Mayors live and die by their budgets.
In 1971, Mayor Hugh Curran responded to a budget deficit by instituting a separate mini-tax in an election year. He was defeated by Nick Panuzio, the first Republican elected in more than 40 years. In 1988, with the city’s fund balance freefalling beyond control, Democrat Tom Bucci appealed to the state for help. The state allowed the city to use its good credit to go into the bond market to raise a cool $50 million to erase the red ink and leave a little in reserve. For the privilege of the state assistance, the city was shackled with a state oversight board whose state mandated charge was to make sure city budgets were in balance.
The next year, Bucci was defeated by Republican Mary Moran, first woman mayor in history. In 1991, the city’s budget blew again and this time the response from the mayor was a federal bankruptcy petition. Wall Street, throwing a fit, revoked the city’s credit worthiness, leaving the city unable to raise capital for road, bridge and school improvements. The state opposed Moran’s court filing. A federal judge threw out the bankruptcy petition.
In November of 1991 Democrat Joe Ganim defeated Moran and the city enjoyed a 10-year period of tax and financial stability. The Financial Review Board packed its bags in 1995. Key to Ganim’s success was negotiating millions of dollars in union concessions, including zero pay increases and unpaid furloughs, and a governor, Lowell Weicker, heavily involved in making sure the city survived. Under Weicker’s direction, the state bought Beardsley Zoo, bought Beardsley Park, took over maintenance of the train station, built a new Housatonic Community College, moved the Troop G State Police barracks from Westport to downtown, and more.
Ganim got a lot done for the city. His downfall was doing too much for himself.
John Fabrizi took over in 2003, fought his own personal demons, and decided not to seek reelection in 2007.
Bill Finch, promising to cut taxes $600, ended up raising them by roughly $600 in part because Fabs’ revenue projections ran short. Finch, nine months into his mayoralty, has a mess on his hands that threatens action of the Bucci bailout 20 years ago. Overtime is chaotic, revenues this budget cycle appear overly optimistic, the Steelpointe development projected to generate $4.5 million this year is teetering from a bleeding economy.
The Bridgeport City Council met in special session Monday night, in what several observers said was a waste of time, to hear city bean counters update them on the city’s flagging boot finder program for motor vehicle tax collection. Finch and City Council President Tom McCarthy, enjoying themselves at the Democratic National Convention, did not attend.
How bad are finances? Really bad, from what I’m told. City Councilman Bob Walsh, after listening to the bureaucratic froth, got right to the point: what gives with Steelpointe? Should the city remove the $4.5 million it budgeted this year for Steelpointe revenues? Economic Development official Ed Lavernoich suggested that some of the money could come in, but not the entire amount. That raises an interesting question. If there’s a change to the the Land Disposition Agreement approved by the City Council in 2007, must it come back for legislative approval? It should.
If the city cannot make good on the Steelpointe loot, the budget will blow.
Let’s hope for the best. Maybe we can borrow some of it from Barack.
Hey, maybe OIB’s legendary guitar slinger Bridgeport Kid is ready to release his new tune Bridgeport Finance Blues. He will appear with Nardy Boy on Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Chef’s Table, 1561 Post Road, Fairfield and also with Nardy Boy on Thursday evening at 10 at the Green Room, 3442 Fairfield Ave. Bridgeport. No cover for either performance. Support The Kid and spread the word about OIB. I’ll urge Joe Celli to show up and throw tomatoes.
The fight between Congressman Christopher Shays of Bridgeport and his Democratic opponent Jim Himes has officially begun. What if you throw a press conference and your opponent crashes the gig? That’s what happened late this morning when Himes and officials from the mayor’s office and City Council used the dormant Congress Street Bridge as a symbol of Shays’ lack of local priorities.
As Himes and company finished speaking to the media for the scheduled press event on the East Side of the bridge, Shays showed up to say if it’s a priority for the mayor’s office and City Council, it should be placed on top of the list by local officials such as the Seaview Avenue corridor project and intermodel transportation center downtown, projects Shays has helped on a federal level.
It was the first time Shays has ever crashed an opponent’s press conference, prompting Himes to wonder, hey, does this mean I can attend your press conferences?
Shays said he showed up because Himes was using the bridge as a divisive issue and distorting the facts. They also had a mini-debate with the media present regarding timelines to leave Iraq. Himes has been critical of Shays’ support of the war. Shays supports a timeline pullout that begins late 2009.
The Congress Street Bridge was also an issue during the city’s mayoral campaign last year. The Fabrizi administration received a state commitment for a portion of the funding, but the city is millions short of the number for a new bridge. The closed bridge cuts off access from the East Side to downtown, forcing vehicle use of other bridges.
Himes supporters were thrilled that Shays showed up to his press event. Maybe we can call it their first official debate. Stay tuned. Himes news release below:
HIMES CALLS FOR RENEWAL IN CONNECTICUT
Democratic Candidate calls for a new focus on priorities here at home
BRIDGEPORT, CT: Jim Himes, Democratic Candidate for Congress in the Fourth Congressional District, appeared with Bridgeport city council members in front of the Congress Street Bridge in Bridgeport today to highlight his campaign call for a refocusing of priorities away from Iraq and towards investing in Connecticut. The Congress Street Bridge has been stuck in the open position for years.
“For years, just like this bridge, Chris Shays has been stuck in the wrong position on the issues that matter to our families,” said Himes. “The choice in this election is crystal clear: we can either continue down the road of the last eight years of failed Bush-Shays economic policies, or we can start to refocus on the priorities that really matter to our families – finding energy solutions, giving families middle-class tax relief, and making sure all our children have access to a quality education. We need to change who we send to Congress if we want to see real change on Congress Street, and in all of our communities.”
“Chris Shays is paying more attention to Iraq than Connecticut.” said Michael Sachse, Himes’ Communications Director. “Every election season, we hear lots of excuses from Chris Shays, but we never see any results. Jim Himes is going to Washington to get things done.”