Keeley: We’re On Our Own, And The Book Clubbing

Successful mayors build relationships: with the business community, with the city council, state legislature and the governor. They maintain those relationships even when they want to punch someone in the nose. Biting tongue is the mark of a professional politician.

Mayor Bill Finch suffers from relationship fatigue, even within the basic sphere of usual suspects. When a mayor proposes to cut one third of the library staff of one of the finest public library systems in the state, dramatically reduce school based health clinics, and asks for union givebacks while proposing a tax increase that, according to Finch, will hike taxes on his home across from Beardsley Park by $600 dollars, you need all the friends you can get.

Let’s take a look at the city’s legislative delegation in Hartford, the half dozen or so locally elected officials that want to bring home as much bacon to the burg as possible. Finch has not reached out to them collectively, has not badgered them with phone calls, and has no unified plan to squeeze as much loot out of this legislative process as possible. This from a guy that spent seven years in the state senate, and should know what relationships mean.

On Wednesday I chatted with the longest serving legislator in Bridgeport’s history, State Rep. Bob Keeley who also happens to be chair of the mighty bonding committee that authorizes spending and funds major improvements. Keeley and Finch, once friends, are at war.

“We’re on our own,” Keeley said regarding the delegation’s relationship with the mayor. “There needs to be a unification of the delegation. There’s too much bad blood. The city is inching closer to devastation.”

Keeley charged that Finch and his chief of staff Adam Wood are too focused on political agendas at the city’s expense. Keeley said that he has not received a phone call from Finch or Wood about what the city’s legislative delegation can do to help. Keeley had praise for Michele Mount, the city’s legislative aide, but added that Mount has not received proper communication from the mayor.

Once friends, the relationship between Finch and Keeley might be irreparable. Keeley supported fellow State Rep. Chris Caruso in the primary. The Finch communication gap is real. When City Council President Tom McCarthy reads the final details of the mayor’s proposed budget in the newspaper that tells me they’re not paying attention to the little things that mean a lot. And McCarthy’s supposed to be a friend. Finch won the primary with McCarthy’s help. But, of course, McCarthy supported Mario Testa for Democratic town chair against the wishes of Finch and Wood who looked like amateurs trying to deliver their candidate so now they look at McCarthy as someone who did not do the right thing. What a bunch of crap.

How many boneheaded decisions have Finch and Wood made? Do I need recite them one more time? So now they’re keeping score every time someone does not side with them? We’re going to get even with this one, get even with that one seems to be the priority.

Finch needs a deodorant to mask the stench of his poor relationship building. Maybe a right guard to cover his left flank. Republican State Sen. Rob Russo, in office for just one month, has told Finch and Wood that he’ll do whatever he can to help the city during this tough budget process.

Finch is blaming the election-year budget built by his predecessor John Fabrizi as the source of the fiscal madness. Some of it has merit. But Fabrizi did something Finch has failed to do: he had respectful relations with the governor and generally the city’s legislative delegation. The mayor has to tell the delegation what he wants from them.

Keeley said that Democrats in the legislature are looking at some creative ideas to fund the cost of tax-exempt properties (colleges, hospitals and state properties) that could generate millions in additional revenue to the cities. One idea, trying to make its way through, is a new tax on delivery services such as Federal Express and United Parcel in which the revenue would cover the costs of tax-exempt properties. The Finch proposal to increase the sales tax in cities is dead, according to Keeley.

A Public Hearing will be held before the Budget and Appropriations Committee of the Bridgeport City Council on Wednesday evening, April 9, 2008 beginning at 6:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, City Hall, 45 Lyon Terrace, Bridgeport, Connecticut, relative to the Mayor’s Recommended Budget for Fiscal Year 2008 – 2009, to include General Fund and Board of Education.

Book Bricks

The mayor has thrown the book at the library system. James O’Donnell, president of the Board of Directors of the Bridgeport Public Library, is throwing back, in a letter he sent to the mayor on Wednesday taking issue with the mayor’s proposed cuts and his characterization of library services as non-essential. I agree with Wondering that the city must look at other areas to cut such as mounted police patrols to save library staff. See excerpts from O’Donnell’s letter below:

Mayor Bill Finch
Re: 2008-2009 Proposed Budget
Unconscionable Cuts to Library Service

Dear Bill:
Although I serve as President of the Board of Directors of the Bridgeport Public Library, I write to you as a private citizen. You know me, Bill, and I thought I knew you.

In your campaign literature you stated “We want to do everything we can to reexamine how the City conducts its business and find ways to improve the delivery of vital city services.” Bill Finch @ 11/29/2007. Yet without any consultation or inquiry you pronounced to the Editorial Board of the Connecticut Post on April 1 that: “Libraries are not essential services. We tax poor and working-class people to pay for things that the state and federal government should pay for” Connecticut Post 4/2/2008. On the contrary libraries are not just essential, but fundamental to the vitality of a local community. The implication that our libraries increase the tax burden in an unnecessary or disproportionate manner or that state or federal governments, that have never provided operational funding and have always left local communities to establish and maintain libraries, will now pay for library services is simply false.

From your mayoral campaign I understood and appreciated that efficient government and improvements in education were cornerstones of your plans for economic development in Bridgeport. Libraries, especially in our City which has only one bookstore, are the only source of reading material for the general population. Our libraries provide essential service to the poor and working class who have no other access to the internet, job placement and tax assistance service. The mission of the Bridgeport Public Library is: “To provide the citizens of Bridgeport with opportunities to pursue lifelong learning, cultural and economic enrichment and enjoyment through free and open access to creative works, knowledge and information from diverse perspectives in a variety of formats”

As an urban library, the Bridgeport Public Library has an essential role to play in improving the quality of life for city residents and contributing to core city revitalization. Other communities have recognized the fundamental role libraries play not only in the vitality and quality of life in a community, but also in its economic development. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has stated in commenting on the importance of libraries: “I think you have to understand what a library does. It is more than the internet, more than a bookstore. It’s part of the community, an educational place for all ages to go to. To me it’s a wonderful experience to go there. In a knowledge based society and economy we’d better be promoting more and more libraries” American Libraries, April, 2007 p.60.

As Chicago has learned libraries are an attraction and integral part of local development. Ibid. That experience has been confirmed by a study of the Urban Libraries Council entitled Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development, published in January, 2007 and endorsed by ICMA (International City/County Management Association), the premier local government leadership and management organization, in its October, 2007 report, Local Government Managers and Public Libraries: Partners for a Better Community which noted that “From bridging the digital divide to offering solutions to societal challenges, the public library has evolved into the essential “go to” facility for young and old alike place – both physically and in cyber-space.” Id., p. 1. Copies of the three documents cited will be included in the hard mail copy of this letter for your information.

If improvement of education truly is a cornerstone of your plans for economic development in Bridgeport you must appreciate how our libraries serves as the foundation to support that cornerstone. It is estimated that roughly 23,000 students attend Bridgeport schools, approximately 17% of the City’s total population. Our libraries serve all of them, in particular the most challenging segment of our school population, our teens. Our libraries, not the schools, serve the needs of the other 83% of our citizens, the group that actually pays the taxes. In last year’s budget the schools were allocated $198,441,011 representing almost 43% of the total City budget. The Library allocation was $4,099,131, about $30 per person and less than 1% of the total City budget of $462,031,673. Yet your proposal for this coming fiscal year would slash the only service in the City that assists the education of all citizens. It also disproportionately imposes more than 25% of the proposed City-wide personnel cuts just from the Library, reducing its staff by more than one-third. This will curtail service by the most dedicated group of employees in the City who just this year have helped to add hours on Monday at our Burroughs-Saden Library and to permit more convenient hours at all branches.

While I applaud your objective – to perform needed surgery to restore our fiscal health – wielding an ax to bludgeon the essential services of our Library is misguided and counterproductive to the ultimate goal of restoring Bridgeport through economic development that will follow improvements to, not destruction of, the one institution that fosters quality of life in our community. Please make time in your schedule to meet with Library users and staff to develop a better plan for improving our City. I will be happy to work with you to do so.



  1. Mr. Finch…..

    Andrew Carnegie disagrees with your assertion that libraries are not regarded as essential services.

    In a city that has a very expensive educational budget and has a 68% drop out rate, perhaps making libraries available is essential to keeping our children in school. Did you ever look at it that way, Finch? Of course not. BTW a library is a big building where books are kept and loaned, for free, to the citizens. That’s just my opinion. We seem to differ on this topic. Another difference between you and me…I read.

  2. After reading todays column and getting a brief look at the official budget I have this to say. I am so damned angry at Finch and his band of clowns i dont really know how to say it but will try.
    Cutting libraries and their staff plus health professionals that help the poor and the needy children and people in Bridgeport is a crime pure and simple it is a crime against all that is humanly decent. I have read 1 comment to date from our lected officials and that was from Bob Walsh. I dont always agree with Walsh but on this I do and I give him credit for speaking out. Where the hell are the rest of our elected officials especially the ones from the more disadvantaged is a message to them; if you cant SPEAK OUT GET OUT because you are really part of the problem.
    Not one with the exception of Walsh has taken the mayor and his band of clowns to task. How in the hell do you not comment when the mayor his laying off library staff and health staff and hiring a damn gretter to sit in the hallway of city hall for $39,000 per yearor hiring a clerk for $500 per week with benefits.
    How does he justify police officers riding around on horseback playing like Marshall Dillon and we are laying these other essential people off. I dont consider some fat ass cop on a horse essential. Look at the Police budget if you want to see featherbedding there are enough cuts that can be made there to save the libraries and health care for the poor.People of Bridgeport its time to get off you ass and start calling your reps on thiscall the mayors office I am sure we have someone there answering the telephone (maybe) an express your anger/

  3. Finch & Wood aka Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb you guys really don’t have a clue do you. You attended a fundraiser for Auden Grogins aka clueless. How do you do this when she has not received the party endorsement? Politics is politics. If you think you can do anything you want and the party be damned, well think again. You threw out a trial balloon that you guys want to primary the entire delegation; well that won’t happen. The legislature is in session and where is your agenda? Why have you taken the legs out from under your legislative person? You are playing a dangerous game that to date has made you look like the incompetents you are. Adam please go back to Windsor and play your political BS there; it won’t work here.

  4. Boy…this reals gets under my skin. All the pontificating I did about what a HUGE mistake it would be to put Bill Finch in as mayor met with such combative retort from the Finch Fan Club because I supported Caruso. As bad as he is perceived to be, Caruso would not have done one of the stupid thing that Bill Finch has done. That’s history. But let me say this. I TOLD YOU SO!!!

    Now, what do we do about it? Can we appeal to Mario Testa? Can we ask Bill Finch to resign? What, in God’s name, can we do to rid ourselves of a mayor who hasn’t a clue about how to do any job other than furthering the political agenda of his sycophants?

    This guy is going to make Mary Moran’s administration look competent.

  5. There seems to be an awful lot of rhetoric appearing on this blog and on others pertaining to the inadequacies of Bill Finch in his capacity as the mayor and as a person. Perhaps it is time that we organize a Show of No Confidence rally at City Hall or at the Burroughs Library.

  6. Where the hell is Curwen on all this? He is the chairman of the budget committee. Where is Warren Blunt? Where is Rich Paoletto? Where is Michele Lyons? Where is Tom McCarthy? Where is AmyMarie Vizzo-Paniccia? Where is Brannely? Where is Carlos Silva? Where is Angel DiPara? Where is Jimmy Holloway? Where is Daniel Martinez? Where is Bonney? And shame on me because I don’t know who the rest of you no-name council people are. But where the hell are you? Why aren’t you angry? Why haven’t we seen any quotes from you? How about letting the people of Bridgeport know you care or maybe by your silence YOU DON’T CARE.

  7. It’s important to understand that although the Mayor has introduced his budget, it does not end there. It is now the responsibility of the City Council to thoroughly examine the budget and make the appropriate changes.

    With the Budget Hearing on April 9th, residents should go to the City Clerks office, review the budget and show up at the hearing and voice their concerns. As the Budget committee holds their meetings, residents should show up there and know what is being discussed at these meetings.

    Ultimately, the City Council now has the power to either pass forward the Mayor’s budget or make the necessary changes to have the lowest impact on City services and a potential property tax increase. One thing is clear, the budget process is not an easy task and requires meticulous attention to detail to determine what cuts can be made without having a major impact on moving Bridgeport forward.

    As a Councilman, my goal is to make sure that my colleagues and I do the best we can to deliver a budget that is reasonable and effective. As to TC’s request to hear from the Council members on their views. Many of us have yet to receive the budget which became available yesterday and it is not a good idea to comment on something until you know the facts.

  8. There is no question but that Bill Finch has placed his priorities incorrectly in eliminatiing so much of the Library’s budget. It would have been much better had he called ALL of his department heads together and require that each reduce his or her department’s budget by a percentage which would bring the budget into balance with tax proceeds.

    A few years ago in the City of Providence, RI, the new mayor, David N. Cicilline, (a graduate of Harvard
    University) took on the mayorship of Providence when it was at it lowest ebb; when it was on the brink of bankruptcy; it’s Moody rating was as low as it could go; and its former mayor, Cece, had been incarcerated for feloniious conduct. (You might have been reading the history of Bridgeport.) Unfortunately, I have deleted from my computer’s memory Mayor Cicilline’s first State of the City message but it went something like this (paraphrasing): “We have eliminated 450 positions from the City’s government, have re-negotiated all City employees’ union contracts and our city is now operating in the black with an ‘A’ Moody rating.”

    I have just checked Mayor Cicilline’s 2008 State of the City message and a portion of it reads as follows: “Tonight, I am joined by the members of my cabinet. These men and women have brought experience, dedication, and expertise the likes of which this city has not seen before. Through hard work and bold ideas, we have made this government do more for residents and with greater efficiency. We’ve cut nearly 450 positions, shored up our reserves, earned straight A bond ratings, and negotiated health care co-pays for the first time in the City’s history. I even enacted furloughs many months before it became a much publicized act on Smith Hill. Despite the declining share from the state for our schools, we have worked aggressively to keep the cost of government down. We have done it because we have to do everything we can to protect Providence families in these increasingly tough times. “

    Providence is now a city on the move and one attracting businesses and tax paying residents. God knows, we need a “Cicilline” but the liklihood of our enlisting one is not in the offing. Mayor Finch has set a new direction in furlouging 90 city employees but he needs to go far beyond that. For a starter he’s got to bring in the employees’ union(s), re-negotiate contracts including medical benefits; examine closely and eliminate the overtime pay of employees nearing retirement who seek to peg their pensions to the final years’ salaries; audit the Education Department’s budget because there’s lots of fat there (e.g. creating a $120, 000/year postion for Fabs. Only God knows how many such jobs exist.); eliminate all SUVs from the City’s ownership substituting compact cars with fuel efficiency; have the Police Department go through all the neighborhoods of the City and collect the license plates of those residents who have their vehicles illegally registered in other municipalities and states.

    Mayor Finch’s proposal to raise the mill rate is going to discourage commerce from locating in the city and can not be encouraged. If anything, the mill rate must be cut. If that means cutting many of the social services that bring needy people to the city, so be it. We have taken our share of them and should not take any more. You’ll see them at the Budget Hearing with their banners, placards, and kids, all pounding the floor with their feet as they usually do, demanding more and more. It’s time, we the citizens of Bridgeport, stand together and demand that our civil servants meet their entrusted responsibilities and give us efficient government.

  9. Con: great post and I think it hit on Bridgeports main problem and that is inexperienced or better yet timid leadership. You can not manage a city as its top executive with a very inexperienced staff and people that are constantly on the defensive or become petulant when told something can not be done.
    We have a a group that has managed to run in place for the past 4 plus months and get nothing done. they have concentrated on BS political issues such as was shown in the DTC elections. What mayors staff would dedicate 3 weeks trying to win that election when they should have stayed out of it. In the meantime a city with a $16 million deficit came to a stop.
    its seem that this administration just does not know what to do next.
    the mayor announces layoffs in what he considered soft areas and areas where he would catch the least amount of flack. this was 1 mistake. he anounces that he will be getting unions to forfit 1 weeks vacation and increase their co pay on insurance. he should have had several meetings with these unions and not just assume that they would go along mistake #2. the mayor keeps hiring political favorites of his while laying off librarians and health care workers . Mistake #3. dont care what it costs he should have institutes a forensic audit of the board of Education he would have found tons of money being wasted instead he increases their budget Mistake #4. He still has not hired and economic director or a public facilities director Mistake #5. Know your own budget and in a quick review of all departments you will find fat and waste I looked at it and found a lot of waste and duplication.He nor his staff really did that Mistake #6 The list goes on. In all honesty if he can not grasp this I think he should really resign before this gets out of hand. I want to preface this last remark by stating I do believe that he has tried but as of this writting i really dont believe that he can handle this job and do it correctly.

  10. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse…….But!

    Many of the issues, problems and concerns that are now being enunciated by this administration have been addressed over the same 4 month period by members of this blog. Bill and the bulk of his staff just don’t get it.

    The perception has become the reality.

  11. That’s right, Tommy!

    In addition to we bloggers beating this swayback to death, you and your candidate warned of much of the same during the primary.

    Let this be a lesson for all who aspire to lead this town into economic greatness….start now….register new voters and get the lazy one’s who wouldn’t vote out to vote. We cannot endure more of the same over and over and over and over.


  12. Never thought I’d live the day that Finch would have voters pining for John Fabrizi and Joe Ganim. Hey, when’s Joe getting out? He’d probably do a better job than Finch from the joint.

    Mayor Moonie is making Yahooy look like a prophet.

  13. Bridgeport, we have a problem.

    Yahooy, Wondering, Town Committee, Con Filardi and Aboost, great posts; Jim O’Donnell great letter in defense of the library.

    It seems there’s no lack of accurate analysis, no lack of understanding of the problems facing Bridgeport by readers and participants in this blog. Unfortunately, analysis without action never produces results.

    If Tom Kelly is right…and I happen to think he is…the patient (Bridgeport) needs a new prescription for health.Another 3 1/2 year decline in vitality is simply unacceptable. Finch and his team don’t read and wouldn’t accept some of the solutions offered on this blog. The answer lies elsewhere.

    Yahooy says organize and mobilize; register new voters and get the lazy off their butts. Great idea but lets extend it to the business and community leaders as well. No one with any amount of intelligence and allegiance to Bridgeport, can be satisfied with the actions/initiatives of this administration. If we can’t change it in the short term, we at least need to try to fix it for the long term (good of the city).

    So call your friends, call your neighbors. Call your bankers, call your brokers, even call your plumber. Call everyone and tell them you’re pissed off and you’re not going to take it any more. Bridgeport’s a great city and it deserves better management, better leadership than it’s getting.

    If we don’t act, Charlie Brown will be right again: We’ve identified the enemy and he is us!

  14. Good posts from all. A good first action would be to get as many people as possible to next Wednesday’s Public Hearing before the Budget and Appropriations Committee at City Hall.

    There are a lot of politically savvy and experienced people who post and/or visit here. Let’s use that expertise and get to work to produce a large show of support for the library and the school based health clinics.

    Down the road there will be a lot more to do but this will be a good first step.

  15. Good discussion. One thing should be noted: Keeley praising Finch’s legislative liaison is laughable – we have all heard him trashing Finch and her at the capital and in Bridgeport. Come on Bob you were the one who said she was not up to the challenge, a little kooky and wondered if there was a “special” reason for her job.

    I’d say save the Library but cut elsewhere. Paging Bob C. and Leticia!

  16. Yankees, sounds like you don’t have your facts straight. Finch’s legislative person Michelle Mount was Fabrizi’s persons first. Then Finch promoted her. She was a major part of the legislative effort last year that will bring 6 to 8 million extra dollars to Bridgeport every year. Every Legislator in the Delegation was united behind that bill largely due to her efforts. Sounds like she is well up to the challenge and if she is kooky that is the kind of kooky I want working for me. She is the only one on the Mayor’s staff with any real qualifications, keeping her was one of the few things Finch did right. Better than relying on deadwood in his kiddie campus.

  17. “Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, when informed of the bank’s plans Thursday afternoon to fire 420 people, said it reminds him of the 90 cuts he’s being forced to make in his municipal work force.

    Do you think Peoples will fire all of these people but keep a greeter in the lobby?

  18. Yahoo, probably. People at an information desk are small potates and give you more bang for the buck. It is cutting the middle management jobs at higher paying salary.

    Wondering, perhaps they are not “apologetic.” Maybe they are not banging their heads against the blog brick wall. Or it could be there are no more left.

  19. clichebpt

    You’re Right! A receptionist position is vital to the operation of any business. I wonder if the president of Peoples will replace existing receptionists with long term loyal and skilled employees who are about to be fired.

  20. Yahooy & Clichbpt Paying a person $39,000 a year to sit in the lobby of city hall and tell people where various offices are is a waste of money no matter how you look at it. There is a board posted in the lobby telling you where the various offices are. I agrre that this is small potatoes but I would rather see that salary go to keep a medical person or a librarian. Lokk this really is not a receptionist position where the person at the desk will call forward to a person or a department it is nothing more than a traic cops position.


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