Published March 23. 2012 4:15PM Updated March 24. 2012 12:07AM
New London — Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio denied Friday that he and the police chief had worked together to make sure Finizio won the November election over City Councilor Michael Buscetto III.
"I did not conspire with the police chief to take down Michael Buscetto,'' Finizio said during an interview in his office in City Hall.
The mayor was responding to rumors and innuendos flying around town that he colluded with police Chief Margaret Ackley so he would win the election, and to a reference in a column by Day columnist David Collins in Thursday's edition that alleged Finizio may have known in August that Ackley was going to accuse Buscetto of interfering in her department and threaten to resign.
"This is a political fight and I'm not having it,'' he said, explaining why he provided the newspaper with a sworn affidavit outlining three encounters he had with Ackley during the campaign and explaining what they talked about. He also provided a string of emails between himself and Ackely and others between himself and gadfly Kathleen Mitchell.
Finizio said he had met with Ackley three times during the campaign, that he hadn't known in advance about accusations Ackley leveled against Buscetto last August or about a confidential retirement contract Ackley signed with former City Manager Denise Rose.
"Here it is,'' he said of the emails and sworn statement. "Maybe it will stop the conspiracy theories and speculation.''
In the affidavit, which was signed Friday, Finizio said he met with Ackley in January 2011, shortly after he announced he was running for mayor, for about an hour to discuss police policies.
The affidavit states that he did not meet her again until Aug. 10 — the day Ackley met in a closed door session with the City Council. Finizio said he saw the chief as he was leaving the New London post office earlier that day and talked to her for a couple of minutes. He told her he had heard rumors that she was going to resign, and "I told her that the election was not over and that she should not resign but wait to see the results of the election.''
He met Ackley for the third time, he said, the night of the Sept. 13 primary, when he beat Buscetto for the Democratic Town Committee nomination. The chief showed up outside the Brass Rail on Bank Street, where Finizio and his supporters were celebrating his victory. She got out of the car and hugged him and then drove away.
Finizio said he did not talk to the chief again until election night, when he drove to her house after his victory and had a one-minute conversation with her on the street.
"I believe she had been facing very tough institutional resistance,'' Finizio said Friday, adding that he wanted her to know he supported her and her attempts to modernize the department and bring in community-policing policies.
In a series of emails during the campaign, Finizio extended several invitations to Ackley, including one to attend a public-safety discussion he had in March 2011 and another in September, asking her to dinner at his house, "… if you don't find it inappropriate,'' the email reads. The chief declined both invitations.
In October the chief sent Finizio an email saying she would not accept a dinner invitation until after the election because she did not want to cause "any issues" for Finizio.
"Rumor has it there are photos of you and I meeting and socializing to plan Buscetto's demise,'' the chief wrote. "Since you and I both know that is not true, I guess we have nothing to worry about.''
She added, "Stay strong and don't underestimate the good ol' boy system in New London."
Finizio characterized a set of emails with Mitchell on Aug. 10 as "political talk between two people on the same political side." At the time, he said, Mitchell was campaigning for him.
Mitchell wrote to Finizio and Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh, who also was running for mayor, saying there was a special City Council meeting that night and "Mike B and his cohorts" were not going to force the chief out of her job.
Finizio wrote back to Mitchell and said that he had spoken with the chief and had urged her to "wait at least 4 more weeks …. I'm on the primary ballot and my door to door has convinced me Mike may be in for a big big BIG surprise.'' He called Buscetto a "stinking bully" and urged Mitchell to go to the meeting and "… get under his skin … make him be his usual loud self while the media is watching.'' He said he would not attend the meeting because "it may hurt the chief."
Finizo said Friday he wrote the remarks in the heat of the moment. There was no "dark and nefarious'' attempt to conspire to "get Buscetto," he said.
Finizio said he is not surprised by the recent criticisms and accusations. Since he's taken office in December, he has fired two officers, one resigned, two police captains retired and the one-year contract of the deputy chief was not renewed.
"We've done a lot,'' he said.