Musto’s Hennessy Problem–Government Reform Versus Political Establishment

Anthony Musto
What will Musto do?

State House members Auden Grogins and Jack Hennessy must feel like it’s us against the world when it comes to Hennessy’s proposed legislation HB-5724 if approved by the legislature and signed into law would bar city employees from serving on the City Council and remove, they say, conflicts of interest on the city’s legislative body such as approving their own wages and benefits. It’s a long shot for passage. Influential city and state unions are railing against Hennessy’s bill urging state legislative Democrats they support to kill it. The City Council approves union contracts. Bridgeport has an eight-member legislative delegation with six of them either running for cover or opposing Hennessy. One of them, for sure, could be vulnerable for reelection if he’s not careful how he handles this issue and that’s State Senator Anthony Musto. Many of his most active constituents want this bill to become law.

Musto’s district demographics dictate his attention to this matter. Musto is a product of city and state political influence, a disciple of Democratic State Party Chair Nancy DiNardo who also runs Democratic politics in Trumbull where Musto resides. Musto now has four years under his belt as a state senator in the 22nd Senatorial District Bill Finch served for seven years. When Finch resigned the seat following his election as mayor in 2007 Republican Rob Russo won a special election to fill out Finch’s term. DiNardo went to Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa and told him she wanted to run Musto for the city-suburban seat. They have a good relationship. Mario said fine. Musto defeated Russo in the 2008 November election courtesy of the Barack Obama election tsunami.

The political establishment in Bridgeport may not feel like they own Musto but for sure they feel he owes them. City Council President Tom McCarthy has built up prestige in city politics. He’s now a big player. He wants Hennessy’ bill sayonara. As deputy director of Labor Relations McCarthy handles collective bargaining agreements on behalf of the city. He has strong union contacts. McCarthy says any potential conflict can be resolved by city employee council members recusing themselves. The City Charter prohibits city employees from serving on the council, but a loophole in state law allows it, something Hennessy wants to close.

Grogins, the Blonde Banshee from Black Rock, is easily the most independent-minded voice among the city’s legislative delegation. She has managed to do this while generally keeping strong relationships with Finch and McCarthy. When she needs to stray from them she will say look, I need to be here, my peeps want this. Also understand Grogins is arguably the most respected member of the city’s Hartford delegation so the local political establishment needs her to step up on the things they need legislatively.

Grogins’ State House district overlaps Musto in Bridgeport. And that’s where this becomes tricky business for Musto. Musto’s district covers all of Trumbull, a portion of Monroe and the northern and western sections of Bridgeport including the North End, Brooklawn and Black Rock that also happen to be the highest voter-turnout areas of the city. Voters in those neighborhoods, given the right issue, can get noisy.

If Republicans field a decent candidate who qualifies for public funding Musto will have a strong challenge in 2014 which right now is shaping up as a year state Republicans can makes gains. Barring a dramatic turnaround of the economy Democratic Governor Dan Malloy has a battle on his hands next year. It is likely the Republican candidate for governor will emerge from a field of State Senator John McKinney, State Rep. Larry Cafero, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and 2010 GOP nominee Tom Foley who lost to Malloy in a squeaker. No slouches on that list.

The 2010 election is a pretty good apples to apples with 2014. That year Musto’s Republican opponent David Pia won both Trumbull and Monroe, but Musto survived as a result of Bridgeport’s heavily Democratic registration. Since that time Musto picked up additional Democratic voters as a result of redistricting from the Wilbur Cross precinct. Beware, however, a number of political activists who have supported Musto in the past from the North End, Black Rock and Brooklawn, support Hennessy’s bill. Musto cannot survive if a good chunk of voters in those neighborhoods, not even necessarily the majority, bail on him if they think he’s bailing on Hennessy’s bill. They keep score.

Don’t think it can happen? It can. Example: suppose two-time Republican mayoral candidate Rick Torres challenges Musto in 2014. Torres has a strong following in Black Rock and in fact, his popular Harboview Market is the gathering place for a number of neighborhood activists coming together to support Hennessy’s bill. Torres defeated Finch in the Black Rock precinct in 2011. Hennessy’s reform bill is a strong message on the stump. “Musto supports conflict of interest on the city council, I support eliminating it. He supports political profiteers against progress, I support the long-suffering taxpayer.” That message will play with voters who support Hennessy’s bill.

So this issue is dicey for Anthony, one that can get away from him if he’s not careful. Stay tuned.

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18 comments

  1. I am from the 138th district that was once represented by Senator Musto, in fact I walked the neighborhood with him when he first ran, Little Did I Know.
    On one hand I am glad he got himself redistricted from this area and moved to Black Rock. Our gain is Black Rock’s loss. Musto took out an important part of Senator Ed Gomes’ voting strength in this redistricting procedure. This move was a large reason for Ed’s loss.
    Musto’s claim to fame in the 138th was the attempt to have a prison built in this district and touting it as good for the neighborhood.
    Musto is not the only senator from Bridgeport who has not weighed in on the Hennessy bill. Where is Mr. Ayala? Riding the fence again?

  2. *** Many of these past Obama coatails winners can be beaten next time around in the political arena by a joint unified Republican, Independent, civilian active party venture or groups willing to work towards educating specific city and state districts for a common goal. Sen. Musto is one of these quiet, behind the scenes independent political hacks who no one really knows what he’s done while in state office and the only time voters actually hear something of interest is during election time! He’s not a team player and never will be unless told to by the machine that makes the “kool-aid!” As a matter of fact, out of the eight state legislators in office right now, 50% of them need to be replaced with a new live “thinking and breathing” person. The city council needs a higher replacement number at around 75% out of the present 20 members who hold a seat in Bpt. It must be a unified joint venture by every concerned voter, towards specific districts that can be won! *** TIME TO EDUCATE THE ACTIVE VOTERS IN BPT POLITICS 101 ***

  3. I hear the Dems in Trumbull are trying to convince Musto to run for First Selectman. If that happens, he’d likely support the bill to convince Trumbullites he’s not a Testa lackey.

  4. For the record, Musto was at the organizing meeting for the bill at Harborview.

    Also, redistricting did not provide Musto with any meaningful number of additional Democratic votes–it swapped one heavily Democratic neighborhood out for another of the same size. The redistricting had a negative impact on Gomes specifically because the area moved into the 22nd was most of his old city council district, but in a general election it doesn’t make much of a difference. (Realistically, no candidate is ever going to double their number of votes in just one precinct, so I doubt it made any difference in the primary either.)

    In November, Ayala won by the same 10-1 margin Gomes always did, and Musto won by a pretty convincing 2-1 margin himself (taking both Trumbull and Monroe, even while those towns went for Romney over Obama).

    1. Matt, did Musto say at the meeting he’s supporting Hennessy’s bill? Please enlighten us. I spoke to a number of folks at the meeting who say he wasn’t completely on board. Musto’s Republican opponent Chad Ciocci did not qualify for public financing in 2012. He had just a few bucks to spend. Basically he just put his name on the ballot in a pathetic effort. You can’t compare a presidential election cycle to a gubernatorial with a proportionally lower Bridgeport turnout. Are you willing to say today Musto defeats a decent Republican candidate backed by public financing money in Trumbull and Monroe? As to the district changes that impacted Gomes, Ernie Newton won Hallen School in the primary, that’s the closest barometer to Wilbur Cross voters. Had Cross still been in Ed’s district Ernie would have taken Cross. Regarding Musto now having the Wilbur Cross precinct, if I’m Musto and someone says we’re taking away Hooker School voters from you and carving in Wilbur Cross I’ll take that deal any day.

      1. I didn’t stay until the very end and so might have missed the outright declarations, but to my ears he and Grogins sounded equally supportive of the concept.

        The district isn’t a mortal lock like a couple of others, but you’re going to be favored in any district where your party outnumbers your opponents by more than 2 to 1. Just saying the redistricting didn’t do very much to alter the district, and Musto has strengthened his hand in Trumbull and Monroe as time has passed.

        His support will be more important down the line as it will go to the committee he chairs (Elections) after it gets out of P&D. (Come to think of it, I’m not entirely clear why this bill didn’t go to the elections committee in the first place.)

        1. Musto was asked, do you support this and he gave a not at this time answer. I asked Auden (she is on P&D committee) the same question about why this is on P&D and not Elections. I have not not heard from her yet. Musto is on the Elections committee, so asking asking him will be the next step if Auden does not answer my email sent on Monday.

          1. The response that was just emailed to me–This bill is in P&D because that committee handles ALL legislation affecting Cities and Towns not just land use–logic for me says ethics would be the first place this amendment would go, but my logic and government process logic does not seem to be the same these days.

  5. In the final analysis it’s a simple question: Whose side are you on, Senator? Bridgeport voters or the power brokers in Hartford, Bridgeport and, yes, Trumbull.

    We’ll be watching.

  6. If the committee from Black Rock got together and put on their tin hats at the next meeting of “The Black Rock Committee of the Self Important” maybe they could find a candidate for the next election to beat Musto.

    1. Jim,
      What’s a middle aged Fairfield resident, lacking Union work in his trained field of expertise because of the economy, who instead is cramming his head with serious study of gastronomy weighing in on Hennessy Bill 5724???

      And rather than state in your several postings why “City Council conflict of interest” issues don’t need to be dealt with to change Bridgeport’s crummy current governance, you comment the bill is no good and no one wants it. And then you pursue argumentum ad hominem (and feminam), Wow! …

      Is the local union opposition to this bill so strong they woke you up from a nap to attack people you know (and I guess disagree with on paper but not it person) rather than share your thoughts on the issue???

      As a matter of fact the lady you reference did get some results from her many months of political activism or maybe you weren’t paying attention? Or maybe the massage parlor closings have hit closer to where you live, not necessarily for you, but perhaps others you may hold in high regard?

      None of us is looking to run for office at this time, as far as I know, so that statement falls a bit flat and wounds no one. But running for office is not the only way to be informed and work for change. (Aren’t you fortunate to have experienced, unconflicted, elected representatives to serve on your Fairfield Finance Board and attempting to protect your property tax burden?)

      But I’m happy to have a Fairfield resident at Harborview Market, contributing to the success of a Bridgeport business. And I’m more than happy to have a dialogue, discussion or debate on most subjects (including food) any day, as you know.

      But for you to hop on these issues, with the personal attacks, to support Musto and oppose Hennessy’s proposal seems out of character, you know? Just asking? Is it anything you ate that may be causing you disquiet? Hope it passes. Time will tell.

    2. It’s a Bridgeport group and not a Black Rock Committee. It’s growing and the members are committed to making a difference. You can be part of the problem or part of the solution. It’s your choice.

  7. *** If Musto were going to support this bill, he would have stated so by now! As usual he would need marching orders first before making any serious move. He’s not for the good of Bpt but for the good of the party and what it can do for him! *** MUSTO MUST GO! ***

  8. HR 5724 is all about good government. It is a litmus test regarding who is fighting for the public interest rather than the special interests. Local elected officials who do not support this legislation will be held accountable.

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