The Mayor’s New Voter Outreach

Three weeks from today (Monday), Mayor Bill Finch will present his proposed budget to the City Council that will likely include a tax increase. The next night April 3rd in City Council Chambers he will launch the first in a series of public meetings defending the budget and allowing citizen input. This is the first time in more than four years as mayor that Finch will avail himself to a series of public hearings on the budget. He has good reason. Education and a commission examining charter revision will gobble up most of the mayor’s time between now and November when voters will decide proposed charter changes.

These hearings are an opportunity for the mayor to presumably link any tax increase to a renewed investment in education. Yes, taxes are increasing but we are investing the new revenue in our children’s future with a highly credentialed new superintendent of schools (Paul Vallas) with a long history of turning around troubled districts.

It’s also a way for the mayor to begin selling to voters approval of an appointed board to oversee schools.

How can you hold me accountable for education if I don’t have the power to appoint members? the mayor will reason. Well mayor, cynics will argue party hacks have chosen most of the elected Democrats through the years to sit on the board and the party hacks chose you. That’s the whole point, the mayor will respond, let’s take the politics out of it. They will not be subjected to the political process and as a result we will have a larger talent pool from which to appoint board members.

That’s when Republicans should be screaming okay we support you on opening up a larger talent pool so how about allowing voters to decide minority party representation on the City Council? The charter commission the mayor has empaneled could ask the all-Democratic City Council to place the question about minority party representation on the ballot. All charter questions must be submitted to the council for ballot approval. If the council’s going to do that there must be something in it for them, no? Maybe a charter question about compensation for council members? Phil Smith, OIB’s resident charter expert who served as point man years ago for a couple of charter revisions, says the charter already gives the council the power to set all salaries. City Attorney Mark Anastasi has taken a different position through the years, that council compensation must be approved by voters. Council members currently receive a $9,000 annual stipend in lieu of compensation.

Would Republican political leadership pledging support of an appointed BOE at the polls be enough for council members to approve the minority-party question?

Either way, the biggest challenge for the mayor will be persuading voters to entrust him to select the right candidates to sit on the ed board. This charter question, whatever form it takes, will require the mayor to reach out to a much larger pool of voters that don’t participate in local elections. The last general election turnout for mayor was about 18 percent. The last general election for president was nearly 60 percent.

Selling charter questions to voters will become a full-blown citywide campaign with money raised from the business community that supports an appointed ed board.



  1. Lennie,
    I’ll read, rather than skim, your essay more closely, and give a BEACON2 full answer later, if I can. However, there is an error above. The City Council has budgeted a $180,000 line item in the Legislative budget (City Council) for some years. Dividing this sum by the 20 Council members provides $9,000 per Council person to use as an expense reimbursement by submitting evidence quarterly for City payment. There is little public reporting on this currently.
    But in 2011 the total payments under GENERAL COMMODITY CODE #967 GENERAL STIPENDS, CITY COUNCIL appears to be under $30,000 in contrast to report in recent years of expenditures of $110,000 or more. Which numbers can we trust? Has the City Council gotten thrifty? Are the purchases being accounted for correctly? How will we know for sure? Time will tell.

  2. Lennie, you said, “the biggest challenge for the mayor will be persuading voters to entrust him to select the right candidates to sit on the ed board.” You got that right but what has Mayor Finch done for the voters of Bridgeport to TRUST him but TAKE their voting rights away from them? TRUST, PLEASE.

  3. I would suggest those who plan to attend the Mayor’s public information sessions on the budget to spend some time on the primer John Marshall Lee and Andy Fardy have prepared and has been posted here on OIB. I would also suggest that BOB meet after the Mayor’s first session and before the second session so we can better understand what is being proposed.

    1. barney and countdown,
      Andy Fardy and I invite all interested property taxpayers in Bridgeport to take a look at the Budget and Appropriations watchdog process this year. Last year two handfuls of us sat in at one or more meetings as Budget Oversight Bridgeport – 2011 or BOB as we called it. We got a sense of the level of questioning and curiosity by B&A members. Andy Fardy was asked by a Council member the first night: “What are you doing here? Don’t you know that you can’t speak?”
      Some civic hospitality, eh? So we stopped in, looked at what they were studying (you can download budget materials, all or a limited section, from the City site), and we listened. And many of us came away with a clear sense that curiosity and levels of financial acumen were not present in our ‘fiscal watchdogs’ sufficient to act as a check or balance to the administration speakers. Tragic, sad, disappointed, maybe. Needing change, definitely. The B&A are overmatched but they have not asked for real help in a meaningful way, though the Charter gives them the power to do so, and their annual budgets provide tens of thousands of dollars for such assistance. (And what happens to the funds they do not spend each year? Good question. They have to wait until the next budget year and see what is put in that line item by the City, perhaps from transferred expenses, or see that again the operational number is ‘$000.00. Whom do you blame for that?
      So as soon as the Special Budget Sessions are listed on the City site, we will schedule a briefing meeting to answer questions and provide basic info about the process of protecting your tax dollars. Someone needs to do that meaningful work. Time will tell.

  4. Bridgeport and the State BOE takeover … what’s next? How about the food we eat and where people go out at night? No joke. They are both on the table in Hartford and topics tomorrow on Bridgeport Now TV.

    MJF is on the program at 8:30 for update on important things that may change Bridgeport zoning. And before that at 8pm we get update on HB 5117 which if passed will mandate labels on food you eat in Connecticut which are genetically modified (GMO); we are joined with head of CT NOFA, the Northeast Organic Farming Association.

    1. Bridgeport Now–Have you tried to record your show? The TV schedule doesn’t list your show at 8pm on Tuesdays on Channel 88. You might want to check that out. I was trying to record it but it’s not listed.


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