Mayor Bill Finch was there, so was former Mayor John Fabrizi, as well as Finch’s 2011 Democratic primary opponent Mary-Jane Foster. They showed up Saturday at a campaign headquarters on the West Side to support Democratic candidates for various state and federal offices in November. Party regulars waved the flag for this election cycle, but it was hard not to consider what’s on the horizon for Finch’s reelection next year.
Finch, elected in November 2007 following a tight Democratic primary win over former State House member Chris Caruso, now working for Governor Dan Malloy’s administration, won reelection in 2011, defeating Foster in a primary and then Republican Enrique Torres in the general election.
We’re now about a year away from a Democratic primary for mayor, if there’s a Democratic primary for mayor. Who poses the greatest threat to Finch next year? It’s still very much a work in progress.
Finch’s second four-year term, much like his first term, got off to a shaky start. That’s what four-year terms are for, right? Time to recover. Tax increases, a record storm leading to ear-splitting snow removal complaints from constituents, a defeated mayoral charter reform effort to appoint school board members, an airport safety plan that compensated a radioactive developer more than $400,000 to improve his own property that a state judge ruled taxpayers were under no obligation to pay, were among some of the glitches in the first half of Finch’s second term.
Public safety, particularly police staffing levels, could be an election year issue, but no potential mayoral candidate has stepped up to provide a regular voice of opposition. It’s extremely difficult, barring a major collapse from the incumbent, to show up in an election year and wage a competitive race in a four-year term. Why? Because an incumbent such as Finch, irrespective of administrative warts, has four years to build a war chest. Finch’s campaign operation, already with more than $200K in the bank, knows how to raise funds. What do potential challengers have in the bank? Nothing.
Most campaign contributors will not say no to an incumbent controlling the candy store, such as it is. Much easier for them to duck challengers. So that places a premium on the opposition to start sooner to scour pockets of money unavailable to an incumbent.
The mayor’s critics will claim it’s not just about his money. Well, not exactly. Will the opposition have what it needs to wage a competitive battle?
Example, Linda McMahon spent $100 million of her fortune combined in two U.S. Senate races and lost both times. In those races, it wasn’t about what she spent, it was about what Dick Blumenthal in 2010 and Chris Murphy in 2012 spent. Did the opposition (Dick and Chris) have enough loot to make their case? They did.
Same thing locally, will Finch opponents have enough dough to make their case? Right now it’s a huge question mark.
In addition, the power of incumbency matters. You can make things happen, or create the perception things are happening. Finch will leverage the power of incumbency, supplemented by a campaign war chest, to make the case Steel Point is happening, a new Harding High School is on the horizon, we reopened Pleasure Beach, we built and renovated new schools, we are the cleanest, greenest, safest, most affordable city with schools and neighborhoods that improve every year, yadda, yadda. (And we have a boatload of cash to filet the opposition.)
Former Mayor John Fabrizi, who’s formed an exploratory committee for mayor, would love to have his old job back. Fabs has some support out there, but we are now in mid-September and, beyond money to pay for a poll, he has no campaign money in the bank. You don’t become relevant by hoping there’s a lot of love out there for you, you do it by going out and showing voters you want it. Will he?
Mary-Jane Foster, co-founder of the Bridgeport Bluefish baseball team and a vice president at the University of Bridgeport, displayed courage taking on Finch in 2011. She cracked 40 percent of the vote having been outspent two to one in a primary. She did show an ability to raise funds. Her supporters have encouraged her to run again, but will she? Hard to make it happen waiting until 2015.
Retired city police officer David Daniels has been making the rounds trying to build support for mayor. No doubt as a community police officer, he knows lots of folks. But just because they liked you as a police officer does not mean it will translate as a mayoral candidate. Daniels learned a few weeks ago how difficult it is to build a grassroots campaign. More than 100 people on his Facebook page promised to attend a community forum he hosted at the Bridgeport Public Library. About 20 or so showed.
Three-time mayoral candidate Bob Keeley, the longest-serving legislator in city history, bounced from office in a 2008 primary by Auden Grogins, is examining another run for mayor. Keeley has no history of raising money for mayor. What’s changed?
Former State Representative Chris Caruso? He works for Governor Malloy who’s in a tough reelection race. If Malloy loses, will Caruso take a third stab at a mayoral race? He lost close Democratic primaries in 2003 and 2007.
Then there’s former Mayor Joe Ganim who’s feeling out potential support for a comeback. There’s nostalgia for Joe in some neighborhoods, despite his 2003 conviction on federal corruption charges. Joe being Joe he’ll monitor the situation to see if the timing is right to get back in the game. Why? He’ll never regain his law license, he’s getting divorced and who will pay him a $150K package that comes with the mayor’s job? Thus, he’ll consider a comeback if the stars are aligned.
Other names are floating out there. Can they raise money? Can they rally organized opposition?
Politics is crazy business and things can change, but Finch is very much the favorite for another four-year term.