‘Our Will Will Be Recognized’–Supporters Of Government Reform Bill Rally Against Union Opposition Controlling Key Legislative Votes

library forum
Crowd attends forum Monday night.

Rallying against powerful union interests that control key state legislative votes trying to kill a government reform bill, dozens of city stakeholders Monday night urged passage of An act prohibiting municipal employees from serving on certain municipal legislative bodies before more than 100 spectators at a forum at the Bridgeport Public Library Downtown.

The bill introduced by State Rep. Jack Hennessy and State Senator Marilyn Moore seeks to enforce the voter-approved Bridgeport City Charter that prohibits city employees from serving on the City Council to avoid conflicts of interests such as approving their own wages and benefits. One of the faces of conflict who was a subject of criticism from speakers is City Council President Tom McCarthy who works at the pleasure of Mayor Bill Finch as deputy director of Labor Relations.

An interested spectator at the forum was former Mayor Joe Ganim, forced from office in 2003 following conviction on federal corruption charges, who’s pondering a run for his old job. Ganim told CT Post reporter Brian Lockhart he now supports the reform bill even though he did not enforce the charter provision when he served as mayor. Mayor Bill Finch has also not enforced it out of political expediency.

Joe Ganim was spectator at forum. Photo by Brian Lockhart, CT Post.

Several union leaders such as Joe Ambosini and Richard Dietz representing city employees spoke against the bill claiming voters must decide who should represent them irrespective of the fact city voters decided at the polls they don’t want city employees serving on the City Council. State Senator Ed Gomes, with sturdy labor credentials, delivered an impassioned rejoinder to those claiming the bill is anti union.

“No one is more pro union than me,” Gomes, a retired steelworker and Senate chair of the legislature’s Labor Committee, told the audience. “It’s not an anti union bill. There are things going on in Bridgeport counteractive to good government … I have been 50 years in the labor movement. This bill serves the needs of the citizens of the city of Bridgeport,” he boomed to a rousing ovation.

City officials could simply follow the City Charter without state intervention, but have chosen to ignore the will of the people citing a dubious loophole in state law.

State law bars public employees from serving on municipal boards of finance. The Bridgeport City Council, however, serves as a board of finance. The bill proposed seeks to extend state law to prohibit municipal employees from serving on any government body that has budget authority.

Cathy Osten
Self-proclaimed bill killer Senator Osten was not there but union members parroted her talking points.

State Senator Marilyn Moore acknowledged her support of the government reform led to her victory over Anthony Musto in a Democratic primary last August. Musto opposed the bill on behalf of the city’s political establishment. Moore pointed out she was aided by union support during her campaign. But she told the audience that unions had not voiced opposition to her support for the bill during the campaign.

“No one with the unions said this conflict of interest bill was a problem,” Moore told the audience. “I’m keeping my word to support this bill,” she said to applause. “The choice is 20 people (size of the City Council) or the people of Bridgeport. I will fight for the greater good.”

Most members of the city’s legislative delegation attended the forum including Hennessy, Moore, Gomes, and State House members Steve Stafstrom, Andre Baker and Charlie Stallworth, all of whom support the legislation.

Ed Gomes
Ed Gomes declared bill is not anti-union.

Republican City Councilman Enrique Torres, two-time mayoral candidate, told the crowd, “I deal with this situation on a regular basis. It’s not a good situation. The mayor of Bridgeport should not control the legislative body … The president of our council (Tom McCarthy) … that individual is the direct employee of the city … that individual is also head of labor relations. State law bars state employees from serving in the legislature as does the federal level … Tom McCarthy is the kingpin … he serves at the pleasure of the mayor and serves at the pleasure of the unions.”

McCarthy’s office negotiates union contracts McCarthy must approve as leader of the city’s legislative body so it’s to the benefit of union leadership to maintain a cozy relationship with McCarthy who also hears union grievances.

But some union members stepped up to the microphone to support the bill such as city school teacher Rob Traber, president of the Bridgeport Education Association. “I’m not allowed to be on the board of education until I’m no longer an employee,” he pointed out, adding “the piper is calling the tune,” suggesting the paychecks of city employee councilors are controlled by the executive branch.

Doug Wade, owner of Wade’s Dairy based on the East Side, said “This is serious to me because Bridgeport has had this black eye of corruption. I’ve got a business to grow.” Wade, a supporter of Mayor Bill Finch, said the mayor should have been there voicing support of the bill. Finch has not enforced the City Charter provision nor supported the bill out of respect for McCarthy. McCarthy was a city employee councilor prior to Finch’s election in 2007 but became head of the legislative body with Finch’s support shortly after.

Donald Greenberg, a political science professor at Fairfield University, added “Voters have decided they don’t want city employees serving on the City Council. Our city has had a taint of corruption and we will never have open, transparent government in this city until that taint is expunged.” He urged supporters of the bill to further the defeat of legislators against the bill. “Our will will be recognized.”

Pete Spain from Black Rock said, “It’s impossible for taxpayers to get a fair deal when council members work at the pleasure of the mayor. Such arrangements are not permitted in state and federal government.”

Tom White, former City Councilman, said “Disturbing opposition by labor has once against misrepresented the goal of this bill. The bill endorses a clear guideline applied to all municipalities.”

Mary-Jane Foster, 2011 mayoral candidate who helped organize the forum said, “The bill fundamentally changes the way we govern … Let Bridgeport government itself with integrity.”

Scott Hughes, city librarian who resides in the Upper East Side, said “Having lived in other places, this conflict of interest is the one thing holding Bridgeport back … This is a problem in the constitution state.”

West Side resident Gabrielle Parisi said “Why does the city attorney or anyone else for that matter find it necessary to look for a loophole? There is no ambiguity. The Bridgeport City Charter prohibits city employees from being eligible to run for City Council. So I ask again, Why? We have plenty of real and present challenges that stand in the way of our path to healing and vibrancy as a city … Any questions regarding this issue have already been answered in the most succinct manner that America furnishes for her citizenry … at the voting booth.”

City realtor Gail Robinson said it’s also an important issue for the investment community. “It’s just common sense not to have city employees serving on the City Council. We’re overtaxed due to a lack of economic development. Let’s send a message to legislators that there will be consequences if they oppose this bill.”

Former City Councilman Bob “Troll Walsh” said he speaks from experience why the bill must pass. “I was a City Council member who had the audacity to speak out against a former mayor and within a few months I lost my job … There is a chilling effect, you cannot deny it … when Tom McCarthy reports directly to the mayor there is no separation between the mayor and the council. It is bad … very very bad.”

When Walsh finished one of the many audience members who clapped was Joe Ganim, the mayor in question. Ganim was present for the entire forum.

The bill before the General Assembly’s Planning and Development Committee faces stiff opposition from Senate chair Cathy Osten, a union activist with ties to Lori Pelletier, head of the state AFL-CIO. Osten has said publicly she will kill the bill. Union leadership provides money and bodies for many Democratic candidates.

Legislative supporters of the bill say they will not give up the fight. They will submit the bill as an attachment to another bill if not voted out of committee, a suggestion also made by former State Senator Ernie Newton, the first speaker of the evening. Newton also declared another course of action if the bill fails — file a lawsuit in state court to honor the charter.



  1. It was a well-organized event except for that minor disruption by a supporter irked by one of the union members. Only two union leaders stepped up to the microphone and you all have read what Moore and Gomes stated. It’s obvious the opposition from the unions is coming from a small number. I think you are hyping it, Lennie. One never knows what’s going on behind the scenes.
    I signed up to speak and when my turn came up, I made my intentions clear. “I just wanted to hear my name called. There are many other folks who want and deserve to speak and I yield the floor to them.” Jack Hennessy asked if I was pro or con. I stated I’m split and the portion of the bill I didn’t like is the exemption of BOE employees serving on the council. Jack Hennessy explained this required specific language on the education side and in the future he will present a bill to deal with that part. Why is this important in my opinion? John Fabrizi and Andres Ayala were two BOE employees serving on the City Council. They both rose to City Council President, Fabrizi going all the way to mayor. When I left the council in 2001, there was $51 million in the city’s rainy day fund and $52 million by 2003 after Joe Ganim stepped down. In 2007 when poor Bill Finch took over, these two BOE clowns left us with a deficit of $39 million and Bill Finch. Let’s not even discuss the AB Queen, another product of BOE employment while on the council. As the minutes passed by, it was becoming evident to me my State Rep. Ezequiel Santiago was going to be a no-show and I asked Hennessy if there was an explanation as to why my State Rep. and City Employee Ezequiel Santiago didn’t show up. Jack Hennesy wasn’t exactly sure but in a way Santiago was there. Hennessy presented a commitment letter where Santiago’s signature appears as supporting the bill.
    I trust Jack Hennessy’s bus driving skills. I’m on board and in favor. How could I try to torpedo an effort where so many good folks with whom I’ve had more agreements than disagreements were in favor? I still stand by my past post or better yet analysis. let’s be clear on one thing. No one but me is sitting next to Ezequiel Santiago on the bus to the roadblock. I will hold his hand, comfort him, and strap him down real good just in case he changes his mind and steps off the bus.

    1. So what the hell happened to the city union leadership in Bridgeport? Are they that out of touch with Bridgeport politics they can’t see they were being played by the Finch Cartel?
      These half-assed Union leaders got up in front of everyone and demanded their members/city employees not be singled out from running for the City Council.
      And their members who sit there now have no conflict of interest.
      Finch and McCarthy played these knuckle-dragging union throwbacks like a Stradivarius.
      The ghost of Jimmy Hoffa was not in that room last night, for if it was, Hoffa would have burned his union card after listening to these Neanderthals speak.
      My father, my brothers and sisters were all union members their whole working lives and so was I.
      I was a steward for UE local 209, my father was a steward at Avco Lycoming as well as their recording sectary for many years. When Sikorsky’s went out on strike we all joined the picket line, we gave food and money to the families of Sikorsky’s as well as Handy and Harman’s strike when they went out as well.
      The city Charter states no City employee shall sit on the City Council, the state constitution states no state employee shall become a member of the general assembly.
      If the unions can’t respect our City Charter and the state constitution, don’t expect the people of Bridgeport to show any respect for city unions or contracts.
      Bill Finch and Tom McCarthy if reelected will be coming after those unions for givebacks for sure.
      The good people of Bridgeport will remember last night’s meeting.
      The union leaders did Bill Finch’s bidding last night, and sold their members down the drain!
      So what did Tom (the Weasel) McCarthy promise you? No givebacks? Free fishhooks from Bass Pro?

  2. Black Rockin, it isn’t Senator Osten’s clothes that are the problem, it’s that some uncanny Capitol photographer caught her enjoying a Fleet enema moment between anti-environment/anti-good government votes.

  3. Bill Finch not being there for this very important decision for our city “out of respect for Tom McCarthy” should tell you all you need to know. Shame on Finch for not respecting the taxpayers enough to even hear their thoughts on this. I’m speechless. Time for a change, Bpt.

    1. Harvey Weintraub, I agree with you but there was no way Mayor Bill Finch would show his face because he couldn’t at the meeting. Also the crowd there was an anti-Finch group and if he showed up he would have blown his temper and that’s something the voters have not seen.

  4. Joey Ambrosini lives in Trumbull. Why was he even allowed to speak? Richard Dietz made a big contribution to Finch’s campaign a few years ago and shortly thereafter received a big increase and retro check courtesy of Tom McCarthy. Enough said.

  5. Ernie Newton looking dapper as usual. I’d love to see Ernie make a guest appearance on “Empire.” The truth, he would be excellent. Another record mogul.

    JML always in the middle of things and nice to see Easton resident and former Mayor Joseph Ganim adding to his celebrity with the hopes of getting these anti-Finch people to rally around him. Brilliant!

    Where is a picture of Mary-Jane FOSTER and Gabrielle Parisi? Come on, Lennie!

  6. This bill could pass and we would get rid of five city employees. Will this improve things for Bridgeport? No!!! Because it’s only five of 20 sitting council people. That means we will get the same lame-ass representation we are now getting. In essence passing this bill (which I favor) is nothing more than a feel-good bill.
    The unions can go screw themselves, the only union members who benefit from union representation are the union officers like Ambrosini who gets paid 52 weeks a year while their members are lucky to work 26 weeks a year.

    1. Andrew (Airforce base) Fardy, you seem to have taken a line from the Troll comment last night.
      “… the only union members who benefit from union representation are the union officers …” This is the part the Troll should have repeated.

      I notice Lennie placed quite a few triple dots in between sections of some speakers statements. Let me take another one from the Troll: “Former City Councilman Bob “Troll” Walsh said he speaks from experience why the bill must pass. “I was a City Council member who had the audacity to speak out against a former mayor and within a few months I lost my job …”

      Bob Walsh went on to give a little more detail Lennie left out. The troll stated the Ganim administration decided to lay off another city employee who exercised his or her right to bump another employee with more seniority than the troll. If that’s corruption then let the FBI know I participated in an act of corruption when I exercised my right to bump when the Bill Finch administration targeted me for layoff in 2007. Lennie, maybe Joe Ganim was clapping because the union process worked. What was Joe Ganim supposed to do? Protect Councilmen Bob Walsh’s job by making phone calls on his behalf? Good thing he didn’t or the FBI would have never told Bob Walsh they knew he was NOT corrupt (Bob did also touch on his meeting with the FBI).

        1. I know Andy, I just wanted to see you writing my name here and connect the dots so readers are better informed. Can you write my name in full one more time, please?

  7. We should all recognize our Bridgeport delegation for embracing the bill as an effort to address conflict of interest, especially Jack Hennessy for organizing the effort and Ed Gomes for his reasoned approach in explaining to union representatives why he supports the bill.

    As Jack Hennessy has warned and Lennie has covered, there is a major roadblock in the form of the committee co-chair Frau Osten. Her position reflects her bias and commitment to the control of government employee unions rather than the cause of good government. I expressed my concern in my letter to her.

    Now the hard part begins for our delegation members. Ideally, the bill would come out of committee with support. Can our delegation change Frau Osten’s position or devise a way to have a vote in committee without her blocking it? We’re counting on our delegation.

    Regarding the poll on options if the bill fails to pass. I feel it is time to investigate the relationships between government employee unions and Democrats in the state legislature. Is it government corruption? If State Senator Osten blocks the bill, it should indicate the clear need to investigate.

  8. Okay, the bill gets passed in Hartford and we get rid of the five city employees on the council. What next??? There has to be a what’s next because getting rid of the five is not going to make the other 15 any smarter. What’s next?

      1. Yes, I think she is bright and absolutely the right choice for our district. But in reality that leaves approx. 16 more we need to replace. The five city workers are not the only problem on the council. The problem is the voters in Bridgeport suffer from terminal dumb ass.

    1. Andy,
      With the departure of those five, and the election of a CC President who has the background and integrity to be independent (and therefore represent not just a District neighborhood, but the entire City population when issues are that broad), perhaps we can revisit what Rick Torres revealed near the end of the meeting last night.

      The Federal government has been on the City Council for several years now regarding conflicted behavior when it came to voting on HUD-CDBG funding. Why don’t we take a good look at that language today and see what would happen if similar language guiding appearances of conflicts of interest were adopted specific to all Federal, all State and all City financial discussion, review and voting? That would be a much wider change and one that CC candidates can be quizzed on during the upcoming election cycle. Will it work to improve checks and balance behavior? Yes. Will it make any Council members smarter, Andy? Not by itself. Time will tell.

      1. All talk John, that’s all it is. Here are a few of our past council presidents. Andrew Ayala, John Fabrizi, Ernie Newton, Lisa Parziale. And you expect the next president to do what?

    2. Andrew C Fardy, I’m in agreement with you, the bill passes, then what, so you get four or five new members who are okay but the others will give the mayor what he wants or they will primary and elected people who are in office hate primaries.

  9. The unions are trying to kill this bill so let’s get rid of all the union tradesman we have on the payroll. Do we really need them? Do we need to pay someone $37 an hour to change light bulbs on the sidewalk lighting? The unions want to go after this bill, make them realize there is a cost factor. Their city jobs.

    1. I did a quick check of the budget and found 13 union tradespeople on the city payroll. These are members of the various construction unions that are costing us in salary a total of $632,944 and this does not count benefits that push this figure to over $1 million. It’s time to tell Mr. Ambrosini and the Hartford Union people these jobs can be removed from THE CITY PAYROLL and privatized.

  10. Andy,
    Fair enough. One union representative, not identifying his home community, mentioned he has one member whom he represents and he was present to speak for that person who would like to participate in the Council.

    I did not interrupt that man with a comment as the union members in the room did on one occasion, but I wanted to tell him he needs to come to Council meetings to see if he really wants the job. It is real work if you are there to represent all the people and get to know the substance of the issues. It is not what many current members are about today.

    This year, primary or not, can be a turning point in the City for selecting candidates who are informed, have a position on the issues that arise every year, and are looking out for the City taxpayer.

    Be aware of Mayor Finch’s catchphrase, “TOGETHER WE ARE MAKING BRIDGEPORT THE CLEANEST, GREENEST, SAFEST, MOST AFFORDABLE CITY, WITH SCHOOLS AND NEIGHBORHOODS THAT IMPROVE EACH YEAR.” Where are Bill’s metrics on several of these items? Most affordable for whom? Not the current taxpayers. Notice the superlatives? Where are the improvements across the board? Time will tell.

  11. Andy, you may not remember when I was president. We had no one sitting on the City Council. We made then-Mayor Lenny Paoletta abide by the City Charter. We took him to court for bypassing the City Council. He awarded a contract, with Council approval. WE WON OUR CASE!

  12. Has anyone noticed the city employees on the city council for at least the last 25 years have all been Democrats?

    Except on rare occasions (a primary), they were endorsed by the Democratic town committee.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the Democratic town committee complied with the city charter and refrained from endorsing candidates who are also city employees?

    Government employee unions have been vilified for their position opposing HB 5886. Perhaps the root cause of the problem in Bridgeport is the DTC that uses its control of Bridgeport city government to arrange employment for family members and loyal Democrat party workers and ensure funding by having stooges on the city council.

    Did I offend anyone?

      1. Jennifer Buchanan, that’s why I’ve strongly suggested to you if you want change it will not happen with the Republican Party. You need to change the Democratic Town Committee by running with a slate of like-minded voters to primary those in office. Jennifer, you and Peter Spain need to put a group together to run as New Democrats For Change. Time will tell.

    1. Tom White, thanks but this is nothing new, others and myself have made this point on OIB a number of times. The passing of HB 5886 will change the City Council very little because the Democratic Town Committee will give the mayor the candidates he needs to control the City Council. This will only change when people who support HB 5886 and those who want real change run for the Democratic Town Committee and replace the rubber stamp that is there now. Passing a bill and talking won’t change a thing.

      1. Ron,
        To those who have been on the Council previously as well as to those who have observed City practices going way back, I will apologize in advance.
        However, if 5886 passes does anyone see Tom McCarthy giving up his day job and staying as City Council President? OK, if that leadership does not change, an added problem presents itself. However, if McCarthy does not run for office, he won’t be elected and will not stand for CC President. Now it is a new ballgame and other conflicts will show their colors. However, in a new situation with many new Council members and a closer look by the public to the practical corruption that is part of the system today, perhaps the next steps to better governance will feel easier. Time will tell.

        1. John Marshall Lee, not really. You get rid of McCarthy, he will be replace by the powers of the Democratic Town Committee, the chairman of the DTC and the 10 district leaders who will deliver the votes needed and that person will carry out what the mayor wants.

  13. This movement to clean up Bridgeport government is noble–and brave–on the part of most participants (but simply opportunistic on the part of others).

    I’ve been involved in quite a few reform movements in Bridgeport over the past twenty years–from the imposition of ethics standards for appointment to city boards (financial/conflict of interest reporting came out of that–and we see how effective that has been), to reform of the ethics commission itself. (We see how enthusiastically that was embraced.)

    This is a positive gesture, but it will mean nothing whether the intended bill passes or not, because our fate doesn’t rest in our hands at the moment. It rests in the hands of moneyed interests and their lackeys, such as elitist-defender Toni Boucher and the ultimate phoney, double-dealing, snake-oil salesman Dan Malloy.

    As long as the people of Bridgeport believe all it will take to turn Bridgeport around is good, upright, non-conflicted, local representation, we will continue to remain poor and underemployed, with a failing (albeit corporately exploited) school system.

    The elitists who run this state are happy to see us blaming ourselves for our failure to thrive–they use our “terrible corruption” as an excuse to continue to exploit us and deny us our due recompense as a labor force and municipality of great service to the region, as well as basic respect as a city of living souls.

    What we need is “firebrand” leadership that isn’t afraid to speak of social justice (and socialism) to the people and the powers that control Bridgeport in Hartford and Washington. We need leadership that can rally Bridgeport votes against the elitist status quo and their lackeys in Hartford and Washington.

    Whether our local elected leadership works for the city or not doesn’t mean much if they aren’t willing to take off the gloves when advocating for Bridgeport interests in the seats of power (Hartford and DC).

    Sure, I would love to see squeaky-clean local government/local elected leadership, but I would much rather see effective elected city leadership (albeit with a little bit of mud-splatter) bringing good jobs and tax base to Bridgeport. I would rather see our leadership feared and respected in Hartford and Washington than recommended for sainthood.

    Stamford was notoriously corrupt during most of its economic ascent. Ditto for Shelton, et al.

    Of course, I don’t advocate corruption at any level of government, but I do advocate effective leadership that brings home the bacon, rather than saintly, docile leadership that is praised in public but laughed at behind closed doors in Hartford and Washington after they’re sent home with nothing–or even worse, Bass Pro.

    I’ll watch Bridgeport’s “clean government” initiative with interest, but also with a realistic, jaundiced, eye. Unfortunately, I believe we need to get bloody, and dirty–and prosperous–before we use a lot of time and energy trying to become squeaky clean. (We can never become governmentally unconflicted and squeaky clean in practice anyway, because it will always be possible to buy our elected representatives–via their BRBC handlers, state jobs in return for vote production, etc. Recall Senator Finch working for the BRBC; Councilman Bob Curwen working for Sal DiNardo. And observe our economic development director serving as an elected official for our arch-rival, Stamford.)

    We need angry voters who will direct their anger toward Hartford and Washington–not internally. The elitists want us occupied with a civil war at home so they can continue exploiting us in Hartford and Washington. If we turn on the elitists in Hartford and Washington, they’ll remove their corrupt lackeys in Bridgeport and we’ll start to see some change.

    This doesn’t sound very wholesome or attractive, but it is the way the economic-political world operates under the auspices of human beings. It wasn’t for nothing Mark Twain referred to us as “the damned human race.”

    Let’s not invest too much of this legislative session on this bill. It won’t do much for us except provide false expectations. Let’s pressure the governor for a lot more development seed money for jobs-intensive/lucrative-tax-base development, and a lot more money for education.

  14. I would like to thank all our elected representatives who organized this meeting and who are supporting this important piece of legislation. I would like to thank Pete Spain for reading my testimony and submitting it for the official record since I had business in DC. It is my understanding many of the labor leaders who opposed the bill did not even live in Bridgeport. This bill has nothing to do with labor rights. It has to do with respecting the will of the voters of the entire City of Bridgeport, honoring the City Charter, respecting home rule, avoiding conflicts of interest, and following prevailing good governance principles. This is just another example of some labor leaders trying to deceive people and do what is in their interest rather than what is in the interest of the residents and the taxpayers. They should be ashamed of themselves. Fortunately, not all labor leaders behave that way.


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