What’s Tom McCarthy’s Future?

City Council President Tom McCarthy receives oath for new two-year term council seat.

He’s been mum publicly but according to several city employees City Council President Tom McCarthy, who’s also deputy director of Labor Relations, is saying he’ll be off the city payroll likely early in the new year. What will he do? For now Big Mac, normally open with the media, says he has nothing to report about his future whether with the city or elsewhere.

One of the pledges Joe Ganim made on the campaign trail is to eliminate what he termed conflicts on the City Council, specifically city employee councilors. The Bridgeport City Charter prohibits it but former City Attorney Mark Anastasi ruled that state law allows municipal employees to serve on legislative bodies. State law forbids municipal employees from serving on boards of finance. The rub is Bridgeport’s City Council serves the dual role as legislative and budget making body creating cracks in the checks and balances of government. How can you provide a check on the executive branch when the executive branch controls your paycheck? But the conflict has also worked in the opposite direction. Want my vote? Give me a raise. It happened during Ganim’s first tenure as mayor.

City Council 2015
McCarthy with the new City Council.

Ganim administration officials say privately Ganim will enforce the city charter and is working his way through resolving the final three conflicted city employee councilors on city cash. Basically it’s a one or the other scenario, choose the job or council seat.

Nearly 30 years ago, in a charter referendum vote, city electors did away with the budget-approving Board of Apportionment and Taxation and gave the power to the legislative body.

Ganim governed with city employee councilors his first tour as mayor when Lisa Parziale and John Fabrizi served as council presidents. Parziale was not on the public payroll and Fabrizi was an administrator with the Board of Education. He was not a discretionary employee of the mayor. When Ganim left office in April of 2003, Fabrizi became mayor and Andres Ayala, then a city school teacher, became council president. He served out his council term after winning election to the State House in 2006. Ayala won a state senate seat in 2012. He is now commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles appointed by Governor Dan Malloy.

Fresh out of law school in the late 1990s, McCarthy became active in city campaigns, including Ganim’s 1999 reelection. A disciple of then North End councilwoman Maureen Driscoll, McCarthy was a quick study in the ways of building political relationships and a voter base. Within a few years he was hired by the city and he won a seat in the 133rd District. He built prestige with the other 19 council members. In recent years his name often came up on the short list of future mayors.

With Bill Finch’s election as mayor in 2007, McCarthy was selected by his council mates to head the budget and legislative body. The council president makes committee assignments and serves as the point person between the legislative and executive branches of government.

Feliciano, Ganim
Ganim with City Councilwoman Milta Feliciano during mayoral campaign. Feliciano is head of Veterans Affairs.

With McCarthy council president and Finch mayor, critics wondered how McCarthy, as head of the legislative branch, could provide a check on the executive branch while serving as a discretionary appointee. The council approves the budget, contracts, and development deals all of which are submitted by the executive branch. Controversies surrounded election-year budgets, tax deals for developments and airport safety improvements. Was there proper oversight?

The gregarious McCarthy argued yes. It’s not his his style to air disputes publicly with Finch, but within the corridors of City Hall he did his due diligence with the chief executive. McCarthy had a close political, if unconventional, alliance with Finch whose administration was not always forthcoming with public information. News was carefully controlled by Finch’s inner office staff and many city employees feared retribution for saying anything public about the administration. Although McCarthy was a city employee, he carved out an agreement with Finch advisers that prevented him from clearing information because he was head of the legislative branch. In fact, he was generally more accessible to the media than the prevailing mantra of the Finch administration.

This provided a few sticky moments between Finch and McCarthy. And one circumstance became a flashpoint of Finch’s strategically flawed reelection.

With the expectation of a close Democratic primary, Joe Ganim and Mary-Jane Foster carved out a Plan B by petitioning their names directly onto the general election ballot for November. If the primary was close they had a backup plan for November. When McCarthy, as a Finch supporter, was asked about such a scenario for Finch by CT Post reporter Brian Lockhart he balked, arguing that going that route would make the incumbent look weak. Upon reading McCarthy’s declaration, rather than Finch operatives asserting this was the most important election in city history that should involve all voters, they surreptitiously set in motion a plan to use Republican used car salesman Rich DeParle as a straw man. DeParle creates the Job Creation party, is nominated as the mayoral candidate, and then resigns creating an opening if Finch needed the spot. It was the worst-kept secret in the city. And then the plan unraveled.

Rich DeParle
Rich DeParle at his used car dealership. CT Post photo Autumn Driscoll.

Finch lost a close primary to Ganim by 400 votes. He was expecting to run on the Job Creation line in the general election. Someone on team Finch failed to file the correct paperwork. Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill announced the Job Creation party could not field a mayoral candidate. Desperate for a ballot spot, Finch begged Republican Enrique Torres to give up his GOP line for Finch. Torres said no. Finch reached out to veteran political operative Charlie Coviello, who had formed a minor political party, to give up his spot. Coviello said no. The way the rules work a party candidate with the backing of party organizers can give up a spot to another. An individual petitioning candidate cannot.

Finch on ice
Finch slipped on election paperwork.

Finch, with no November safety net, supported Mary-Jane Foster in the general election. McCarthy, remaining loyal to Finch, did the same. Ganim doubled the vote of Foster, his closest rival.

Winning reelection to his council seat, McCarthy lined up the votes to win the council presidency. Taking office December 1, Ganim chose not to insert himself into the process. Instead, advisers say, he will enforce the provision of the City Charter prohibiting city employee councilors.

James Holloway
Long-serving City Councilman James Holloway.

Why is McCarthy still on the payroll? Rather than completely clear out the Labor Relations Office right away, Ganim named Janene Hawkins to head the department. McCarthy has worked in the office more than a dozen years. She needs time to learn the office. So look for something to happen shortly after the new year. If that’s the case, that would leave Director of Veteran’s Affairs Milta Feliciano and long-time Public Works employee James Holloway as the other two council members in question.

Administration officials say discussions are underway to resolve their respective cases.



  1. McCarthy will have no trouble getting a job in the private sector. I’m sure he’ll have many options. I’m interested to see how he votes for things on the council now that he doesn’t have Finch to please.

  2. My first piece of advice to Tommy Mac when and if he gets shitcanned is to grow a set. I cannot recall a public fight with Mac and the mayor. He may say it is because they resolve their issues behind closed doors but you can never resolve all issue that way OR you have no issue you believe strongly enough in to really fight for.

  3. My second piece of advice, if he takes my first one, is to challenge Ganim on everything. Make Ganim work to get what he wants. Regardless of whether or not you believe the projected deficit, Ganim will be using that for leverage on everything. Don’t buy it. And as Lennie pointed out above, Ganim was handing out favors his first time around. Promotions, hidden pay raises via unchallenged arbitration, professional development days off, trips paid for by the city, jobs for friends and relatives.
    Make Ganim use all of his political capital early and often and he will quickly tire of giving the store away.
    This will eventually make Tommy Mac the only person Ganim will deal with. It makes the council and its president that much stronger.

  4. Tom McCarthy is not my Council representative so it may be he provides his constituents with frequent comments about how he is meeting their needs in many ways and doing so at reasonable expense, therefore providing genuine value.

    I have never heard from one of his constituents on OIB making such a claim. And cannot recall seeing any CT Post statement about Tom’s feelings as a Council person on matters of such import. Of course the CT Post is as depleted today as the Police Department, but cannot commandeer public funds to make their business plan more profitable as municipal government can.

    Had Tom been earning his daily bread in the private sector, especially with a law firm, his leadership of the City Council might have looked quite a bit different. Would we have learned more about the Airport scandal? Would he have been so quick to remove “legislative assistance” to other Council members while providing a new City employee who could perform some tasks for him? (The Council is weaker, the City is facing suits, and the taxpayer is also less represented by this unilateral move by the Council President in 2012 at budget time.)

    Tom has worked in maintaining the darkness on library development, on budget information in general, on support of education, and on so many other issues, his smile is all that is remembered. His brain and courage have been in hiding, as has suited his purposes, and those with whom he worked hand in hand during the past eight years. What will a change of employer bring out of hiding and the dark that will benefit citizens in general and taxpayers in particular? Time will tell.

  5. I think the best thing professionally that happened to McCarthy was Finch losing. Although it may have been devastating to him personally, Finch had a tremendous influence on his decisions, so much so you could predict Tom’s opinions on things just by knowing what Finch’s were. Going to be interesting to FINALLY see Tom make his own opinions/decisions, without Finch pulling the strings.

  6. I began my tenure as ‘Legislative Liaison’ for the city council before McCarthy became council president. I sensed McCarthy was competent and fair in his role as a council member and committee chair. Changes came with the Finch administration. His value to the Finch administration was his willingness to be controlled. This control was the source of his power. This power allowed him to reward council members with city employment and make them feel important in spite of their lack of skills or independence, or, in some cases, marginalize those who have skills and ask questions.
    “Would he have been so quick to remove “legislative assistance” to other Council members while providing a new City employee who could perform some tasks for him? (The Council is weaker, the City is facing suits, and the taxpayer is also less represented by this unilateral move by the Council President in 2012 at budget time.)” JML is referring to my ‘layoff’ and the moving of funding for the Legislative Liaison position to the City Clerk’s office and McCarthy’s unilateral hiring of an individual who reports to him only.
    McCarthy’s role in Labor Relations is mostly addressing grievances. He does not practice law for the city. He ‘smooths’ things based on union contracts, although some would say he carried out instructions from the Finch administration to reward or punish.
    So what could McCarthy’s value to the Ganim administration be?
    Hopefully, an objective decision will result in hiring a replacement with more skills and ability.
    In joining those who are speculating on McCarthy’s future, I would guess he will be hired by government employee unions to benefit from his relationships in the Democrat party, which is controlled by the unions. He will be a perfect fit.

  7. JML and Ton White, both of you are so accurate in your summation of Tom McCarthy. I personally like him, I tried on a couple of occasions, with genuine concern, to convince him to make a decision one way or the other before it was made for him. What hurts me more than the conflict is he did such a disservice to the other members of the Council. Tom White provided an invaluable service to new members as well as those who had some time in. He somehow took that away from them. He used whatever sway he had to drag them along with Finch’s folly, thereby causing unnecessary hardship to the City in general. I don’t believe it’s in his nature to lead, so Bubba, he’s not going to be what you experienced with an independent Council President. We know for the next two years he holds a title, but Joe Ganim will go around him if necessary. My opinion, not the Mayor’s. I further believe the other Council members will not hold him in the respect he’s accustomed to pre-Ganim. Where he finds employment is his business, my concern is the other council members find their own independence and responsibility to the voters who put them there.


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