Grab a cup of joe (or beverage of your choice) and take a gander at Mayor Joe Ganim’s observations about the state of the city in the commentary that follows. It’s 2019, roll out the campaign.
2018 has been a year of significant progress for the city of Bridgeport and our nearly 150,000 residents, and as we look ahead to 2019, we have so much left to accomplish. We have gained some real momentum over the last three years and everywhere you look–things are moving again in Bridgeport!
When I ran for mayor and asked for a 2nd chance to lead this great city in 2015, I promised a renewed focus on sound governance, fiscal sensibility, quality of life, public safety, and economic growth.
I am proud to say that my administration continues to deliver on these areas even though–as I said many times throughout the state of Connecticut this year–cities such as Bridgeport are always works in progress and our many challenges still remain.
Fiscal Stability and Governance
When I walked back into the mayor’s office at 999 Broad Street on December 1, 2015 there was a certain familiarity with the office and the way of life for a Mayor. But my administration and I were completely unprepared for the fiscal news that all of a sudden on day one the city’s budget was $20,000,000 in deficit. Plus, we were facing our first property revaluation since 2008–a step delayed by my predecessor for two years.
We had to make some very tough decisions, and we did. We separated more than 100 employees from city hall. We froze spending and salaries. We held up any purchases over $1000. We made one-time land sales. And we negotiated a state legislative compromise to lower our state pension payments for two and a half years. I also made a commitment to hire at least 100 new police officers, which I kept. But the pain of that first year was real. State mandated revaluation resulted in a higher mil rate that hit some taxpayers in the pocketbook acutely, while others held their own or even came out ahead.
Ultimately, our emergency measures worked. We erased the deficit and ended the fiscal year slightly in the black. Quite a feat when you consider the choices made by other cities in Connecticut also facing daunting budgets. Eventually, we succeeded in convincing legislative leadership and Governor Malloy’s office to give the city new authority to refinance those pension obligation bonds, eliminating nearly $200 million in unfunded pension liability and saving Bridgeport taxpayers some $60 million in debt service payments. We have made Bridgeport the most fiscally transparent city in Connecticut, opening our budget books so taxpayers can see in real time where their money is spent.
We have kept the city’s budget balanced while holding the line on taxes and keeping our commitment to public safety, even though we have faced an uncertain municipal aid landscape from Connecticut state government. With a municipal budget greatly dependent on state aid, instability in Hartford can wreak havoc on local budgets. But we have weathered that storm and even successfully advocated at the state level for higher amounts of state support in the last three years.
When I sought the mayor’s office again in 2015 there was a real feeling of residents in several neighborhoods feeling unsafe due to gun violence, and skeptical of their police department. Outside business investors were hesitant about launching new projects in the park city–their main question: is it safe for potential residents, employees, or customers? At the same time, many rank and file officers felt disenchanted by the lack of credibility of the leadership of their own department. The number of police officers in Bridgeport was down to a dangerously low level, with officers feeling overworked and not supported.
My goals for public safety as mayor were clear: restore strong community policing, attack narcotics and firearms trafficking, get officers into the neighborhoods and maintaining regular patrols in hot spots for gun violence and rebuild trust with residents. At the same time, recruit at least 100 new officers, in diverse classes that reflect the population of our city. We also needed to restructure the leadership within the Bridgeport police department to be more effective and bring costs under control. Have the results been perfect? Certainly not. But without a doubt there have been major, noticeable improvements in neighborhood safety, and business investment is back up.
New leadership in both the Bridgeport Police and Fire Departments has restored a sense of managerial effectiveness inside the emergency services and trust in first responders from residents of our city. We have far more work to do, but we are headed in the right direction. Significant investments in new personnel and technology are helping us get there.
Still, even one person harmed by violence on the streets of Bridgeport is too much. The recent tragic, senseless loss of 12 year-old Clinton Howell and the arrests of other teenage boys for the killing is shocking to the core. This should wake us all up that we cannot rest until we find a way to rid our streets of illegal, deadly guns and keep working hard to provide young people with better role models and better paths to purpose and career.
Quality of Life
In order to improve as a community, we must take pride and ownership in our streets and our neighborhoods. We must have a stronger sense of who we are in Bridgeport, and have a vision for what our full potential can be. We are attacking blight, decay and neighborhood disrepair with major efforts on cleanup and modernization.
We have stepped up enforcement of illegal dumping, torn down dozens of blighted health hazard buildings to clear the way for new development, and launched a major neighborhood cleanup campaign. We have restarted a comprehensive road paving program and recovered millions in funds held up by the state for road improvements. When I ran for mayor I promised that we would launch a program to get sidewalks repaired in all neighborhoods of the city and this has become a reality and a success. We are getting it done.
Bridgeport is a beautiful city on the water with enormous potential and if we want others to see that, we must see it in ourselves first. Only then can we get to where we need to be economically so we can attract new investors, create jobs, and reduce taxes.
We are well on our way to restoring the economic progress of Bridgeport that I started working on in the early 1990s. Building off some early successes, we are starting to see real results. The last coal-fired power plant in New England at the heart of the Bridgeport waterfront is being decommissioned while a new, cleaner burning natural gas fired plant takes its place on the city skyline. After years of talk and negotiations, a new building is finally rising at Steelpointe, bringing office and retail space, with adjacent shipbuilding and wind turbine assembly companies recently signing on to re-ignite the economic engine that our port can be.
Blighted former factory buildings are being transformed into desirable mixed income apartments at the Cherry Street Lofts project on the west end of Bridgeport while the beautiful, modernized apartments at Crescent Crossings on the East Side are now available for renters. Downtown, new restaurants and entertainment spots are opening with more housing available and after years of talk and complaints, my administration has finally found a way to modernize our downtown parking system to benefit residents, businesses, and customers.
Our former minor league ballpark is being converted into a state-of-the-art boutique amphitheater that will host dozens of outdoor concerts and attract tourists from our region and the entire New York City metropolitan area. One of the world’s most prominent gaming and entertainment companies–MGM–has proposed investing more than $700 million to build a resort casino in Bridgeport, create thousands of new jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue to the city and the state. New funding from the state may soon make it possible to once again launch commercial passenger air travel from the regional Sikorsky Airport.
It will take a great effort to see these dreams become reality, but Bridgeport is definitely on the move and we are being noticed all over the state and the region as a place generating real economic momentum. This is an exciting time for Bridgeport, but the best is yet to come. It has been an honor to once again serve as your mayor for these last three years, but we clearly have more work to do. I wish each and every one of you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019.