No Longer City Lobbyist, Is Former Mayor Nick Panuzio Squeezing Sour Grapes Or Sense?

Nick Panuzio
Nick Panuzio

In a commentary published in the Connecticut Post, former Mayor Nick Panuzio is weighing in against a mayoral-appointed Board of Education. A former administrator at the University of Bridgeport (and currently a member of the Board of Trustees), Nick served as Bridgeport’s Republican mayor from November 1971 to September of 1975 when he resigned from office 55 days before the completion of his second term to accept a position in President Gerald Ford’s administration. Charming, funny, strong public speaker, Nick started a trend of Republican mayors occupying City Hall for 10 of the next 20 years. Nick leveraged his contacts in Washington to create a government relations profile that has sustained him all these years. In fact he had represented the city’s lobbying interests until recently. It was Nick who took the lead on behalf of Mayor Bill Finch when the mayor empaneled a committee to examine what went wrong in the aftermath of the election-day ballot shortage in 2010.

Nick’s legacy as mayor is arguably the sweetheart 20-year-and-out pension deal he gave the city’s uniformed services as he curried votes to win a second term in 1973. In 1974 Nick ran for governor, nearly becoming the GOP’s endorsed candidate against Democrat Ella Grasso who would become America’s first woman governor elected in her own right. For whatever reason, Nick is no longer lobbying for the city. In his opinion piece he has taken a position against Finch. Is this sour grapes? Or does Nick make strong points? His commentary below:

I have watched with interest the appointment of a charter revision commission that has been listening to the thoughts of citizens concerning changes that are necessary. As a former mayor of Bridgeport, I would like to express my opinion on several points.

We should remember that charters are like constitutions. They should be changed seldom and never to only satisfy one issue. They should be in place for years with little if any changes. Recent charter revisions were for giving the mayor a four-year term, eliminating the Board of Apportionment and Taxation and for changing the structure of the Board of Education.

If the charter revision commissioners are open to suggestions, I would like to make a few:

First, they should deal with the conflict of interest of individuals working for the city and simultaneously serving on the City Council and receiving a stipend for serving. They vote on the budget that contains their salaries as well as their stipend. I am not a lawyer but I believe this is a conflict of interest and is fundamentally wrong. When the Board of Taxation and Apportionment was in place there was no such conflict.

When I was mayor, there was not a single council member -Democrat or Republican–who worked for the city.

Second, the Board of Education should be an elected position. This is an example of changing the charter to meet an immediate need. I recognize the problem the mayor has with the poor showing of children in the schools. Is that the fault of the board, the superintendent, principals, teachers or anyone else beside the board?

In addition, the Democratic Party has been in control of education in Bridgeport for at least the last 21 years. If the mayor can find good people to appoint that live in the city, then the Democratic Party can find them and get them elected. All of the people on the board were selected by the Democratic Party, and the mayor, as the titular head of the party, should be able to get qualified people nominated and elected. It seems to me that more power is placed in the hands of the mayor by making the members of the board appointed. We should not be doing it just because others are doing it. All power in the hands of one person, no matter how dedicated, is not good.

Third, I was the only mayor who was opposed to the four-year term for the office of mayor. I recognize that we have had three mayors elected for the four-year term and the chance of changing that are slim. However, I believe that a two-year term guarantees that the public has greater control over the actions taken by a mayor. I hope the commission will keep the election for the council to two years.

Fourth, there should be consideration given to minority representation on all boards for, if nothing else, the ability to monitor the actions of the majority. The Board of Education was always nine members, with three for the minority and six for the majority.

The minority members can operate independently from the mayor and really act to represent the children of the city.

The City Charter is a sacred document that should not be changed to meet an immediate problem. It really is like the constitution. can you think of where we would be if every time we have a problem in Washington they tried to change the Constitution?

The mayor can figure out how to get qualified members of the board and correct the problems for the kids.



  1. Nick Panuzio knocked himself out for Bill Finch. Not just since Bill became Mayor but for lots of years before. Ultimately, none of it was enough for Bill or his Inquisition henchmen. Nick is a graduate of UB and longtime Trustee. He was taken to task multiple times for his loyalty to his alma mater. His friendship with primary contender Mary-Jane Foster didn’t help. Another example of substance losing out to the absurd, actually obscene, politics of this administration. God bless, Nick.

  2. Nick Panuzio has never missed a meal or a paycheck. Now he gets bounced by Finch and we are entitled to his opinion. I don’t buy the Foster or UB argument! Although I must say I agree with what he wrote. He was painfully or should it be “paying fully” silent for years including during Ganim’s corruption.

  3. Great comments Nick. I wish I had said that. Oh, wait a minute, I did when I addressed the Charter Commission at the first public hearing. It has more meaning when you say it to them face to face.
    Just like I did when the blue-ribbon committee took testimony on the election and I scolded Panuzio on his conflict of interest for being a contractor of the city with a contract that could be terminated by the mayor without cause and without notice.
    That being said, welcome on board, Nick. Unlike the city and the state I love a vocal public. The more dissenting voices the merrier.

  4. Speaking of Nick I remember a former Latino RAL member who later came over to the Dems. He claimed he was personally responsible for Nick’s 9-vote victory because he voted 20 times that day; once in every precinct. I won’t reveal his identity but his initials are EV or RV if you think you know who I am talking about. I will have to ask Nick about this the next time I see him. That is if he Ed shows his face again.

  5. Panuzio states the Democrats in Bridgeport have been in charge of education for the past 20 years. For the past 20 years the Democrats could have cared less about the number of diplomas that are printed each year. They are more interested in the number of lucrative goods and services contracts that are dispersed to supporters especially in food services.

    Everyone expects Vallas to come in and make sweeping reforms that will improve the quality of the education our children are receiving. He may make some headway in that regard. Improvements in graduation rates and test scores and academic achievement will certainly take the pressure off the DTC and sweep the irregularities in non-classroom spending under the rug.

    I am actually ashamed of Vallas for his close contacts with Fabrizi and for his penchant for calamari served at Testo’s. We deserve better for our money.

    Don’t bother telling me Fabrizi is a dedicated educator who is keenly interested in bringing the Bridgeport Public School System into prominence. Therefor he should make close contacts with Vallas. Fabrizi has publicly abused drugs and alcohol. When he was president of the Common Council and Mayor he did nothing to halt the rapid downward spiral of our entire educational programs.

    Beware the interloper.

    1. Remember, this guy is a politician. He wanted to be Governor of Illinois long before he wanted to be Superintendent of Schools in Bridgeport CT.
      Having a private conversation with Mario and Fabs in the kitchen is EXACTLY what this guy is used to.

  6. I understand the BOE budget will be unveiled tonight.
    1. Who reviewed the proposed budget?
    2. Did they take out the $188,000 spent on meals for employees of the BOE?
    3. How much money is in the budget for per diem workers who came with Mr. Vallas?
    4. Have there been any strides made in health care costs?
    5. How large will class sizes be after certain cuts?
    I believe this will be a rubber-stamped budget with very little public input. Just like the city budget. Nothing changes.

    1. There will be no public input to the BOE budget.
      To answer some of your questions.
      1. Only the sub committee has reviewed his budget. It will be given to the full board tonight.
      2. A lot of the food/perk monies have been taken out.
      3. Vallas per diem workers do not impact the operating budget, at least for this year.
      4. No cost-cutting on health care until the new contract negotiations start.
      5. Class sizes will remain at 24 students K-2 and 29 3-8.
      Vallas is making major budget cuts by eliminating a lot of top brass. Two have been let go and several are back in schools as principals to fill vacancies.
      He is also cutting para professionals and home school coordinators.

      He is asking for more money from Finch for next year. Let’s see if Mr. Finch, the mayor so concerned with Education, puts his money where his mouth is.

        1. What the heck … WTF!!!
          What are you talking about?
          Per diem consultants had better be in this year’s budget or this is more filthy game-playing going on.
          Or What the heck is more of a what the hack, talking up Vallas and Finch at the expense of the public.

          1. Grin Reaper,
            The per diem monies are being paid out of the controversial foundation money. So as of right now Vallas and company are not taking salaries/per diems out of the BOE operating budget he is trying to balance.
            However for the 2012-2013 year we will have to wait and see if he puts those positions in the operating budget, grant monies or continues to pay from the foundation.

  7. The salient point from Mr. Panuzio’s statement is: the city charter should not be manipulated to pursue a single issue as the Finch/Wood administration is doing with its focus on the Bridgeport BOE, so future BOE funds can be captured for their personal and greed-driven goals.
    Let no one in the public at large deceive themselves into thinking the city charter revision will be good for any city resident. It will not. OIB readers and writers are perhaps the core group that can get this perversion of fundamental democracy stopped.

  8. The police and fire departments actively campaigned to get Panuzio a second term. We ran telephone banks and soft sheets on election day. We counted in excess of 3,000 votes coming from both departments and we got a 96% turnout and Panuzio got a second term.
    Could this be done today? No!!! Too many firefighters and police officers live out of town and can’t vote, besides both unions are too weak to do anything meaningful.

  9. So Andy, when you say “WE” did this and we did that, are you taking credit for the 20 and out? Are you by extension taking credit for the unfunded pension liability?

    1. Grin,
      What if the per diem consultants, like Vallas, are being paid by the Fairfield County Community Foundation by way of a special account? And therefore not part of your property tax, your State income tax or your Federal Income tax. That has been reported previously, perhaps you missed it?
      Perhaps you might want to attend the Board of Education meeting at Tisdale School tonight, 6:30 PM? The budget for 2011-12 is prepared as is the 2012-13. Copies of these were available at a BOE retreat 2-3 weeks ago. Reading the plans can raise questions, to be sure, but I come away with more respect for the redirection of the Bridgeport system. Moving focus out of the administrative offices and down to the schools, getting a common curriculum across all of the grade levels, using technology to do purchase orders (not paper requests) and allowing each school to do their own ordering subject to their own instructional needs, using technology to assess student advancement (and at the same time assess the teacher, too), transparency to parents and public and lots more. … And we in Bridgeport have been waiting 6 years for a 2.5-year audit report that is still not fully complete. I am impressed by the common sense things that we could have been, should have been doing but did not in the past. And this is Vallas and team Sandra Kase, academics, Marlene Siegel, finance, and others. Get your hands on the materials, read, think and monitor results. Time will tell.

    2. Neither. I was a small piece of the overall effort. The unfunded liability lies with the past 2 administrations. There were monies in the fund to cover pension costs. Finch has gone to Hartford at least twice that I know of and asked and received permission to put less money in the fund as he was supposed to. I have spoken and written about this.

  10. While I have not always agreed with Mayor Panuzio, I think his comments were spot on. They reflect an understanding of both the City’s needs and the responsibilities of the Mayor and city officials.

    The bottom line is simple. The existing City Charter works pretty well. It would work even better if, as John Marshall Lee and others have pointed out, all of its requirements were complied with.

    The problem here is not the Charter. The problem largely rests with the Mayors, City Councils and Boards of Education WE have elected and the people they have appointed.

    To paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault dear voter is not in the Charter, but in ourselves. WE need to do something about that.

    As for the Charter Revision Commission, the best thing they can do is pack up and go home.

  11. We have had many comments about people with power being manipulated by others here in the City. Sometimes the term “puppet” is used and at other times the “strings being pulled” suggest marionettes. I have no insight into the actual dynamics of what passes for leadership in City Hall(s) currently but the activities or proposals or plans seem to have a character all their own:
    1) There is no sense of 2 or 3 priority goals that are critical to City growth to be pursued daily by the management team throughout a term with all hands aboard contributing to goal achievement. So there is much hoopla and wasted expense on minor issues or fanfare before failure.
    2) Common to this administration are half-truths that are not or cannot be substantiated by timely data. (Last May Finance projected a $2.3 deficit for 2011 one month ahead on June 30; by August the Mayor announced $150,000 surplus offering no paper or report to verify it; and the CAFR released in January 2012 reported a surplus exceeding $750,000. And that looked great until you saw this number depended on counting $2.2 of State ECS money, intended for BOE??? And included more than $1.2 Million of Library funds that was budgeted and due them, but kept by the City, for what??? Perhaps to balance their budget???
    There are probably other characteristics of false presentations and statements by this administration and you may suggest some. But I think a new name title deserves to be coined … How does a “Finchwoody” sound to you???
    Perhaps a short definition would be an idea or concept for municipal governance (that is really not meant to be believed but gets media or public attention briefly) that changes nothing towards positive importance for most of the people, perhaps has a tiny kernel of worth to it (but not more), and will be found to be inaccurate, overstated or a lie within a year? That is a “Finchwoody” and accounts for that which is crafted for the City by two minds where only one individual professes but fails to practice ACCOUNTABILITY to the public.
    How do you maintain a $215 Million BOE budget for 4 years past and declare improvement of public education a priority goal? It’s easy. That’s a FINCHWOODY!!! That’s not OUT OF AFRICA, it’s ONLY IN BRIDGEPORT. I will guess someone will suggest an acronym for a FINCHWOODY? So what about an F/W? Time will tell.

  12. And talking about a fiscal FINCHWOODY, let’s go to the monthly financial reports, the six month December report projected a June 2012 surplus of $2,830,081 (up from $2,700,000 in November). Substantial reasons for this were projected expense savings from budgeted of $2,894,223. (Nice job of expense control, right, even though you started with $4.5 Million of more than 60 ‘ghost positions and benefits’ so it shouldn’t have been too difficult.)
    OK, look what happened in one month!!! The January report swings $6,600,000 to the negative or deficit. Did you notice? Was there a covering announcement in the form of a FINCHWOODY? What do the Budget & Appropriations meeting records show? Did they hold a meeting or cancel one recently? Is this one reason (other than the BOE 2012-13 BOE Budget) for a Special Meeting on this Wednesday at 1:30 PM at 45 Lyon Terrace in Room 203, Superintendent’s Office. Curious? See you there. Time will tell.

  13. Come on folks. There’s got to be a shitload of jokes in this article.

    BRIDGEPORT — Plans to build a plant that would convert the city’s sewage into energy are heading closer to reality.
    The city has issued a request for proposals for a anaerobic digester to be built near the West Side Treatment Facility.
    The plant would cost the city or a private developer $8 million to $14 million, city Sustainability Director Ted Graybarz said. But since part of the project will be grant funded, it could cost the city only $4 million to $8 million.
    The city spends $2.3 million trucking more than 5,560 tons of sewage from the treatment plant to New Haven, where it is burned. Some sludge would still be trucked to New Haven if the plant is built.

    Only In Bridgeport. Soon to be the home of the largest poop machine in New England. Now we can refer to the Mayor as the shit mayor and he can’t complain.

    1. Where are all the green signs that sprouted in City ‘designated’ parklands last fall? Were they sustainable?
      A sustainability director in FINCHWOODY terms is a department head who does what he has to do to keep his job and has therefore risen per the Peter principle to a director level. If you have had to do what was necessary to follow a FINCHWOODY directive, you may not be happy with yourself, having soiled at least your integrity along the way and are willing to strike out at taxpayers who question your actions.
      It is a different technology than has been used in our City but word is it has been tried down county. And cutting down transportation costs today will be even more important in the future as the cost of a barrel of oil in dollars continues to increase, and if we have more effluent pass through the West Side plant in the future (based on flows from north of Bridgeport). Time will tell.


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