The City Council will have nine new members, among 20, sworn into office in December. They will choose a council president and presumably Tom McCarthy will have a leg up as he seeks another term as chief of the city’s budget and legislative body. McCarthy became council president following Bill Finch’s election as mayor in 2007. It’s a significant position because the council president, per City Charter, is next in line if the mayor cannot serve or resigns office. The council president also assigns peers to committee positions and selects the respective committee chairs.
McCarthy has come under fire from the political action group Citizens Working For A Better Bridgeport because he’s a city employee who serves at the pleasure of the mayor as deputy director of Labor Relations. How can he, head of the legislative branch, serve as a check on the executive branch that controls his job? Had CW4BB and other campaign operatives that challenged the party establishment in the September 10 Democratic primary realized the extent of voter angst for endorsed candidates they would have fielded a complete slate of opponents. All endorsed Dems flamed out in the primary. McCarthy did not have a primary. He won reelection handily in the general election against unknown Republican opposition.
McCarthy, a Finch supporter, argues he’s not conflicted in his role claiming city employees who serve on the council are best equipped to represent the people, talking points that Black Rock councilwoman Sue Brannelly, whom McCarthy appointed to lead the budget committee, also parroted on the campaign trail. Brannelly was defeated on the machine count in the general election but survived as a result of absentee ballots.
Bridgeport State Representatives Jack Hennessy and Auden Grogins are expected to resubmit legislation when the General Assembly meets in February enforcing the will of the City Charter that prohibits city employees from serving on the council. It’s illegal for state employees to serve in the legislature. It’s illegal for federal employees to serve in Congress. A dubious loophole in state law, cited by City Attorney Mark Anastasi, allows city employee councilors. State Senators Anthony Musto and Andres Ayala, folding to political supporters on the council, killed the reform bill proposed by a bi-partisan legislative coalition. State law prohibits municipal employees from serving on boards of finance, but the Bridgeport City Council serves as the municipal budget authority. The bill proposed by Hennessy and Grogins seeks simply to extend the law to all municipal budget-making bodies.
The council is now down to four, the number of city employees on the council who’d be impacted by reform legislation: McCarthy, council veterans James Holloway and Richard Paoletto and newcomer to the council Milta Feliciano. Two other city employee councilors were defeated in the primary. But McCarthy, as council president, has become the flashpoint of opposition.
Mary-Jane Foster, 2011 Democratic mayoral candidate, supports the reform bill. She reenforced her position Tuesday in an email circulated among membership of Citizens Working For A Better Bridgeport.
“… The perception and reality of Bridgeport as a place where dishonesty and dysfunction rules the day will not change if we don’t change the opportunity and behavior. I fully expect Reps Hennessy, Grogins and others to re-introduce this bill under this session’s guidelines. I am already lobbying the BRBC (Bridgeport Regional Business Council) to place it on their legislative agenda. Hard to keep pressure on Musto, the Mayor or Council members if we back off. The momentum is now.”
David Walker, former U.S. Comptroller General who serves as treasurer of CW4BB, says enforcing the will of the City Charter is a priority for the group. That and making sure opponents to reform efforts such as Musto are not reelected.
Meanwhile, the council will soon vote on a leader. From the City Charter:
At the beginning of each term of office the city council shall elect from among its members one council member to be president of the city council who shall serve for a term until November 30 of the next odd-numbered year or until the president of the council’s successor has been elected. The president of the city council shall preside in the absence of the mayor, and when so presiding shall have a casting vote in case of a tie in addition to his/her vote as council member. In the absence of the mayor and the president of the city council at any meeting, the city council may choose one of its members to act as president for the occasion who, when so presiding, shall have a casting vote in case of a tie in addition to his/her vote as council member. In the event of the death, resignation or inability to act of the president of the city council, the council shall elect another president in his place …
All elections or appointments to any office or position by the city council or of any board established by this charter or by ordinance, shall be by roll call vote; and the person receiving a majority of the whole, with the limitations herein provided, shall be elected.
The new City Council:
130 District, Rick Torres, Sue Brannelly
131 District, Denese Taylor-Moye and Jack Banta
132 District, Bob Halstead, Trish Swain
133 District, Tom McCarthy, Howard Austin
134 District, Michelle Lyons, AmyMarie Vizzo-Paniccia
135 District, Mary McBride-Lee, Richard Salter
136 District Richard DeJesus, Alfredo Castillo
137 District, Lydia Martinez, Milta Feliciano
138 District Mike Marella, Richard Paoletto
139 District, James Holloway, Eneida Martinez-Walker