Early 2013 looks like it’s shaping up as a long strange trip for the state’s largest city. A screwy budget cycle, a Democratic governor acting like he’s received a blood transfusion from a Republican–cut this, slash that, whack the cities–is causing much trepidation among city bean counters. To some degree Governor Dan Malloy’s austerity program is understandable. He thought his first painful tax-raising budget would settle all matters (so did many others) but the economy betrayed him, state revenues fell flat, voters are restless and now he’s looking at a tough reelection next year, and will need help from urban supporters befuddled by his strategy. But what Malloy and a Democratic-controlled legislature do in Hartford has a huge impact on Bridgeport in an election year for all 20 members of the City Council just weeks away from receiving Mayor Bill Finch’s budget proposal. Lotsa luck.
In the old days of city politics, before the era of the brain-dead electorate, the political jackals in the shadows were sharpening their teeth to pounce on incumbent prey. How many members of the all-Democratic council will actually have primaries in September? Who’s vulnerable? Who’s not? A lot of this will depend how this budget process plays out and fallout from a tax increase.
A symptom of the brain-dead electorate in recent years also brought a troubling reticence: the wrong people are afraid. When taxpayers are afraid of the politicians something’s really wrong. It’s supposed to be the other way around. The refrain has become contagious. “I can’t get involved, I live here. I can’t do that, what if I need a job? Can’t do that, I’m afraid.” Egad!
In the old days of politics sometimes the folks putting up the good fight got more out of it than folks who just went along. As the saying goes you can get more for going against, and not necessarily for personal gain.
The recent formation of Citizens Working for a Better Bridgeport, CW4BB as organizers now call it, has added a new dimension to the election season. Some of these folks are a pain in the butt. They’re noisy. But they also have a lot of smart, cunning neighborhood folks involved. It’s still trying to coalesce as a unit, but if it has reasonable staying power, look out.
The higher-profile members such as David Walker, the ex U.S. comptroller general, Mary-Jane Foster, 2011 Democratic mayoral candidate and Rick Torres, 2011 Republican mayoral candidate with experience speaking out on public policy issues, are now joined by a coalition of neighborhood folks paying closer attention to how their government works. They include members of the so-called Smut Busters such as Jennifer Buchanan, as well as former City Councilman Tom White, political activists Angel Reyes and Marilyn Moore, and still other publicity-shy members who don’t want their names included in publication. They just want to be involved.
In the short term they’re focused on fiscal issues and government reform initiatives such as the state bill co-sponsored by State Reps Jack Hennessy and Auden Grogins that seeks to reduce conflicts of interest by prohibiting city employees from sitting on the City Council. The bill faces long odds from local and state unions leaning on their Democratic allies in the state legislature to kill the bill. The City Council approves union contracts. The unions want to keep council members happy.
This Saturday at 2 p.m. Citizens Working for a Better Bridgeport is hosting a forum at the Bridgeport Public Library, 925 Broad Street Downtown about the Hennessy-Grogins sponsored bill.
“Our group is gaining momentum, and we feel that what we stand for is newsworthy and beneficial not only for just Bridgeport, but for other municipalities in Fairfield County and beyond,” the organization released in a statement Tuesday in support of its Saturday forum. “What is good for Bridgeport is good for Connecticut!”
Will it have staying power?