John Fabrizi and Bill Finch are quintessential examples of Bridgeport politicians, right place, right time. Fabs, the City Council president, replaced Joe Ganim as mayor when Joe resigned in April of 2003 following his conviction on federal corruption charges. Finch, the state senator, succeeded Fabs as mayor when Democratic party operatives feared Fabs could not defeat party maverick Chris Caruso in a primary in 2007. A lot has changed in nearly seven years with Finch up for reelection next year.
After more than 30 years (with exception for his 4.5 years as mayor) with the Board of Education, Fabs says he will retire at the end of the school year as director of Adult Education. He’ll have a nice pension to live on as he examines the next phase of his life. He’d like that to be another run as mayor. His chances?
For Fabs it comes down to one basic question: can he raise the money to wage a competitive race? When he replaced Ganim to fill out the final year of Ganim’s four-year term, the party apparatus largely raised the money for Fabs to win a close primary against Caruso in a large field and then the general election against Republican Rick Torres. Fabs has never been in the position to “make the ask” for campaign cash, something he must now do if he wants to put himself in position. That means examining fundraising lists, the discipline to grind out a few hours a day to call potential donors, make the case for election viability and not wait until 2015 to get in the game. Fabs must show strength before the end of the year that he can raise money. It accomplishes three things: attracts attention of political operatives, scares off other potential contenders and poises him for election viability.
John Fabrizi is the Ralph Kramden of city politics: big heart, blue collar touch with flaws that cost him the mayoralty. In the middle of his term as mayor Fabrizi admitted to a substance abuse problem including recreational use of cocaine. He did a major public mea culpa that appeared to sway a forgiving electorate. That all changed in the spring of 2007 when he walked quietly into a city court room to ask a judge for leniency in the sentencing of a sexual offender. Fabs did not anticipate CT Post scribe Dan Tepfer sitting there. It changed everything, even though Fabs made the request on behalf of his son who was friends with the defendant. Fabs polling numbers tanked. Party regulars prevailed upon Fabs to resign and anointed Finch as the standard bearer. Finch defeated Caruso is a close primary.
Some of those pols who moved against Fabs in favor of Finch are now gravitating back to Fabs. There was nothing wrong with the way Fabs governed, they argue.
Finch is facing his own electoral challenges: tax increases, political skirmishes, government services gaffes, control loss of the school board and the lack of a major anchoring economic development initiative to call his own after more than six years on the job has caused pause among some of his supporters. Despite the challenges, Finch is still very much in play for reelection next year. As the incumbent, he’ll raise the money to keep him campaign relevant. A lot of of this depends on the opposition, organizational forces against the mayor and how he governs in the next year. A modest tax increase is likely this year. He cannot afford another next year. If Bass Pro Shops breaks ground this summer, as the mayor has promised, it’s a significant economic development win for the long-languishing redevelopment of the East Side 30 years in the making. Finch can call that his own.
Will a new Harding High School be build on Boston Avenue property owned by General Electric? The Connecticut Working Families Party that enjoys coalition control of the school board is fighting it claiming environmental concerns that the mayor assures will be properly supervised by state environmental oversight. Finch is living a fragile governmental existence that can be turned around. Will organized opposition develop?
What about other mayoral candidates? In 2011 Mary-Jane Foster, largely unknown when she started, managed 43 percent of the vote on the machines against incumbent Finch who outspent her two to one in the primary. Will the University of Bridgeport executive take another crack and step up her profile sooner than later?
Others could get in the game. John Gomes, the city’s former deputy chief administrative officer, was a candidate in 2011 before throwing his support to Foster. Gomes was money challenged in 2011. Last month he eroded his chances for consideration as a top-tier candidate when he failed to win even a seat on the Democratic Town Committee.
Chris Caruso? He seems to enjoy the state Labor Department job Governor Dan Malloy awarded him for his support in 2010, even if he misses the political action. If Malloy does not win reelection in November, Caruso will be out of a job. Caruso, as well, now has enough years for a livable state pension. Will he take another shot at the mayoralty?
Candidates could also emerge from the African American and Hispanic communities.
Then there’s former Mayor Joe Ganim who polled well in 2011 irrespective of his corruption conviction. Court records show a marriage dissolution is underway for Ganim. Will this give him a new outlook to get back in the political game? There is nostalgia for Joe in some city neighborhoods.
So next year could be a whole slate of mayoral opposition to Finch or perhaps just one or two.
John Fabrizi is starting to make the rounds gauging support for a comeback. Voters like comeback stories. Fabs says he has the fire for the job. Has he the fire to raise the money?