City Council candidates in the 130th District squared off Wednesday night for a spirited forum in the standing-room-only Black Rock Library conference room with Democratic incumbents Sue Brannelly and Steven Stafstrom emphasizing their efforts to reduce taxes in the mayor’s proposed budget, pushing for renovations of Black Rock School while Republicans Rick Torres and Phil Blagys asserted the city is cratering under conflicts of interests, high taxes and poor development policy.
The forum was moderated by library employee John “Salty” Soltis, former two-term member of the Board of Education. About 75 people attended. The forum questions came from audience members.
A question was asked about the city’s controversial $400,000 land deal with developer Manny Moutinho as part an airport improvement plan. Brannelly said there’s a black mark on the project. She said the City Council doesn’t have intimate knowledge of every detail that’s presented. “The way that it happened stinks to high heaven.” She blamed John Ricci, the airport manager who was terminated by the city for not disclosing his relationship with Moutinho. Ricci disputes the city’s position, saying he disclosed his relationship and also recused himself from the process.
Blagys said he wants a breakdown of all the money that was spent on the project. “I don’t know that the right question was asked” by council members. Blagys called it a bad deal. He filed an ethics commission action in relation to the land deal, but has not heard back regarding his claim. “We have an ethics commission that doesn’t follow up on a request and a council that does not ask questions.”
Torres said there is “ineptitude” in all levels of government. “We need transparency in the city. There’s a lack of understanding of what a conflict of interest is … I’m running to bring normal sanity” to the council.
Another audience member asked about the city’s dubious snow removal during the record winter storm. “We all know how difficult it was for people to get out of their homes,” Brannelly said. “The communication piece was terrible. It was so frustrating trying to get answers for our constituents.”
Torres responded there was a lack of accountability during the storm. “Heads should have rolled … We’re not talking about a little mistake … this was a big one … seven days with your roads two feet high” in snow.
Blagys echoed no one was held accountable. “It was oh gee, we’ll do better next time. That was a complete failure of government that could happen again.”
Neighborhood resident Kevin Cassidy, a professor at Fairfield University, asked about conflicts of interests such as city employees serving on the City Council in defiance of the city charter. A loophole in state law allows the practice. State law prohibits municipal employees from serving on boards of finance, but in Bridgeport the City Council serves as the budget authority. Bridgeport State Representatives Jack Hennessy and Auden Grogins support legislation that would extend law to all municipal budget-making authorities. Government reformers say too many conflicts of interest exist such as city employee council members approving their own wages and benefits.
Blagys’ praised legislation to close the loophole. “It’s a no-brainer. Honor the will of the people.”
Blagys added some on the City Council opposed it, a direct shot at Brannelly, sitting next him, who supports city employees serving on the City Council.
Brannelly, speaking to the issue acknowledged she’s in the minority with her constituents. “This is a state issue. It was brought to the state and it was not passed… If I am a resident of the city of Bridgeport I want to encourage people from Bridgeport to work for the city… I know 90 percent of you don’t agree with me, probably 99…but that is where I am.
Stafstrom said he supports the legislative provision offered by Hennessy and Grogins to grandfather in current city employees serving on the council while prohibiting city employees from sitting on the legislative body moving forward.
On a development question, Torres says capping property taxes will encourage businesses to invest in the city. “Transparency, putting a flag down with a cap … when we do those things businesses will come back.”
Stafstrom added he wants to place an emphasis on addressing blight issues in the West End, increasing development opportunities to attract new business.
Brannelly urged voters to return her and Stafstrom to the council so they can continue to serve as budget watchers. Blagys countered he fears the city’s on the verge of bankruptcy. “I know I can get people in here and look at the city in a different way. We need change in the city … I look for your vote so we can change things.”
Torres says city financial reporting is “a complete mess … a joke … I promise you we will have two representatives who will act on your behalf.”
The district covers Black Rock and a portion of the West End. City Republicans view this race as a chance to become a relevant voice on the city’s budget and legislative body after being shut out by Democratic domination for years. Torres is the owner of the popular Harborview Market while Blagys’ family has deep roots in the Black Rock neighborhood.
Brannelly serves as co-chair of the council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee. Stafstrom, the nephew or former Democratic Town Chair John Stafstrom, joined the council in the spring following the resignation of Marty McCarthy who left the council to devote more attention to his Black Rock pizza restaurant. He’s an attorney with the Bridgeport-based law firm Pullman & Comley which serves as the city’s bond counsel.
Thank you to all who attended. No matter who you’re supporting, it was a good night for the 130th District.
We are fortunate to have four strong candidates and an informed and engaged electorate.
John Soltis–Black Rock Library Branch Manager for Community Relations
(AKA John from Black Rock)
Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah … blame someone else. Take no responsibility. Say it’s the State’s job. Time to replace the rubber stamps in this miserably run city’s council and its administration.
TERM LIMITS and NO double and triple dipping. Oh, and enuf with the nepotism.
I’m sorry I could not be there but I had a prior speech commitment in New Hampshire. Fortunately, my wife Mary went. She said Phil and Rick were the clear winners. I would sum up things as follows: “if you like high taxes that will continue to increase, if you like poor services with no accountability, if you like clear conflicts of interest, if you like containing contracting and other embarrassments, and if you want reps who don’t honor key provisions of the City Charter and don’t enforce important City Council rights-related Ordinances, then vote for the incumbents. However, if you believe things can be better and you want to help create a better future, vote for real change, including Rick and Phil.”
I couldn’t be there last night because I had made a commitment to party in Somerville and watch the Boston Red Sox on TV. In search of fairness, I had given fielding tips to the Cardinals prior to the game but my input had negative consequences. Consequently, I was a big hit at the party. This was my ticket to the gathering:
If there is one thing Sue Brannelly is not, it’s a budget watchdog. In the last three years she has NOT voted or suggested any cuts to any department budget. Brannelly has voted twice for budgets that have had hidden ghost positions that have cost the taxpayers in excess of $10 million dollars.
Brannelly has voted on spending packages with little or no paperwork provided by Tom Sherwood.
Budget watchdog my ass!!!
For record, Sue Brannelly never acknowledged even receiving my budget suggestions. Steve Stafstom did and met with me. However, he asserted certain of my suggestions were precluded by the current bargaining agreements. However, I’ve read the agreements and that is not true (e.g., furloughs). I’m also still waiting for him to get back to me on a major retiree health care suggestion I made that has already been adopted by several major cities. I have given up on ever hearing from Sue Brannelly and won’t waste any more time on her. The truth is the current City Council has failed to control spending or to serve as an effective check and balance on the Mayor. They consistently cut less than 1 percent of the Mayor’s proposed spending and haven’t done anything significant to address the serious drivers of our City’s spending problems. I have attended several budget meetings in the past and they are a bad joke. In addition, no one who attends is allowed to speak at the budget committee meetings. As Einstein once alluded, “Expecting the same people, who are doing the same thing, to get different results, is insanity.” It’s time for a real change in Bridgeport.
I almost forgot, Brannelly and the B & A decided they did not need to review the budget presented for the mayor’s office. This means no one knows the amount of the mayor’s office budget and how the money will be spent.
BTW it doesn’t hurt when a relative is given a cushy job in the labor relations office, just ask Sue.
Last night’s forum was very informative. I believe all who attended got a better understanding of the candidates and what their positions are on the variety of issues facing Bridgeport. Sue Brannelly spent a lot of time highlighting her experience as a senior manager of a health care company responsible for a $17 million budget and that she is now the senior member of the Budget and Appropriations Committee of the City Council. The point I missed is how is she transferring her business skills to helping run the city better. I attended some of the Budget Committee meetings she presided at where citizens voiced their concerns about increased taxes. During those sessions Sue gave no indication she was challenging the budget proposed by the mayor and the final result was an increase in our taxes. Can anyone help me here? Did I miss something? The mayor proposed a budget of approximately $520 million and the city council approved something like $517 million. Where did Sue demonstration her managerial skills of expense control and productivity improvements the city so desperately needs?
Stafstrom, the nephew or former Democratic Town Chair John Stafstrom, joined the council in the spring following the resignation of Marty McCarthy. He’s an attorney with the Bridgeport-based law firm Pullman & Comley which serves as the city’s bond counsel.
And That’s the firm his uncle works for. NEPOTISM…unethical!!!
There were clear winners and losers last night.
From my perspective, they were all winners because all are excellent candidates for City Council. Black Rock is to be commended for its civic involvement and for the most part, civil discourse.
I have attended a number of similar meetings over the years and rarely have I found any attendee undecided on who they were going to support. As with last night, I believe all knew who they were going to vote for prior and came out to support their candidate.
Typically and this was certainly the case last night, the room is usually leaning more towards the challenger slate. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, it would be unfair to say either slate won or lost based on the evening’s debate.
To that end, I though the editorial coverage was pretty fair as well; both the Post and OIB.
It’s going to be a very interesting Election Day and it will be very clear who the winners are.
Ever–I don’t agree with you about the winners and losers last night. I thought Mr. Blagys was extraordinary and Ms. Brannelly not so hot. I agree with the rest of your statement.
*** Just how many relatives working for the city do the two present B/R city council members have? ***