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Is There A Benevolent Dictator In Bridgeport’s Development Future?

May 13th, 2011 · 29 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Politics, Development and Zoning, Education, Law Enforcement

Lowell Weicker

Lowell Weicker was a benevolent dictator for Bridgeport. Photo by Tom Dudchik.

Lowell Weicker, the ex Republican U.S. Senator who served as Connecticut’s independent governor from January 1991 to January 1995, was a benevolent dictator for Bridgeport. Revenues from a state income tax, gaming slots and state grants flooded into the city. Weicker was a gubernatorial hurricane on behalf of Bridgeport. Want a state police barracks downtown? You got it. How about a new Housatonic Community College? No problem. Governor can you buy the zoo? Sure and I’ll do better than that, we’ll buy the park it’s located in. Instant millions. Governor, we’ve got a load of illegal demo debris a mile high we call Mount Trashmore. Okay boys, let’s get rid of that crap!

OIB friend Tom Dudchik, host of www.ctcapitolreport.com who served in the Weicker administration, has tons of stories about Weicker using the force of his will to get stuff done for Bridgeport. Weicker had a soft spot for Bridgeport from his days as a young politician, according to his biography Maverick. He also realized the better Bridgeport does the better the state does, something so many other governors were not so inclined to understand. Weicker had opposed Republican Mayor Mary Moran’s federal bankruptcy petition in 1991, but did not turn his back on the city when a bankruptcy judge ruled against the petition. His influence is a huge reason Bridgeport had experienced 10 straight years of no tax increases. He provided the city lots of breathing room.

OIB readers sent along ideas for this story, including one the other day from OIB poster Charlie (not mayoral candidate Charlie Coviello) who has a dramatic suggestion that will never happen but should be debated because it goes to the core of a key question (mayoral candidates take note): what should the state’s largest city be and how to get there? Charlie has modified an economic survival argument made by former State Representative Lee Samowitz who claimed Bridgeport was a slave to the state. Charlie says give Bridgeport a casino or allow it to secede from the state. Here’s his take. What say you?

The Declaration of Independence guarantees Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. There can be a valid nexus to placing Economic before these liberties. The citizens of Bridgeport have not had these freedoms since Hartford has decided to keep Bridgeport a colony for the unwanted and poor in the State. Besides the obvious lack of freedom there is a similarity between the slave quarters in the antebellum south and Bridgeport. Since Hartford and the southern part of Fairfield County have washed their hands of Bridgeport, it is time for the Citizens and their State Representatives to act in their own interests.

The city attempted to help itself in the ’90s by helping to elect Rowland, who promised to get the city a casino if elected. Developers from all across the country flocked to Bridgeport with proposals in hand. This after a (non-binding) referendum that attracted an overwhelming turnout with a resounding YES vote. Steve Wynn came with an irrevocable letter of credit for 1 billion dollars. Rowland sabotaged the effort by picking the Pequots and having George Jepsen, at that time State Senator from Stamford, kill the bill in the Senate. The people could do no more. With the unemployment rate and taxes now at their highest, the people must act with the help of their elected officials.

I would propose this multifaceted approach for economic survival and independence.

Firstly, the State Representatives, Senators and Mayor must think of themselves as neighbors and employees of the citizens. If this does not happen they must be fired.

Secondly, they must introduce legislation in Hartford , even if they know it will fail, for legalized casino gaming in Bridgeport. If and when this legislation fails, the next part must come into play.

The Mayor must call for a referendum by the people to vote on secession from the State of Connecticut. I realize the State legislature would have to approve this, however, this would accomplish the following.

National attention would be brought on the State by the National News Media showing the economic disadvantage of Bridgeport. The humiliation brought on Connecticut may reverse the plight of the city. Political leaders may emerge that would help the city. GOD willing, this effort could plant a seed that would grow into casino legalization in the city.

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29 Comments so far ↓

  • BEACON2

    You want national attention? You want additional public humiliation beyond our borders, regionally, State wide and nationally? Haven’t we had enough already?

    All this so that “political leaders may emerge that would help the city (with GOD’s help) get a casino in the City?”

    And we should secede from the State? OK and since 80% of the Education operating budget and 90% or more of school building costs for regional schools is also from that source, how do we cross that stream before we get to the Promised Land?

    I am not a negative person and willingly look at all sorts of outside-the-box ideas. They teach you to look at the whole picture, as in who benefits primarily from an activity, something we are short of in the City. Here “special interest” people attempt to frustrate land use Master Plans, operate businesses in illegal zones without permission for years while things are in court and their neighbors become disadvantaged, live with blight as a normal situation, etc.

    Neighborhood Revitalization Zones were introduced to the City under Fabrizi to get neighborhoods into the act, to understand local vision and wishes, to use HUD CDBG funds in a more responsive manner, and perhaps qualify for other funds as they become available. Consultants plus planning groups from neighborhoods plus transformation into operating entities has happened in six neighborhoods.(Not much set out by the City has been accomplished or communicated in most neighborhoods for the last couple years, sad to say.)
    Well, some of the NRZ leaders informally initially and last fall formally set up a monthly meeting schedule for coming to know and understand the views in different neighborhoods and how to act together on common issues at a grassroots level. EXAMPLES: Opposition to another 120-bed halfway house with lots of Church leader representation! Three-part program featuring school leadership and other City stakeholders for youth ongoing! More activities to come.

    During the budget hearings, Council members on more than one occasion questioned what capital projects were happening in their District. Tom Sherwood promised to get back to them. Today the Mayor will announce what will finally happen in the neighborhoods, building on NRZ requests that have been funded with Federal funds last year and probably this coming year … combined with City Capital funds … lots of changes coming, but why did we have to wait so long for things in the pipeline to begin dripping out? Is there an election on the horizon? I am not the only person asking that question. And if you have participated in City process, you begin to realize the City truly does not know how to partner or manage for results, the way private industry does. Different animal … often so slow it seems dead … frequently emits odors that nauseate … when addressed with respect, often seems to be deaf … but is great at posing with a grin when a camera appears!

  • yahooy

    This one has me baffled. Perhaps Lowell Weicker is full of shit or Finch is full of shit. I think B2 thinks somebody is full of shit. I just can’t figure out who.

    • Vigilante

      Weicker is part of the problem. Lennie is whitewashing the FACT Weicker withdrew support for a casino after a 90% referendum of Bridgeport voters favored a casino. Both Trump and Steve Wynn came in and were offered the casino without slots. Trump took a hike because slots are a cash cow. Wynn agreed knowing that Weicker was a one-term governor. When Weicker asked why Wynn didn’t have to go back to his board of directors for approval of a casino without slots, Wynn replied, “I am the board of directors.” Weicker then withdrew his offer of a casino without slots and the rest is history. Bridgeport is a commercial and industrial wasteland and will remain so until someone without political debt gets into office and rids the temple of the moneylenders.
      A similar event happened with Fairchild-Wheeler and the Ganim administration and National Fairways.

      • LennieGrimaldi

        Vigilante, Weicker left office in January 1995, replaced by Rowland who was elected to fill the governor’s open seat. Rowland was governor during the non-binding casino referendum. Weicker’s position when governor limited gaming to tribal nations because of the compact he cut.

  • BEACON2

    You know I just reread charlie’s concept and saw it in a flash: Perhaps charlie could swim over to Pleasure Beach, establish residency by pitching a tent, declare that location a Special Environmental Zone to be shared equally by piping plovers and individuals who wish their hard-earned feathers to be pulled. Then Charlie can hold an election for this new District, get himself elected Chief of the Clam Shell Nation, then secede from Bridgeport as Mayor of the island, kind of like Survivors in CT, text investors and invite the casinos to build there and everything falls into place. Can you see it now? Is this any different than what you have heard before, except no pictures? Well, wait a minute …

    In the meantime the City can build multiple parking lots and bridges to the beach area and set up fees and tolls to the new municipality of Plucking Beach. Those fees and tolls are the ticket to produce revenues for the City, and more jobs for FOBs. Just the name, Plucking Beach, will get us national news, right?

    What do you think?

    • charlie

      B2:
      You are a reasonable and thoughtful man. You ask who will pay the bills. This would be determined by the elected officials before sanctioning casino gaming as to the tax revenue they would receive. The casinos on Vegas’ strip produce $400-500 million net per year and they are in a desert. There would be plenty of money to fund every project this city could dream of.

      It goes against every fiber in my body to ask for handouts, especially from those who are incompetents. If you think secession is such a wacko idea did you know southern Arizona is trying to do that from their State, because people have the right to basic liberties!

      We obviously come from different economic backgrounds. I am tired of always scraping enough money together to get by and knowing my retirement will come by death only. This concept will help thousands of people including you, need it or not.

      • Jimfox

        Right on, charlie!

        • Jimfox

          Charlie:
          The State compact with Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Casino is just for slot machines only, 25% (vig) a la Weicker goes to the State.
          The State has no regulation over table games for Mohegan & Foxwoods ,but the Federal Government does.
          That left it open for any City or Town to receive permission from the State for a Casino for (table games, Sports book, Race book, etc.
          Just the revenue alone from a Sports book operation would be in the Freaking Millions.
          Every Baseball, Basketball, Golf, Tennis, (Dancing with the Stars), has odds. New York State has five Racinos, and next year Aqueduct will be the sixth. Hello Bridgeport!

          • charlie

            The State could authorize legal casino gaming for the entire state including slots. We would lose the 25% from the two Indian casinos, but who cares?

  • yahooy

    Maybe B2 is full of shit.

  • Jim Callahan

    Make sure the bridge to Plucking Beach is built from Stratford.

  • Ronin

    You gave me a great idea, let’s all invade Pleasure Beach and make it a tent city for the summer! We’ll call it an Artist colony and sue for independence from Connecticut. We won’t even have to call ourselves Americans and then the world will flock to build our permanent housing like in Haiti and Japan. Then we can declare ourselves a principality like Monaco. LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!

  • Antitesto

    Ronin,
    With our luck Obama would just call in air strikes like Libya.

  • Kickback

    Seal team 6 should go Bird hunting.

    • yahooy

      Anybody ever stop to think why the Navy’s Seal Team 6 is stationed at Fort Campbell Kentucky, home of the Army’s glorious 101st Airborne Division?

  • Fairfieldrebel

    Weicker is the main reason the state is in the shithole it is today. The General Assembly back then (as before and later meaning today) was the junkie. Weicker was the supplier. He implemented the income tax, arguing it was the ONLY way to attack the then nearly one billion dollar deficit. Now 20 years later the deficit is $3.5 billion. When you give a junkie more horse, he doesn’t get better, he gets worse. While all that money Weicker threw at Bridgeport seems all warm and fuzzy it didn’t take long for them (Weicker) to spend once they got hold of it.
    Municipalities should not have to rely on the State’s teat for their budgets, and the states shouldn’t have to rely on the Federal teat for survival. It’s called living within your means. Weicker set the tone for our current situation. I take that back, the tone was already there, he just compounded it.

    • BEACON2

      fairfieldrebel,
      Your comments begin by blaming Weicker (and the State income tax) for the financial trouble we are in all over the place. Fortunately you progress to the point the problem pre-existed Weicker and the income tax.
      Legislators are junkies! Their only work is to get elected and then to maintain their incumbency. The legislative rules are formed to advance that agenda. Accountability is a word that begins with ‘A’ and is oft spoken by those in office but its practice is severely limited and rarely satisfying to the public.

      (Example, Bridgeport, 2011: the City’s Acting Finance Director saw my request for the CUSIP number of the City Pension Obligation Bond and ignored responding to that request thus forcing me, if I had no other way, to make a Freedom of Information request. Now she is not a legislator, but accountability at all levels is not a common practice.)

      Back to the main point, legislators pass laws that survive the gauntlet of their process, that seem easy to do, including immediately inexpensive, that don’t have to get into the long-term implications of complexity and impact, especially costs.

      Look at the problem today of CT and Bridgeport pensions and other post-employment benefits. Bridgeport itself has “long-term liabilities” of ONE BILLION DOLLARS that did not enter the recent Council dialogue. We know the State has multi-billion dollar obligations of the same nature.

      When a family decides to send children to college, they tend to explore the opportunities as well as the obligations and then plan a way through the years to find the money. They commit to it. In that same way our City, for instance, in 2000 “found a way” to fund the public safety retiree Plan A Pension. They borrowed the money and committed to “30 years” of repaying the $350 Million obligation. Just like a family does with a 30-year mortgage. And it’s out of the legislators’ and chief executive’s hands. It gets paid every year to the tune of $30,269,269.

      Now that cramps current spending as it would in your home or my home. So since you can’t really raid Pension Plan A funds because those are dedicated to the beneficiaries who are drawing down on the remaining $150 Million to the tune of $32 Million per year, you can IGNORE THE OBLIGATION to fund the plan at the current level advised by your actuary. The crash will come in as soon as five years.

      If you failed to pay the bond obligation your borrowing credit history would fall into disrepute and limit your borrowing options. But if you ignore your pension funding obligation as this City has, or used a “very expensive strategy” to make up for years of ignoring and then lose millions of the borrowed funds in the equity markets, well that doesn’t seem to affect the credit rating agencies as seriously.

      It still leaves taxpayers holding the ultimate bag. Perhaps we could elect legislators who are smarter and display more ultimate integrity? No, history disproves that. But perhaps, by referendum, if necessary we can place limits on what can be spent, borrowed, etc. and the necessary debate, with full public disclosure, etc. That would make budget hearings more than an acting class for smug representatives to follow Robert’s Rules of Order to exit from the process one month later with a budget, so substantively similar to the one that entered the process with Tom Sherwood presenting, that their time and questions were essentially wasted.

      Should anyone disagree, I would be very happy to hear from those who were weekly participants and witnesses to the B&A process this year: what were the net reductions to Finch’s budget in kind and amount, and as a percentage of the whole?

      We have heard it said often in recent years, “It’s the economy, stupid!” or some other obvious observation. Well, when it comes to public money and where we are today: “It’s the legislative body, stupid!” We have allowed them to make the rules that have driven us directly to where we are today. And staying in office means votes. And compensating government workers in grander manner than private workers is a “no cost” (to the legislator) way to find favor and earn votes especially when you can hide behind “difficult union negotiations” or other processes put in place by past willing legislation. Really cool stuff, isn’t it?

      As former City resident Walt Kelly once shared in his famous POGO cartoon: “We have met the enemy, and it is us!” or similar …

      • carolanne curry

        BEACON2 // May 14, 2011 at 7:48 am
        To your posting

        B2,
        How about this? A dinner and information session at Bloodroot to talk Budget, but we also talk CitiStat so the evaluation of the OIB posters and readers as to CitiStat value and posters evaluation of budget action priorities.

  • Mojo

    *** Spend, spend, spend; they all do it, no? But who’s responsible for paying the bills? *** Pick your political poison! ***

  • enlightened

    You know, sometimes man’s humanity really chokes me up:
    coalcares.org/index.html

  • yahooy

    B2 talks about correlating family planning for the education of their children and the way Finch’s administration plans for future cost obligations. He could have said it in a briefer manner but his point is well taken.

    Here’s an interesting thought. Are any members of the Finch administration who are orchestrating dismal plans of municipal financial ruin college educated … actually completed a degree program?

  • yahooy

    By The Associated Press

    HARTFORD — Connecticut is courting Chinese tour directors in hopes of attracting some of the growing number of visitors from their country to help revitalize the state’s tourism industry.

    This is a question for Bill Finch, Mario Testa and Paul Timpanelli. Each of you have allowed our city to deteriorate because you are all incompetent and intellectually unable to execute meaningful economic development. That being understood by all, where in this city would you recommend Chinese tourists come to see?

  • Grin Reaper

    We have enough oriental health spas, maybe they can learn some healthy tips on the trip here.

  • Grin Reaper

    In conjunction with that, UB has a school of acupuncture, maybe they can learn the value of a little Bridgeport prick. And I am not talking about Mario but if you want to take it that way …

  • Kickback

    Noticed Foster has been MIA, hype machine has slowed to a crawl. How long before she calls up Gomes? Has anyone from the regime of anyone but Bill tried to put a meeting together? Gomes and his people have been all over the North End door to door this past week with great results reported. Foster is not a spring chicken and could hand her people over to the Gomes camp if everyone is on the same page of real “change.”

  • Grin Ripper

    Finch on adult entertainment is hoping for a happy ending. Considering his record of broken promises I think this is another Finch strip tease.

  • carolanne curry

    It was surrealistic to listen to a presentation before the Planning and Zoning Commission the other night.

    A presentation that is asking the Commission to accept the additional crime statistics that have a symbiotic relationship to the location and site an adult entertainment club has a right to expect. Because adult entertainment clubs are considered vehicles of “freedom of speech” as expressed through dance and other forms of vestal virginity. Further the adult entertainment clubs have a protected right under the Supreme Court to exercise their freedom of speech, and as an exercise of free speech … you must let the dancers dance and you must let the crime begin .. .all as one package.

    The presenter went on and on about the need for us to have a de facto recognition of crime as a working partner to any site location of adult entertainment club.

    Mitigation for this horrible tearing apart of the social fabric of our city was given by the presenter as presenting a plan that would spread the adult entertainment clubs at sites across the city. The goal is to have a text amendment to the zoning regulations that assure those locations are secured and approved and there could be multiple crime spots rather than one concentrated crime spot.
    Why does this feel like a nightmare?

    So the taxpayers are looking at an agreement to spread out across the city, in multiple locations … adult entertainment clubs … with the automatic attendant criminal activity that was included as a reality to establishing adult entertainment clubs in the first place. It was precluded. The hammer used to get acquiescence from P and Z is if this offer is not passed with approval, the potential is open for adult entertainment clubs to then choose with impunity any site they wanted in the City, including residential zones. That essentially is what the P&Z Commissioners heard … appears like putting a gun to somebody’s head doesn’t it?
    Finch comes as head of an administration meant to serve a City of 144,728 and he cannot.

    Do we have to accept this? Well we know at this point he has neither the will, the intellect or the moral code to respond on behalf of his City.

    That’s why we need a new Mayor … someone who doesn’t put the welcome mat out for further crime in Bridgeport.

    Take Back the Neighborhood is really Take Back the City …
    This Text amendment will critically hurt the City.
    www .johnmgomes.com is on this.

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