The City’s Changing Political Landscape–Hey, There’s Still A General Election!

In Bridgeport, Democrats outnumber Republicans 10 to 1. How the city has changed the past 20 years, even the past 10 years. In the old days if an incumbent Democratic mayor emerged from a hard-fought primary the Republican candidate for mayor was there to pounce. The registration numbers and mood of the city allowed it.

From 1971 to 1991, 10 of those years were occupied by Republican mayors, Nick Panuzio, Lenny Paoletta and Mary Moran. Bridgeport had one of the largest Republican registrations in the state. It wasn’t like Hartford and New Haven that couldn’t elect a Republican local pooper scooper. Bridgeport was different. Well, now the state’s largest city is like Hartford and New Haven.

When Democrat Joe Ganim defeated Moran in 1991 the GOP registration was around 12,000. The latest count is now about 4400. The Democratic registration is now more than 43,000. When the GOP registration was strong the Dems outnumbered them at the most 3 to 1. The large bloc of GOP-leaning unaffiliated voters leveled the playing field, as well as independent-minded Dems. The city has roughly 20,000 unaffiliated voters but are they just Democrat-leaning transients? The city has changed. Demise of GOP leadership, party co-opting, party-building failures, no farm system has brought us here.

When I was a young reporter covering the city it was still an old-time European ethnic community with African Americans and Latinos fighting for inclusion politically and governmentally. Change came politically in the Democratic party in 1980 when a kindly funeral home director from the East End decided to take on the party establishment. Margaret Morton challenged incumbent State Senator Salvatore DePiano and took him out in a city primary by a handful of votes. She became the first African American woman elected to the State Senate. Some of those kids involved in that primary were pumping out votes for Mary-Jane Foster on Tuesday. History doesn’t always repeat itself.

A young activist from the South End named Bill Finch was among the anti-establishment voices back then, never bashful about speaking his mind: police issues, labor issues, business issues. He loved to talk policy. Still does. Anyone who studies agriculture is never short on ideas.

For young reporters at the Post-Telegram, predecessor to the Connecticut Post, there was always social irritant Cesar Batalla to rail against the establishment on behalf of the Latino community and other outcasts. Batalla knew how to turn a phrase. One of the young Latina leaders coming out of this era, Alma Maya, is now the city’s Town Clerk.

A young man from Cuba, Rick Torres, was a Democrat way back when. Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa was never among his favorites. Rick is now the Republican candidate for mayor. He was also the GOP standard bearer in 2003 when he waged a competitive battle against incumbent Democratic Mayor John Fabrizi. The issues were different. Corruption was a city flashpoint.

Torres has a way of adding flourish to a debate, even if he is outnumbered 10 to 1. The key to winning over independent-minded voters is to transcend party politics. In a primary you must remind folks you are a Democrat. In a general election if the numbers work against the candidate you must avoid party labels and allow issues and ideas to move the moment. Then there’s Jeff Kohut, Mr. Policy Wonk, running in November as a petitioning candidate. Kohut is human idea factory.

Finch is the prohibitive favorite to win in November. But one thing we’ll have in this general election is three candidates not short on ideas.



  1. Lennie, that young activist from the South End named Bill Finch who was anti-establishment, never bashful about speaking his mind: police issues, labor issues, business issues and who loved to talk policy has change completely. He is now the establishment who is fighting labor issues, he is fighting the residents of Bridgeport in their right to vote, he is fighting his own residents with his new policies to hire firefighters. For someone who admired President Kennedy he does not fight for the same issues President Kennedy did like jobs and housing for the poor or for equal rights for all residents. No, Bill Finch has turned into what he fighting when he was a young activist from the South End. From someone who lives in the South End, mayor come on back, make us proud, do the right thing.

    1. You are right, Ron. Finch kissed Mario’s ring and gave up all of his values just to keep his six-figure job. The young Bill Finch would have fought the machine–he would have been on our side. He would have fought the closing of the school-based health centers; he would have joined with the unions and exposed all of the political patronage; and he would have told Mario to go _uck himself. That was the young Bill. That man is long gone. I am so disappointed.

    2. This is not the Finch we knew back then. Not only has he become an anti-grass roots, one-man demolition team, he has lost all his integrity. He is not an honest man. He was once an historic preservationist. Now he has been a leader in the demo culture destroying our opportunity and agricultural treasures. Also he was on the forefront of the Juvenile Detention Center having swung that deal with Senator Daly on the Bonding Commission, was the front man for Patrick Coyne in the demolition of the Congress Plaza Redevelopment Plan, aka Downtown North. He had the opportunity to restore the Pleasure Beach Bridge but sold out on that one too. He was an advocate for DiNardo’s ruination of the Remington Shot Tower Artist Colony and its subsequent demolition and of course he was a champion of the demolition of the former Remington Arms/GE Building on Boston Avenue. Up next are the Palace and Majestic, the Middle Street Boys Club/Davidson’s Building, the Newfield Building, the Jason Building and the former Kayes Department Store.

    1. Either Jeff or Finch? Considering one is the puppet of the machine, and the other is possibly the freshest candidate we’ve had in a long time, I really think they are quite different.

    1. It was explained to you. You just lack the capacity to understand. There is no independent party line that can endorse candidates … just independent petitioning candidates. There is a deadline for independent petitioning candidates only Jeff Kohut made. This deadline date was when your beloved Caruso promised the citizens he wouldn’t run. Remember? All of that Roma Club calamari is clouding your ability to comprehend basics here. Roma Club calamari is just as rotten as the stuff you get on Madison Ave.

  2. yahooy: I hope I am right, BPT politics have been baptism by fire for me but this is what I believe to be true: When the candidates filed paperwork to run for Mayor there was a time frame they needed to abide by. MJF chose to get her paperwork in as a Democrat … which would thereby create a primary, if she got on the ballot. Jeff filed as an independent. Jeff is a petitioning independent and MJF’s signatures on her petition are as a Democrat. Jeff had enough, but there is only one spot available in the General for an independent, and it’s Jeff’s–and so are the signatures. Jeff can’t sign his petition over to Mary-Jane. I could be wrong here … but I am trying to help!

    1. Jeff Kohut is not going to give up his petitions to a candidate who lost the primary. That would be a foolish move. He’s in the race to the end. The debates are going to be livelier from now on.

  3. Mary-Jane got croaked. Caruso had no message and came close. You have to motivate Bpters to vote. Have no idea how Caruso did it, but he came close. Gomes is the only one who can motivate the voters enough to get off their asses. The Machine keeps on truckin’ through and over us all.

    1. Mario didn’t want a repeat of last time. He won by a whisker. That wasn’t going to happen this time. He was prepared. He pulled out all the plugs. Got everybody who benefits from his nefarious regime to get out and vote. He did a better job at that than MJF did so he won. I’ll give him that. On the surface it looks like he did it within the law although La Diabla Lydia Martinez should be arrested.

      Next time, maybe we bypass the primary and establish an Independent slate. Had that dog Keith Rodgerson done the right thing for Bridgeport and gave his Independent slot to Caruso. Caruso would have beaten the pants of Testa/Finch. Instead Rodgerson got 500 or so votes and a “consulting” gig for chump change.

      This comment will undoubtedly provoke the ire of “Downtowner” and “The Bridgeport Kid.” I wonder why.

        1. You are correct in this observation. Caruso protected his livelihood by remaining mute. I’m mixed here because the man has no marketable skills and has never held a job before this. As I stated before, if Caruso does not have the patronage gigs, he becomes Bridgeport’s next Charlie the Bum.

          What would you do if you were in his shoes?

      1. We all know about the CORRUPT POLITICAL MACHINE. It ain’t as if there’s an 800lb gorilla in the living room no one wants to talk about. After-the-fact analysis is not accomplishing one goddamned thing. Are you actually doing anything to improve the quality of life here, or are you more than content to prattle on about the CORRUPT POLITICAL MACHINE. Your boy Caruso did that and it cost him a lot of respect.

        1. If you have read anything I have written you will come to realize Caruso is NOT my boy. I supported him in his primary challenge simply because he was not Finch. As far as I am concerned, the Caruso v. Finch primary was akin to reaching into the bottom of the barrel where there were only two rotting apples and picking the least offensive. Chris would not have been a great mayor had he won but he would have been a hell of a lot better than what we got and what we are stuck with. He sure as hell would have begun the removal of the virus that has driven you and me into the mire and promises to continue to do so. I was right when I supported Chris and opposed Finch. I am right now.

    2. Not 4 Nuttin’ // Sep 29, 2011 at 2:26 pm
      “Gomes is the only one who can motivate the voters enough to get off their asses.”
      To your posting,

      Not 4 …
      I think you will see if Bill completes four years, there will be at least three powerful names competing for the Democratic voter’s okay. It would be interesting to see how the 43,000. Dem voters split or is it a case of a singular result? The work starts today and it only ends with each of the candidates having a hard-core count of their 1’s and 2’s. Anything else is nothing else! Do you believe motivation will produce sufficient numbers to win in Bridgeport in four years?

      1. I don’t want to wait four more years–I am out. This campaign did me in. If anyone could have turned this cesspool around it was MJF. I just hope I can sell my house.

      2. Carolanne: Depending on just the 1’s & 2’s was the one flaw in our strategy on election day. The fear that calling the other registered Dems would bring out the competition’s voters is just so much BS. Those ratings of a 1 or a 2 are BS, when a candidate’s workers call me and ask if I am going to vote for their candidate I always say yes, thus I get a rating of 1 or 2. The people asking these questions are volunteers with very little experience. Today’s politicians and their managers rely on computers too much and forget you have got to be in the streets on election day and not looking at a computer screen. I for one am glad I am retired from politics, I am just very sad I could not see MJF victorious.

  4. It’s time for change.
    I’d like to see John Gomes team up with Mr. Kohut, but I’m sure that won’t happen.
    Gomes could run against Musto next year for state senate right?? I think he lives in that area.
    Things to watch are the November election and the Bobby Simmons and Maria Pereira court case, and the investigation into the pac money.

  5. Flicka,
    We do not know each other, at least I do not know who you are, and you have not asked for advice. But since we have shared a hope-filled journey the last few months and now you intend to depart, let me provide an additional thought or two.
    What Mary-Jane did was to pull a group of diverse people together, who were adult and serious enough to set aside many of the things that had kept people apart in past elections. Some were bonded with money, I have learned, and perhaps those investments may have been disappointing? That’s for the Campaign Management, above my pay grade, to assess and share if they wish.
    So long-time politically active labored along with complete rookies like the young folks looking to gain respect for UB shared lots of enthusiasm for joining their campus to the City as a whole. Mary-Jane’s hopeful story for the City played well, but not enough people listened to overcome the hold of the DTC through their relationship building with those who depend on City process for multitudes of basic needs including housing, healthcare, food programs, etc. The financial issues and future property taxes make no dent with this group of neighbors. And the fact Finch kicked $180 Million of bills down the road meant no serious tax increase to property owners, so they do not see a threat and do not come out to vote in the primary. Now if there were more info out there Council had to deal with, and if people expected and understood Council’s role in passing budgets and being the last stop in a ‘one-part’ check and balance scenario, then a few more might have come out. And if the operating budget and the capital budget and the grants budgets (and the BOE fiasco) are pulled together in a way that can be comprehended, and people can see the size of the cans kicked and the fact that they were not kicked hard enough or far enough before they may come rolling back on all of us, then maybe people will come to attention. And certainly the markets where the City sells its short-term paper and bonds is being affected by national and international events including lack of trust in accountable and transparent governance. And equity markets going volatile or into free fall will shorten the time to where Pension Obligation Bond payments of $30 Million per year will continue as well as the $32 Million per year of retiree payments, but an exhausted Pension Plan A fund with no more money increases the City current budget suddenly. The cat comes out of the bag with a vengeance and see how many people salute Finch’s Fix by going to the State to put off today, what must be faced in the very near future.
    How does this affect you as you go to sell your house. In many areas house inventories are already showing two years of product on the market. That decreases home values for those who have to sell immediately or at least promptly. And then there is the backlog of foreclosures working their way through the system also depressing values and adding to inventory. And when you see the most expensive house in the City offered at several million dollars selling for less than a million, you know there are problems here in River City we are not facing. And we will have revaluation in some form again before the next four-year term is over. With values down and City obligations up, what will happen to mil rates and taxes? So perhaps you will stay awhile, work to spread the word, and wait, not for the next election, but for the day the bad news gets out, the plan to stabilize is formed, communicated and monitored, and house values change direction? I hope so. Time will tell.

    1. Thanks Beacon–I have lived here for nearly 30 years. The first 15 I was young and had stars in my eyes. I really believed we could effect change. Slowly, the blinders came off and I am left with the brutal truth. I have seen opposition members get physically hurt, I myself have been targeted for calling them out. I saw what they did to Torres and yet they continue unchecked. They are like “mean kids,” nasty bullies who intimidate. Maybe politics are like this everywhere. I don’t know.
      Anyhow, my question to you is this: When the S%*T hits the fan, are we property owners going to have to continue to float the boat??? I for one cannot pay any more. I don’t want to pay for the social problems of Fairfield County (did anyone read about the riot at the free food line yesterday?) and I don’t want to pay for political cronyism. I can’t stand the fact our City Council chooses to ignore laws when convenient (double dipping, working for the city etc.) Unless the State comes in and dissolves the whole thing, I see no future. Can you tell me where to look for hope?

      1. Flicka, we are all very disappointed. I don’t know what it will take to shake up this city. So many people are beholden to the machine. We are fighting decades of cronyism and patronage. I don’t like-but I understand—these people would fight like hell to hold onto their jobs. What hurts is when people like Ralph Ford and the so called “Reverends” use racism and lies to get their followers to vote for Finch. Comparing Mary-Jane to Tea Party candidates and the KKK is so wrong. This just breeds racism. The sad part is MJ was the candidate really bringing everyone together and she was demonized by the men of God. Flicka asks where is the hope? I don’t know but tell me when you find out.

        1. BPT Girl and Flicka: I know I probably know you both, as I did work on the MJF campaign as a volunteer. Hope is not something that comes from responding to outside circumstances that can be wracked with projections of someone else’s reality. Hope is a flame that burns from within and is strengthened and made brighter by its exposure to darkness. When you feel hopeless, try hope. When you feel dark, know there is light. because the only thing that makes darkness apparent is the presence of light within you. You already have hope. That is why you feel the way you do. There is HOPE and you are it.

          1. Thanks Zena. I feel better just reading your words.
            Torres is ready to go, and while I don’t think he has a chance, he will continue to expose the corruption. Maybe we can just wear them out. Sorta like Beacon, patiently reporting the fiscal news, over and over until the Post took notice and hopefully, (there I go again, “hope”) others have noticed too. So let’s get behind Torres. He’s not afraid.

        2. Bridgeport Girl, last Sunday we had a night meeting at MJF HQ. I went outside for a smoke and there was Ernie Newton on his cell phone furious and loudly asking the person on the other side “What’s all this about KKK in the church?” He went on. The congregation of too many churches are used as political capital by the leadership in them. Political Pimps, Whores, Johns, Hustlers and Con Men are everywhere. Obama walked away from his church of 20 years because of a desire to serve man first and god somewhere down the line; A difference of opinion with his pastor of 20 years. The blind fool now blames the Republicans for his difficulties on the job and like a good student demonizes any and all who oppose him. You can bet your bible many churches will continue down this dead-end road in 2012. A strange thing happened to me during the campaign. I volunteered to meet MJF and some staffers at a church on E. Main Street. I ran into a few former real gang bangers from Bridgeport who now praise and serve the Lord. One goes by the last name of Mellet. That was the same day I wrote the “Bastard” OIB comment which Bill Finch took out of context and to whom I won’t apologize as God is the only one I must ask for forgiveness. I’ve been attending church with my wife who serves the Lord for 18 years now. For now, I will continue to stay active in politics, but I will do it the way God expect me to. One must be very careful when mixing politics and religion. I wonder if Ernie Newton knows what most of those same people say about him.

  6. *** Change can also come from the bottom up, slowly! Each of the ten local Dem Town Committee districts can be challenged in 2012 with a full or partial slate challenge. Now is the time while political fever is still in the air to organize a meeting to focus on this task. Get down the ground rules & create interest in our communities to find independent-thinking residents who would be willing to work towards improving their districts & the city first. A full slate would be 9 Dem city residents who “actually live” in the district they would represent. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, no? *** FIGHT THE POWER! ***

  7. MJ and Bartlett had no clue how to win in Bpt. You need money, she had that. You need to use that money to pull out the voters. Phone banks on election day do not work, paying people to knock on doors and pull voters out works.
    Cash is king in Bpt. MJ had a few people who were getting paid from both sides. They totally didn’t show up on election day, obviously the other side paid better.

    1. BPT. // Sep 29, 2011 at 8:53
      To your posting

      Let me be the first to say from all the help and assistance you provided to the campaign, your words will certainly be measured for their value. Thank you for your stunning insight.

  8. Flicka sweetie! That’s the spirit!! In Bridgeport the weirdness is we have Democrats who act like Republicans, and Republicans who act like Democrats!!! See you soon!!!

    1. You are right, Zena Lu. I am a registered Democrat who has voted Republican in Bridgeport elections for many years. I will be doing it again this year. How sad I have to vote in opposition to rather than for a Democratic candidate in this city.

  9. Rick is the only one we have left with a shot at stopping the mess. Will he screw it up further? I don’t know. What I do know is Rick Torres is the real deal. The man is honest to a fault, well educated and versed in public policy. With MJF support, this could be an honest to goodness race. Ask yourself a question, do you really want to continue the same way for another four years? ‘Cause if you vote for Finch/Testa, that’s what you’re going to get. A mediocre slow death into financial oblivion.

    1. Sadly, Rick Torres could run unopposed and lose. He is an empty shirt. Lots of bravado with no substance. He makes a wonderful double egg with bacon on a toasted Chaves roll served with a hell of a good cup of coffee, but that’s about it.

      1. Sadly you’re wrong. Rick has an envious resume. I suggest you see the substance of this man. Don’t forget when he ran against Fabrizi and the machine 8 years ago, I recall the voting going 15,000 to 12,000 for Fabrizi. Four years ago Finch won 9,000 to 2,000 against a virtual non-opponent. If MJF throws her weight behind Torres there might be an election worthy of national interest.

    2. I spoke with Rick Torres this afternoon. Wanted to take the measure of the man. He impressed me as an intelligent, practical, and passionate man with more than a little concern about the issues facing the people of the city of Bridgeport: jobs creation, education, crime, economic reform.

      There’s a lot of chatter about his past. Have any of his OIB critics spoken with him lately? He has a message and a plan; and no, I’m not working for his campaign. I realize Jeff Kohut has some interesting ideas but not many of them are practical. Rick Torres has name recognition. He’s a known quantity. Fabrizi called him a racist in ’03. That was a piece of horseshit. What do you expect from a man who snorted cocaine and got liquored up on the city’s dime? (I was working at the Holiday Inn in ’03 on the day Johnny Fabs gave his first State of the City address. He was in the back room waiting to go on. I found it odd the temperature was quite comfortable and the Mayor was sweating and red-faced, his eyes dilated to the point they looked like oil stains on a garage floor. He tooted up before delivering the speech.)

  10. Accept the fact Mario Testa will be the next mayor of Bridgeport. It’s inevitable. He won his battle and he won his war when he defeated MJF in the primary. He is a skillful primary operative. In this venue he cannot be beaten. Next time we challenge as an Independent. Had we done this we would be in City Hall in November.

    What we should be doing is forming multiple Watch Dog committees publicly challenging this nefarious band of buffoons every time they orchestrate a self-agendized move that benefits the few at the expense of the many. We should all chip in a pay BEACON2 to keep fanning the flames of his criticism of the city’s financial management.

    The Calamarians are in office for the next four years. I say we bust their balls every day and not let them get away with a thing.

    1. When I say we should chip in and pay BEACON2 to keep fanning the flames of his criticism of the city’s financial management, I in no way mean we should buy him by the word.

    2. yahooy, et al.,
      Rick Torres is honest. He favors open, accountable and transparent governance. Jeff Kohut presents a similar character to the voters. And they both sounded a darned sight more energetic and full of ideas than Mayor Bill when they last spoke at Housatonic Community College.

      For all those who found reason to oppose Finch, those reasons have not gone away since Tuesday. And the fact neither the Mayor nor the CT Post is interested in talking about solutions to the Post’s OPUS on Bridgeport ‘financial debt, obligations and responsibilities’ is indicative that they are out of touch with the multitude of fiscal games, errors, secrets, and evasions the City has used to not raise taxes yet declare ‘balanced budget.’

      I do not need compensation for the work I continue. I am getting paid by affirmations from readers who are learning to stand up and ask good questions. Funny, when you ask basic questions, and no one has good answers, you discover a sense you are in a new place, a zone where you can escape a lot of the petty claptrap that passes for intelligent commentary or wisdom.

      That means there is more work to be done, more content to gather, more people to reach. I am organizing Operation Budget Oversight Bridgeport – 2012, that is BOB 2012 currently. Taking names and emails so as to invite folks to a gathering where they can learn what is entailed and see if they have an interest. Let Lennie know your name, phone and regular email. I will be in touch.

      Finally, I am not sure about all the rumors swirling around John Fabrizi ascending to the BOE throne, and indeed that may be true. But if so, then what will the ‘out of towners’ say about his credentials? That they are the best they could find for the money available in a broken urban school system? Can’t see Bob Trefry going in that direction personally, not unless he will be having open heart surgery in the near future, courtesy of the Advanced Placement Biology students at Central Magnet who may have an internship at BH. Has John Fabrizi ever performed anything as an Executive that is data driven? Was he a superb administrator? What did he do with City personnel to foster continuing education as a habit to improve personnel performance? Does he look like a professional educator, for goodness sake? I am just asking. I like John Fabrizi as cheerleader and supporter for all things Bridgeport. I just don’t see him as the best answer to what is ailing our school system. Remember the film by Larry from Westport, was it called The Accidental Mayor? Are we looking for an Accidental Superintendent now?

  11. This just in. The word at the Colony Diner is Mario Testa intends to make John Fabrizi the Superintendent of Schools for the City of Bridgeport. Much speculation as to whom he will run for BOE Chair.

    This is an important move. Besides the impact teacher salaries have on the budget, the BOE is the highest user of very expensive goods and services of all city agencies. We need to examine the vendors who provide these goods and services to make sure their contracts have been obtained under competitive bid and their costs are reasonable and customary. That’s what we would have had if MJF prevailed. There is no reason why we cannot DEMAND full accountability from Testa regarding these issues. If we cannot have our person in office, we citizens can make absolutely certain Testa’s actions while in office are beneficial to the people, all of the people.

  12. yahooy: I fear you are right on the money with Fabrizi as interim Supt of Schools. It is a forgone conclusion Ramos is on his way out. There will be the need for an interim SS.
    That explains Fabrizi’s sickening endorsement of Finch and the DTC meeting. Fabrizi always hated Finch but on this night Fabrizi kissed enough Finch ass it made most people at the meeting sick.
    What better way to fatten your pension than to use the Sup of schools as the calculator for your pension. Everyone watch, he will be the chosen one. If it happens, the people with kids in the school system will get what they asked for when they stayed home on election day.

  13. Sounded to me it is indeed a done deal. Shocking to think we can have the fate of our most precious commodity, our students, in the hands of an admitted drug abuser. My God!

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