Funerals For Friends, Plus: Keep Squawking About The Budget Mess

I’m melancholy whenever a company goes out of business especially so when we’re conducting funerals for newspapers, where I got my start. The newspaper business is experiencing an agonizingly slow death.

Actually, as so many in the profession tell me, they’re the living dead reinventing themselves on the www dot thing, as I’ve done here. We learned on Tuesday that the publisher of The Herald of New Britain and the Bristol Press has told employees that the two newspapers will be sayonara by January unless buyers step forward. The struggling Journal Register Company, parent to those papers, also owns the New Haven Register and Connecticut Magazine, the latter pub I’ve penned for on occasion.

Early this year I made the decision to take this blog solo, after starting it under the umbrella of the Fairfield County Weekly, owned by that goliath Tribune. Just about fifty percent of the traffic to the Weekly’s website had come from you. I wanted to do my own thing, without the worry of some bean counter in Chicago saying okay boys see you later. I had some trepidation leaving the Weekly. Would you follow me to the new OIB? You have, along with thousands of new readers. Thank you.

OIB traffic is now 50 percent more than it was when I left the Weekly in March, representing more than 16,000 unique (individual) visitors and 275,000 page views. Last week the Weekly pulled out of Bridgeport, moving into the offices of its sister publication the New Haven Advocate. My friend Tom Gogola, who recruited me to start this blog, left the Weekly months ago. Jim Motavalli, also my friend, the guy that caused Gogola to leave the Weekly, is no longer there. On the news side the paper is now in the trusted hands of a young journalist Nick Keppler. Good luck St. Nick.

All of this leads me to the Connecticut Post, owned by Hearst, that also owns daily papers in Greenwich, Stamford and Danbury. Sounds like the scribes at 410 State Street in downtown Bridgeport are breathing a little easier these days, and that’s a good thing. No imminent danger, it appears, of layoffs locally. In fact, the product actually looks better by virtue of by lines from scribes at sister papers. How long this lasts who knows?

Why does any of this matter? Newspapers are an important check on pols. When newspapers die it’s like ringing the dinner bell for greedy elected officials. In fact a guy named Dudley Thomas, publisher of the Connecticut Post 15 years ago, was totally in the tank for Joe Ganim, a talented former mayor that lost his way. Dudley was more interested in propping up Joe for governor than doing the readers’ work.

We’re far from perfect here on OIB, but reader commentaries, observations, insights, suggestions, policing of pols and criticisms help to keep some bastards in line. So keep squawking (even if it’s at me).

So keep your suggestions for fixing the city budget coming. I’m sure his honor Bill Finch will appreciate all your suggestions.

For me, it’s déjà vu all over again. Twenty years ago as press secretary to Mayor Tom Bucci, I had to explain along with the mayor that the city was broke and needed state help.

The circumstances, however, were somewhat different. Bucci, a Democrat, had reached out to Gov. Bill O’Neill, a Democrat, for help. Can we use the state’s bonding powers to borrow money and retire a $50 million fund balance deficit (which had grown over three administrations)?

O’Neill told Bucci in a nice way to stick it in your ear, go talk to the legislature. So, Bucci went to see State Senator Bill DiBella, the Democratic swinging dick of Finance, Revenue and Bonding. Bucci told the senator the city was in a deep hole and required state assistance, adding that he needed a little more time to line up quiet legislative support for an action plan. Sure, no problem, said DiBella.

While Bucci was driving back to Bridgeport, after thinking he had a productive meeting with DiBella, it was all over the radio–the city was broke and needed a bailout. Son of a bitch ratted out Bucci.

It was a nightmare, media all over the place, and I’m sucking wind trying to explain the depths of the city’s problems. (Thanks, Billy.) For eight consecutive budget cycles, until Joe Ganim had met the financial cure, the city operated under the thumb of a state mandated oversight board charged with making sure the city’s budgets were in balance.

The city’s current situation is now teed up for everyone to see. The city’s in deep trouble in a nightmarish climate that impacts everyone.

Let’s hope Bird Man can cure this without state intervention. Are you holding your breath?

Thursday morning I’ll be speaking to students of Mass Communication Professor Sue Katz at the University of Bridgeport. Professor Katz, who designed the cool look of OIB, likes to use me as a guinea pig so we hope to be broadcasting live in case you want to see what it takes to keep a bunch of kids awake at 9:45. I’m bringing my espresso machine. Check us out Thursday morning at



  1. I placed a want ad in the CT Post yesterday. They said the ad would be carried in ALL their papers at considerable extra expense whether I wanted it or not ( I didn’t). I protested that this was an outrageous abuse of their monopoly power to no avail.

    Maybe if the Register had required all ads to run in New Britain and Bristol as well they might not be closing.

  2. Lennie I just don’t get it. Please tell me why it would be so bad to have the state oversee our budget. It is obvious to me someone has to do that because someone hasn’t. I don’t trust the city council and as for the Mayor he is just too busy making political appointments at grand pay rates, getting rid of people who help the city, and working for his degree in interior decorating.
    I like the fact that old Gene O’Neill collects a city disability pension and collects another paycheck as a park supervisor and collects sea-shells at Seaside Park because he has no one to supervise, that’s Bridgeport.
    I also note there is something sneaky about a proposed zoning change concerning Black Rock, that no one understands nor is fully informed about, that’s Bridgeport too.
    How is Sal DiNardo doing on his taxes? and I note nothing has been done to his “free” South Ave. property in some months.
    I welcome state oversight.

  3. Lennie–As a newspaper junkie myself and working in publishing, I couldn’t agree with you more about newspapers.

    To that end, many of the newspapers that are dying are terrible and brought it on themselves. Demographic challenges aside, newspapers have to provide local coverage, perspective and analysis. Why else would you read them?

    I read the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time newspapers at lunch on Monday and their local coverage is miniscule!

    While not perfect, the CT Post is a great paper compared to many of the local papers I read. Sure would hate to see that change.

    While I am frequently at odds with the CT Post editorial page, it’s far better than most of the other local papers I read in CT or Westchester.

  4. The mayor has a daunting task. Some suggestions to the best of my abilility:
    (1) Reduce the number of take-home vehicles to only major depts such as mayor, police & fire chiefs & pw director;
    (2) 4-day work week–add add’l time to each day to make up for the 1-day loss and save thousands on utilities;
    (3) Close the Annex and relocate its employees to City Hall;
    (4) Labor Relations, Grants Personnel, and Civil Service should be reorganized into one department and work responsibilities should be combined;
    (5) Treasurer’s office should be reorganized into the Comptroller’s staff;
    (6) Supt of School should relocate out of City Hall to make room for Annex employees;
    (7) Overtime for all depts must be put on hold until further notice;
    (8) Unions must agree to a wage freeze in exchange for job security;
    (9) All hiring, (including discretionary and political positions) must be frozen until further notice;
    (10) All departments must reduce spending by 25% including the BOE.

  5. Lennie … I hear you about newspapers going under, it really stinks. Hopefully one day they will figure out how to make the website portions of their business more profitable.

    Any word on Herscham (formerly Hometown) and how they are doing financially?

  6. MANUFACTURING never became obsolete–witness China.

    THE NEWS will never become obsolete–witness the internet. BTW, never underestimate the need for the tactile touch that only a newspaper can provide.

  7. 1junkyarddog is on the right road with those suggestions as are other bloggers. I believe we’ve reached the point where ANY savings needs to be implemented and not just look at the biggies.

    Lennie, who was the first mayor to “need” a press sec’y? or a chief of staff? or any of those other blood suckers? When did the council need a staff and stipend?

    Let’s get serious about tighening our belts!!! Selling property, Mr. Mayor, in a depressed economy is not good finance. Sounds like more giveaways to diNardo. (Who else would buy city property?)

    I agree that ending leases, halting hirings and OT are no-brainers and can be implemented with a letter. Why not look to remove deputies from departments and make the directors earn their keep? Salaried employees work the number of hours it takes to get the job done, not 35 or 40.

    Cut the work week to 4 days … same # of hours in 4 days and close down the city one day. Times are bad? Then stop pussyfooting about solutions.

    How about a good pr job to point out the excesses in the education salary accounts, and trips, and meals at meetings.

    Lennie, can you get the post to do a weekly article on govt excesses and give the old “fickle finger of fate” award to the agencies wasting money and hold the financial “wizards” responsible?

  8. Hi Inde Soul:

    When I handled media relations for Bucci, just to provide some context, my starting pay was $23,500. Technically, the title was administrative aide to the mayor, but my responsibilities included media relations, constituent services, writing speeches, attending evening meetings of various boards and commissions and being at places when the mayor couldn’t. Back then the city had two daily newspapers (Post and Telegram) and a lot more staff, and several radio stations with news departments. No more.

    Steve Sasala was the first “chief of staff” in title for a mayor, designated so by Bucci in the aftermath of the city’s fiscal crisis. Bucci wanted pols and the public to know he had brought in a non-pol with a planning and management background to help him reel in city spending and department heads, chart a course of action that implemented accounting reforms, and help him deal with the state financial review board. Sasala had balls and didn’t care about the consequences of pissing off city pols. Bucci in fact realized the state of city finances were so desperate he needed a guy like Sasala. It was a good move for the city, but Bucci had raised taxes beyond the electorate’s breaking point that they turned the city over to neophyte Mary Moran–nice lady, energetic speaker–but she had no clue.

    Inde, feel free to start a new weekly award here: “Pigs At the Trough.” It would complement Yahooy’s Philistine Of The Week.

  9. Bob; That’s what happens when you have a mayor with balls and brains. The wimp we have for a mayor listens to all the wrong people and people who don’t give a damn about him or the city. Some he listens to are Stafstrom, Wood, a couple of Hartford cronies and most of all Timpanelli. I believe that Timpanelli holds a lot of sway over Finch. I keep hoping he will wake up but as the days go by I know I am dreaming. Thanks for the article.

  10. Now the Mayor expects $2.5 million from the sale of city-owned property. That is not realistic. The developers of Steel Point and the Canyon/Johnson properties should be paying the city a monthly exclusive fee for each month they delay in purchasing the property. That is 60 + acres at $10,000 per acre per month would generate $600,000 per month. If those developers don’t like it they should be shown the door. The City should put those 60 acres out for sale first and test the waters. Having that 60 acres hang around with no monetary penalty while the Mayor attempts a bargain-basement sale for the rest of the city-owned property makes no sense to me.

  11. *** Maybe if Finch ran City Hall the way Timpanelli runs the Bpt. Business Council the city “might” be in better shape “$”-wise? Hire as Managers (#2-yr. contracts) @ minimal salaries only those that can be of direct positive service to the city and its politics here & Hartford. Cut loose those that no longer have anything worthy in terms of helping the city! Change the working hours to #10 hrs. a day, #4 days a week. Workdays would be Mon./Tues./Thurs./Fri. (8:am-6:pm) for only non-essential workers. In other words, run it like a hard-nosed business, cut & dry! Incentives like 10% savings for taxpayers that pay their tax bills in #30 days or less after receiving their auto tax bills from the city. Yearly auctions on all lost & found or confiscated prop. by the Bpt. P/D. Create ways to bring more revenue to the city without raising taxes, etc… ***


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