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In the platform on which he built his successful campaign for mayor of New London in 2011, Daryl Justin Finizio wrote: "Our city has everything it needs to be a shining city, a prime example of urban renewal. Our community is just waiting for a comprehensive, long-term vision for what it may become, and the leadership to get us there."
As Mayor Finizio begins the second half of his four-year term, and given his recent statement that he plans to seek re-election, it is time for him to clarify his vision and seek concrete steps to implement it.
The reason that this newspaper long advocated for a strong mayor form of government was to provide focused leadership that could move the city forward and confront its difficult challenges. That is why voters approved the change from a city manager system.
In running for that new office, Mayor Finizio laid out his vision. Despite his status as a newcomer to the city, this newspaper endorsed his candidacy and voters elected him by a wide margin.
Whomever voters chose would have faced serious challenges. Rough spots were inevitable as New London transitioned from a government in which the City Council held the power and the city manager carried out its mandates, to a system of shared power, led by an elected executive with strong authority.
Compounding the difficulty was the reality that the city's fiscal situation had badly deteriorated in the last couple of years of the city manager system. Deep service cuts and tax increases will never be popular, yet Mayor Finizio and the council had no other options.
However, many of Mayor Finizio's wounds have been self-inflicted. Acrimony left from a bitter campaign has, if anything, grown, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Thus far, it has been an administration more of crisis management and controversy than vision; two more years of the same will serve neither the mayor nor the city well.
Recent revelations about the shockingly poor condition of its public buildings serve as a metaphor for the problems confronting New London. With its small geography, limited tax base and plethora of non-profit and public institutions not subject to property taxation, it is difficult for the city to raise the tax revenues necessary to support the services an urban community needs.
Mayor Finizio did not seek this office unaware. During his campaign, he alluded to the "tactic … to spend less on maintenance … to artificially balance budgets." This approach avoids short-term tax increases but "promotes urban decay and decline," he wrote at the time.
Meeting the challenges will not be easy; ultimately, they need to include changes in state tax policy. Mayor Finizio is correct that "true redevelopment must be a long-term strategy." However, progress must begin, and if the incumbent wants serious consideration for re-election, he must begin now. Lamenting a lack of resources is not leadership, figuring out how to get them is.
During the 2011 election, Mayor Finizio endorsed the concept of the Land Value Tax (LVT) for the downtown business district. This approach to real estate taxation puts greater value for taxing purposes on the land, rather than structures. LVT can reduce the tax penalties for improving a property, and discourage speculators from sitting on unused or underutilized holdings while awaiting renewal. At the very least, a discussion on the LVT approach needs to start.
When campaigning, Mayor Finizio urged New Londoners to look at their city as visitors do and he called for investments, and an aggressive effort to gain state aid, to improve appearance. Certainly, a visit to a scarred City Hall does not leave a good impression. As painful as the cost might be, the administration needs to lay out a capital improvement plan to begin repairing its properties and a strategy to maintain them.
With the proposed Village on the Thames apartment project apparently dead, it is time for Mayor Finizio to work with the Renaissance City Development Association to find common ground on a vision for the Fort Trumbull peninsula and aggressively market the site.
Candidate Finizio said New London was well positioned to attract start-up green technology companies. Time to get going.
Gaining a commitment for development of the National Coast Guard Museum on the waterfront was a significant victory for the mayor. The city needs more victories. Its residents need more cause for optimism. It's why they elected a mayor.