What A Load, Plus: Book Party And Finch’s First Year: What’s Your Grade?

Phil Kuchma, developer of Bijou Square downtown, is making a big stink over a proposed residential project in Monroe that could back up the city’s sewage treatment load.

This deal involves relocation of the Jewish Home for the Elderly from Fairfield to Monroe with a new residential development that would pipe into the town of Trumbull that is already piped into the city’s download system. I spoke to Kuchma over the weekend and he wonders whether the revenue number the city is weighing to open its pipeline isn’t nearly enough to cover the millions in sewage treatment upgrades the city must make for its strained facility.

A number of businesses in the city, including leadership at Bridgeport Hospital, have voiced concern about nightmarish capacity overloads for the business community and residents.

Once you start the shit flow into the city’s system, Kuchma fears, there’s no letting up. It’s gotta go someplace and the city, he says, isn’t equipped to handle the projected flow. Kuchma’s not opposed to regional cooperation–he just wants to make sure the city’s getting its pound of flesh for the flow.

This proposal, engineered by Shelton-based developer extraordinaire Bob Scinto, began on the watch of former Mayor John Fabrizi. Fabs says the deal he was negotiating (for shared tax revenue and user fees) before he left office is better than the one currently on the table. Final figures haven’t been released by the city as it weighs its revenue options.

Mayor Bill Finch, staring at a nasty deficit almost six months into the budget year with another on the horizon next year, may want to frontload as much money as possible to help stem the flow of red ink, without full consideration for the continuous revenue flow in years ahead.

This is a major story that could turn out to be a cash cow for the city or a major stinker. Stay tuned.

Throw The Book At Me

Hey, come see us at the Barnum Museum on Tuesday from 5 to 6:30 to mark the publication of my book Bow Tie Banker, a biography of David Carson, retired chief executive of People’s Bank, that chronicles his efforts to save the state’s largest bank from the financial avalanche that wiped out local financial institutions such as Citytrust and Mechanics & Farmers.

In honor of Carson’s British heritage the Royal Tea Company will serve tasty tea and gourmet goodies. C’mon, Leonard, tea instead of tequila? Hey, if you’re drinking and driving we’d rather it be tea!

Join us. No bow ties required. To read excerpts and features about the book go to www.fairfieldweekly.com, www.thebridgeportnews.com and www.bowtiebankerbook.com.

One Year Down

Mayor Bill Finch has completed one full year in office. Time to take inventory.

His second-half performance was much better than the first half. (No shit, Leonard.) Winner of a tight primary over State Rep. Chris Caruso, followed by a large general election victory over Republican Mike Garrett, Finch had a lot of difficulty gaining his footing in the initial months, understandable given the complexity of governing the state’s largest city.

If an elected official’s effectiveness is based on judgment, temperament and results, Finch got off to the worst start of any mayor I covered or worked for in Bridgeport in the last 30 years. And it had nothing to do with the economy. His judgment and temperament were awful.

Finch had boxed himself in during his primary by promising to cut taxes $600, damn the credibility consequences, an impossible task. This one promise was measured against all his early decisions. His biggest early gaffe however, in an official capacity, was trying to double-dip his newly elected position along with his state senate seat. Finch is not a man of wealth. He raised two boys (both great kids) from his first marriage and has two young boys in his second. Understandably, he wants to provide for his family. But he offered every possible reason and excuse to keep both positions except the actual truth. His reason to hold both positions was financial, even though his mayoral pay is by far the most he’s ever earned in his life.

He stubbornly held out until a series of news articles and public criticism (and a reminder from the Connecticut Post that he promised to give up the senate seat if elected) forced him to resign the senate seat two months into his new role.

He then spent a good part of February and March politicking to preserve John Stafstrom as titular head of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee when he should have been paying attention to city business. (Mario Testa was returned to party power instead of Stafstrom.)

In those early months, Finch–a credible legislative mind thrown into a chief executive’s role–hadn’t a clue, a position validated by his constant harangue: I didn’t know the job was so hard. In those early months Finch was like a bronco bouncing all over the place. Many solid citizens such as OIB friend Bruce Hubler, a retired executive with Dun & Bradstreet, the world’s leading supplier of business information, research, and decision support services, offered to help Finch get his arms around managing so many disparate sections of government. They were ignored. It took Finch six months to hire a new economic development director after blowing out Nancy Hadley, who had that role, and by many accounts got things done under John Fabrizi.

Finch’s first budget had a $600 tax increase rather than a $600 cut.

In Finch’s defense, he’s a good guy, the core of him is decent and caring. Serving as mayor of the state’s largest city is a tall task. It’s a monumental adjustment from voting in the state legislature.

Finch has been much better the last six months. He appears to be paying attention to business, ironing out union contracts, feeling more secure in the position in the face of an awful economic tsunami. Finch is only as strong as his focus. My grade, first six months (D), second six (B-)

What About Bob?

State Rep. Bob Keeley, defeated by the blonde banshee from Black Rock Auden Grogins in an August primary, has cut a deal with the Downtown Special Services District to remain on the payroll into March. Keeley had submitted his resignation to the special taxing district in anticipation of receiving a teaching job from the Bridgeport Board of Education. No final word on when, and if, that will happen.

Meanwhile, any ideas for Keeley’s replacement?



  1. Why would you still think it’s a good idea to look to Wall Street “executives” for any assistance other than bankrupting our country through the same ponzi schemes that got us into all this trouble in the first place?

  2. The first half has been a disaster. The second half has been better. However some of the nasty things the Finch Administration has done makes a person think. He has forced people to retire who have served the city for a long time.
    Here is one example: He eliminated Joe Minopoli’s job in housing code and created a new title and soon to be named new department so he can promote city councilman Rich Paoletto to the head of this new department. Talk about a sell-out.
    Warren Blount will be or has been promoted to an as-yet named department head. It seems Dr. Evans will be leaving us shortly. Another city councilmen promoted. I guess it is good politics to buy votes this way on the council.
    He made sure Pat Fardy resigned from Planning and Zoning so that Timpanelli’s yes-girl Gail Solis could be appointed. She looked great at her first meeting eating her supper in front of the audience and the presenters. Nice move.
    He is about to name a person to the Planning & Zoning who works part time for big-time zoning lawyer Ray Rizio. Everyone remembers Rizio for the screwing he gave the North End on the Eckart St. project?
    Finch has warned both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning & Zoning commissioners if they do not vote for two projects on Old Town and Main, they will be replaced.
    So as one can see he may have a slightly better grip on the deficit although we really do not know what the real deficit number is. He is doing things in other areas that harken back to the bad old days of politics.

  3. It will be difficult for Mayor Finch to get a fair shake here. The OIB Blogosphere has not always been a sympathetic source of support.

    But good managers are demanding and understanding.

    For doing a good job under awful circumstances, Mayor Finch gets a “B”. He’s the only guy who had to submit a balanced budget and make the decisions that go with it.

  4. Wow – since I am new to the area, I just drove up to the locations “council” references. Perhaps he/she should make up for the lost potential tax revenue caused by the anti-commercial-development knuckleheads. I seem to recall the same anti-anything type protesting little league baseball. ???@#!# Don’t resist and interfere with Bridgeport’s growth. If you want to live in a bubble of isolation, I’m sure Governor Palin will welcome you to her lovely State.

  5. iknowmorethanu: The election is over. Governor Palin does pretty good for her constituents. Her negotiations with the oil companies resulted in each and every citizen no matter what age getting a check this year for $1,200. BTW they get a check every year. When was the last time the Sate of Connecticut sent us a check. NEVER.

  6. 1st year … the tough decisions … 2nd year … follow those tough decisions … 3rd year … turn it around … 4th year … reap the benefits of the turnaround in time for re-election.

  7. “Curses, just when I thought I had a sweet item to fillet the city, the bright light of responsiveness lit up the darkened downtown.”

    Lennie, I found a sweet item to fillet the city, not too far from where your item came to light. This Item has been lit for a while now; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

    I’m talking about the Phil Kuchma condo project on Fairfield Avenue and Lafayette Street. I have noticed that for the past 2 months the condo construction project has the lights on day and night. What I found interesting is where the electricity for the lights was coming from.

    The electrical source for the Kuchma project is the city’s traffic control box on the intersection of Lafayette and Fairfield Avenue.
    Last week, I called John Cottell at the Public Facilities office and asked him a question. I started by introducing myself as Joel and explained to Mr. Cottell that I was in the process of remodeling a city property but I had no electricity. I told him that the only source of electricity nearby was the traffic control box in front of the property and and asked If I could tap into the box to get the needed electricity. “You can’t do that. Who is this? What’s the address to this property?” was the response I got. I then thanked Mr. Cottell for the information and told him that there was no need to continue the conversation as he had already answered my question.

    So Lennie, next time you are downtown and it’s too dark for you, go to the Kuchma project and enjoy the lights, courtesy of “the bright light of responsiveness.”

  8. Lennie, do you have the precinct-by-precinct results for both the Obama/McCain race and also the Himes/Shays race? It will be appreciated if you post these results so we can view them since you never posted them on election day.

  9. Joel wrote: “As you can see from the picture above, the electrical source for the Kuchma project is the city’s traffic control box on the intersection of Lafayette and Fairfield Avenue.”

    Joel, I spoke to Phil Kuchma about this and he says that you’re incorrect, that’s not the city’s traffic control box. He says the power source has been in his company’s name since the beginning of the project.

  10. I hope that everybody had a truly enjoyable Thanksgiving! I’ve digested enough turkey and stuffing to share my digesting of the comments here. Thought I’d share a few things–even though I had promised never to write again.

    Mayor Finch is a good man, with solid dreams, and real-world desires! What he faces is almost insurmountable. May G-d bless his attempts! There exists a lot of dead wood in the city, and there exist a lot of people who live the heart of the city and give, over and over, families taking second place more often than they would like to admit. I’ll call them the “angels of the city”. Many don’t live here, they just pay the price … day in and day out–working their asses off to save what is humanly possible.

    Then I read the blogs. Shame on me! The unions, the financial circumstances. There are many of us in unions who truly give our best and our most and ARE NOT city residents. Yes, we don’t pay taxes, but we also don’t have the right here to VOTE!!! Those who do are responsible for our mess and nobody else.

    As a union member and as a person who cares very much about the time and energy I spend on this City, the administration knows that I’ll contribute eventually as we share the burden. I wonder why? Anybody here going to care about my children’s missing week’s pay as I didn’t have a vote in this mess? ENOUGH with the blame!

    If the unions are going to take from their own families to fix this mess, then by goodness, shouldn’t the taxpayers who had the vote????????? Stop blaming the unions. We are not the bad guys, nor are we looking for a free meal. Give the Mayor a break. Give us a break. You voted … or didn’t you???

  11. Lennie, thank you for clearing up the Phil Kuchma power source rumor. Joel was dead wrong yet he continued to spread his rumor. That’s how innocent people get hurt. I’ve seen it on this blog time and time again.

    And now for my comments on Mayor Finch. I want to preface my criticisms by saying that I like Bill Finch. I think he took this job full of optimism and ideas of how to make the City better. He just had no idea of what he was getting into. I agree with his thoughts on making the City greener and I even think there’s some use for CitiStat. CitiStat can work if John Gomes and his staff are allowed to implement their recommendations regardless of the political repercussions. Mayor Finch needs to back them 100% on that.

    My biggest disappointment with Mayor Finch is that he did not correct the mistakes of the Fabrizi administration. Remember the 35 people who were put into Civil Service with increases totaling $150,000? That wasn’t a one-time expense. Those increases are a permanent part of the budget and are compounded every year because those people get step increases each year on top of the inflated salaries. The steps are given even if the unions agree to 0% increases. For example, the administrative assistants who were brought up to an unreasonable and undeserved salary of $62,000 back in 2007 are now up to $64,000 because of the steps and their salaries will continue to increase each year. Mayor Finch should have stopped this immediately on day #1. The Civil Service Commission did not approve these salaries or steps which makes me doubt that they are even legal. Mayor Finch, take back the increases and save $150,000 immediately and a decreased liability going forward.

    My second disappointment is that Mayor Finch kept the Fabrizi appointments. I understand that he needs to bring in his own people like Nunn and Wood. That’s a political fact of life. But he should have cleaned house first. People like Mike Feeney and Tom Sherwood are part of the problem. Sherwood masterminded the increases for the 35 people listed above and his smoke and mirrors budgets have gotten us where we are today. Mike Feeney has no financial qualifications and no vision. He does whatever Sherwood tells him to do. Mayor Finch should take a lesson from the Bow Tie Banker (I read Lennie’s excerpt) and bring in the experts. Surely his transition team can recommend some financial wizs who can come in, even for a few years, to get us thru this mess.

    My final disappointment with Mayor Finch is that he has not taken the time to embrace the employees. The reason Joe Ganim was so successful in the 1990s is because his administration (Dennis Murphy, Ned Winterbottom, Bob Kochiss) knew the value of building a team and working together. The employees are the City’s biggest assets and they should be treated as such. The previous and current administrations don’t understand this concept. If I get one more email from Mike Feeney which ends in a threat of disciplinary action, I swear I’ll shove it down his throat. The man can’t make a simple request without saying “failure to cooperate will result in disciplinary action.”

    John Fabrizi created this “Them and Us” environment where the line was drawn in the sand. He stopped all labor-management projects and created a dictatorship. Many of us employees were relieved when he did not run and we were optimistic that our world would get better with Bill. We’re still waiting.

    It’s not too late Bill. On this anniversary of your inauguration, learn from your mistakes and correct them. 1) Take back the raises. 2) Get rid of the Sherwoods and Feeneys and 3) Set the example for your staff and get to know your employees. These few actions will earn you the respect and cooperation of the entire workforce.

  12. Lennie … I also say thanks for clearing up the Kuchma conspiracy … here is someone trying to build in Bpt … (oh Bob Scinto???) … and of course a unhappy camper has to try and blow out the candle to make his burn brighter … Grimaldi to the rescue.

  13. *** My grade for Finch & his topnotch admin. for the entire year would be a “C”. Why, mostly for stepping in it from the beginning & not realizing it ’til after #6 months in office; then after the smell got real strong, deciding to work harder towards cleaning up the mess! The same grade in general for the city council “C”, though nothing for their districts but for going through the motions of getting the city’s admin. legislative business done! Lets see what “2009” brings the city of Bpt. and state of CT??? ***

  14. Finch’s Report Card …

    For the first half of the year, (F) … He needs to make drastic changes soon in his tactics to get things done. The do as I say or you’ll be gone attitude is not a good practice. I also agree with city hall smoker, he needs to do a lot more to get to know all City EE’s and show appreciation. Especially for those that agreed to the furloughs … Maybe Janet Finch can reach out to the local businesses and get them to sponsor a City EE luncheon for the Holidays …

    Finch also needs to replace Feeney and Sherwood … Hopefully the *New* Comptroller doesn’t become a Yes Lady and can help fix up this financial mess …

    Also, Finch needs to improve his decorum at Council Meetings and not always be defensive with Council Members. They should be able to ask questions and state their opinions without the Mayor snapping back …

    As for the second half of the year, I give him a (D) because he is learning to control his temper a bit … But his management style is still just as bad, but just not as publicly displayed. He really shouldn’t threaten or demand people vote they way he wants …

  15. Do you guys think Keeley is a good fit for the DSSD role? It’s my impression that perhaps more could be done to expand that job. I bet there is some pretty good talent out there that could take a job like that and really run with it (and not just be known for putting up xmas decorations).

    Has anyone checked out the ‘do it downtown’ website? It is pretty pitiful.

    Bottom line: a replacement should happen SOONER rather than later, and certainly not until March.

  16. City Kitty understands. She has a game plan and knows how to win. All the naysayers have (momentarily) vanished from this blog and Lennie’s latest post is over 24 hours old. Consequently, I nominate City Kitty (post #14) to become the new DSSD chair.

  17. Thank you Local eyes, but I think that’s a little over my head. I do hope they hire someone to get things on track. I liked reading everyone’s postings and hope all good things happen here in Bridgeport.

  18. Celia, I didn’t know that the City was hiring a new Comptroller. Who is she and what are we paying her? And I guess the hiring freeze doesn’t apply here.

    Let me get this straight … We put Parks & Rec and Public Facilities all under Charlie Carroll to save money. We combine Community Development and Central Grants under Alanna Kabel which I think spells D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R to save money. We combine Housing Code and Anti-Blight under Rich Paoletto to save money.

    Now why are we hiring a Comptroller when we already have a Finance Director and OPM Director? Isn’t this overkill? Are we hiring the Comptroller to cover for Mike Feeney because he is in way over his head? Like I said earlier, let Mayor Finch bring in his own people, but get rid of the Fabrizi appointees first. We cannot afford to carry two sets of appointees.

    I would love to know what the transition team recommended for the finance offices. Did they honestly believe that we needed a Finance Dept. AND OPM with all their staff? And did they have confidence in Tom Sherwood and Mike Feeney? I’d like to know.

  19. Don’t forget Finchee hired a Business Development Director … remember. I can’t even remember his name. What’s he done for us? Does he have a plan … a clue … anything???

    1st half Finch gets an F

    2nd half Finch gets a G

  20. Anyone ever think that Finch kept on some of Fabs’ guys to make peace with sir Mario??? It would be a long 4 years fighting with the boss of the DTC … right?

  21. Bpts Finest: I can tell you that Finch has not kept on the Fabs guys because of Mario Testa. Not Feeney, not Sherwood and not Jacobs. Mario Testa and Finch just about talk to each other.

  22. Lennie. With all that is being written about better management at city hall, what about the Ukeles Study which was done during the old Financial Review Board’s tenure? Were the recommendations ever implemented? Would they still be viable today? Could it at least offer a starting point for this new department under Gomes? Or is it just another expensive document sitting dusty on a shelf somewhere?

  23. flubadub, Excellent point concerning the Ukeles Study which was done during the old Financial Review Board’s tenure. Once Mayor Ganim met the requirements of the Financial Review Board, there was no more informational followup to the public. Many of the recommendations involving the fire department have been implemented by contract negotiation and by direct policy changes.

    The Ukeles Study was the master plan and roadmap for Bridgeport to get onto the road to recovery, notice I said “was” because there has been no followup to see if the Ukeles Study was a failure or a success.

  24. “Bridgeport Now” will air the “ZEITGEIST: ADDENDUM”.

    Watch this film that challenges the premise under today’s problems and “bailouts”. Ever wonder if something else is wrong that folks are not talking about?

    Again, there will be no live show tomorrow.

    Tuesday at 8pm, channel 77. Viewable on the net
    www .soundviewtv.org.

    One note: The charter of Federal Reserve was overruled in the past: from 1811 to 1836.

  25. I know this is old, but it gave me a smile; I thought I’d share.

    The economy explained with cows

    SOCIALISM: You have 2 cows. You give 1 to your neighbor.

    COMMUNISM: You have 2 cows. The State takes both & gives you some milk.

    FASCISM: You have 2 cows. The State takes both & sells you some milk.

    BUREAUCRATISM: You have 2 cows. The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other & then throws the milk away …

    TRADITIONAL CAPITALISM: You have 2 cows. You sell 1 & buy a bull. Your herd multiplies & the economy grows. You sell them & retire on the income.

    SURREALISM: You have 2 giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

    AN AMERICAN CORPORATION: You have 2 cows. You sell one & force the other to produce the milk of 4 cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyze why the cow has dropped dead.

    ENRON VENTURE CAPITALISM: You have 2 cows. You sell 3 of them to your publicly listed co, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap w/ an associated general offer so that you get all 4 cows back, w/ a tax exemption for 5 cows. The milk rights of the 6 cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Co secretly owned by the majority s/hldr who sells the rights to all 7 cows back to your listed co. The annual report says the co owns 8 cows, w/ an option on 1 more. You sell 1 cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you w/ 9 cows. No balance sheet provided w/ the release. The public then buys your bull.

    A FRENCH CORPORATION: You have 2 cows. You go on strike, organize a riot & block the roads, b/c you want 3 cows.

    A JAPANESE CORPORATION: You have 2 cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow & produce twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called ‘Cowkimon’ & mkt it worldwide.

    A GERMAN CORPORATION: You have 2 cows. You re-engineer them so they live for 100 yrs, eat once a mth & milk themselves.

    AN ITALIAN CORPORATION: You have 2 cows, but you don’t know where they are. You decide to have lunch.

    A RUSSIAN CORPORATION: You have 2 cows. You count them & learn you have 5 cows. You count them again & learn you have 42 cows. You count them again & learn you have 2 cows. You stop counting cows & open another bottle of vodka.

    A SWISS CORPORATION: You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you. You charge the owners for storing them.

    A CHINESE CORPORATION: You have 2 cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim that you have full employment & high bovine productivity. You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

    A BRITISH CORPORATION: You have 2 cows. Both are mad.

    AN AUSTRALIAN CORPORATION: You have 2 cows. Business seems pretty good. You close the office & go for a few beers to celebrate.

    A NEW ZEALAND CORPORATION: You have 2 cows. The 1 on the left looks very attractive.

  26. I posted on the subject of the sewage treatment plans a few days ago. I understand why Finch would want that upfront payment from Monroe so that he can help balance the budget.
    I urge him to study the report in the Economic Development Office that shows our 2 sewage treatment plants are near capacity. It must be noted that this study is 3 years old so we are even closer to capacity.
    Who is going to pay the bill when both plants are at capacity and need to be expanded? We the citizens of Bridgeport are going to pay this bill which I am told could be in excess of $100 million.
    Trumbull is getting a free ride as they will not have to pay any of the expansion costs even though they keep adding to the amount sent to Bridgeport with every new project.
    Monroe does not plan on using all of the granted capacity we may be giving them as the plan to hold back capacity for future development.
    I am urging mayor Finch to think about our future costs before he signs a deal with Scinto and Monroe.

  27. The DSSD is composed of the property owners that pay an additional 3 mil for services to the downtown. If they were functioning as an effective business improvement district, like New Haven’s and Stamford’s, they would be the entity that would be constantly advocating for what is best for Bridgeport’s downtown to be the best. Since the DSSD is asleep, it sounds like Kuchma is speaking on his own about the Monroe/Trumbull deal to tap into the City’s sewage system. In my opinion, Kuchma is absolutely correct. It is shortsighted to ‘sell’ the capacity to a Monroe development. Why? The issue is now, not in the future, it is now. When it rains a lot, you will see the covers in the downtown streets bob up and down with sewage and storm runoff out of control. Restaurants in the downtown have been dealing with this situation for quite a while, unfortunately quietly since they rent from the property owners. It is not in the best interests of the future of the downtown and the acreage to be developed at Steel Point, across from Harbor Yard, and the South End to allow excess capacity to benefit a Trumbull or Monroe development.

    I am a big proponent of regional efforts, but in this case it is absolutely wrong to ‘sell’ off Bridgeport’s ‘excess’ capacity. The rhetoric exceeds the substance of the issue.

  28. Hey, why don’t we create an OIB band! We have an abundance of hot air. Bet we would have a great horn section!

    We’d go about the city playing Holiday Melodies as employees receive pink slips. Spreading Holiday Cheer and Goodwill. Sort of like the Titanic. Any takers?


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