The Politics Of The South End, Plus: Himes Says Poll Shows Race Even

Mayor Bill Finch has a stubborn streak that is both commendable and exasperating. He has thrown himself smack in the middle of an issue–saving two (pre-Civil War) homes that provided safe harbor for slaves–tugging at the emotions of the black community that helped put Finch in office.

No one disputes saving the homes for their historical value. The question is how to get there and for what purpose. Finch says the city’s anti-poverty agency, Advancement for Bridgeport Community Development led by Charles Tisdale, has had plenty of time to transform the blighted buildings that are subject to city foreclosure. The mayor wants the city’s Economic Development department to determine future use of the homes.

ABCD officials and the city’s black clergy say Finch is messing with the agency’s non-profit status that should make the properties tax exempt. The city says the homes are taxable, and it’s an issue that goes back many years.

Of all city neighborhoods, Finch’s closest connection is arguably to the South End, where he lived for many years and worked to save homes from the wrecking ball. It’s one of those neighborhoods, surrounded by Seaside Park, UB campus, and an eclectic mix of old and new housing, tantalizingly close to breaking out. When I joined the staff of the Telegram, a predecessor of the CT Post in (gulp) 1977, I fell in love with the bars and Victorian gingerbreads, although I spent much more time in the bars and eateries. The Knickerbocker, Merry Widow and Blue Teapot. All gone.

The South End is an area of the city where Finch still has standing and solid political support. Mitch Robles has emerged as the most potent vote producer among district leaders in the city, having built a nice political operation in the South End and West End. Whether it was Finch’s victory over Chris Caruso one year ago, the Democratic town committee primary in March or Ezequiel Santiago’s August primary win for state representative, the candidates Mitch supports win his precincts. Not a lot of district leaders can say that.

If the South End blows up on Finch, he’s going to need Mitch to help hold things together. When a mayor loses the confidence of voters, he needs his political support more than ever. That means what Mitch wants Mitch gets. So it goes in city politics.

Himes Says Race Even

The Himes campaign issued a release today of an internal poll calling his race against Congressman Christopher Shays a dead heat. The previous Himes poll, four weeks ago, showed him behind by 12 points. See memo below from Himes’ pollster Diane Feldman:

TO: Himes for Congress
FR: Diane Feldman
RE: Tracking Poll
The campaign’s tracking poll, fielded September 17th and 18th, shows that
Democratic challenger Jim Himes has pulled even with Republican Congressman
Christopher Shays. Each candidate has 45 percent support. Additionally, their support is equally strong with 27 percent certain to support Himes and 28 percent certain to support Shays. An even contest six weeks before Election Day means that the contest now favors Himes.

Our last poll, shortly before the Democratic convention in August, showed Shays in the lead. In the interim, however, Democrats have moved decisively toward Himes to give him a 69 percent to 23 percent lead among registered Democrats. Additionally, independents, who remain a plurality in this district, now break almost evenly between the candidates, with 45 percent for Shays and 43 percent for Himes.

In a district notoriously difficult to communicate in due to the dominance of the New York City media market, familiarity with Himes has continued to climb. Now, 60 percent of voters say they are familiar with Himes, compared to 49 percent in August.

Meanwhile, 36 percent of voters feel Chris Shays deserves re-election, while 46 percent believe someone else deserves a chance. Only 43 percent of voters believe he is doing a good job in Congress and only a third reject the description that he is too close to unpopular President George W. Bush while 44 percent believe that is at least partly true.

Bush’s own job performance rating is only 18 percent positive. Himes’ growth is largely due to raising his own profile but the presidential dynamics and issue atmospherics have aided him as well. Voters in Connecticut’s 4th congressional district favor Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama over John McCain by 56 percent to 33 percent. Deepening concerns about the economy – now the overwhelming issue — mean that voters are even more likely to reject the Shays assessment that the economy is fundamentally strong. Himes’ expertise on economic issues is also a growing asset.

Indeed, in a comparison of the two candidates, Himes has a double-digit advantage on being able to help find new solutions to problems and bringing new energy to the job. The combination of Himes’ personal appeal and the presidential dynamics and issue atmosphere of the district make him the current favorite in this race.



  1. Lennie, you wrote, “If the South End blows up on Finch, he’s going to need Mitch to help hold things together. When a mayor loses the confidence of voters, he needs his political support more than ever. That means what Mitch wants Mitch gets. So it goes in city politics.”

    This issue is bigger than just the South End and it looks like Mayor Finch is misreading the black community, ABCD officials and the city’s black clergy in saving two (pre-Civil War) homes that provided safe harbor for slaves. Mayor Finch is showing his lack of respect for the history and legacy of blacks here in Bridgeport.

    The Post has an article that states, “City Council member Ezequiel Santiago, a candidate for the state House of Representatives and a member of the council committee considering the Freeman house resolution, said he’s reserving judgment for now.”

    Ezequiel Santiago has lost my support for his candidacy for any elective position.

  2. Are there any houses that Italian immigrants occupied when they came to this country to find a better way of life? If there are any, I would like to have them saved too. Would someone so advise the Mayor? Thanks.

  3. The city of Bridgeport has possesion and ownership of the James Henry O’Rourke house still standing (blighted) in the middle of the Steel Point Peninsula. This property is seen by millions driving on I-95 every year and it’s been in the same blighted condition and sitting vacant just as long as the house in question here. How much tax revenue has the O’Rourke house generated for the city? What we continue to see here is the old double-standard that is applied or not, depending on who owns certain property. Just last week the Coucil voted to bond $650,000 to fix a property rented by the Parent Center who moved from the South End to the East side.

  4. First of all, Mitch has plenty of Dem. relatives & close friends that since he’s been district leader, now have a city job or elected position, or are on city committees & boards, etc. They also have other friends & relatives waiting for an opportunity for a city gig as well; add the remainder of the town committee members where 3/4’s of them are either related or affiliated with the city some way, etc. along with your “?” A/B’s & you have at least #50 sure votes to start off with. Most are latino votes not black voters so I’m sure the pre-civil war homes mentioned in blog #1 have no bearing or interest on Mitch, in my personal opinion! Also, Finch is a politician first then a Mayor, he’s going to say whatever he needs to @ that moment to hopefully get his way but fall short when it comes to the action needed. Now in response to blog #2; yes there are other homes & buildings in Bpt. that have historic or sentimental value in one way or another to people in general. Yet, it’s impossible to save them all, what’s one man’s junk, could be another man’s treasure! These particular homes have been in ruins for years without any interest from anyone or any group ‘tll the city decided to get aggressive towards blighted propertys & attempted to collect back taxes or foreclose & knock them down! There are many properties in Bpt. like these, etc. Seems like the city sometimes gets criticized for its lack of aggressive economic development. When it does make a move towards increasing revenue through E/D, it gets criticized for its lack of sensitivity towards personal interest of others, etc. Then when the tax bill comes in the mail, again start the usual complaints about why the mil rate is so high? You can’t always have your cake & eat it too! And last but not least, Eze may not know all the facts there are to know concerning the Freeman House Resolution? Since he’s only been in city goverment, etc. for #9 months; so his response in reserving judgement @ this time seemed wise on his behalf!

  5. There are many historical homes in Bridgeport. Very few have tax-exempt status unless they fall under the guidelines of a non-profit museum etc. There is the Whiting Cottage on S. Main Street that maintains historical significance. Little Liberia is a great story about many of the founding African-American families that came to Bridgeport. Many of those families still live in the region and have served our community well.

    “Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent” down there. This is a smokescreen to a bigger issue that ABCD owes the city a huge amount of money on their WPCA bills for other ABCD properties.

  6. Has anybody driven around Black Rock today??? You would have thought it is a republican stronghold. There are Shays yard signs plastering all over Black Rock and Russo signs. Hate to say it but they even have McCain signs around when the hell is Jim Himes going to do some campaigning? They even put a McCain sign on the lawn on my sidewalk; I quickly threw that piece of s*i! away. Have you guys seen it yet??? Drive around Black Rock and u will see.

  7. These structures have significantly more than ‘sentimental value in one way or another,’ and to state that they were of no interest ‘to anyone or any group’ is to be completely ignorant of the facts.

    These two houses are certainly the most significant in the state associated with free people of color from the antebellum era. They are the ONLY Connecticut site included on the National Park Service website (www
    ) and have been the subject of national news stories and at least one major book. They are listed on the NATIONAL Register of Historic Places, a very difficult standard to attain.

    ANY other municipality would treasure and painstakingly restore buildings of such immense importance in American history, but our brilliant movers and shakers trot out the old ‘you can’t save everything’ line so that they can be flattened and added to our vast collection of vacant lots.

    There are literally hundreds of historical society museums in this state where young people can learn how white Anglo-Saxon Protestants lived in the old times with their spinning wheels and butter churns. How many opportunities do they have to learn about the story of free people of color, who started their own school and a free lending library to teach their children the precious ability to read and write, who helped fleeing slaves find freedom, and who participated fully in capitalist society despite severe prejudice against them? THIS is the history of a sizable component of our population, and it is a history that needs to be much better known.

    The Freeman Houses can and should be a focal point of pride in this beleaguered city. The City should be working together with ABCD to bring this about rather than as an adversary.

  8. How about the Portuguese and the Polish and Hungarians too? What about the houses they lived in when they first came here? You can’t save everything, besides, these houses must be in really bad shape by now.

  9. City Kitty (9)
    That’s precisely the point. My comment (#2) was strictly meant as sarcasm hoping that I was making a point. – Are we going to save houses that every ethnic group occupied when they arrived here, if so we’re going to have one helluva mess on our hands. Consideration should NOT be given to any ethnic group. Once we’re here we’re all Americans and should stop dwelling on the differences that divide us but on those that unite us.
    The Mayor should not give ANY consideration to those black houses and should tear them down summarily.

  10. As I was about to exit this blog I noticed Rob Russo’s ad at the top making reference to the fact that he has accomplished more in “three months” than any other in his position. Rob better have an answer with regard to what he has done to cap property taxes at 2 or 3% as he promised in his introductory campaign. How about it Rob?

  11. Tom White (a Republican) is targeted for layoff while on the other hand others are appointed to high-paying positions and the stipends are not to be touched. ABCD, directed by Charlie Tisdale (a Republican), is selected to have the Freeman house taken away from the Agency. While on the other hand, DiNardo (A Democratic political contributor) gets a huge tax break on property that is still vacant and blighted. A pattern? A double standard?

  12. Con Filardi you are a racist, and perhaps even ignorant of the fact that these homes are a symbol of the black people’s fight for freedom from slavery, lest you forget they did not come here on liners like our forefathers they came here on slave ships with chains around their necks. They did not have a choice. Until the mid nineteen hundreds couldn’t even vote, or just the I. These homes are their Liberty Bell.

  13. Report from the field:

    Chris Shays finally has a McCain sign in front of his house.

    Of course it is just a McCain sign and not the McCain/Palin sign I’ve seen in front of some other houses.

  14. donj – Good for you. If there’s a sign in front of your home that you don’t like you have every right to take it down. It was put there to give the impression that the people living there support McCain. If that’s not the case, take it down.

    Also, public property belongs to us all and should not be used by any candidate. I’m sick and tired of seeing signs plastered on every esplanade and intersection. If you want to put up a sign ask permission of the private property owner or resident. Otherwise, don’t put it up.

    End of rant.

  15. As you guys know I was thinking about voting for Russo but when I saw his yard sign against McCain and Shays today on Park Ave I said to myself this guy is just another typical Republican. I’m voting for Musto!!!

  16. badboy (#17)
    So that qualifies me as being a “racist”? So be it. I’m a racist. And I would suggest that you look into your heart to determine whether you are too.
    My grandparents came in the hold of a ship which sailed here from the shores of Italy. They were 22 days in conditions which were deplorable. – They were ankle deep in feces and vomit. And when they arrived here without a nickel in their pockets they were met with nothing but hostility. They worked hard, learned English, and never applied for welfare.
    If the blacks are given homes in Bridgeport as memorials to their plight, I too want like memorials in Bridgeport commemorating the plight of my ancestors.
    Let’s ring that Liberty Bell.

  17. CON (#30) Our ancestors chose to come here of their own FREE will, not as slaves who were not allowed to even learn how to read. I’m sure these slaves came with pockets full of money in 1st-class accommodations with plenty of leg room. I have looked into my heart and I’m not a racist.

  18. #9 There are many listings on the N.R.H.P. that have been knocked down due to blight, E/D, foreclosure due to taxes, and other reasons like lack of interest, etc. Am I the only one that feels that if a town or city has a particular place that has some type of history to it, and its citizens know of it, why wait ’til there’s talks or steps to destroy it for whatever reason, to then make claims of how important it is, etc.? Was it not important enough before the fact to try & raise money through awareness & its N.R.H.P. listing to those that now want taxpayer money to fix it up and make it a museum or whatever? The city of Bpt. should not be in the Real Estate business anyway, history or no history. If Bpt. is going to make any progress in lowering prop. taxes it must start sending letters of intent to foreclose on any prop. thats been vacant & blighted and delinquent in its taxes @ least #3yrs. or more. Knock them down, clean them up & put a fence around the lot and a “for sale” sign for development! Dwelling too much on the past, can only keep us from recognizing the future!

  19. Get a life badboy (#31). Black history has been well tended to; well documented as well as memorialized. It’s time to move on and for the black community to motivate their kids, to learn, to read, to write and speak English, and cultivate a good work ethic. The white community has done all it can to bring them into the mainstream and it’s now up to them. We can be proud of the numbers of them who have taken up the challenge and moved ahead swiftly and deliberately but there are all too many who refuse to be moved.

  20. What I am getting out of these numbers is Himes is polling real well in Bridgeport. Another thing as of this morning my whole street was covered with Shays and McCain signs the thing is they were all on the sidewalks not actually on people’s lawns. Do you believe these clowns trying to make it seem like McCain has support on the East End? Obama will get over 85% of the vote on the East End. Many of the residents put those signs in the garbage I also put it in the garbage. They want to make it seem like I was supporting McCain and that’s a noooooo!!!

  21. So the convention barely gave Obama a boost in the polls, but it helped Himes close a 10-point gap in a few weeks. Miraculous.

    Con, I understand what you’re saying about equal recognition to other peoples, but I think the story of African Americans is such an integral part of America’s history it needs special attention. I’d love to see a historic house in the North End dedicated to Italian immigrants, as well as recognition for Brazilians, Cubans etc. However, these houses need to be protected because the story of African Americans is so important. Like all countries, America had a serious fault in its society. But unlike many other countries, democracy in America was able to eventually fix its fault to the point where we have an African American as a major political party’s nominee. Those houses show the amazing power of democracy to right society’s wrongs and serve as inspiration for us to continue to progress as a country.

  22. My #12 deserves additional comment. Just this afternoon there came a knock on my door and guess who was there. – It was the blond bombshell, Auden Grogin, and guess what she was promising. None other than a cap on the property tax of 2 or 3%. “Come on” I said, “that’s just what Rob Russo promised to garner the office of State Senator”. “Ah” she said “but I will draft and propose legislation; that’s the difference”. What did I tell you, Rob, get off your arse and do something before you are preempted.

    Big City of Dreams (#39) I’m not quite sure you’re getting my point. I don’t know of any ethnic group looking for recognition and commemoration in the City of Bridgeport. Neither I nor my ancestors (and I feel secure in speaking for them) want or need any memorials. We, their progeny, are memorial enough as we succeed and contribute to society and the common good. This too would be true for our black community. – Stop trying to memorialize your plight; work hard and achieve. – There could be no better memorial to your ancestors’ plight.

  23. Hi Con – Have you ever been to the museum the National Parks service runs on Ellis Island? I have. Among other things I found the names of my grandmother, my father and an uncle memorialized on the passenger list of the ship they came over on. It was a very moving experience for me.

    Just my two cents worth.

  24. “Con Filardi” Stop trying to memorialize your plight; work hard and achieve. – There could be no better memorial to your ancestors’ plight.

    Spare me your sanctimonious advice, that was mighty white of you.

  25. #37 You must be new to Bpt. because Charlie Tisdale stop being a Dem. a long time ago when he got the shaft from the party while running in a Mayor’s Primary, back about #30yrs. ago! He’s been a republican ever since. It’s okay, many on this forum blog without really knowing the facts!

  26. How many of you remember Walter Cronkite? He used to end his news program and commentary with the words: “AND THAT’S THE WAY IT IS”. And yes Mr Mackey (#42), “THAT’S THE WAY IT IS” . Sounds like I’ve hit a live nerve. I hope so.

  27. “Con Filardi” (#44), you are correct, you have hit a live nerve because you seem to have the mindset of a famous American by the name of Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the United States. He stated in the “Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), as he explained the Court’s ruling, African-Americans, free or slave, could not be citizens of any state, because the drafters of the Constitution had viewed them as “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

  28. Ron, what about John Hansen. America’s first black president. He financed George Washington’s army and was concidered by many ,including Lincoln,to be as important a leader as any caucasion in our history. To bad this information has to be sought out and is not readily available.


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