A friend of Mayor Bill Finch emailed the other day asking me to cut the mayor some slack. I’ve been too cranky, he said. I don’t mind constructive criticism in response to my constructive criticism. So, okay, I’ll try to be positive here because despite what they might think at city hall I want Finch to succeed. Finch is on the verge of submitting his first budget to the city council. It won’t be pretty. But the mayor can do many things to show that despite some grouchy economic times, he’s focused on the priorities that will pay off for taxpayers.
It all starts with his schedule. Finch is disorganized and he must be scheduled tightly. Everything planned for him in the foreseeable future should focus on the budget, economic development, legislative issues and selling Bridgeport beyond its borders. It better be damned important for anything else to break through his schedule. Unless, of course, family needs him. Family trumps everything.
Adam Wood, Finch’s chief of staff, isn’t the most organized guy either. If Adam can figure out what Adam does best, Finch will do better because Finch trusts him implicitly. Wood’s focus should be making sure Finch’s schedule does not overburden the mayor, building bridges between the city council and the mayor’s office, media relations and filtering communications between party leader Mario Testa and Finch.
If I’m running Finch’s inner office I’d conduct a regularly scheduled weekly Wednesday press conference. Finch needs to stay visible without being dragged out to every little media event. If community organizations need to do a dog and pony show with the added prestige of the mayor present let them come to the weekly press conference. Get them in, get them out and then get on to other media business. That does not mean you do not respond to breaking news events. Kaitlin Lesnick, Finch’s press secretary, is young, bright, energetic, and she does something Wood has trouble doing–she returns phone calls.
I’d eliminate the mayor’s monthly night out event. It’s a waste of time. For the most part the meetings are bitch sessions. If city officials can’t figure out what people care about, they need to be doing something else. Employees in the mayor’s office direct or respond to issues every day. It’s called constituent service. That’s good enough.
I’d have Finch meet regularly with chief executives of regional businesses to explain why Bridgeport is a good place to do business. Someone in the business community would be happy to set up such meetings. I’d implement a media campaign, using surrogates from down county and New York, that highlight the reasons they have invested in the city. Bridgeport must market itself to Wall Street investors. How do you do that? By letting people know that Bridgeport is business friendly. A flight of radio on WCBS New York will reach those potential investors.
The city’s broke and can’t afford it? The money it invests will more than come back to pay for itself. Still not convinced? Okay, you go to the business community and say I need you to help me pay for this. A respected mayor can get that done.
Wood (or a politically savvy designee) must attempt a working relationship with Testa who understands every aspect of city government. It’s important that Mario and Finch get along. They don’t need to be blood brothers, nor must Testa be in contact with the mayor every day. He just needs phone access to know what’s going on in city hall, issues before the city council and the budget etc.
Here’s an example how Mario can help Finch. Phil Kuchma’s downtown development of Bijou Square that features restaurants, housing and renovation of one of the oldest movie houses in the country took a hit when he lost financing to finish off the housing piece of the redevelopment. Kuchma is asking the city for a tax break that will help solidify the financial picture so he can complete the housing phase of the project. City Council member Bob Walsh, a friend of OIB, opposes the tax forgiveness for several reasons. Part of Walsh’s issue (has been for years) is that city council members always seem to receive paperwork and information late when asked to consider a vote. He also thinks the city is citing the wrong legal statutes in rationalizing tax forgiveness. Still, the city cannot afford the image of a half-completed building as it tries to regain development momentum.
Council President Tom McCarthy does his best to hold votes together. But there’s no reason for McCarthy to stick his neck out every time council members don’t receive timely information from the mayor’s office and department heads to make a value judgment. Testa has relationships with a number of council members. They will rely on him when it comes to financing their races for reelection, and turning out the vote. Mario wants to see a thriving downtown. And for those of you that have the most cynical point of view when it comes to politics — yeah, the more development, the more potential for fundraising. That’s just the way it is. As long as no stick-up games are involved, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Mario could help keep council members in line to pass the Kuchma tax-break proposal. A phone call to this one or that one and it gets passed. That’s how government and politics work together. It’s not pretty. That’s just the way it works, here, there and everywhere.
And, oh yes, the mayor needs to hire a director of economic development. It’s long overdue. Your thoughts?