The Politics Of Legal Work, City Solicits Pricing For Key Bond Counsel Services

John Stafstrom
John Stafstrom

Pullman & Comley’s 20-year run as city bond counsel led by partner John Stafstrom could be coming to a close. The Bridgeport-based law firm with offices in Hartford, Stamford and Waterbury has been notified by the city that it is soliciting price proposals for upcoming bond counsel services from qualified firms in Connecticut. Bond counsel work is a key component in structuring city financial and development transactions. It’s a specialized area of legal practice.

Stafstrom, a former City Council member, Democratic Town Committee chairman and 2013 Barnum Festival ringmaster who infused new excitement to the annual event, has become a mighty rainmaker for the law firm, representing municipalities and the state of Connecticut in shepherding financial, pension and development transactions. He has a strong relationship with Governor Dan Malloy. In fact, when Malloy had a scratchy political relationship with former Mayor Bill Finch who supported Ned Lamont for governor in 2010 it was Stafstrom who served as the bridge between the mayor and governor’s office. Stafstrom was instrumental in the city receiving millions of state and federal dollars for the Steel Point redevelopment on the East Side featuring Bass Pro Shops as the anchor tenant.

Stafstrom left the City Council in the mid-1990s when Ganim selected Pullman & Comley as bond counsel. The law firm continued the legal work through the administrations of John Fabrizi and Finch. Stafstrom was a key fundraiser and political adviser to Finch who lost the Democratic primary to Ganim in September. Rather than support Ganim in the general election Stafstrom leveraged his contacts and deep Rolodex to help finance the petitioning candidacy of Mary-Jane Foster. Ganim cruised to a mighty general election win.

Stafstrom, Murphy, camel
Stafstrom, 2013 Barnum Festival Ringmaster rides in on a camel at ringmaster’s ball with spouse Dennis Murphy, acting commissioner of the State Department of Labor.

The last time bond counsel was competitively procured by the city was 2008 shortly after Finch’s election for mayor following a tight primary against then State Rep. Chris Caruso. Finch then was going through the public motions to select Pullman.

This time it’s a different story although Pullman could theoretically be retained depending on the price proposals received by the city.

“In order to provide for an open, transparent and competitive procurement process that achieves maximum value for our fiscally challenged City and its over-burdened taxpayers, City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer by separate process will be soliciting price proposals for upcoming bond counsel services from select qualified firms,” wrote Meyer and Finance Director Ken Flatto in a December 23 letter to Stafstrom. “The City certainly intends to include Pullman & Comley amongst the firms from whom it solicits fee quotes, both because P&C is highly experienced bond counsel for the State and various municipalities and also because P&C is a major local firm and taxpayer.”

The law firm has received millions of dollars in fees from the city the past two decades for various city projects and although this could mean the end of Pullman’s bond counsel work it may not be completely vanished from city legal work. It still has residual work left over from Finch’s administration for outside legal work that may be better suited for completion rather than terminating and bringing in a new firm or handling it within.

Finch’s last day in office Nov. 30 was a clearing house to take care of loyal staffers and vendors. Finch approved a controversial labor agreement that provided him a lump sum $17,000 retroactive raise going out the door. That same day Pullman & Comley received a check for roughly $79,000 for legal work, according to city officials.

“I’ve been asked by the City Attorney and Mayor to help analyze and work with auditors to review all transactions that seem unusual or irregular from the past year,” said Flatto in an email statement.



  1. *** It’s time for the city to look towards a different direction from Pullman & Comley, which has gotten much too comfortable with city hall politics in general. Time for Joe to line up good quality people and firms that are not going to work against him nor the city behind closed doors concerning politics or power shifts! Joe has legal savvy and friends who should be able to find a good qualified firm to start this new year representing Bpt as bond counsel, even if only on a trial basis to see how it all works out. *** Time to Clean House, Joe! ***

  2. The Ganim Administration, supported by a Bridgeport Democratic Party undergoing an intense period of self-examination and mission/priority adjustment, has moved with unprecedented boldness toward the promised revamping of Bridgeport government in pursuit of the revitalization of our city. The on-going City Hall shakeup is reverberating powerfully in Hartford, Washington, and throughout Fairfield County.

    The decision by the Ganim Administration to consider the city’s relationship with politically powerful vendors is more, strong proof of the sincerity of the Administration in regard to its promise to free Bridgeport of the shackles of decades of external political manipulation and parasitism.

    “Out with the old and in with the new” will be the theme in Bridgeport City Hall for 2016–as promised. It has been impressive to watch the new administration show the egress to those in City Hall who would be a drag on economic and political-social progress in Bridgeport.

    But clearly, there are still big changes needed in City Hall in pursuit of the creation of a new, appropriate model of economic development for our city. Change at the top in the Department of Economic Development is as urgently needed as change at the top in the Police Department. Both critical areas of Bridgeport government have been allowed to drift, without clear agendas or modus operandi, for too long, and with tragic effects for Bridgeport.

    But after the bold City Council vote of Wednesday, it seems major, positive change in Bridgeport city government is indeed possible in 2016.

    1. Jeff, the Democratic Party undergoing an intense period of self-examination and mission/priority has moved with unprecedented boldness toward the promised revamping of Bridgeport government in pursuit of the revitalization of our city. I understand what you are saying about Mayor Ganim but I totally don’t understand what you are saying about the Democratic Party, what changes has the Democratic Party taken?

  3. If you want to be Bridgeport’s Economic Director, you must be appointed by Mayor Ganim. However, if you want to improve Bridgeport’s economy, start when ready.

  4. *** Nice words Jeff, but don’t get your hopes up too high just yet! There’s still, say, about 50% of the city council members who either don’t read or take the time to ask the right questions and end up relying on whatever the admin tells them! When they’re left with egg on their faces due to the way they voted, they cry foul, no one gave me any info but I voted for it anyway? Or, we didn’t have time to go over all the facts with the committee or council but it’s important a vote is taken tonight! You’ll have a 15-minute caucus to review before you vote yes! So instead of sending a message to the admin either get it to the pending committee or council members beforehand in time or don’t bother because the council will just vote no or table it. Believe me, after a couple of rude political awakenings the city admin will do all they can to get things in front of the council members or committee co-chairs at least 48 hours before a meeting! The communication between the city council and city Mayor’s admin must improve and be much more transparent! No more, get Tom the council president and he’ll get them to vote yes in our favor without going into details as usual. Transparent city government without rubber stamping lazy council members just going through the motions is needed! *** LONG WAY TO GO STILL. ***

    1. Mojo, I’m in agreement with you but as you know this is nothing new with past councils and mayors. Many council members are too embarrassed to admit to what you have stated so they say nothing and they ask no questions nor seek any advice. You have someone like John Marshall Lee at the council meetings providing them with information to be able to perform their duties but he is rejected. They don’t want someone preaching to them and acting like they are the smartest person in the room because they are embarrassed because they don’t know or understand thereby giving their vote and power away to whomever is the council president or mayor. The blame goes to me, you and the other voters in Bridgeport because we make no demands on those we elect.

      1. Some six or seven years ago, I knew very little as a citizen and taxpayer about how Bridgeport governance functioned. I have learned much since then from reading documents, reviewing financial statements regularly, reflecting on what was not clear, asking questions, listening to responses and connecting the background to complete a narrative.

        As a “lifetime sharer” I have proceeded to sign up to speak at City Council meetings twice a month in the five-minute time periods provided before Council sessions on the first and third Mondays of each month, usually. I do not think of myself as a “preacher,” nor do I see, or need to see, myself as the “smartest person in the room.” I offer to share what I have learned in my talks to the Council and I send them as well as have them published through the City Clerk’s office in the archives as well as offering them to OIB. I have never been embarrassed in asking others for facts, for their understanding, or for their opinion and wonder why these elected stewards of the people would feel so, when they can easily become better informed in order to become better public servants. That is the office for which they ran.

        At the start of City Council meetings, the presider usually asks a Council member to offer a prayer to those assembled. More often than not, the deity is called upon to shower wisdom and knowledge down on the assembled. The humility to understand such gifts can come in many forms also needs to be sought, perhaps. If power is to be used well, can any of us sit with the status quo? Or do we need to reach out to learn new things that will serve us in our responsibilities? And yes, we do need to call upon our Council members to grow in many ways. Time will tell.

  5. I am neither friend nor foe of Mr. Stafstrom.
    But I remember when this contract was put out to bid under Bill Finch. Firstly, the way the RFP was written, it was done so to severely limit the qualified respondents.
    Secondly, it was done at a time when there was great discussion concerning minority contractors. If memory serves me correctly, due to the RFP’s qualification requirements resulted in not a single minority firm being qualified. I asked John directly if he would take on a minority co-council to at least provide the exposure and experience to a minority lawyer or law firm, and he said No.
    I guess his liberal leanings have their limits.
    Let’s see if the Ganim administration is willing to push this envelope.


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