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Finch Marks Five Years As Mayor–How’s He Doing?

November 24th, 2012 · 20 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Budget, Development and Zoning, Education, Law Enforcement

Finch and supporters

Finch, second from left, with supporters of Bass Pro Shops. Will it happen?

Can you believe it? Bill Finch has been mayor of the state’s most populous city for five years. He won a close Democratic primary over Chris Caruso in September 2007 then easily won the general election in November 2007. He was tested again in a primary in 2011 by University of Bridgeport Vice President Mary-Jane Foster before winning the general election. Assuming he fills out the final three years of his second four-year term he’ll be among the longest-serving mayors in history with only Socialist Jasper McLevy, Democrat Joe Ganim and Republican Clifford Wilson serving longer. Democrat Samuel Tedesco served eight years. A review of five key areas of government for Finch:

Education: No mayor in the history of the city has used the force of his will to try to overhaul public schools, culminated by voters rejecting Finch’s ballot initiative to appoint members to the Board of Education. During Finch’s first three years in office city schools did not take a high public profile under the mayor’s mantra, “Together we are making Bridgeport the cleanest, greenest, safest most affordable city, with schools and neighborhoods that improve each year.”

Finch generally flat-funded schools to avoid additional tax increases. While Finch created the public impression that schools were improving–one day, without public warning, he declared with the backing of the Board of Education that the school system was broke, dysfunctional and required a state takeover. Quietly, behind the scenes, following the election of Dannel Malloy as governor city officials had begun a dialog with the state executive branch and state education officials for state control. In July of 2011 the elected Board of Education voted to dissolve itself paving the way for a state-appointed school district. The move was challenged in court and the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed state control and ordered a special election for four open school board seats last September. Three members of the state appointed board, Hernan Illingworth, Ken Moales and Jacqui Kelleher, won seats on the Democratic line while John Bagley, former star in the NBA, won a seat on the Connecticut Working Families Party line.

Finch, Obama

Finch had hoped the image of Barack Obama would aid a yes vote for a mayoral-appointed school board. "No" supporters used an image of Michelle Obama, Just Vote No.

Education turnaround specialist Paul Vallas, who supervised schools in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, was brought in to modernize the system, shake up administrators, close a budget deficit, implement a school safety plan, build a long range plan and institutionalize initiatives for his expected replacement in the summer of 2013.

Finch had put his prestige on the line with voters in his appeal to appoint members he claimed would take the politics out of the election process and create more accountability. Critics, turning the ballot question into a voting-rights issue, also maintained Finch simply wanted control of the largest chunk of the city budget including contracts and jobs. A majority of voters, following record-breaking ballot initiative expenditures,  concluded a preference to continue electing the school board. Losing the ballot initiative was a major disappointment for the mayor, but he vows his school reform effort will continue that includes improving test scores and construction of new schools.

Also on the education front what has not been a priority for Finch is embracing the University of Bridgeport that has a powerful economic impact on the city. A former employee of the university, Finch’s jaded view of the Unification Church that financially bailed out the university 20 years ago continues his myopia instead of utilizing the rejuvenated university for the betterment of the community.

Finch at school site

Finch at construction site of regional magnet high school.

Taxes: The city’s tax rate has been a mixed bag for Finch. He raised taxes his first year as mayor then generally held the line on taxes the next three years. He raised taxes for the budget year that began July 1, the first year of his second four-year term. The city remains bunched with several other cities in the state with the highest tax rate in Connecticut. The mayor maintains, however, city residents receive strong services for their buck with full police, fire, emergency services, public works and parks.

Finch continues to speak often about a land-poor city of about 16 square miles and the state’s need to fully fund the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) Program of tax-exempt institutions such as hospitals and colleges that would add an estimated $5 million more in revenue, something he also failed to achieve when he served for seven years in the State Senate.

Finch, Kuchma

Finch with the Man In Black Phil Kuchma at groundbreaking for new Downtown development.

Economic Development: Finch’s tangible development successes generally comes down to two words: Phil Kuchma. The developer of Bijou Square began cleaning up a couple of Downtown city blocks under the administration of John Fabrizi that continued and expanded on Finch’s watch. Kuchma’s development in the face of a difficult economy includes much-need downtown housing, shops, restaurants and renovation of one of the oldest movie houses in the country, the jewel Bijou Theatre. Kuchma recently launched a new phase of Downtown development in a transaction that includes former city-owned buildings he’ll convert into additional housing, a new senior center, restaurants and retail across from City Hall.

The city has a growing base of young professionals gravitating Downtown for its attractive rental prices and transportation center, as well as an emerging arts community to complement several nearby entertainment destinations such as the Webster Bank Arena, Downtown Cabaret Theatre, Bijou Theatre and Klein Memorial.

When Finch took office in late 2007 he inherited Fabrizi’s economic development chief Nancy Hadley, a seasoned urban development official who also served as a state commissioner under Governor Lowell Weicker. Hadley was popular in the city’s business community and had achieved successes in positioning the city for new Downtown housing and creating the city’s master plan for development. Fabrizi had told Hadley, who has a habit of speaking her mind, to concern herself with development, I’ll worry about the politics of development. Finch cited, in letting Hadley go, she didn’t have the political skills needed for the job, but ironically brought in Donald Eversley who also had no political skills for the job and also had difficulty staying awake at public meetings.

Eversley managed to last for about four years until mayoral aides and business officials prevailed upon Finch that a change had to be made. Finch allowed Eversley to save face by refunding a position Finch occupied before he became mayor, director of the quasi-public Bridgeport Economic Development Corporation under the umbrella of the city’s business arm, the Bridgeport Regional Business Council.

In the summer of 2012 Finch replaced Eversley with David Kooris, experienced in regional planning development. He, too, is not a product of the city’s political system. Kooris appears to be well liked by business interests and tasked with the job of moving the needle, along with Chief of Staff Adam Wood, on the Steel Point redevelopment area on the East Side. In the summer of 2012 the city ballyhooed mega outdoor retailer Bass Pro Shops as a prospective tenant under Steel Point development leader Bridgeport Landing. No word on how close the city, state, developer and tenant are to inking a deal.

If Steel Point becomes real, it transforms Finch’s mayoralty. One of Finch’s goals is a second city train station near the Steel Point area. The Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Company is also making plans to relocate its terminal from Downtown to a new facility across the harbor in the East End.

Finch holding hands

Finch with police and residents speaking out against violent crime.

Public safety: City crime did not rear its ugly head during Finch’s first term, irrespective of poor economic times that generally sees a spike. City crime did not evolve into a major issue in the 2011 mayoral election. This year, however, has been a different story, as Finch and his appointed Police Chief Joe Gaudett have been pressed into action to respond to an increase in violent crime. The city has responded with several meetings urging neighborhood cooperation, reaching out to state and federal officials for funding and additional law enforcement cooperation, as well as the passage by the City Council of a city curfew, with some exceptions, for youngsters under 18 years of age.

The curfew has its critics including the Connecticut ACLU as well as a number of city cops who maintain the curfew is forcing law enforcement to become babysitters, pulling them away from more pressing responsibilities.

The past two years has also pressed Finch, the police and fire departments into action responding to several weather-driven disasters such as a tornado that struck Downtown and East Side in the summer of 2010, as well as the recent hurricane Sandy that forced evacuation of low-lying areas and knocked out city power for several days forcing Finch to criticize the leadership response of the city’s major power supplier United Illuminating.

Finch on bike

Finch promotes bike-to-work day.

Quality of Life: Bill Finch is a policy wonk and he can talk all day and all night about carbon footprints, energy districts, environmental technologies and advances. He is a green thumb, Bridgeport’s resident Mr. Green Jeans, going back to his days studying Agricultural Economics at the University of Connecticut. A Finch priority is reclaiming the city’s waterfront and the city has achieved some successes downtown and along Knowlton Street on the East Side with the creation of a waterfront park. Finch has also butted heads with his former South End roommate Bob Halstead over the handling of the city’s Community Gardens Program.

What’s the future for Finch who spent seven years in the State Senate prior to becoming mayor? He’s still more the classic legislative mind cast into a chief executive role, but he is much more comfortable in his skin as mayor than in his early years. He likes the job. Politics is a strange business and things can change fast, but there is no constitutional office available to him in the 2014 gubernatorial cycle if he has any statewide ambition. So barring any major changes look for him to seek reelection for mayor in 2015.

Feel free to weigh in with your five-year report card.

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20 Comments so far ↓

  • BlackRockGuy

    You have to be kidding me. This clown is the WORST mayor we have ever had in this city. We have lost more of our tax base during five years of this moron than we have during the last 20 years.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    As a person I like Bill Finch, as the mayor that is another story. The sad fact is he has surrounded himself with the nastiest administrative aides I ever ever seen. Adam Wood and Andy Nunn are two people who have done more damage to Finch than anyone else. These two have created an atmosphere of fear within the city ranks that has almost crippled the city.
    Finch also has a few department heads who are doing him more harm than good. One of them is a very nice guy but a bad police chief and that is Joe Gaudett.
    Now I know Finch appointed most of these guys at the behest of John Stafstrom but after his first term he should have seen what they were doing and replaced them. He didn’t.
    All of this babble from Finch on improving education is pure bullshit. As I have said before, he flatlined the BOE budget for the past five years. Finch actually could have controlled the BOE with the six Democrats who were a voting bloc but he did not for a number of years until he wanted them to dissolve themselves, which they did.
    Finch talks about the 16 square miles that make up Bridgeport and as such we are land poor. No kidding so what does he do, he builds a park on Knowlton St on seven acres of industrial zoned land. There are no kids in that area the only people I see there are sleeping on the benches. So much for land poor.
    The other thing, on taxes for the last two years he has funded over 120 ghost positions to the tune of almost $9 million. No one knows where that money went because we don’t get a year-end financial report on revenue and spending.
    Quality of life is a joke, our safety and security has changed from fair to poor. We have fewer cops on patrol although we have increased the number of cops on the force to almost 1970 manning levels. The police respond to fewer if any quality of life issues such as vandalism, car thefts and the like. Here is one from yesterday. kids coming home from school decided to wrestle on my front lawn and one decided he would drop his pants and take a wiz on my lawn. My neighbor chased them but to no avail and I will tell you there was no sense in calling it in. I will wait for this little SOB and get him next time. We won’t need the police. That’s what quality of life has changed to. Do it yourself.
    I dread a third term by Finch and his band of nasty people. Maybe the Governor or the new senator can find a job for him.

  • yahooy

    Finch’s performance is unsatisfactory unless you are Mario Testa or Paul Timpanelli.

  • Mojo

    *** Was a nice person but since being Mayor he’s changed for the worse. Turned into a typical smiling two-faced, photo taking, false promise making, good credit taking, money and power hungry career political hack. With only family, close friends if any and afraid city employees looking for something while putting up with the B/S! On a scale of 1 through 10 with 10 being the top spot, he gets a 6 from me for being elected during economic hard times then again to a second term by Zombieland voters, and also having good manners in public! *** BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID, FOR NO ONE REALLY KNOWS THE EVIL THAT LURKS IN MEN’S HEARTS! ***

  • Fluckarella

    Mayor Finch’s Report Card

    Mayor/Senator: Two paychecks........ D-
    Economic Development: .............. D
    Taxes: ............................. D-
    Public safety: ..................... E-   
    Education: ......................... F
    Quality of Life: UI Coal Plant ..... F

    Also:
    . Makes careless errors
    . Difficulty understanding the material
    . Does not know math facts well
    . Interrupts others
    . Gets upset easily
    . Work is not neat
    . Disorganized

  • Ron Mackey

    Mojo, you got this one RIGHT but your score is much too high, the right reasons wrong score. I would give a 3 out of 10 because all he does is follow the script that is given to him. I at one time thought he was a nice guy but that has been long gone for over five years. People really don’t like him now.

  • Zena Lu

    I will be brief: He had me at Goodbye.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Dr. Seuss said it well in his book about The Lorax:

    Unless someone like you
    Cares a whole awful lot,
    Nothing is going to get better,
    It’s not.

    EDUCATION: Bill feels unless you have a child in the school, your opinion is worthless and he expresses that rudely according to some. He likes neighborhood schools for his children I hear, even if they are not in his neighborhood. (And about transfers, why doesn’t he make that subject public, for all parents of all children at the same time he is being OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT on multiple issues? Please look at the Bridgeport Public Schools website to see how financial, employment and policy information may be presented to the public more successfully!!!

    TAXES: From the initial undelivered $650 tax credit, it has not gotten any better around City money concerns. Is there an internal auditor? YES or NO. What is not being done for the City in this case? Will you share what BlumShapiro has said in their Management Letter each of the past five years about INTERNAL CONTROLS? YES or NO.
    Will you provide more budget info, earlier and regularly to the Budget and Appropriations Committee so they have a slight chance to be a watchdog? YES or NO.
    Will you as Mayor have both an operating budget meeting in the spring as well as capital budget hearing (as Charter directs) and provide feedback to questions from the public at that meeting in person? YES or NO.

    ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: What report did you receive that indicated your appointed leadership was failing to score points for the Finch team? (Emphasis on failing!) The new education team set up a five-year plan. Where is the five-year plan for economic development in Bridgeport? (And remember to keep track of buildings that get torn down and land you make public that were formerly taxpaying.)

    PUBLIC SAFETY: For all of the people, by all of the people, who wish to eliminate concern about GUNS, DRUGS and ILLEGAL and VIOLENT behavior near homes and businesses, Clyde Nicholson and Amos Brown requested assistance in pushing forward TIPS-Trustworthy Information for Public Safety. (Tom McCarthy knows about the idea and has some materials. There is a TIPS coordinator in the Police Department. Chief Gaudett has yet to stand in front of multiple media representatives to make known a no-cost, anonymous, low-tech mailing envelope for members of the public to access and fill with info that worries them, WITHOUT IDENTIFYING WHO IS SENDING. In June the idea was shared, and it’s almost December without the CITY doing anything to promote it. (See the LORAX, above!) Twenty-one on duty per shift, 105 officers in total indicates there are many not necessarily part of an active public-safety equation.

    QUALITY OF LIFE: It’s more than curbside pickups with recycling. It has a lot to do with respect for employees who are doing their employment tasks efficiently and effectively, and respect for taxpayers, volunteers and citizens of all ages and description who may disagree on one or more issues based on their life experience.

    The people spoke on Libraries, and yet it still takes many months to move employment papers through 5 or 6 layers of executive administrative layers while Library money is available to expand services. Get contrite and expedite!

    The people spoke again on appointment process to the BOE and rejected the administration’s concept.

    Bill, can we all talk? Can we count on you listening? And City Council, perhaps you can show how and why you are any type of watchdog in the City governance process?

    A municipal election is upcoming. Start looking over your Council persons’ activities. Time will tell.

  • Grin Ripper

    What a bunch of fluff. He’s a Fluffernutter!
    How about that $600.00 deal? At Thanksgiving dinner yesterday from out of the blue an out-of-town cousin tells me Bass will be another Bridgeport fish story along with the Magic Man and Taint George. I hope he is wrong.

  • Joel Gonzalez

    I’m waiting for Godiva2011′s report card with straight A+ down the line–then we can laugh. This is where we should be looking for grading purposes:
    www .ctpost.com/local/article/State-election-officials-pick-Newton-campaign-for-4060614.php

  • Bridgeporteur

    People are just now beginning to realize just how terribly bad this guy is. Bad for Bridgeport. Start by telling me what, in five years, he has accomplished. Downtown is rotting around the Kuchma deal where, even though he is not responsible for it, takes credit for it. Putting all the eggs in the Kuchma basket is Finch Folly. Look at the dazzling resume: Downtown, the Harbor, GE being demolished, Remington Shot Tower site, Downtown North, Seaside Bath House, restaurants closing right and left, asinine work by his Park’s staff, kickbacks, Pequonnock River, Pleasure Beach, Underwood site, vacant houses in foreclosure limbo all over Bridgeport and most of all the crime, not the headline crime, but the everyday crime not in the paper, and having arrogance on top of it making jokes about it! And we have three more years of this guy. More to blame are the puppets on the DTC. Only Hennessy came out against the “Yes” vote. I hope all this mob goes down with him.

  • Bob

    Interesting article … however this “Bird” gets an F along with the last several mayors. The key to success would have been substantial economic development. Not one mayor in the past 30 years has improved Bridgeport. There were a lot of pie in the sky plans with no substance. The nearest any mayor came to upgrading Bridgeport’s condition was the crook known as Ganim. Aside from the ball park and arena he did little but line his pockets.
    A sad commentary indeed. Just like this inept president, no mayors in 30 years had any substantive business experience, any leadership qualifications, or surrounded themselves with quality advisers.
    An F is generous in this mayor’s rating.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Bob: I agree with what you said above. The mayors we keep electing keep doing the same thing year after year.
    They keep hiring advisers who are not qualified but are politically active.
    Why has Stamford been able to attract so many corporate offices and we have attracted zilch? It’s really not their proximity to New York, after all there is only 17 miles separating us.
    The problem is corruption, pure and simple.
    Here is an example. While I served on the park board we put out an RFP for the Seaside Park bath house. We received one bid from an experience restaurant person. He was willing to put $1 million into this building and use it for weddings and other gatherings. The park board approved this bid along with okaying the sale of alcohol at these events. The contract went to the city attorney, it was approved with one exception, serving alcohol. The bidder was told to see a local well-known attorney and it would then cost him $30K to get the right to serve alcohol. The bidder said screw you and backed out. I reported this to the authorities to no avail.
    So take incompetent advisers, mayors who are dumb and corruption and you get what we have today. Nothing, nada, zilch, zip point shit.

  • John Marshall Lee

    The Mayor was looking for ideas for the latest “park” to be featured in a photo op in the CT Post. I raised the subject of dedicating at least a portion of that greensward to those attorneys whose activities have brought them in touch with one or more sides of a City legal issue.

    I really like the street name, SHARK PARK. It is easily remembered. It provides a chance to draw faces and names from the back rooms, the closed-door sessions, the interminable periods of ‘we’re taking it under advisement’ or ‘we cannot talk while the situation is in the courts,’ and from the payments and settlements the City taxpayers fund every year, but, of course, there is no easily accessed list even with FOI.

    So let’s put it out there in the open, create an opportunity for statuary and other types of sculpture, giving the arts an opportunity to speak to the professional community, kind of truth to power.

    Andy Fardy, do you have a nominee? Anyone else wish to celebrate the name of a barrister/solicitor, a career in court/out of court, or an episode or life story of Bridgeport and the legal community? Callahan? Grimaldi? Mojo? Time will tell.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    I would nominate Ray Rizzio cul da sac because it’s an easy turn-around or it lets things go in circles.

  • Chris Russo

    Just wanted to make a comment after Hector Camacho’s death.

    Puerto Rico had 1,136 murders in 2011, the deadliest year in its history. That’s almost 9x the number of murders in Connecticut, which has a slightly smaller population. U.S. federal laws apply in Puerto Rico, yet they can’t vote in a presidential election and they don’t have a voting representative in Congress. They also pay billions in U.S. federal taxes. The most loyal and devoted employee my grandfather and dad have ever had is Puerto Rican.

    Hopefully, Camacho’s death turns focus towards a situation that goes against everything the U.S. stands for. Considering Puerto Ricans are such a big part of our community, I hope our elected officials in Congress will push to reexamine our current relationship with Puerto Rico, which should be dramatically improved.

    • Bob

      Camacho’s death is probably drug related. Here is a guy who struggled with drug use in between his boxing. And perhaps you don’t remember it was separatists who tried to assassinate President Harry Truman … they wanted to be a separate country. Also, people in the District of Columbia have no representation in Congress. And they have a high murder rate.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    If I am not mistaken the people of Puerto Rico voted down statehood in the recent elections held there.

  • Chris Russo

    Actually, a majority just voted in a referendum rejecting their current status as a U.S. Commonwealth and 61% favored statehood as the alternative. Regardless of statehood, the U.S. could do a lot more to increase the representation of Puerto Ricans in U.S. federal government.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Are you talking about jobs or elected office?

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