015 primary. In 2016, McCarthy was shellacked in a Democratic primary for State Senate by incumbent Marilyn Moore. He did not even defeat her in his own council district.
If he runs, McCarthy knows his territory and cannot be discounted. But does he have fire in the belly?