Handicapping The Mayoral Race: Finch In Driver’s Seat

Mayor Bill Finch is still the favorite to win the Democratic primary September 13 and another four-year term for mayor in the November general election. Could that change? Politics is a crazy business and anything can happen, but a new dynamic must occur for a challenger to submarine Finch based on the current field splitting the vote.

Three months from the primary, it’s time to take inventory. Finch got off to a bumpy start as mayor, raising taxes nearly 10 percent his first year after an outrageous promise as a candidate to cut taxes $600. Sometimes Bill’s tongue can get ahead of his brain and that was never more evident in the early days as mayor when he tried to cash both his mayor and state senate paychecks with a bunch of dubious excuses before giving up the senate job. In those early days he called library workers non-essential, spewed inflammatory statements about the University of Bridgeport and alienated, by design or not, several supporters from his 2007 election. He declared Trumbull, a town he had represented in the state senate, bucolic with no problems even though he must work with town officials on a host of regional issues. He didn’t call Trumbull bucolic with no problems when he sought Trumbull votes.

Finch is the classic legislative mind cast into a chief executive role. Some cannot make the adjustment and it took Finch more than half his term to feel relatively comfortable in the job. When Finch is on his game he looks good and sounds good. He has gotten much better at tempering remarks, leveraging relationships with former colleagues in the state legislature that aid the city budget, negotiating significant union concessions (although many city employees maintain he doesn’t fight fair), saying all the right things about Dannel Malloy who defeated Finch’s candidate for governor Ned Lamont in a primary on his way to the governor’s mansion. Finch has not disappeared during high-profile city events such as a downtown tornado strike, the tragic death of two city firefighters, a 2010 ballot shortage that made the city a national curiosity and enduring one of the most difficult winters in history. He even chased away a perp assaulting another man downtown.

Finch and his reelection team led by Chief of Staff Adam Wood have done an excellent job raising money and keeping most political supporters in line while starting the mayor on a baby-kissing tour of numerous city events. Finch enters an election year holding the line on taxes.

Finch has a major missing piece however: a major development he can call his own. OIB polling shows Finch is vulnerable to attacks on taxes and jobs if an opponent can craft the right contrast. Democratic voters are not confident about the direction of the city. The candidate who has done the best job so far contrasting Finch is Mary-Jane Foster, co-founder of the Bridgeport Bluefish, an executive at UB. Foster was a significant Finch financial supporter through the years and served as the chair of his mayoral transition team. They had a falling out over Finch’s strange cultish preoccupation with an arm of the Unification Church that rescued UB from closing 20 years ago. Finch claimed the university was run by a criminal enterprise despite no evidence that the Unification Church had inserted itself in school operations. The university has rebounded to be a major brain and economic force for the city.

The inspiration (along with her husband Jack McGregor) behind the ballpark and arena at Harbor Yard that created more than 100 jobs and generated community enthusiasm, a number of political operatives and anti-Finch Democratic voters had high hopes for a Foster candidacy. She has a face for television and voice for radio. Bridgeport has rarely had mayoral candidates that can put words into action when talking about job creation. The Foster campaign has dinged Finch on several issues including dubious promises he made as a candidate, borrowing to pay operating expenses, wiring contracts to lawyer friends in exchange for campaign cash, and implementing no meaningful jobs plan.

Foster is running closest to Finch in OIB polling (15 points behind in the latest tracking) by virtue of her jobs message, candidate contrast, paid radio campaign and community profile. But she’s had difficulty finding her way as a candidate and articulating where she wants to take the city.

Foster was also naive to think many things politically and financially would fall into place for her. Being a candidate is a grind. You grind it out to raise money, you grind it out to win support. To her credit, locked out by the business community supporting Finch, locked out by the party establishment supporting Finch, she has raised the most by far among Finch’s challengers, roughly $100,000 from a collection of contacts in the city and Fairfield County. But can she double that amount, at the very least, in three months to make a serious run at the mayoralty?

Although not independently wealthy, Foster has the financial ability to supplement her fundraising, as several Bridgeport mayoral candidates have done through the years. She seeks contributors to pony up, but she’s not willing to pony up her own money, not yet at least, a snicker that has not escaped potential supporters.

In addition, Foster’s press operation is weak. A serious campaign operation will kick out statements and news releases multiple times per week, aggressively working the media about issues. Her campaign has trouble kicking out a release a week. Working the press to complement the paid media operation is a key component of a winning strategy. Part of Foster’s campaign problem is that she has not yet landed a campaign manager who can filter staff strengths and help build community coalitions.

Former State Rep. Americo Santiago and former City Councilman Danny Martinez are two key operatives on the ground in her quest to build a primary-day turnout. She has other veteran campaign hands supporting her such as Andy Fardy, (aka “town committee” here on OIB). Primaries are different animals than general elections. Winning requires a surgical operation to identify your friends and drag them to the polls. Foster’s still in the game but she must improve as a candidate and have enough dough to compete to move the needle closer to Finch who’ll dump an enormous amount of campaign money starting July. The Foster campaign headquarters opening is Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. at 3768 Main Street.

When John Gomes landed Marilyn Moore (see previous post) as his campaign manager it signaled that he may stay in for the long haul. Gomes came to Bridgeport as a young immigrant from the Cape Verde Islands, speaks several languages, had a successful corporate marketing career and was named by Finch deputy chief administrative officer, in charge of the government-efficiency CitiStat Program. He owns the Red Rooster Deli off North Avenue.

Gomes and Finch had a falling-out over an interpretation of efficiency. Gomes says he was unable to implement government accountability reforms because Finch protected political sacred cows.

Gomes was the first to declare a public challenge to the Finch mayoralty. His closest adviser Carolanne Curry, a veteran political operative, was also let go by Finch from the CitiStat Program that Finch had so heralded. Curry knows campaign life and has been an invaluable adviser to Gomes. And now she has a sister in arms in Moore. As formidable as they could be together it won’t be enough to make Gomes the next mayor. He has not yet resonated in OIB polls, he lacks money and without loot it’s impossible to persuade voters why you’re better than the incumbent.

In addition, despite Moore’s earnest decision to support Gomes in part because she’d like to see a black candidate become mayor, that’s not a good enough message to win citywide. Gomes has a message problem. Urging voters to vote for Gomes to make history won’t work. Most electors vote on the future and opposition candidates must always explain why they should fire the incumbent and elect them. If it’s Gomes’ goal to powerwash the city political establishment and finish the job he claims Finch prevented him from doing, he must state that loud and clear.

Charlie Coviello, a realtor, is a veteran of several city elections for mayor having served in the administration of John Mandanici more than 30 years ago. Charlie’s a wonk who can gab all day about public policy. His closest adviser Barry “Spanky” Piesner also can spin yarns on policy. The last time Coviello had his name on the ballot for mayor in 2003 he finished dead last in a six-way Democratic primary won by John Fabrizi. In 2007 Coviello was a candidate for mayor before throwing his support to Finch over challenger Chris Caruso.

Many political operatives were certain Charlie had cut a deal for a city job with Finch beyond the campaign work he received. Charlie says he got screwed. Finch fans say Charlie’s delirious.

Bottom line for Coviello, nice guy, no money, no support base. What’s changed from 2003 and 2007?

What does this four-way field suggest? Finch, barring a new dynamic, is in good shape to win the primary. He’s a well-financed incumbent with a majority of political support. He has MOM–money, organization and message–on his side. In the current field configuration a splitting of the anti-vote, especially if Foster and Gomes cannot make a marriage, bodes well for Finch who should pull out the base Democratic incumbent vote. If the primary were held today it’s Finch, Foster, Gomes, Coviello.

Tuesday: what could change the dynamic.



  1. If Finch is re-elected the people of the Park city feel all is well and need another four years on the same course, right? Another voter scenario could be drawn by the recent George Mason study that shows our State is 41st out of 50 in personal freedoms. The people of this State, with Bridgeport being a microcosm, like being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. They like being led rather than leading. They look to some other person to tell them what is in their own best interest. This is the type of attitude that will lead to Finch being re-elected and a continuance of incumbent re-elections.

  2. AntiTesto–You were way off the mark, not to be confused with the Mark IV Construction supporters of Bill Finch, regarding me being “outted” as MJF on yesterday’s blog. That’s why I made the quote attribution. You know me and I know you and we know jimfox. An Unholy-Triumvirate!

    Lennie’s analytics based on a three-way race correctly show this will give Finch an arm and a leg advantage in this race. I was with MJF yesterday and several city employees stated the Finch Administration is a reign of terror and will commit illegal acts to get their hidden agendas passed by any means necessary.

    Caruso was outspent 2-1 by Finch and still came within 13.6 votes per district of winning the ’07 primary. I am aware and respect your passion to have an under-ticket somewhere in this primary. This strategy is a major reason why Caruso lost as I note the 13.6 votes per district.

    The voting universe in the last 2 mayoral primaries show there will always be about a 4-4.5k amount of voters to vote against the “Machine.” We need a coalition of having one candidate to beat the “Machine.”

    The Finch Money Machine fuels a Mayor who is a Counter-Fit! Bill and his $600.00 tax credit scam needs to be returned and his ticket punched NSF. Non-Sufficient-Finch!

    1. Follow the Money,
      Let me start off with my respect for your intellect. I would not waste my time arguing with an asshole. How can you propose running a slate of candidates for change without any candidates? MJF had better get her shit together. If she wants to place in this race she must offer alternatives. You are a smart guy worthy of respect. If you are advising her, tell her to pull her head out of her ass. This is not a glamor contest, 144,000 people’s lives are at stake.

      As far as your secret identity is concerned, I may be wrong, but I may be right.

      1. Hey Antitesto–If you have all the answers why aren’t you running for Mayor? You stand on the sidelines throwing stones but offer no solutions. Stand up or shut up.

  3. If you are Following the Money you should be asking why is the Mayor using city assets (or liabilities) like Adam Wood and other sundry employees working on Finch’s campaign on city time?

    Oh, I know! They will claim they were on furlough time. Not fur-long!

  4. Imo, seems like this post is asking John Gomes to team up with MJ. She would do well in Ffld or Westport, but no matter the oib polls, Gomes got her in Bpt.

      1. Lake Forest Guy // Jun 13, 2011 at 10:58 am
        to your posting

        Well it’s time for your “many people” to meet my “many people” who view John M. Gomes as the most serious contender to date in this race. Only because he knows what he is doing … Someone who can walk into the office on DAY ONE and not be blindsided by the SHERWOODS of the world like the current mayor has been …

        So stay out there in the summer sun and we will call you when the campaign is done. It doesn’t seem like we will get your help on this one, will we?

        1. Knowing what to do or how to do it doesn’t mean a thing if come day one Bill Finch is still mayor. That’s that bottom line.
          You can crunch all the numbers you would like, but if you don’t crunch the right ones on Election Day then there is nothing else to say.
          As to Tom Sherwood, he won’t blindside any candidate if he is simply put out to pasture. Tom S is not the biggest problem, it is the mayors and CAOs and Finance Directors who listen to him.
          The polls say your candidate is in third place. Will he feel a great deal of satisfaction if he stays where he is and come election day Finch is elected by a plurality and not a majority?

        2. Carolanne–
          Long time no talk … how kind of you to assume I am an MJF supporter. Not sure what you meant by “your people,” when these supporters are not “mine.” And I still haven’t heard any specifics from your candidate about where he wants to take the city. I’m not necessarily set on who I will be voting for in September, but I will tell you I know who I won’t be voting for.

  5. All I’m saying is I know for a fact I will not vote for Finch. My vote will go to the candidate who can come closest to beat Finch. I saw Jim Himes yesterday at the Black Rock Day parade, he is a tall fellow.

  6. “… Finch In Driver’s Seat.”
    Tuesday, Lennie will tell you about some figure seen tampering with the Finch machine. Rumors has it it was a Joe Ganim operative who may have cut the brake lines.

    I have a feeling Joe Ganim will run. The question is how and when will he have to enter the race. Joe can decide not to run in the primaries (skip it) and run as an independent. I understand Joe Ganim would love to get the party endorsement, Joe understands that may not be possible. However, Joe is still kicking ideas and strategies around as to how to best go about it, in the event he does decide to enter the race.

  7. Joel can’t count to 21 standing at a public urinal. But I like the kid, he does add flavor to OIB. Joel, keep up the good work, piss them off every chance you get.

  8. Finch may have MOM, but he doesn’t have ETHICS. This is a man who said he could lower property taxes $600.00. He said it KNOWING there was no way he could do it. All the numbers said he couldn’t do it, the law said he couldn’t do it (he failed to mention that one) (he almost crapped himself when he thought a bill was out there that would make his plan legal) and he did it with the specific intent of defrauding the public because he thought that was the only way he could win. He lied to dozens of people to get their support and you all know who you are. Mario WAKE UP! Finch doesn’t respect you then, he doesn’t now, he brags about how he’s got you under control, sends Wood the boy to do a man’s work. He supported Stafstrom over you for DTC chair. Keeping your enemies closer crap is stupid, just get rid of your enemies. Are you a MAN Finch or are you lying rat? Now Finch has the same MONEY thanks to the people he paid off in jobs and Stafstrom, OPERATION/MACHINE–Wood, Mclain, Stafstrom, Beccaro, Maley et al., (Finch is using taxpayers’ money to run his campaign) and the same tired old MESSAGE, the cleanest, greenest, successful, shining castle on the hill crap. Finch, show US the MONEY–he can’t! He couldn’t win without cheating then (the $600.00-plus in several debates certain people provided Finch with the questions beforehand), he outspent Caruso 3 to 1 for about 149 votes (bought and paid for, putting a certain person on the street with I believe $30,000 grand to “get the vote out,” if you get my drift.) Carolanne, Coviello, numerous OIB posters, people in servitude in Finch’s fiefdom, people on his campaign team then and now ALL know. 3 people can’t keep a secret unless two are dead. Finch will not be able to hide this forever, don’t go down with Finch, come out with what you know. Mr. Caruso, you care about this City, fought for this City, be the hero you know you can be, throw your support to MJF, the person with best chance and best experience. Mr. Gomes no offense to you, you are smart guy with a lot to offer but you have to know when to fold ’em. If you really want to get the devil disguised in a Pepsodent grin out of office, join MJF. Foster with the support of Gomes and Caruso can take Finch down. Learn how to join forces and live to fight another day or lose and be out of the game forever. Buzz freakin’ buzz …


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