Rock And Roll City Council Campaigning, Smith And Spain Versus Burns And Kane

Black Rock council forum
Black Rock council forum Tuesday night.

Retired Fairfield University political science professor Don Greenberg stood resolutely Tuesday night in the Black Rock Library directing a supposition to four candidates for City Council in the 130th District. The mayor won’t sign off on the paperwork to fill vacant library jobs to keep services running smoothly. Essentially, asked Greenberg, a member of the Library Board, what will you do as council members to motivate mayoral action? It was one of many direct questions posed by neighborhood residents in an overflow meeting room of about 75 spectators that led to some testy exchanges and an occasional audience outburst fronting the September 12 Democratic primary. This is Black Rock, where loud and proud, passion and engagement complement a cool waterfront hamlet. But there’s far more to this diverse district, the P.T. Barnum housing complex as well as a portion of the West End, the proverbial other side of the tracks.

One team, the endorsed Dems, features incumbent Scott Burns, co-chair of the City Council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee and Rowan Kane, a millennial new to the neighborhood who has managed campaigns on behalf of candidates and now has become one. The other team fronts two Ivy League-educated insurgents Pete Spain and Christina Smith trying to capitalize on the anger from last year’s revaluation-driven tax increase.

Sometimes the simplest question, as posed by Greenberg, forces a deep response search. And that’s the dynamic of this type of race, how do candidates for legislative office provide a check on the executive branch? In Bridgeport the past decades the lines have often been blurred. Where’s the legislative push back? Mayor Joe Ganim is hiding behind a hiring freeze due to the budget mess in Hartford that has curtailed state dollar flow to the city. But, as noted by Greenberg, the library budget is a dedicated fund separate from the city-side general spending. City voters made it that way about eight years ago to grow services and swat political power grabs.

None of the four candidates, all decent and intelligent, nailed an answer to Greenberg’s question. Sometimes, it comes down to understanding power.

It was hard not to wonder what two spectators on this night–former City Council members Bob “Troll” Walsh and Lisa Parziale, who served as president of the body–would say to the mayor in response to Greenberg’s question, but dare say probably something like this: “Mayor, you get nothing out of us until you clean up the library situation.” It’s called give and take, checks and balances. You’d be surprised how quickly the mayor would sign the library paperwork. If the council doesn’t act, the mayor’s agenda stalls. Now, you cannot do that in every situation, but you pick your spots on the important matters. And libraries matter, irrespective of former Mayor Bill Finch’s misplaced declaration years ago that library workers are non-essential.

Kane, Burns
Endorsed Dems Rowan Kane and Scott Burns.

This race is a collision course between rhetoric and reality. Sometimes rhetoric wins. Sometimes reality survives.

A hot topic of the evening and campaign, last year’s implementation of revaluation that socked Black Rock the hardest in a mixed bag of tax increases and cuts across the city. Burns is catching fire as budget chair in particular from Spain–armed with a list of Burns’ campaign promises–who calls it the largest tax increase in history. Burns counters, no matter who was representing the district the reval-driven mil rate hike was fait accompli.

In 2014 Bill Finch’s inner circle was so terrified of the tax impact of the revaluation in higher0turnout voting areas that they persuaded the state legislature and Governor Dan Malloy to delay it until after the 2015 election. The city had expended hundreds of thousands of dollars on a firm to establish assessments for the state-mandated revaluation of taxable property. When the reval company provided the numbers to Finch and his advisers it was fugly. They pressed for a delay, and got it. Finch lost the primary to Ganim anyway but the reality is whether Ganim, Finch, Mary-Jane Foster or Rick Torres as chief executive, a large mil rate increase was certain. The city was not going to cut its way through it.

Spain mailer
Spain and Smith mailer featuring State Senator Marilyn Moore’s endorsement.

Attracting development, creating jobs, growing the grand list, building relationships in Hartford for more state money are the centerpieces for tax stability.

That’s not to say candidates shouldn’t be called out on their promises, as Spain and Smith are doing researching voting records, backgrounds and statements. The question of when Kane moved into the neighborhood is also called into question. Spain argues the guy’s been here for a cup of coffee, what’s his commitment to the neighborhood? Kane asserts I moved in more than a year ago because I love the neighborhood and want to make it better. One person’s fact is another’s fiction. It’s the nature of the beast. Also, idealism versus pragmatism.

Sometimes idealism is pragmatism wrapped in reality. It just takes time to sort out. And this race is a good one to sort out.



  1. I had to bite my tongue for some of the questions that were asked but for the most part I found Smith or Spain answered far more to my liking the Frick and Frack.

  2. Just one. Phased in reval. It is not the best way to go but when only parts of the grand list take the brunt of the burden it is an alternative that deserved looking into.

  3. Len you nailed it. I hovered in a corner for fear I would spontaneously open my mouth in reaction. I can’t believe 20 Council members, during the Finch Administration, and now Joey G, let them get away with blatant abuses, matters that fall within the authority of the Council; the saddest fact is these members are clueless as to the importance of their role and how they have the sway to change so much, by sheer force of authority alone. The forum was “high-end.” Great attendance, good questions, some good answers and all conducted in a civil manner. If this would occur in just a few more districts, I dare say there is hope that we may possibly have a local legislative body that are informed, ready and willing to represent their constituents.

  4. OK Len. Since you asked for another example.
    When Scott burns said that if the mayor was asked he would say Scott pushed back against the mayor. What is that?
    Believe me, you did not need to ask the mayor who pushed back most when I was on the council.
    Me, Lisa, Ed Gomes; all pushed back AND we did not do it quietly in the confines of the back room or the mayor’s office. We did it out front so the public could see.
    And to take it a step further, when the city was upgrading the speaker system (one again) I took a picture of my toggle switch, or should I say the lack of a toggle switch, because the mayor, in an effort to shut me up either broke or had removed the switch so he didn’t accidently turn on my mike.
    That is push back. Not some merely mouthed “if the mayor was asked.’
    Don’t get me going!

  5. It was a great night at the Black Rock Branch Library. Thank you to the candidates and thank you to all who attended. This is what democracy looks like.

    John D. Soltis (forum moderator)
    Assistant City Librarian

  6. Thank you John for moderating the forum. It was very insightful. Just between the two of us, don’t you thing that Smith and Spain scored a major victory last night?
    I won’t tell anyone what you post.

  7. John. Agreed. And thanks to you and the Black Rock Library for hosting. Am I missing something on this tax issue? The mil rate accounted for part of the tax increase (for those that saw an increase) and this increase varied depending upon each individual assessment. But part of this mil rate increase (and not a small part) resulted from the budgetary process and would have occurred with or without reval. To position this increase as entirely a result of reval is entirely wrong.

  8. Phil
    What you say is true but….
    When spending increases that increase is spread proportionally across the board. When there is a reval the reval is at least a direct function of where you live.
    The latest reval saw major spikes in the Black Rock and Brooklawn neighborhood. Parts of the North End and Upper East Side saw small increase or slight decreases. The rest of the city saw decreases.
    Although the taxes went up proportionally across the board with geographic spikes it what really drove up the increases. When the largest increases impact a smaller but significant number of homes in the Black Rock and Brooklawn areas you have a resulting unfair tax burden falling on those areas.
    If Scott cannot understand this or can very much afford this increase maybe he doesn’t realize how unfair this is.

  9. The budget was not cut in so many areas where it could have been. One example, the City Council itself has a line item that provides a $90,000 appropriation amount annually. In the past dozen years that means over $1 Million was available to provide extra services to the Legislative Department, which is the City Council. Perhaps a small portion was spent overall, the most being in 2013 when illegally 15 members of the Council made charitable donations with taxpayer funds. Any action on this misappropriation? None.
    But the point is that over the 12 years, $1,080,000 was budgeted for City Council use (like getting full time assistance or part time consulting on things they do not know—please don’t get me started)but they let it lie fallow. So it got spent elsewhere and CC cannot tell you where because for most of those years there was no final report. And when we did get a final report for two last Finch years after the audit, Ken Flatto has stopped issuing them with full line item inclusion. TRANSPARENT?
    The real question is, does the Council feel any pain in spending taxpayer money? Would they consider cutting funds they have no use for apparently? Even a symbolic cut? Why wasn’t there one person, like Scott Burns, to make such action possible? Leadership? Time will tell.

  10. The forum was great!
    I like the part when Kane try to ex plane, how he had a warm spot in his heart every time he drove passed Black Rock, on his way home to Orange Ct via 1-95, it really made him feel like he was part of the Black Rock Neighborhood?!
    Some times he would stop at McDonald’s for a McRib or two.

    Scott Burns morphed into ( Ralph Kramden), when someone asked him How could he voted for the 29% Mil-Rate, but not for the Joe Ganim Taxes?!
    It was a Burns Hamana Hamana Moment!
    Then he said “I think I voted for the Ganim taxes but not the Mil-Rate “!!!
    An Elderly lady sitting next to me said “ what the hell was that”?
    I told her, they’re Danny Roach’s guys.
    I said vote for “Christina Smith and Pete Spain they hit it out of the Ball Park”!
    She said “they sure did”!

    Vote Smith and Spain to ease the Pain !!!

  11. Bob- in the third line I meant to state “reval” accounted for part of the tax increase…, not ” the “mil rate”. So, the entirety of this increase cannot be blamed solely on reval. Sorry for the confusion. I do understand the geographic dynamics at play regarding reval, but again, i”m referring to the tax increase that occurred irrespective of reval.

  12. Phil and others who are still focused on the tax increase as an issue (rather than as part of an ongoing trend of spending and/or committing the public taxes to “favorite causes” like police?),

    See our neighbor, publican Danny Roach, a colorful character to some but his actions and opinions, or his inactions and opinions have meaning to the rest of us. In another community, the Chairman of the Police Commission would be heard from on matters of import like Citizen Complaints about Police. When was the last time Dan spoke up on such? Or we might have heard from him years ago on the decimation by retirement trend that put overtime for regular duties on the force routinely plus external duties that already paid overtime wages? Or he might have come clean as to the cost of the 2015 transfer from Plan B to MERS that will be costing us likely hundreds of millions in the next quarter century including interest expense? And what does he cost us when he proposes talent to sit on the City COuncil as DTC local chair? You get a whiff of the expense when you sit the opposing teams down and listen to them answer questions from the public, don’t you? Tuesday evening was a unique event because the candidates had to answer public questions. That is not what happens in City hearings, public presentations, or committee meetings today. You get glassy eyed stares from those who have been elected to represent. They all may be nice people to have a hot dog with on Black Rock Day, a coffee in the am with at Harborview, or a beer with at a Norden gathering, but they are not doing the heavy lifting required to move change on the Council until a Charter Change occurs. None of us can hold our breath for such change, but working towards it is necessary. Time will tell.

  13. John-it’ not an either/or situation for me. I’m concerned with both the recent tax increase as well as the trends that have and continue to contribute to this situation. However, my current focus on the tax increase is presented within the context of this year’s election cycle. I want to see both an honest and vigorous debate regarding last year’s increase. And positioning the tax increase solely as a by-product of reval does not advance an honest dialogue.

  14. Phil
    Agreed. It is a double edged sword.
    But what is worst is the current state budget or lack thereof.
    And what is the chairman of the budget committee doing? Nothing apparently. While Rome burns, Scott is doing nothing.
    Leaving it all up to Ganim to decide. Let him cut education funding to take care of it all?
    Unfortunately we know nothing. Instead of holding public meetings and hearings he is content to sit on this powder keg and take his marching orders from Ganim; a mayor who hopes to be out of here next year.
    Black Rock will continue to get the double edged sword and their councilman who is in charge of the budget does NOTHING.

  15. I thought all of the candidates did a great job. John Soltis did a nice job moderating. People should have filled out index cards with questions and should have been shuffled and asked. There were a few good questions. All of the candidates were equally impressive. John Marshall Lee was coaching audience members on questions to ask. When the debate was over, unlike most I individually spoke to all of the candidates. They were all impressive. I thought Scott Burns was extremely articuale in explaining his bridge building and the hard decisions that had to be made. He is currently in the seat where Steelepointe and Downtown development are major issues and Black Rock knows that any individual that is not fighting for and supporting the Mayor on development issues will most definitely guarantee Black Rock tax increases until we are all dead and buried. I think although Spain and Smith were articualate , they offered nothing to reduce taxes and are clearly supported by everyone that is anti Ganim. Not exactly a way to move this city forward. They refered to Burns as a Ganim puppet. Ironically he was on the Finch ticket and he is an idependent thinker. Rowan Kane may be young but that may in fact be his saving grace. He is young, educated, and has lived in other communities. He is educated in the political arena and made it clear he would support the Mayor on issues he agreed with. That is what we need . Team work. I thought Scot Burns nailed it as stated on Facebook. and I loved the negative responses from Jim Fox and Bepo in the know. I at least acknowledge all f them as I am now and I will say one thing for sure. Black Rock has 4 very good candidates. Economic development is the only thing that is going to save this city. Massive development. Black Rockers , mire than any other part of this city needs to understand that as well as 130th down PT way. Good luck to all of the candidates . Is there actually going to be a Republican candidate against these 4?

    1. Steve,
      “Articuale” as usual. But also wrong as so often.
      “John Marshall Lee was coaching audience members on questions to ask.” That is a falsehood Steve. Any communication I made to proximate members of the audience was to ask them to be quiet as I have a difficult time on occasion hearing speakers in such a session and especially so if neighbors are continuing a low level but audible chatter. I challenge you to back up that accusation. What you failed to report is that I had my hand raised to ask a question personally while John Soltis was acknowledging the last several questioners.
      So in the past week or so, I have the dubious distinction of sitting in public meetings where public questioning is permitted though not often exercised and not having my respectfully raised hand recognized.
      John Soltis did a good job. I am for the Smith-Spain ticket in 130. I am curious where all nine members of the 130 DTC were on that evening? Steve, as a DTC member yourself, were you in some way delegated to be the DTC supporter? Time will tell.

      1. JML- I also was wondering where the 130th was- I saw 2 members.John Marshall Lee- you should know better. Anywhere I am in the city I am there on my own. Nobody asked me to be there. I am supportive of Burns and Kane. I do not vote in your district. The point of a debate is to give people an understanding of the issues. It is not a fan club stacked with members of a group supporting a candidate for a cheering section. I was standing 2 feet from you. Yes , I saw your hand raised and you were not picked. I think it was simply because John Soltis knows you and there is n way you could have asked a question in a lightening round without taking out all of the oxygen in the room. If the tax increase is the strongest argument against Burns, you guys better have a good argument as to how you would have stopped this. This negativity about any aspect of the DTC is outrageous. I can not speak for any other district but here is the North End our councilman are working hard and we appreciate them . We know that you can not please all of the people all of the time. There is nothing wrong with showing support for an endorsed candidate nor would I have a problem showing support for non endorsed candidates.

  16. Stevie Auerbach. is suffering from a( False Sense of Importance) here in Black Rock.
    He lives in the basement of his mothers house with 6 cats in the north end of Bridgeport (134th) and he wants to tell the long distress Taxpayers of Black Rock who they should Vote for!

    I’m not sure who the District Leader is in the North End (134th) but I think Stevie A. can lick a few stamps, make phone calls, run out for coffee or stand on someones front lawn holding a campaign sign for 8 hours will give him the Mothers love he so desperately yearns for.
    So please District Leader of the 134th call Stevie home!
    He wants to be Danny Roach’s new butt- boy.

    Vote Smith and Spain and ease the pain!

    1. Jim Fox. I do not live in a basement . 🙂 Remind everyone you did this for Ganim also in Black Rock You do live in Black Rock and are not relevent. Your insults and condescending comments make you look like a clown and very Trumpeasque. Your inability to acknowledge the 4 candidates in a respectful way is sad and your attacking me just makes you look like an ass. Keep it up. Makes your candidate s look great . Not sure what Danny Roach has to do with this. He is a district leader and is only the district leader because Black Rock minus yourself voted for him and put him there. I live in Bridgeport and I am interested in elected officials all over the city . I am affected by all of them and want all of them to move this city forward. Old , out of touch clowns like yourself that have little respect for others opinions is the reason why Black Rock needs to so attract young , forward thinking millenials. Now stop being an asshole on a daily basis and respect other peoples comments you degenerate!. .

        1. Do you ever get tired of displaying your ignorance? Seriously Jim Fox, does your fan club admire your un provoked attacks. It makes my skin crawl everytime I lower myself to respond to your degenerate remarks that my friends painfully see and wonder why I waste time on this blog- so again it is time for a 2 week hiatus unless there is something I must respond to- Highly unlikely.


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