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Finizio would raise martini prices

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published February 28. 2014 4:00AM

Mayor Finizio opened his public forums at City Hall this week with a boxing analogy.

Indeed, the mayor, saying he expected to be beat up by angry downtown businesspeople, theatrically wore a hat emblazoned with the big logo of a boxing company. It is hard to think why this seemed like a good idea, unless he has decided that there are not enough votes among downtown business owners to make up a political constituency you need to court.

Not only did the mayor spar through both sessions with many of the speakers, but he made them sit at a table, while he wandered around, crossed his arms and appeared to talk down to them, making no concessions to any of their demands.

Most of the things the downtown business owners were asking for did not seem that onerous or expensive to me: Write more parking tickets so people don't hog spaces all day, clean up the snow and the ice and enforce shoveling ordinances, so that people can walk around, and open the city trash transfer station for a few hours on Saturday, so that working people can throw away their stuff.

No, no, no, the mayor said. We can't afford it.

That was - and I exaggerate a bit here - pretty much the mayor's answer to everything. The city is in a financial crisis. The City Council and zealous citizens have forced severe budget cuts, and these cuts in services are what you have to expect in return.

He seemed remarkably inflexible in this.

To each suggestion that maybe there could be a creative way to do more with less, the mayor said no, the answer is more revenue and, presumably, higher taxes.

"Work with what you got, man," one downtown property owner told him.

Candace Devendittis, owner of Dev's on Bank restaurant, suggested an interesting analogy.

Suppose, she said, you buy a restaurant and then discover the fryolater is bad, and the fries come out soggy. You still have to make the customers happy, she said, and figure out a way to work around the bad equipment.

Mayor Finizio's answer to this hypothetical problem summed up his differences with the business owners: Raise the price of your martinis and buy a new fryolater.

Of course, most of the businesspeople in the room knew that's the wrong answer. You can't just raise prices, like the mayor would raise taxes, because customers would stop coming.

Instead you find creative solutions. Give the fries away. Serve really good hash browns. Tinker with the machine. But your fallback can't be to raise prices if you want to stay in business.

"Quit telling us what you can't do and start listening to what we need you to do," a frustrated Devendittis told the mayor.

In general, aside from some obvious failings, like the broken pipe that didn't need to fill City Hall with steam all winter, the mayor's administration seems to have coped pretty well with diminished resources.

He says the city has seen a 25 percent reduction in staffing. That is a harsh loss, and, yes, citizens need to expect fewer services.

But I find it hard to understand why the transfer station could not close for a few hours on a weekday and open for a few hours on Saturday, when you know that's when residents most need it. How much could that cost?

I know the police force is understaffed, but wouldn't it be possible to direct a small fraction of resources to a little more daytime downtown parking enforcement, when business owners say parking has become a life-or-death problem for their struggling businesses.

Perhaps, Police Chief Margaret Ackley, who has been missing from public action for a long time, not even surfacing to talk about a sharp increase in major crime in the city, could write some parking tickets.

The mayor's inclination to invite business owners in for a discussion, when their complaints first surfaced publicly, was a good one.

It's too bad he then decided to step into the ring with them and begin his campaign to sell the city on an increase in taxes.

Many mayors and governors have lost their jobs over inadequate cleanup of storms that have brought much less snow than we've seen this winter.

More snow is in the forecast for this weekend, and if I were the mayor I would make sure the downtown is shoveled and accessible soon after, and show that he can do more than raise martini prices.

There will be lots of time later to sell his newest tax increase.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

DAVID COLLINS

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