“Together we are making Bridgeport the cleanest, greenest, safest most affordable city, with schools and neighborhoods that improve each year” … Mayor Bill Finch
Like it or not everything Mayor Bill Finch does within the next year will be measured against the declaration above that he includes on just about every news release, statement, correspondence, etc.
Well, what say you? After nearly three years as mayor is the city cleaner and greener? Is it the safest, most affordable city? Have schools and neighborhoods improved each year? The mayor who promised a $600 tax cut in 2007 has raised taxes by more than that in the higher-voting areas. Crime in the city has now become a royal kick in the crotch. Is the city cleaner? That’s the problem with lofty government slogans. Someone’s going to call you on it, especially your election opponents. But this is classic Bill Finch idealism, and to his credit, or stubbornness, he’s placing his mayoralty on the line with a line he cannot realistically sell.
The mayor’s internal mantra for the first two years was don’t worry we have four years to figure it out. Problem was there was no real strategy connected to his decision making. And he still hasn’t figured it out. (There’s still a window for him to win reelection, but it’s going to require some big break.)
For instance when he canned, through the Civil Service Commission, personnel director Ralph Jacobs no Civil Service reform message accompanied it. He has done this with several individuals he fired. Let’s fire and figure it out later.
The unions? Yes, he managed to secure a couple of zeroes from uniformed services labor pacts. But the outer years now kicking in carry 11 percent increases. This is classic let’s get the zeros now and figure out the rest later. Problem is later has arrived, and it’s one of the reasons the city faces an $8 million budget hole. He tells voters disingenuously we have not increased spending and no real tax increase except for the one mil library referendum that voters approved (representing roughly $7 million) that the mayor supported publicly. What he doesn’t say is the city in the prior year had appropriated close to $6 million for library services, soup to nuts, salaries, benefits, etc. before the library system received some extra dough backed by the taxpayers vote. The library vote was not the reason taxes increased one mil.
He also says he did not increase spending this year. Really? That’s because the city put off its fire pension contribution worth tens of millions in the hope investment markets would turn around. Hopefully, that will happen by next year otherwise the city’s gonna have to do another dance explaining why it wants to put off its pension contribution again, or pay it in an election-year budget.
I have many more examples to cite of hizzoner’s strategic challenges. The mayor’s gonna need something of serious impact to happen by the spring of 2011 to give him a reasonable shot at reelection. The list of pols he’s pissed off for no good reason who supported him in 2007 goes around the block from City Hall Annex and up to City Council chambers on Lyon Terrace. A Finch friend told me the other day he will not support the mayor for reelection, that he’s done a remarkable job of making State Rep. Chris Caruso, never an establishment favorite, look good. By the way Connecticut Post reporter Keila Torres, will soon be dropping a list of Finch hires in the past year or so during the so-called fiscal crisis. Let’s see which pols show up.
The good news for Finch, he’ll be well financed. The bad news is sometimes you can have all the money you need to lose. (Paging Ned Lamont.) What can give the mayor some mo beyond hoping the mayoral candidate pool is weak next year? The mayor’s hoping a regional water pollution control authority between Bridgeport, Trumbull and Monroe will be the ticket to plug his election-year budget hole. He desperately needs progress at Steel Point to show he was able to do what so many say couldn’t be done. I’m a broken record on this, he must promote city entertainment assets, parks, museums, seaport, ballpark, arena, neighborhoods, restaurants, some of the little-known stories that mean a lot. It helps voters feel good about their city.
Finch’s strength has always been look good, sound good and optimism. In three years he has not often taken advantage of what he does best.
As for the slogan I’d have scrapped the slogan–actually the darn declaration should never have made it on the mayor’s letterhead–a long time ago. But now he has no choice but to defend his words. We’ll see how well he does.