3:30 p.m. update: The poll results for Mayor Bill Finch are lousy, but not politically fatal.
What can he do about it? Take advantage of his strengths. Bill looks good and sounds good and when he actually believes in something he can sell it. The problem for Bill has always been focus. Too many distractions that cloud the goal. He’s Bronco Billy. Throw a saddle on him and good luck staying aboard.
This is where staff can help. They must simplify everything they do for him broken down into four core components: budget, economic development, selling the city and government reform. And they must dig in and do battle to keep him focused like never before. Too many staffers say yes mayor, you’re great, mayor.
Democratic voters that elected him two years ago don’t think he’s so great. And if they continue to think they’re great they will drown in their own narcissism.
One of the big surprises for me in the polling data was how far down public safety fell among the pecking order of issues important to electors. When crime soars it’s nothing but a gigantic toothache for a chief executive. Taxes, schools and jobs are the big three. Hopefully it stays that way, and crime does not rear its head.
Step One: Voters are dying to feel good about their city. They don’t think it’s going in the right direction. The quickest way to change that is by promoting your assets: cultural attractions, destinations points, city-owned facilities such as The Klein, ballpark and arena, and yes, one of the finest–though financially challenged–public library systems in the state.
You promote the city the right way with the right message and you change minds. How do you pay for it? You find the money. Just do it. The city spends money on all kinds of crap. The people that meow about spending money to promote your city will meow about everything. The majority of residents will feel good. Finch will be embraced as the ambassador for the city, your peeps will be proud, out-of-towners will visit and potential investors will take notice.
Next step: get your ass out of the building and recruit business. Assemble a meeting with the mayor, Economic Development Director Don Eversley and Joe McGee, former state economic development commissioner and currently an official with the Business Council of Fairfield County. McGee’s bright, a big Bridgeport supporter, he understands public policy and wants the city to succeed. You ask Joe, okay Joe, where do we fish? We want the mayor to knock on the door of chief executives to explain why Bridgeport is a good place to do business.
You set a meeting every week. Results won’t happen overnight, in a month or for many months, but down the road something will click. And Finch will develop a reputation for someone poising his city for future growth. Perception in this case is good.
Next step: government reform. It starts with the Board of Education and Civil Service. Finch will have his chance to control the BOE in short order by virtue of key political supporters joining the board. (Expect to see lots of fights between the board and Superintendent of Schools John Ramos.) Make sure the comprehensive audit of the BOE is done. At least you can say you accomplished something, irrespective of the findings.
Ever visit Harding High School on the city’s East Side? How the students and teachers work in that environment amazes me. Antiquated isn’t the word. The city needs a new Harding High School. It will take years and years for it to happen but start talking about it.
Finch missed an opportunity to incorporate his termination of Personnel Director Ralph Jacobs into an overall reform of Civil Service. Create a charter amendment commission to structure realistic reforms such as changing the rule of one to a rule of top three candidates. Reforms have been resisted in the past. Maybe the atmosphere is now there.
And finally, try to be more open to brainpower that wants to help the city, for instance a retired executive such as OIB friend Bruce Hubler who offered his services but couldn’t even get a meeting.
Will they listen to me? Of course not. But maybe they’ll listen to you. Have suggestions? Fire away. And if all else fails there’s always: Finch for Connecticut secretary of the state!
The item below will be on the Friday agenda of the State Bond Commission to approve the loot for Governor Rell’s decision to build a juvenile detention center for girls on Virginia Avenue in the Upper East Side. State Rep. Christopher Caruso who represents that area has asked the governor to pull the item from the agenda. House Majority Leader Denise Merrill has joined Caruso with her own plea to the governor.
“Some questions,” Merrill wrote the governor, “have arisen regarding this facility, some of which relate to questions of the process for choosing the site, but also questions about why this facility is being built at its size for the particular population in question. Is it in keeping with any kind of plan at the Department of Children and Families for housing this population of girls? … I would ask that this item be withdrawn pending further study and clarity regarding the questions that have been raised.”
PUBLIC ACT #2, 2009 SEPTEMBER SPECIAL SESSION AS AMENDED SEC. 26-32 ITEM NO. 8 DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES CONSTRUCTION OF A SECURE FACILITY FOR FEMALES AGE FOURTEEN TO EIGHTEEN, WHO HAVE BEEN CONVICTED AS DELINQUENT FOR COMMISSION OF A DELINQUENT ACT OR SERIOUS JUVENILE OFFENSE Requested: An Allocation and Bond Authorization $4,700,000 FROM: Sec. 27(f)(2) Acct. No. 17101-DCF91000-43449 Project No. BI-YS-166DB Total Earmarking $4,700,000 Previous Allocations -0- Balance Unallocated $4,700,000 REASON FOR REQUEST: These funds are requested, along with those under Items 11 and 15, to finance the development of a new self-contained treatment facility for juvenile girls at 115 Virginia Avenue in Bridgeport. This project consists of the design and construction of a 36,000 square foot facility supporting 18-24 female juvenile defenders less than 18 years of age. Funds are requested as follows: Previous This Funding Request Development Contract $12,421,000 $12,421,000 Contingency 588,900 588,900 Studies 228,000 $150,000 78,000 Construction Administrator 198,000 198,000 Survey 25,000 25,000 Acquisition 155,000 155,000 Hazardous Materials 280,000 100,000 180,000 Equipment 800,000 800,000 Telecommunications 400,000 400,000 Commissioning 80,000 5,000 75,000 Art Work 124,100 8,000 116,100 DPW Fee 400,000 200,000 200,000 Total $15,700,000 $643,000 $15,057,000 Financing: P.A. 09-2, Sec. 27(f)(2), This Request $4,700,000 P.A. 07-7, Sec. 21(o)(3), Item No. 15 6,000,000 P.A. 07-7, Sec. 2(v)(2), Item No. 11 4,357,000 P.A. 07-7, Sec. 2(v)(2), Previous Funding 643,000 Total $15,700,000 October 30, 2009