City Development Chief In Limbo

Ninety days go fast, especially in the tedious world of economic development. Following the April departure of municipal development chief David Kooris, Ed Lavernoich, the executive director of the quasi-public Bridgeport Economic Development Corporation, agreed to fill in for three months, pending a national search for a permanent replacement. Lavernoich is now preparing to return to BEDCO. The city has apparently not found a fit for the permanent position so must now find another temporary fill-in. Who could that be?

One possibility is Bill Coleman, veteran city development official, who has strong institutional knowledge of city projects and is respected among the business community and neighborhood groups.

Now eight months into his second tenure as mayor, Joe Ganim has not established consistency in his development chief, a key position to attract state and federal dollars and serve as a daily catalyst to stimulate private investment to grow the tax base to keep down local property taxes.

In the past eight years Nancy Hadley, Don Eversley, Kooris and Lavernoich have served as chief development officials. It’s challenging to grow the grand list with a revolving door of development chiefs. Knowledge, contacts, building relationships, stability are all keys to wooing bricks and mortar.

Sometimes, the person with institutional knowledge and local relationships is a fit in lieu of a phantom rainmaker. We’ll see.



  1. I’m shocked this position is not filled. I am surprised the BRBC is not pushing this issue. The time is now, not when the economy takes a nosedive. Bridgeport notoriously waits for the economy to tank before they stick a shovel in the ground. I guess we still have a few projects left from the last administration on Steelpointe, the train station and the housing by Barnum school and the housing and charter school by Cherry St. I will be very curious as to what the administration will be able to call their own. So far NOTHING ON THE HORIZON!!! OR IS THERE?

  2. From the outside looking in, could possibly answer the why question, the below is from a FB post:
    Frank, I recently had dinner with a DOJ prosecutor here in DC. I regaled her with tales of Bridgeport, its history and politics. She literally thought I was lying. I had to finally pass my phone across the table with link after link. Every new tale she would shake her head in awe and just kept saying “this isn’t possible.”

  3. A few thoughts as OIB ponders this leadership vacuum at OPED:
    1. We need to grow the Grand List and we need to develop authentic marketing that enhances the reputation and idea of this city. Our past says we are a city of business and a city of constant business innovation, exemplified by Barnum. I suggest we be the Barnum city for the 21st Century. When Bridgeport innovates in business after business, it comes alive. That’s its past. I believe that is also its future, and its hopeful marketing message: Join the city of innovation. “Industria Crecimus.”
    2. We need jobs. We need economic diversification. We need businesses building a future for themselves and for us. We need a projects focus and a marketing focus. We are in transition at both OPED and BRBC and the result is nearly a standstill. Our need is great, and we don’t deserve a standstill. Let’s get moving again!
    3. I’m still proud of the report sent to Mayor Ganim in January by the Economic Development and Small Business section of the Mayor’s Transition Team. I worked beside the committee as an non-appointed permanent guest observer. Its report with letter of transmittal is in my online Evernote notebook at:
    The archive of documents reviewed by the committee is found in the same Evernote notebook at:
    4. My fantasy team for OPED leadership rises out of the experience with the Transition Committee.
    For director: Tyisha Toms, a local attorney now working part-time with the city legal department. Tyisha is one of the most innovative thinkers I’ve met in the field of real estate and economic development. She’s already on the city staff. I’d like to see her strongly considered for OPED. Tyisha has no idea I’m writing this and I hope she’s flattered.
    For an advisory panel of unpaid senior OPED advisers: Rina Bakalaar, Doug Wade, Mickey Herbert, Mike Moore, Lisa Parziale, Christina Kazanas, Jeff Kohut, Paul Janesch, Maisa Tisdale, Mike McCarthy, Scott Wilderman, and Denise Davidoff. (Is the latter related to me? Yes, she’s my mother as well as a still-in-business local businesswoman going back to the 1960s.) That group could give the new director a strong sounding board and panel of advisors that could love and nurture OPED back into the dynamism we desperately need as well as bridge relations with the new leadership at BRBC.

  4. I am shocked this was not a number-one priority for Ganim who should have hit the ground sprinting! There is so much potential in the city from public/private partnerships to knock down and rebuild decaying buildings and to help improve existing buildings and streets, to open lobbying for the possible dredging of Bridgeport Harbor which could revolutionize the city by bringing in shipping. Why no one in the government thinks big upsets me. I know things cannot happen overnight and getting the things I mentioned above will take work and long hours; but sell a vision to the city of what could be. All too often the Town Counsel lauds the opening of another Family Dollar, instead of going “big-game hunting,” figuratively speaking. Not having a City Development Chief tells me Boss Ganim is in over his head.

    1. My greatest fear is no experienced Economic Director is interested in taking on the challenge. I remember that position and the individuals who held it going back to the Mandy days. The plan and development changed as the times did, but there was never a gap this big in filling that job. With no experienced backup team to assist in the creative and technical process, it will never happen.

  5. We should do a real search. Find an individual with real experience in the field dealing with aging urban centers like Bridgeport. Either as a director of a smaller city or an assistant in a larger city.
    Let these candidates present their plans for growth. The city can then decide if it is feasible and doable based on tax incentives, bonding or whatever other assistance.
    And if this individual needs to be the highest paid employee in the city, yes even more than the mayor, so be it. It is that important.

  6. Doug D,
    Rina? Who is the Director of Development for the town of Trumbull serving as an unpaid advisor to Bridgeport’s Director? And you do not see a conflict there? I know Rina. I like Rina. I think she would have been an excellent CAO for Bridgeport but I really don’t see how your scenario works.
    Tyisha Toms. Can’t say I know her. Have heard good things about her but a lawyer with Real Estate experience just doesn’t cut it for me. No real development experience. No first-hand knowledge of Historic Tax Credits, Housing Credits, CDBG, Federal & State funding grants. Not saying she can’t get a handle on this but we don’t need a novice. Not saying she can’t learn but we can’t afford a learning curve.
    And as far as your panel of experts, I did not recognize a single labor representative. I did not recognize a single representative of not-for-profit organizations. Mickey Herbert? Pull-ease. Been there, done that.
    You should have a representative from the City Council and the state delegation but chosen by the members of the group, not the mayor or council president.

    1. Worthwhile criticisms, especially the labor part! (Also missing, admittedly, someone with real sense of neighborhood small business and affordable housing development.) Better to build a better panel than to have no leadership at all. Better to put a young talent in to work than have no talent at all. Most of all, better to have kicked off a discussion than live with the vacuum!

      Let the Fantasy OPED Leadership League begin! We all win when you submit your own team.

    2. I don’t think most of us in Trumbull would be happy with Rina collecting a salary from our tax dollars and advising Bridgeport.

      She is new to Trumbull Government with less than 90 days on the job and has not shown what she can do for us. Time will tell.

  7. Doug, BPT needs to put a strong commitment together to work to keep Sikorsky on South Ave. Sikorsky is currently working on moving most of its manufacturing operations out of West Palm because the property is owned by UTC which no longer owns Sikorsky. We talk about innovation and new technology in BPT when we already have it here. Both the Raider and 53K, new production aircraft, are currently working at West Palm and will need to relocate. Parts of the K are already being manufactured in BPT, we need to convince Lockeed Martin to move all the manufacturing here. Everything is already in place. The inside of the building is state of the art and the flight field is still active. We’re talking thousands of jobs for the next 30 – 40 years.

  8. Thanks, Q!!!
    This is what we really need. Good commonsense insight from Bridgeport residents.
    How about when North Carolina was going through all their problems with businesses threatening to leave over their transgender legislation? Or when businesses were threatening to leave Indiana over their anti-gay marriage legislation? Did a single person from Bridgeport reach out to see if they might be interested? I’d bet not.

    1. Bob, watch what you say about Indiana because you don’t want to make Jennifer mad and about the Indiana governor Mike Pence who backed Ted Cruz for President and David Walker who supported Cruz.

      1. Oh, news flash, Pence is on the short list for VP with Trump, which means if chosen, he cannot also run for Governor of Indiana. Yes his extreme religious right (that I would not classify as Christian) legislation caused Malloy to stop official CT travel. The good news, the citizens rallied and he had to rewrite the Bill. And the Supreme Court ruling pretty much assured a Federal overrule of his “pro life” bill, last I checked only suicide bombers are not pro life, even China got on board with pro life. So fishing in this pond might actually get you someone with real war experience, and God knows Bridgeport needs that. And smugly, the CT-based dog food company is moving to Indiana, Blue something, so yes, we get your dog food tax base and 165 brand new jobs. Ron, Walker has publicly stated he has endorsed no Republican for president, so your private conversations with the Honorable Dave Walker really should remain out of the public eye. (Wink, wink.)

          1. Frank, I lived in CT 27 years. When you live in Indiana and can speak with actual experience then please weigh in on the bigotry you experienced, rather than what you read about and translate in your mind. Yes, we have a governor who is awful, and every poll says he will not win. Citizens United forced him to rescind the bill. Like all states we have real political issues to deal with, and a $1 billion surplus in our state budget and few people claiming election fraud. We own our problems, hold our elected officials accountable. And we remember who we vote for in elections, especially when posting on political blogs.

          1. Not that I know of. Walker has spoken favorably of former governor Mitch Daniels, never heard him speak of Pence.

        1. Jennifer, oh that’s great news. I hope The Donald selects Mike Pence. I never said Dave Walker was supporting anyone for President but he mention on OIB his support for Pence.

          Jennifer, two years ago I was at the Barnum Festival Ringmaster’s Ball and Dave was sitting about four tables away. I was going to go over to introduce myself to him the same way I did with JML but he was engaged in talking with others so I didn’t, then a while later I looked over and he was gone.

          1. How nice of you to want to introduce yourself. Was that the Strafstrom Festival Ball? I heard it was amazing. I don’t recall Walker mentioning Pence. Four years ago I would have supported him based on his DC record. Don’t think the majority of voters understood how off the right deep end Pence had gone. And sadly, the Democrat he was running against did not have even close to an effective campaign. He is running again, and is running a very effective one this year.

  9. We need to look to healthy, vibrant US cities and see what names are involved (across the board) in successful, powerful economic development projects in those cities, and then try to get those persons interested in the challenge of Bridgeport.

    First we need to identify appropriate cities, and then we need to target our recruitment efforts at appropriate persons involved in those cities.

    I don’t see any reason why we can’t get the right person to move the compass in the right direction for our city per this type of effort.

    But, we should have a clear plan of how much and what kind of development we need and want before we bring in the right person to accomplish our agenda for us.

    A quick study of how much revenue we need in order to secure efficacious government/services (as well as living wage full employment for residents) in Bridgeport at a desirable tax rate would show us how much development we need to bring into the city. Having a handle on these things, we could then decide what kind of development needs to be targeted/pursued. From this point, with a plan sketched out, we could find the right person for EDD to accomplish the plan for us.

    This is not rocket science. It requires nothing more than the type of thinking and leadership that has been spawning and sustaining and reviving boom towns since the birth of this country. It’s basic business principles and basic business psychology.

    Come on Mayor Ganim, put a group together to create a plan, solicit federal aid/assistance, and find an EDD to conduct the symphony from that point. Not so difficult. Not so much more than making some phone calls and conducting a few meetings (maybe a few weeks with not so much sleep until daylight starts to shine on the city again). Bridgeport people want to help. Once the parade to rescue Bridgeport begins in earnest, our state and federal elected officials will want to march along.

  10. I should have qualified the EDD search criteria by stipulating the search shouldn’t include Connecticut or the NYC metro area, which are tainted by the present regional political machine which is interested only in maintaining a socioeconomic status quo with respect to that geographic area. (Thus, the economic growth and prosperity of Connecticut being compromised in order to preserve the preeminence of the Stamford-Greenwich economic development catchment area.)

  11. A practical problem is: Can you really attract a topflight person into this economic development job when most major developers want nothing to do with a new Ganim Administration given the track record of the first one in this area and the Mayor’s criminal record for public corruption?

  12. Where is Mike Freimuth when you need him?
    Only kidding, Mike. I still remember the last conversation we had. Still looking forward to that day.

  13. I can see John Ricci taking that position for a number of reasons. Of course it wouldn’t happen in today’s climate but I always saw him as an economic development kind of guy. However we need a professional from outside the city with a proven track record. a seasoned, accomplished man or woman who has proven themselves capable of shepherding huge projects that I see for Bridgeport through the system. I was disappointed to hear the new Brazilian restaurant opening on Boston Avenue was not very flattering to members of the economic development department. It is worth looking into. I may also add I think the BRBC should oversee the interviewing process. They are a key component as well as many of the local businessmen like the Trefz brothers. I have faith they will hire a seasoned professional and not a political sycophant. That would be perhaps the saddest choice given the current climate of the city as well as the positives going on Steelpointe and a train station. Both magnets for prosperity.

    1. Steve, with respect to your opinion re Ricci as E.D.E.C. Director, let me give you a little history. In 1983, I served my first term on the CC with Mayor Paoletto, by 1984 Ricci lost his job as Administrative Aide, I won’t bring back painful memories. In 1992, I respectfully asked G1 to consider Ricci as Airport Manager since Mayor Moran had appointed him Acting and she was gone and most likely his Acting position. G1 agreed, Ricci was then fired by Mayor Finch, reason is public knowledge. My sweet friend, what makes you think the third time will be the charm? In my opinion he lucked out with his present job because G2 had few individuals interested in working in this administration. I’m not being mean, only honest. Ricci should thank the Lord for his good fortune, complete the next three years, and go quietly into the night. His most important responsibility is reporting to Mario Testa every morning on the dynamics that are taking place in the Mayor’s suite.

  14. The best part of Jennifer Buchanan is she blazed the trail for me in the story of Hoosier-Becomes-Bridgeporter. Although I grew up in the Nutmeg state, I spent 23 years in Indianapolis and raised my two wonderful children there. I worked for the afternoon newspaper, then for the state housing finance agency, and finally for the state Democratic Party chair and the governor. These jobs took me all over the state, from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River. Jennifer and I play on different political teams as I recall, but when she “talks Hoosier,” it’s oh là là and my heart goes pitter-patter! The lady speaks my language! Oh Jennifer, do go on! Say more!

    1. Well no wonder I thought your dream economic OPED plan was solid, Hoosier did rub off on you and stick. I remember meeting you at 2020 Park during the debate. We never did have that coffee meeting. Keep fighting the good fight. I watched the mayor’s Facebook page talk last night, which I know you did not have anything to do with. It was certainly no fireside chat. And stop blowing smoke up my skirt, I liked you at Howdy.

  15. In these troubled times, everyone needs a sideline. Here’s mine: I am operating the most cost-efficient economic development program in Bridgeport’s history. I am attracting businesses, people and satellite offices from Boston and New York City, two of the world’s mightiest economic engines. Nobody appointed me, I just did it. Details on request.

  16. Why is this so hard?

    There are a number of people the Administration could check out, in Bridgeport and the surrounding suburbs. These potentials may have been neither Ganim supporters nor neutral, but when is that going to stop mattering so much? We have a City to save here and THAT and qualifications should be the top considerations.

    1. You’re right, Frank. If we wait for a Ganim supporter to appear we’ll never have an ED Director. I didn’t see anyone involved in G2’s campaign who could come close to the qualifications that position requires.

Leave a Reply