Every now and then Bridgeport voters revolt against the political establishment. We saw it in 1933 when they elected Socialist Jasper McLevy and kept him there for 12 terms. Jasper had railed against the sins of both political parties for decades, and then the timing was right when voters had enough of corruption during the Depression.
We saw it again in 1971, after a mini-tax instituted by Democratic Mayor Hugh Curran galvanized young Republicans under the banner the Republican Action League, leading to the election, by nine votes, of glibly gifted Republican Nick Panuzio. Nick won reelection two years later by gifting members of the city’s uniformed services a sweetheart 20-and-out retirement plan that the city’s still paying. It did not matter how often and how loud Democrat Bill Mullane screamed that the deal would break the backs of taxpayers. Cops and firemen and their families came out strong for the Republican.
The city went Republican Panuzio, Democrat John Mandanici, Republican Lenny Paoletta, Democrat Tom Bucci, and then in 1989 voters rebelled again following the news that Bucci’s budget blew up and needed a state bailout, electing political neophyte Republican Mary Moran the city’s first female mayor, riding a wave from the eclectic, reform-minded community group People For Bridgeport’s Future. Moran also enjoyed an inspiring gift for gab. She was decent and honest but in many ways clueless. In June of 1991 she plunged the city into federal bankruptcy court hoping to break the backs of city unions. Problem was Wall Street threw a fit, the city’s bond rating was revoked; government could not borrow to fix or build schools or repair roads and bridges. Home prices dropped.
In 1991, with the mayoral pay $52,000 per year, crime at an all-time high, banks such as Mechanics and Farmers and Citytrust gobbled up by the New England recession and businesses poised to leave, just about no one wanted to be mayor. Joseph Ganim, 32 years old, smart, ambitious, also emerged outside of the traditional political structure to claim the Democratic nomination and defeated Moran. Ganim cut a pragmatic deal with Gov. Lowell Weicker to pull the city out of bankruptcy court in exchange for significant state financial assistance, negotiated major union concessions including zero pay increases and unpaid furloughs. Over the next 10 years, after Ganim raised taxes slightly his first year in office, Bridgeport enjoyed 10 straight balanced budgets without a tax increase, in addition to a $40 million fund balance, the first four of those years under the supervision of a state-mandated oversight board imposed by the state following Bucci’s announcement in 1988 that the city was broke and needed a bailout. Ganim became the second longest serving mayor after McLevy.
Ganim was among the most effective mayors in the city’s history, but greed toppled a mighty record that had the city finally going in the right direction.
Here’s the point: revolting against the political system doesn’t necessarily lend itself to improvement. Witness the 20-and-out legacy of Panuzio, who has enjoyed a healthy career as political consultant and lobbyist, and Moran who was great in front of crowds but unpersuasive when it really counted.
The challenges that Bridgeport voters face as a result of mayoral judgment and character flaws are not exclusive to Bridgeport. Hartford, Waterbury, Providence, Newark, Trenton and New Orleans have all faced the same or worse. Don’t compare Bridgeport to Stamford. Stamford’s grand list success is due, in part, to location as a result of New York companies wanting to avoid New York taxes. Also, keep in mind that Bill Finch did not win the mayoralty. Chris Caruso’s narrow-minded campaign lost it. “He’s corrupt, I’m not; so vote for me” did not work.
But McLevy, Panuzio, Moran and Ganim also proved that if the atmosphere is right a credible candidate can emerge quickly and assume the city’s mayoralty. Many poignant questions were raised as a result of the prior post Accidental Mayor. How to get good people involved? You ask them, that’s how.
Think about someone you like that has strong judgment, fair temperament, a little marketing sense and isn’t afraid to hire smart people – well, it’s possible for that person to rise quickly in the city’s current disconnected political atmosphere and succeed.
Everyone knows my fondness for Bruce Hubler. I’ll float another name with potential, Marc Delmonico, the Republican town chairman. He has a strong finance background, runs his own business, invests in the city, understands what it takes to attract development, and can bench press 300 pounds, run a marathon, swim to Long Island and back and log dozens of miles on a bike, all in the same day. That’s my kind of candidate. That deep sucking sound you just heard came from Marc’s genial wife Barbara – Lennie, what are you doing to me!
Hey gang, float some names. I won’t mind!
New Internal Affairs Chief For PD
The relationship between the officer in charge of Internal Affairs and the police chief is tricky. That’s because the top spy cop reports directly to the mayor outside the chain of command of the chief. Rebeca Garcia, a 17-year veteran of the police department, was officially announnced today as Mayor Bill Finch’s selection. See Finch press release below:
May 27, 2008 – Mayor Bill Finch (D-Bridgeport) is pleased to announce that at the regular meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners last week, his nomination for Officer in Charge of the Office of Internal Affairs was approved by the Board.
The Mayor’s nomination was Lieutenant Rebeca Garcia, a 17 year veteran of the Bridgeport Police Department who will be the first woman to lead Office of Internal Affairs. Lt. Garcia is a graduate of Bassick High School in Bridgeport and went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude with an Associate of Science degree in Administration and Business from Sacred Heart University . Five years after becoming one of Bridgeport’s Finest, Lt. Garcia went on to receive an AS in Criminal Justice from Housatonic Community College.
While at the Bridgeport Police Department, Lt. Garcia spearheaded the Domestic Violence Unit and the Critical Incident Unit/Negotiations Team. She has acted as Hostage Negotiator for the Department and Overseer of the Police Officers Peer Mediation Team.
Lt. Garcia is active in her church and the community and has accepted guest speaking engagements with many Bridgeport organizations, including the Boys & Girls Club and the Center for Women & Families (CWF).
“I am extremely proud to have such an accomplished and well-rounded lieutenant in this important position,” said Mayor Finch. “Congratulations to Lt. Garcia and I wish her the best of luck in her new role.”
“Lt. Garcia is a model example of a police officer and I have nothing but praise for her outstanding work thus far in her career,” added Bridgeport Police Chief Bryan Norwood. “She will do a tremendous job as Officer in Charge of the Office of Internal Affairs.”
“I am honored at the recommendation and appointment as Officer in Charge of Internal Affairs,” said Lt. Garcia. “I thank everyone for their support and look forward to working with both the community and officers of the City of Bridgeport as well as the Board of Police Commissioners.”