Update with Mike Garrett comments: The seven-member Charter Revision Commission will look at reshaping the way school board members are chosen, among other items. The Bridgeport Board of Education is currently an elected body on hold as a result of state control of city schools that has created an appointed commission. Could a hybrid of elected and appointed members be in the mix before voters? What else?
Mayor Bill Finch has appointed two Republicans to the panel, George Estrada, an executive at the University of Bridgeport and Charlie Valentino, former chairman of the city’s GOP. Estrada is no no stranger to city government. He served skillfully under Republican Mayor Mary Moran and later under Democratic Mayor John Fabrizi as the city’s director of Public Facilities. Valentino was once the high sheriff of Fairfield County before the elected position was disbanded in favor of the state’s marshal program.
The subject of minority party representation on the City Council has been debated on OIB. Could this be an opportunity for supporters to push the issue as a reform measure for voters to decide? Area towns such as Trumbull and Monroe both have minority party representation for their respective legislative bodies. Bridgeport’s Republican Party has no say as a legislative voice.
Minority party representation creates checks and balances, opens up opportunities to a larger pool of potentially effective office holders and encourages economic development for business leaders suspicious of one-party rule.
When the issue has come up in the past Mayor Bill Finch has not slammed the door on minority party representation, although there’d be no apparent motivation for Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa to support it. Unless, of course, Mario considers while maintaining control he’d have several less council members to babysit. Minority party representation, however, is not just about opportunities for Republicans. It would also bring into play the Working Families Party which had two members of its own on the BOE until it was dissolved by the majority voice.
Mike Garrett, the GOP candidate for mayor in 2007, issued a statement to OIB supporting minority party representation.
Off hand I can see no downside to the implementation of a minority party representation rule to the city charter of the city of Bridgeport; on the contrary positive effects abound. For instance instead of a political monopoly by the majority party, power is shared to the mutual benefit of all. The majority party maintains its power and therefore its agenda, however opportunities for effective government can now be more readily presented by minority representatives instead of capable ideas being lost because they are never initiated in a public forum. A further example of the effectiveness of minority party representation is in the case where the minority party Governor is in office in the state of Connecticut, as was the case from 1994 to 2010. In this case minority party representatives could have more effectively lobbied the Governor than the ruling majority of the city. The outcome of close votes in the state legislature could also be determined by this more effective lobbying. There is no doubt that this would benefit Bridgeport.
Recently Mayor Finch campaigned on the issue of transparency in city government. What better way to achieve transparency than to have the check and balance of minority party representation. All that remains is for the mayor to be the statesman that is required in this instance. Many towns throughout Connecticut currently use minority party representation to the benefit of their citizens. It is time for Bridgeport to become progressive in the real sense of the word. This would be a good start.