Welcome To The State Senate, Plus: Will Caruso Prevail?

What a crazy day and night on Wednesday and none of it had to do with the pope. You want to know how things work in Hartford? Get a load of this: Republican State Sen. Rob Russo, working to secure the funds for a forensic overhaul of the Bridgeport Board of Education’s books, is in a reform-minded mood.

Russo added an amendment to a bill to change the Connecticut General Statutes to allow municipalities the power to ban employees from serving on municipal boards and commissions, including city or town councils. Bridgeport through the years, still does, has had a number of city employees serving in the city council, raising questions about conflicts of interest in areas such as budget votes, pay raises and deal making with the mayor in exchange for votes.

Russo offered the amendment to remove state law blocking enforcement of the provision in the Bridgeport City Charter that bans city employees from serving on the city council. In an effort to avoid chaos, Russo added an effective date of November 2009, the next general election for the city council.

Sounds lucid, reasonable and fair, right? Hold on just one minute said Democratic State Sen. Ed Gomes, a former Bridgeport City Council member, when Russo courteously informed his colleague of the amendment. Gomes charged at State Senate leader Martin Looney of New Haven urging him to diss a vote on the matter. Looney changed the marking on the bill from “Go” to “Pass Retain.” Translation: “we’re not voting on this!” And maybe never.

Ed Gomes is one of those throwback politicians – a decent, loyal union man, sporting a crocodile smile, who’s not afraid of a good fight. I can just imagine Eddie spreading that crocodile smile at Russo like “Welcome to the state senate!” 

As for Russo, nothing wrong with trying to pass a little reform.

Speaking of reform, members the State Senate voted unanimously to revoke the pensions of state and municipal officials as part of a landmark ethics bill. The bill gives state judges the power to revoke or reduce an official’s pension. State Rep. Chris Caruso, co-chairman of the committee that serves as a government watchdog, says the bill lacks teeth. Caruso, who has demanded that pension revocation include retroactive power to impact the likes of former Gov. John Rowland and former State Sen. Ernie Newton, says he will submit his own pension revocation bill to the State House. Caruso has one little problem in his quest. Something called the U.S. Constitution. It prohibits retroactive laws that punish. You cannot create a law that punishes after the fact.

The impasse between the Senate and House member Caruso means we might end up with nothing. So it goes.

So, I understand his honor Mayor Bill Finch may be rethinking the proposed cuts in his city budget that does away with what he had called “non-essential” positions, following a rally on the steps of city hall. (See prior post.) There certainly is an appetite on the city council to move around funds to save the 100 or so library and health clinic jobs. Saturday morning should be intriguing. Many of the folks that protested on Wednesday plan to show up at Finch’s open house at the City Hall Annex.

Wednesday morning I spent a half hour with Phil Kuchma, developer of the Bijou Square project on Fairfield Avenue downtown. Work continues on the housing phase of the redevelopment. Actually, work never stopped and it’s about one-third complete. Kuchma recently received a tax break from the city council to help bolster financing to finish the job. If you haven’t seen Bijou Square, check it out and its excellent restaurants such as Café Roma and Two Boots.



  1. This one has me perplexed and I would like someone smarter then me to explain it in terms a 6 year could understand.

    Bridgeport has a rule in the charter that bans city employees from being members of the common council. Is that correct?

    Now, there is a state law blocking the enforcement of the provision in the Bridgeport City Charter that bans city employees from serving on the city council. Why does the state ban the enforcement of the provision that bans city employees from council membership?

    I can understand Russo’s move to remove that state law. Once removed, will city employees not be allowed to serve on the council?

    Now, that brings me to Gomes. Why did he stick his nose in the issue and get Russo’s amendment tabled?

  2. As much as I agree with the concept that city employees should not serve on the council I am not sure you could keep them off because of the constitution. i do think the the citizens do get short changed by having city employee set city policy.
    Our state delegation is at it again. Gomes was supposed to serve only one term but that quickly changed. He has gone to hartford tasted the cool aid and done nothing as per all Bridgeports delegation.
    Caruso is off tilting at windmills again. i just wish he would fight as hard for things that would benefit Bridgeport and stop trying to be the great reformer.
    As for the rest of the delegation will someone please wake up Ayala. Renoso. Clemons and Kiely and remind them the the session is almost over. Out side of some small grants Kieley has done nothing for Bridgeport. Ellsworth Field Big Deal and who cares.
    The remainder of this delegation again has distinguished themselves by getting quat for Bridgeport. Why havent they really fought for an increase in Pilot Funds or some form of tax relieve

  3. yahooy; Gomes got involved because this would affect his pals Warren Blunt, Jim Holloway and others. All would have had to leave the council; this law change would have affected
    I know I am missing someone but I can’t remember.

  4. “The impasse between the Senate and House member Caruso means we might end up with nothing. So it goes. ”

    A continuing saga. So it goes, indeed. Obstructionists impede progress. Obstructionists who cannot see the benefits of thought filled compromise build walls that affect the enactment of beneficial legislation.

    In this regard, pension forfeiture could prove to be a great deterrent keeping crooked politicians from breaking the law. It galls me to think that Rowland and Newton will enjoy some form of government based compensation for the rest of their lives. How many of us have to work a little harder and a little longer because thieved like Newton, Rowland and Ganim took their piece of the pie costing me more money to live in this town and state then I should have had to pay.

    Caruso, in his infinite wisdom, blocked the proposed legislation that would keep future convicted politicos from a lifetime at the trough because the proposed legislation was not presented in a Utopian perfect manner.

    This is the legacy and the pattern of Chris Caruso. The entire state legislative body and nearly all in Bridgeport accuse him of blocking enactments that would have benefited the people for no reason other then he simply does not know how to practice the art of compromise while both sides move towards the good of the people.

    I think we have had enough of him.

  5. I’m still puzzled.

    Facts as i know them….

    (1) Bridgeport has a charter provision that denies council membership to city employees.

    (2) The state has enacted a law that bans the aforementioned charter provision from being enforced.

    No capice!!

    Gomes stopped Russo because Gomes wants city employees on the council. This I capice. Expected nothing less from Gomes.

    BTW There is no question in my mind that the city would be better served by have council members that are NOT city employees.

  6. BTW–Where has Caruso been with this over the years?

    God knows he’s been up there long enough to know this and has been bitching about city employees being on the city council since he lost his government job while being a councilman…

    Fatso just doesn’t want to rock the boat unless it is election time…and he still doesn’t rock the boat.

    He just bitches and complain and exploit. I’m not surprised him potentially blowing up the reforms bill. Funny…he was tight lipped about this when his pal Ernie was going down.

  7. Anna and Yahooy seem to be agreeing far too often these days. It’s scary…very scary. The rumors I have heard about the two of them are gaining creditability.

  8. A few quick thoughts on the Russo Rebellion:
    1) I applaud Sen. Russo for his valiant effort. And I will commit to working with him on lining up support in the future for this piece of legislation.
    2) As to the people who asked, the state pretty much decides what is in their domain and that which is not can be determine by the individual municipalities. This is in the constitution of the state very similar to the relationship between federal government and state government. Normally when the state enacts legislation, especially along these lines, it will allow to let stand any local rules that are on the books, especially if it is defined by charter. However, in the case of this piece of legislation they did not include that type of language. Some form of political retribution or gamesmanship must have been going on somewhere for the state to have taken such a stand.
    3) As to Sen. Gomes motives, I believe he supports the ban on city employees. It could have been he felt that this was being introduced too late in the session without an opportunity for a full public hearing or he would have preferred to have allowed for some form of grandfather clause to allow individuals who are currently in this position of both employee and board member more time than a year to resolve the conflict, at this time I can only venture a guess.
    4) As to town committee’s remarks, I am not sure who you are referring to when you used the name Brantley. Evette Brantley is NOT a city employee. That I can assure you. She works for the state of Connecticut in the Department of Children and Families. If you were thinking of Susan Brannelly, she does not work for the city of Bridgeport either. Her sister is in charge of Nutrition Center for the Board of Education but Sue Brannelly is definitely not a city employee. I will assume that this is a case of mistaken identity. As to the other person you are missing, I believe you are talking about Maria Valle, who is a home-school coordinator with the BOE.
    Again, Rob, I congratulate you on your efforts and if you are successfully reelected, you have my word that I will work with you to get this bill passed in the future.
    And for those people who just love to hate me, this is not an endorsement of Rob Russo’s candidacy simply an endorsement of this legislative effort.

  9. Isn’t denying a person the right to run for political office because of what kind of job they have unconstitutional? people aren’t jumping at the chance to serve on a board or be a councilman. what kind of weirdos are they going to put up for election or for seats on commissions, all they get is abuse and criticism. And Why was it ok some years back when Caruso was councilman and town chairman to have a city job? He only speaks up when its convenient for him. he didn’t have a damn thing to say when his buddy Newton was in hot water, the fat slob is an opportunist. I could be wrong, but I thought Walsh had a city job at one time also.

  10. The strange part of all his is if you are a city employee you can not be on a board or commission but can be on the city council. This past election for town chairman illustrated why a city employee should not be on the council or TC. the influence that was put on employees that served the council or TC was tremendous and many of them voted the way they were told even though they really did not want to. Threats and fear of losing jobs or promotions forced them to
    From a constitutional point of view I understand but disagree why they can serve.

  11. Not to worry City Kitty,
    The federal government has long upheld a ban on federal employees from holding elective office. It is commonly referred to as the Hatch Act. Similarly the state of Connecticut bans certain employees from running for certain elective offices.
    One could have argued when there were residency requirements on the books that there was a question of placing undue restrictions by prohibiting city employees from living outside of the city and then banning them from running for office but the days of residency requirements are long gone.
    And the state of Connecticut, in its infantile wisdom does have a state law that bans city employees from sitting on land use boards. So at some time under the Golden Dome it was decided that Land Use Boards are subject to coercion but City Councils are not,

  12. Rob Russo is IRRELEVANT – If he trotted out an unconstitutional piece of legislation it was because the Republicans gave it to him, and gave him a script to introduce it. He still doesn’t know where the bathroom is.

    There is a MAJOR legislative effort to fully fund the PILOTs for College, Hospitals and State owned property. Most of the delegation is fighting for it except Caruso and Russo. Mayors from all over the state are lobbying at the capital and legislators are starting to listen. This would be 4 million extra for Bridgeport this year, almost 1/2 the budget deficit. Write the legislative leaders, e-mail them, and call them. This is money they are OWED, not new money. Money that is supposed to be paid every year and the state has never lived up to its obligation to fund them to the statutory minimum. They say municipalities can’t manage the extra money, and they don’t want them to count on the money every year in their budgets. Like they are doing so well? Can anyone say bad train warehouse estimate? Legislators are saying oh, the municipalities are whining. Damn right. We host entities, like hospitals, prisons, college that serves all of Connecticut. Instead of spreading out the cost to host them among all CT taxpayers, the state wants to put the burden on the backs of the host city’s property tax payers. That’s unfair! Go up to the capitol and scream we are mad as hell and we won’t take it anymore.

    The state needs 60 million to fund the PILOTS to their statutory obligation. There will be roughly 45-50 million extra from the sale of abandon property by the state. No one like the idea of a regional delivery tax, well find the 10 million from somewhere else. FUND it this year and find a dedicated source to fund them from here on out!

  13. “Wondering // Apr 17, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    …..This past election for town chairman illustrated why a city employee should not be on the council or TC. the influence that was put on employees that served the council or TC was tremendous and many of them voted the way they were told even though they really did not want to. Threats and fear of losing jobs or promotions forced them to.”

    This is the best opinion I have read regarding why it is totally inappropriate for a city employee to serve on the council. Too easily influenced to save their own bacon.

    Wondering…you are immune from Philistine of the Week for one week starting Monday. CItyKitty and clichebpt are looking good for the next selection.

  14. Anna, I totally agree with you, and call it what you like it yahooy but the bottom line is you can’t tell anyone not to run for public office because of their job. and if they win, its the peoples choice. In spite of it all during that TC mess, people still for the most part voted for who they wanted. I hear there are a lot of unfilled commisions because people don’t want to serve on them because they don’t get paid for their time. eliminating city workers from volunteering their time cuts the number of people even more because your average citizen prefers to sit back and complain rather than get involved. I didn’t vote for Russo, but I think he has some good ideas, of course we can expect Caruso to bash him for trying. Ok, so I will be your philistine of the week, it gives wondering a break.

  15. town committee, I agree with you about the Bridgeport reps, but you forgot to include Hennessy with the rest of the bunch. They are all snoozing while B-port is losing! Funny thing is, these people usually get very vocal in an election year, are they so sure they will be re-elected that they forgot to fight for the city they represent?

  16. I’ve always felt pretty much the way City Kitty does. Anyone who wants to run for office should be able to and let the voters decide if they think being employed by the city is a problem. I’ve always believed it’s up to the voters to decide who they want in office and that they should be able to vote for or against any candidate they choose. This belief has often put me at odds with some of my closest political friends – people like Caruso and Walsh, but so be it, that’s been my belief. (This is also why I’ve always opposed term limits).

    However, posts like Wondering’s have me wondering. The pressure that was brought to bear on certain DTC members who were also city employees was unbelievable. In a perfect world every DTC member, Council Person, etc. should be able to vote their consciences, risking only their elected positions and not there jobs. Unfortunately, the world we live in is far from perfect.

    I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting closer and closer to Wondering, yahooy and Russo on this.

    Oh, and let’s not forget my two good friends Bob Walsh and Chris Caruso – perhaps you guys have had this right all along.

  17. If Mario Testa, Moonbeam, Fabrizi, Ganim, Mandanici, Bucci amd Tedesco never held office, then it would be all right for a city employee to be a member of the council. So long as we elect Machinists then we can expect the council to be stacked with sycophants.

    City Kitty and clichebpt. Don’t count your chickens too soon. Suncat and MCAT are gaining because they have abandoned the blog.

  18. Whew I am not going to be philistein of the week!!! City Kitty I can assure you that there are is no shortage of people wanting to serve on the city;s bords and commissions. I have seen the list. In fact there are enough names that the mayor could pick and chose. the spirit is alive its the mayors office that is dead.
    Our friend Tyrone is in charge of commission appointments does that tell you anything.
    i was told yesteday that the zoning commission had to cancel their meeting because they did not have enough commisioners. There were some big ticket items on their agenda. Looking into it a little that board is short 5 members. The stock answer from moonbeams office is We are working on it. Does that mean you are working on it like you are working on an Economic Director and a Public Facilities director please.
    The reason that the city employees keep getting elected is because they come from the dominant party and there is practically no way they can loose as there is no competition from the Republican party.
    as long as the mayor(any mayor) controls the purse strings and the jobs of these elected officials he will have control of their vote. Going into a controversial vote he already has 7 votes in his pocket.I again refer you to the DTC vote

  19. town committee

    You hit the nail right on the head. Accordingly, as long as you continue to agree with my “insightful” opinions on things you are, indeed, immune from designation of Philistine of the Week.

    A city council should not be comprised of city employees. The whole concept of a city council is to get a cross representation of citizenry who act in checks and balances to keep municipal leadership from advancing self serving agendas. We should see local clergy, merchants, bankers, factory workers (sorry, that’s an endangered species in this town), professionals, etc. on the council. Instead, we have a council that is hand picked by the Machine.

  20. The Grin Reaper is dating Honey Sickle Rose.

    We need more “Jerks” like Bob Walsh on the City Council.

    Lennie should do a weekly poll for the Phillistine of the week. First prize would be dinner with Mo.. Second prize would be two dinners with Lennie.


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