The other day Mayor Bill Finch urged the state legislature’s Appropriations Committee to free up more state aid to help keep down local property taxes, an annual cry from big-city mayors lamenting small development footprints and a multitude of tax-exempt properties that minimize revenues in their cities. This is an election year for Democratic Governor Dan Malloy who must maximize city turnouts in what is expected to be a competitive race for another four-year term. Finch’s appearance goes to the heart of a question: what big-city mayor has the most juice in Hartford and what city stands to gain the most? New Haven Mayor Toni Harp has a lot to say about that.
Finch was speaking in his role as mayor of the state’s largest city as well as president of the municipal lobbying group Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. Finch told legislators as part of extensive remarks, “In short: CCM calls on you to propose a new state budget that protects the current state aid for all towns, targets state aid increases to needy communities, delivers real mandates relief and does not impose new mandates.”
Finch and Harp served together in the State Senate for seven years. While Finch has a CCM platform trumpeting the state’s most populous city, it was Harp who built up juice on powerful legislative committees, crafting alliances and influence prior to her election as mayor last November replacing the retiring John DeStefano who had served as the leading spokesperson for cities, a role Joe Ganim had served while he was Bridgeport’s mayor more than a decade ago.
Want influence in Hartford? You must show your face, stay connected and build relationships with members of your legislative delegation and the governor. While Bridgeport is the largest city and won all the national headlines for the ballot shortage debacle following a visit from Barack Obama, New Haven produced the largest plurality for Malloy’s 2010 squeaker over Republican Tom Foley. Bridgeport was number two.
Malloy will be a regular visitor to New Haven and Bridgeport in the coming months, messaging job creation, economic development, increases in the minimum wage abd workforce opportunities for urban women who represent a mighty voter base for Democrats. Malloy has pledged more than $20 million to the Steel Point redevelopment area where the mayor has promised the anchor tenant Bass Pro Shops will break ground this summer. Malloy has stepped up his profile in recent weeks in urban areas, particularly New Haven where he hopes to at least duplicate his plurality from 2010. Malloy appears to be more simpatico with Harp than Finch, and that can account for something when cities compete for state dollars.
Still, Finch and Malloy are in much better stead than four years ago when Finch and Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa backed Malloy’s primary opponent Ned Lamont. The feeling was Lamont’s personal fortune would carry the day to the governor’s office. Malloy, former Stamford mayor, croaked him in the primary. Testa has always had a blind spot regarding Stamford politicians, claiming they pay Bridgeport little respect, including blocking the city from a casino resort nearly 20 years ago. Mario keeps score. He rolled the dice on Lamont and got his butt kicked. Win some, lose some. Mario has a pragmatic side. Will he show it for Malloy’s reelection?
Former Bridgeport Democratic Town Chair John Stafstrom has served as a political safety net between the governor and the mayor’s office. He was an early backer of Malloy for governor and helped organize the city on behalf of Malloy when the mayor and Mario supported Lamont. Pullman and Comley, the Bridgeport-based law firm where Stafstrom serves as partner, has benefited from his loyalty to Malloy, serving as legal advisers for key state-backed developments.
Finch has been voicing all the right things publicly about the governor. At times like these, with Malloy up for reelection and Finch facing reelection next year, a pragmatic side generally kicks in–Finch needs help with his budget, Malloy needs help with reelection–don’t lose sight of the larger picture even if not the coziest alliance. Malloy needs New Haven and Bridgeport and rest of the urban areas for another term. But when development dollars are spread around and priorities identified to maximize voter turnout, stronger relationships matter. Does Harp’s New Haven play the ultimate political tune for Malloy’s reelection?