When was the last time Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa showed up to a Board of Education meeting and a City Council meeting on the same night? You might have to dig deep for that one. Monday night the little giant stepped away from his popular Madison Avenue restaurant to show his face–and sometimes that’s all that matters–at the organizational meeting of the school board chaired by Mayor Joe Ganim in which the ambitious young attorney Dennis Bradley became the surprise chairman six days after he received the oath to join the school district. Right after that, Mario attended the City Council meeting to witness the reelection of political disciple Tom McCarthy as president of the budget and legislative body. Things have changed for Mario with Joe Ganim back in office.
Mario Testa is not the kind of politician who leaves his supporters and contributors on the beach. You help him elect his candidates, he helps you. That’s how Mario does things in his political rite of passage. He’s old school. Throw in a little respect and you’ve got his attention. Bill Finch showed no respect. Mario took care of business. A number of things strategically went wrong with the Finch mayoralty but it also didn’t help Finch thought he was the sun, moon and stars. Ganim is mayor again.
You wanna get stuff done politically in the city, you do it through three key areas: the mayor, City Council and Board of Education.
Monday night there was an expectation either former board chair Sauda Baraka or Howard Gardner, the thoughtful, professorial-like school board member would become chairman. A little political dipsy-doodle took place. Gardner is a reasonable, proud man, but he’s not the kind of guy you can approach about taking care of a mighty political contributor eyeing a school contract. Nor is Baraka. Bradley may not be that way either, but someone younger, ambitious, politically smart with a gift for gab may be more accommodating down the line. To Mario’s way of thinking that’s a better bet. Bradley became chairman by a 5-4 vote. Mission accomplished.
The council presidency was a foregone conclusion–McCarthy is well liked among council mates–where Mario has skin in the game there as well. Mario has a mayor who respects him and a disciple McCarthy who respects him, except McCarthy is a tricky balancing act for Mario. McCarthy, while close to Mario, also was loyal to Finch. After Ganim vanquished Finch in the Democratic primary McCarthy, irrespective of having received his city job during Ganim’s first mayoralty, followed Finch’s lead in supporting Mary-Jane Foster in the general election. McCarthy could not deliver his district for her as Ganim won handily across the city. During the Finch mayoralty McCarthy put himself in the crossfire of conflict because he served a dual role as council president while also working at the pleasure of the mayor as deputy director of Labor Relations, in direct conflict of a City Charter provision prohibiting city employee councilors. What ever happened to checks and balances in government? City Attorney Mark Anastasi had reasoned it was okay based on a provision of state law.
Ganim on the campaign trail announced he would do something about the conflict. Will he? It would be easier for Mario to go to bat for McCarthy had he supported Ganim in the general election.
The McCarthy case is an interesting test for Ganim. Will he wait it out and see if McCarthy is accommodating as council president to shepherd through things Ganim wants from the budget and legislative body? Or will he tell McCarthy to make a choice, council or the city job? Or might Ganim say look, I know you gotta eat so we’ll shift you into a position in the Board of Education where the conflict is not so apparent and we all save face?
Makes it a lot easier for Joe and Mario with a friend in charge of the school board.