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One year ago New London citizens voted overwhelmingly for change. They approved a charter revision that replaced the city manager system with a government led by a mayor directly elected by the people and answerable to them. On Tuesday voters get the chance to elect that leader.
In making that choice, voters should consider why they so strongly backed a conversion to a mayor system in the first place. We suspect it included frustration over little accountability. Who were voters to blame for a lack of economic progress in the city, for crime, for blight? Not the city manger, whose job, after all, was only to carry out the policies of the council. Meanwhile council members could use the excuse that the professional skills and administrative duties were vested with the manager.
In other words, it was a system meant to dilute responsibility, not focus it. Citizens were tired of it. They wanted a break from the past.
In that vote for new governance was a desire to move past a system that allowed a few powerbrokers to take advantage of the vacuum of leadership, pushing agendas that might benefit their self-interests, but not necessarily those of the city as a whole. Of course a mayor can play favorites, too, but he or she will be accountable for those choices.
In our view, Democratic candidate Daryl Justin Finizio provides the best opportunity for the break from that past and a brighter future for New London.
Mr. Finizio's political ascension has been impressive and an indication, we suspect, of how much New Londoners are thirsting for change. He is a relatively new member of this community, having moved to the city in 2010. Mr. Finizio, a lawyer and law instructor, has embraced its diversity as an asset and politically involved many of the young professionals and artists who, like him, have chosen the city as their home. At the same time he has effectively introduced himself to many of the city's long-time inhabitants through home and neighborhood meetings and aggressive door-to-door campaigning.
Beginning with his "Vision for New London" platform, he organized an impressive grassroots campaign and succeeded to handily defeat a two-term city councilor, Michael Buscetto III, in the Democratic primary, despite Mr. Buscetto's overwhelming support by the party establishment.
Mr. Finizio has innate political skills. More than any of the other candidates we interviewed, Mr. Finizio expressed an awareness of the substantial political muscle the charter will provide the new mayor. We suspect anyone who would try to roll over a Mayor Finizio would be disappointed.
His actions suggest he will utilize this authority to pursue the agenda he has placed before the voters, not to serve special interests. This is a candidate who has refused to accept contributions from city employees or contractors. No one who has donated in excess of $100 to his campaign will be eligible for appointment to office in his administration. His, he vows, will not be a "pay-to-play" administration.
Opponents have sought to turn his frequent changes of residency during his relatively young life (he is 34) and his newness to the community into liabilities. But that newness means he has no political debts in this city. Mr. Finizio's varied experiences are an asset. He has served as a legislative policy analyst for the New York City Council; and worked with the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice while a graduate student at New York University, where he obtained a master's degree in public administration in 2001.
A Westerly native, he also served as an intern in the Rhode Island Department of the Attorney General and as a U.S. Senate page. He served nearly a full two-year term on the Westerly Town Council before resigning to accept a teaching position at Northeastern University in Boston.
Critics also point to his frequent political party switches, most in his early years as a voter. Frankly, we don't care and don't suspect most voters will either. Whatever the label, Mr. Finizio's politics clearly tend toward the liberal and progressive. He seems politically wise enough, however, to know a quick ticket to unpopularity would be trying to impose any big tax increases on already heavily taxed New Londoners.
We embrace his support for a land-value tax pilot program in the downtown, which, when combined with a package of incentives, will encourage property owners to fill vacant storefronts and upgrade properties without facing stiff tax increases.
While we are not ready to back his call for dismantling the New London Development Corporation (NLDC), his political instincts are on target. The agency, now a shell of its former self, seems unable to shake off its connection with the eminent domain controversy and engender public trust. Mr. Finizio's best option may be to reform the NLDC into a new development entity that can inherit its legal standing in various state agreements.
Mr. Finizio has pledged to run a transparent government and end the days of blocking access to documents on dubious grounds. If elected, we will hold him accountable to that promise.
Mr. Finizio is ready to use his mayoral authority to insist on school reform, but also recognizes upgrading facilities and providing educators the tools they need will come at a price.
The Day urges the voters of New London to elect Daryl Justin Finizio as their mayor.
A great race
We would be remiss in failing to note what a great campaign this has been, one that has engaged New London voters like none before and focused attention on issues critical to the city. Citizens, to their credit, turned out in the hundreds to hear the several candidate debates.
Republican mayoral candidate Robert Pero has served his city well during eight terms as a councilor. His determination to find ways to control spending and limit tax increases has been particularly noteworthy. At the same time, Mr. Pero has recognized the need to invest in the city's infrastructure and support its police and fire departments.
He would be a fine mayor - we just consider Mr. Finizio the better choice. If not elected mayor, we urge Mr. Pero to stay politically involved.
Martin T. Olsen Jr., a petitioning candidate, will forever have the distinction of being the city's last ceremonial mayor. He deserves credit for focusing attention on the vital importance of improving student performance in our city schools. But Mr. Olsen became such a one-issue candidate we had to question whether he was running for the right office.
Likewise, petitioning candidate Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh centered her candidacy on the need to encourage a better balance of owner-occupied and rental housing in the city, which has tilted too far towards the latter. But Ms. Hopkins-Cavanagh went too far in placing most of the blame for the city's problems on landlords and renters.
Mr. Buscetto, who continued as a write-in candidate after his defeat in the primary, has a proven record as a successful businessman and in rallying financial and volunteer support for community organizations. But those skills failed to translate well in the political arena, where frequent missteps raise serious doubts about his ability to be an effective mayor.
The candidacy of petitioning candidate Andrew Lockwood remains a head-scratcher. With $38,000 in delinquent city taxes owed, taxes that he disputes, it is hard to view him as a serious candidate, but his persistence in the face of long odds is impressive.
Before New London even elects its mayor, the switch to the new system has already succeeded in energizing the city's political process and enhancing policy debate. Soon begins the hard work of governing.