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Daryl Justin Finizio will be sworn-in Monday as New London's first directly elected mayor in nearly a century. The City Charter changes that created the office provide the mayor with substantial authority to set an agenda for the city's future.
Day Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere sat down with Mayor-elect Finizio last week. The following are excerpts from that discussion. A video of the entire interview is available on theday.com.
Choiniere: Mayor-elect Finizio, you moved to New London the summer of 2010 and by the end of 2011 you were elected the city's mayor. Even you must recognize that's quite an improbable story?
Finizio: Well, New London loves newcomers and we're a very welcoming city, we're a very diverse city, and I think people in New London look to the quality of the person rather than any specific demographic about them to determine who in our community should take different roles within our community.
And I think that my election shows a very strong sign to others that New London is a place that you should be willing to consider moving to, or sending your children to one of our magnet schools or coming here to open a business because New London is a place that quite obviously welcomes new people.
Q: Did you recognize right away that being new to the city might actually be an advantage, in that people might be looking for change, and do you now feel compelled to follow up on that and demonstrate you will be an advocate for change as mayor?
A: I do believe that people in the city were looking for a new perspective and new policy priorities. But I don't believe that being that new in the community was an asset. I think it's always difficult when you're that new to go out and really introduce yourself and become known enough for people to be comfortable enough with you to actually elect you to a position as significant as this one.
Q: What was your partner Todd's reaction when you first told him you were thinking of running for mayor? Was there any adjustment period for him to get used to the idea and get on board?
A: It was a couple hours (smiling). Generally, there was a reluctance on both our parts, really, in that we recognize that this is, if successful as it has been, a real life-altering experience. Your privacy is going to be eradicated. It's a 24-hour-a-day job. It's a huge commitment, not just for you but for your entire family, for everyone really close to you, to experience and to go through.
Q: You take office less than one month after the election. That hasn't given you much time to put an administration into place. Talk about that process.
A: Well, it is a very difficult process and it has required a tremendous amount of time and effort, not only on my part but on the part of all those working with the transition (team). We have concentrated only on the positions on the mayoral staff, the direct mayoral staff, the department directors and the vacancies due to retirements in the offices of city clerk and assistant city clerk. All other employment decisions on boards and commissions we have held to make decisions on a rolling basis once we take office.
Q: Each position obviously has its own skill sets, but are there any overriding criteria that you will have in making your choices to fill the various positions in your administration?
A: I think if there's one overarching principle that I look toward, it's open-mindedness. I look for people who are willing to innovate and consider different options, think outside of the traditional ways of thinking, this can be someone who was in a position for a long time and who's been wanting to innovate but perhaps hasn't had the encouragement in the past, or it could be someone coming in new with some new ideas as well. But certainly a willingness to embrace some new ways of thinking is something that I look toward.
Q: There is no blueprint since you're the first mayor under this new charter change. Do you see that as an advantage or as a disadvantage?
A: I don't see it as an advantage or disadvantage, I just see it as a challenge and I think the jury will be out on how we do because there is no real benchmark to judge by.
But no matter what you do you're going to face criticism for it. For example, with the department directors, under the charter and under the system and the fact that there's no precedent, I could appoint whoever I want for whatever reason without any justification for how or why the selection was made and that selection would not be subjected to any review by city personnel or by the City Council or by anyone.
In spite of that, I've held an application process and put out a website and took applications and have been meeting with people and interviewing people and following a merit-based process for this selection.
So we're doing our best with what we have and we hope that the process will make the city proud in the end.
Q: Why did you move so quickly to name a chief administrative officer? Talk a little bit about your selection.
A: I did select Jane Glover. I think she's an excellent person for the position because I think she brings to the task skills that I need, at least especially in the first two years in a chief of staff, which is depth of knowledge in the city bureaucracy and in the city's political landscape.
One of the things I bring to the job, which is a tremendous asset, ... is the fact that I am new. If there's any disadvantage to that, it's perhaps not knowing all the history of what came before me, so having someone who has navigated these waters, who's a bit of an experienced hand in the city, is, I think, a great benefit to a new mayor who is also a newcomer to the city's political scene.
I've known Jane Glover for some time. I've observed her career for years since I've been active and involved in New London, not just in government but her work in the community, and I thought that she had all the right skill sets and talents and perspectives that I was looking for in the job.
Q: Are you concerned that the expectations have been set very high for the ability of this new strong mayor position to help New London achieve its potential?
A: I think that would be a concern for any new administration ... but we're glad that we have the well of support that we have at this time because that provides us a lot of the momentum to really get a lot of things done, I think. But, inevitably, I expect that in six months if every single issue in the city hasn't completely done a 180, it'll be my fault somehow, but that goes with the job and you just expect that and roll with it and do the best you can.
Q: What do you see as New London's best assets?
A: Hands down, its people. The people in New London, the community in New London, is amazing. That's why I moved here. I didn't move to New London because we have a nice beach. I moved from a town that had a great beach. I didn't move here because of the old buildings. There are beautiful buildings in New London, but there are beautiful buildings in a lot of cities.
I moved to New London because the people here were really unique. The diversity here is an integrated diversity that I've never seen in any city that I've lived in or gone to school in or traveled to; more interracial couples than any other place I'd ever visited, more integration between the gay community and the straight community than any other place I'd ever visited. Just a wonderful people that give of themselves constantly.
(With a mayor) we now have an agenda set from the top and if that leadership can mobilize the people behind it, then we can really get amazing things done because the people are ready and willing and able to go, they just need to be told, OK, where are we going?
Q: How serious do you think the public safety problem is in the city? Is it more of a problem of perception or more a reality problem?
A: I believe that we do have significant challenges to face and I mentioned that throughout the course of the campaign, which is one of the main reasons why I've supported the leadership of the current police chief.
I believe that she has initiated many of the policies that we need to appropriately deal with the issues of urban crime. Which is, enhanced community policing, integrated community policing, beat patrols, bike patrols, enhanced use of surveillance and lighting, modern technologies such as ComStat to better allocate patrol strength, and also increasing our current patrol strength, which she proposed (but) the last council did not do, but I hope to do in our first budget.
So doing all of these things will certainly enhance our public safety apparatus. But we are a city, and as a city and as a major transportation hub, we are going to deal with issues that perhaps a more rural community or suburban community might not face. That's a simple reality of urban life.
Q: As you prepare to take office, what is the one thing you would want citizens to know about how you plan to conduct yourself as mayor?
A: Well, I think that what people in New London can come to expect is that I'm going to be very open and transparent, as I am right now. I'm very happy to do most of my work in the full light of day, to be on the record very often, to be always accessible not only to the media but also to the public and plan to hold regular office hours to be visible frequently in the community, so that people know that whether they agree or disagree with what I'm doing, they'll clearly see what it is that I'm doing and have a full explanation from me as to why I'm doing it, which I think will be welcome. I think that most people don't expect that they'll agree with you on everything, but if they at least know where you stand and that you're open and upfront about it, they'll at least respect that.