“Bridgeport is one of those towns that doesn’t collect their taxes very well. That way of doing things came into vogue in Bridgeport years ago; it is engrained there and people have become tempered to it.”–State Tax Commissioner William Blodgett, 1926.
All this coverage about some City Council members with tax issues has a history in Bridgeport. Accommodating the politically wired, if that’s in fact the case today, emerged a huge issue in the 1920s. Blodgett’s state investigation discovered all sorts of irregularities involving the in crowd at City Hall. As a result home rule was stripped from the city for many years under something called the “Ripper Bill.” The Connecticut Legislature enacted a law that empowered the governor to appoint the tax collector, tax attorney, and the Board of Apportionment and Taxation that set the city’s mil rate.
City Council members juggling tax issues, especially with the Connecticut Post paying attention, raises the question: who else, whether city employee, Democratic party insider, campaign contributor, is behind on taxes and receives favorable treatment?
Mayor Bill Finch, when he served on the City Council, certainly knows what it’s like to have a tax problem. In 1993 he was out of work, no job in sight, with two young sons, a mortgage payment to make and taxes to pay. He was behind on payments and sweating. I was then Mayor Joe Ganim’s campaign manager and Finch was my friend. Joe and Bill were never friends, but Joe rarely messed with how I ran a campaign. I put Finch on the campaign payroll to help with field operations to get him a few bucks. Less than a year later, when Bill was still having trouble finding a job, I went to Ganim. Finch was appointed director of Civil Defense, today it’s called Emergency Management. Bill then wanted to be director of the Greater Bridgeport Transit District. I lobbied Joe to line up the votes and Bill got the job. Bill didn’t last long in that job, after a falling out with his board, and needed another position. Again, I went to Joe to line up the board votes to name Finch director of the Bridgeport Economic Development Corporation, then a quasi agency of the city and business community. In politics you help your friends.
I was in City Hall last week, wondering about the line outside the Tax Collector’s Office, when City Councilman Anderson Ayala told me his car had been booted, then towed because of a car tax issue. The city was booting cars of owners behind on taxes. He claimed it was all a misunderstanding, a mistake by the tax office. A few minutes later he said it had not been resolved and the garage in possession of his vehicle would not release it. The mayor’s office inquired about Ayala’s problem. Calls were made. In politics you help your friends … to a point. Because sometimes it can be more trouble than it’s worth.
Let’s see how all this plays out. Certainly in campaign season mayoral opponents will make some noise.