Not in decades has Bridgeport seen a general election for City Council such as the one shaping up in Black Rock, the highest turnout area of the city. Neighborhood leader Phil Blagys, with deep roots in the community, has agreed to serve as the council running partner of two-time Republican mayoral candidate Rick Torres against Democratic incumbents Sue Brannelly and Steve Stafstrom. Get ready for a rockin’ general election in The Rock. This one could break spending records.
On one side incumbents Brannelly and Stafstrom will try to frame themselves as caring, independent voices responsive to neighborhood issues such as taxes, crime and quality of life. The other side features two active neighborhood leaders offering an alternative to charges the Democrats are too cozy with Mayor Bill Finch, not the most popular figure in Black Rock, coming off another tax increase in the highest taxed area of the city. It’s also an opportunity for a languishing Republican party to regain some relevance in a Democratic-dominated city. Republicans currently hold no elected positions on the council and Board of Education. They’re trying to change that with this council race and effort to reclaim two minority-party seats on the school board lost to candidates running with the Connecticut Working Families Party four years ago.
Blagy’s entry creates a complementary balance to Torres’ lightning-rod profile. Torres is well-liked in the neighborhood, and has proven so at the ballot box, but prone to candor about national social issues that can focus away from nuts and bolts issues so key in a local race. Blagy’s profile is about as local as local can get with a history of getting along with Democrats and Republicans and the unaffiliated voters in the district that may well swing this race.
The Blagys family history in the neighborhood goes back 100 years. Blagys has a background in teaching primarily in Bridgeport as well as working in the apparel industry as director of engineering for an apparel manufacturing company.
His volunteer activities include more than 10 years as little league coach, president of Black Rock Community Council, chair of Black Rock Day Parade, former board member of the Burroughs Community Center. He also was a co-chair of the community action group Citizens Working For A Better Bridgeport. He has resigned from that position in light of his council run.
Black Rock features a diverse constituency of waterfront homes along St. Mary’s by-the-Sea and sturdy middle class homeowners as well as working class residents primary west of Ellsworth Street and north across Fairfield Avenue. While most of the rest of the city is 10 to 1 Democrat to Republican, the ratio at the Black Rock School voting precinct is roughly 3 to 1 with a large bloc of unaffiliated voters. Black Rockers can be choosy.
Black Rock School is an area where Torres and Blagys figure to perform strong. That does not mean they will win this election. Brannelly and Stafstrom are hard workers who will be well financed to make their case to voters to bring them back two more years. The lower end of the district has a much higher percentage of Democrats historically voting at Longfellow School but likely the Aquaculture School this cycle with Longfellow undergoing new construction. Percentage turnout at Black Rock School is generally twice as large.
Brannelly, whose father served as Bridgeport city clerk in the 1970s, took a risk this year by becoming co-chair of the City Council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee in the eye of a financial storm. The bad news is she voted for a tax increase that represents hundreds of dollars more to some serial voters in the neighborhood. The good news is the council, based on her recommendations, cut back Finch’s tax increase to just under one mil. The tax hit would have been much higher under the mayor’s proposal.
Brannelly also is at odds with constituents that support a state government reform bill that would bar city employees from serving on the City Council eliminating conflicts of interests such as council members approving their own wages and benefits. The Bridgeport City Charter prohibits city employee service on the council but a loophole in state law allows it. Brannelly, a health care professional not on the city payroll, even came out against the measure proposed by Bridgeport State House members Auden Grogins and Jack Hennessy when an amendment was advanced grandfathering current city employees serving on the council.
Steve Stafstrom, in just a few months as a sitting councilman, has shown a pragmatic approach that sometimes escapes his council partner. Stafstrom has publicly announced his support for the grandfather provision of the government reform bill that will likely be introduced again next year when the state legislature convenes. Stafstrom replaced Marty McCarthy on the council when he resigned to devote more time to business and family matters. His uncle John Stafstrom, the former chairman of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee, has significant influence in party matters. Both Stafstroms work for the Bridgeport-based law firm Pullman & Comley where John Stafstrom serves as city bond counsel.
Get ready for the battle in Black Rock.
Statement from Torres following his endorsement Tuesday night from the Republican Town Committee:
I raised my family here and I have grown a thriving business (Harborview Market) here. Bridgeport must do better. And I know that we can do better. We need voices in city hall that will hold this administration accountable for its malaise, for its satisfaction in maintaining a status quo that has held our city back while cities as close as Stamford thrive.
I’m proud to run for office alongside Phil Blagys. Between us, we represent a wholesome, community activism that is rare in our city. I believe that we can be a voice for change in Bridgeport, a city whose past has been stunted by politicians, but whose future can be greatly influenced by strong voices and an empowered electorate. I am running for city council in Black Rock to help satisfy a longstanding desire of mine to serve Bridgeport. Massive taxation has pushed our section of Bridgeport to the brink. We must demand access to the decisions made in our city.