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Paying attention to what Mayor Finizio says

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published May 19. 2012 4:00AM

I first lost confidence in what Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio says during one of his original mayoral press conferences.

It was one that followed the mayor's strange press release of what has become known as the "Shrine Report," a police report on a visit by Finizio's political opponent, former City Councilor Michael Buscetto, to the Shrine nightclub at Foxwoods Resort Casino with some city police officers.

References to the report, which contained embarrassing revelations about Buscetto's behavior, had surfaced during the mayoral campaign last fall, and I had tried hard to obtain a copy.

In the end, though, I never filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission because Connecticut State Police and the city's lawyers gave good legal reasons why it is not a public document. It contains unsubstantiated allegations which never resulted in an arrest.

Then, when it had lost its real news value because Buscetto was out of office and no longer a candidate, Finizio released it out of the blue, without anyone asking for it.

It was the Friday of the weekend Buscetto was holding his annual fundraiser at Ocean Beach. The release of the report seemed calculated by Finizio to embarrass his former opponent for mayor.

But that personal attack, I thought, paled beside one of the mayor's responses at that press conference.

A report that the mayor didn't release that day, but should have, was one by a former Superior Court judge into allegations by police Chief Margaret Ackley that she had been the target of harassment by Buscetto, who she said had interfered in her running of the police department.

Finizio had suggested during the campaign that Buscetto's behavior toward the police chief and her department possibly could have risen to the level of criminal acts.

When I asked him at the press conference whether the still-secret judge's report - the mayor had it but wouldn't give it up - indicated whether criminal activity had occurred, he said: "No comment."

Of course, the judge's report rattled out into the public later that weekend, from a different source, and there was nothing in it to even remotely suggest any criminal activity occurred.

The mayor's answer at that press conference should have been a simple and loud "no," especially with someone's reputation at risk. He also, it seemed to me, had an obligation to set the record straight, since he raised the notion of possible criminal misdeeds in the first place.

That "no" would have been the honorable answer, rather than the provocative "no comment" he gave instead.

I remember that "no comment" answer at each new Finizio press conference, because it raised all my reporter suspicions.

I was wary again at the mayor's Friday press conference this week, the one in which he said he would be laying off more than a third of the city's firefighting force at the outset of concession negotiations with the firefighting union.

He said it is not posturing or a bluff.

He didn't mention the likely referendum on the city budget, but I suspect city voters inclined to defeat the budget and its big tax increase also were intended targets of this week's severe police and fire cutting.

You can at least chalk up a lot of that to routine politics, especially in the era of budget cut threats from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

What made me wary about Friday's press conference, though, was when the mayor referred to his "many years" working in public safety.

I assume he was referring to the two years he spent, according to his resume, as a staff analyst for the New York City Council Public Safety Committee while he was studying at New York University.

This also was apparently the same job that he was thinking of at another press conference, when he said he once "oversaw" New York police.

I'm sorry, but a student working as a staff analyst for a committee of the New York City Council hardly oversaw the police department.

I am not sure that two years in that job qualifies either as working "many years" in public safety. Maybe, in adding up his many years working in public safety, he also was referring Friday to his 1999 internship with the attorney general of Rhode Island.

He was also liaison for police matters when he was on the Westerly Town Council. I guess that counts, too. He practiced as a lawyer. Maybe he counts defending people in court as work in public safety.

In any event, I remain wary of the mayor's confident citing of law enforcement and public safety work credentials when he is busy reorganizing and cutting the city police department.

I also am doubtful about the mayor's assertion Friday that laying off 10 police officers and a third of the city's firefighters is not posturing.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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