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Mayor-picking time in New London looms

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published March 14. 2014 4:00AM

Could it be too soon to think about New London's mayoral race of 2015, even as the March winds of 2014 still blow so cold?

Nah.

After all, the country is already engaged in presidential politics of 2016, from the deflation of Chris Christie to Hillary Clinton's reach for the family crown.

Besides, I think New Londoners have thoroughly enjoyed having a full-time mayor to kick around for the last couple of years, for the first time in a long while.

Imagine the fun of picking one again.

The inaugural full-time mayor, Daryl Finizio, must like the job, because he has officially announced he's in for another run next year. This is a little like stepping off the roller coaster and getting in line to buy another ticket.

City Councilor and city firefighter Michael Passero hasn't announced yet, but he couldn't look more like a candidate if he wore a sandwich board with his name on it around town.

I'm not sure whether Passero more likes the idea of being mayor or the idea of evicting his fellow Democrat from City Hall. My advice: Don't get between the two of them, any more than you would want to separate fighting dogs.

For comic relief, there is former City Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran, who, you may recall, ran again for council last election as a Republican, after Democrats rejected her. She finished third from the bottom of the big pack.

Friess-McSparran, who said recently she is exploring a run for mayor, seems to have as a principal plank in her platform the fact that she hates the incumbent mayor. But, heck, stand in line. I think a lot of people are probably prepared to run on that platform.

There are others in the current cast of characters running the city who certainly may give a mayoral run a go.

But I am hoping for a wider field, the more the merrier.

I know of one member of the New London Democratic Town Committee who would make an excellent mayoral candidate. But city Democrats rejected his council bid for the last election and probably can't be counted on to acknowledge his exceptional qualifications in 2015.

Chris Soto, a Latino who grew up in a modest neighborhood in New Jersey, graduated in 2003 from the Coast Guard Academy. After serving as a Coast Guard officer in drug interdiction and harbor defense, he returned to the academy to work in its diversity office.

He later earned a master's degree from Brown University, then went on to start a New London nonprofit dedicated to helping high school kids, especially the children of parents who did not go to college, to navigate the process of applying to college.

It is hard to imagine a better set of credentials for someone running for mayor in New London.

I've met Soto a few times and he strikes me as not only smart, honest and polite, as are so many Coast Guard Academy graduates, but also engaged, charming and inclusive, someone well suited to weave together the various factions of the city.

I have also heard some mention of the intriguing notion of state Rep. Ernest Hewett making a run for mayor.

I believe Hewett might have felt betrayed by the Democratic leadership in Hartford, after his innocent snake remark. But they have the chance to make it up to him this session, if they help put into law a requirement that New London and other municipalities can tax nonprofit colleges and hospitals.

That would be some big bacon for Hewett to bring home from Hartford and lay out for the 2015 New London mayoral race.

Without the benefit of polling, it would be hard to fully assess Mayor Finizio's chances at winning a second term. But reading the social media tea leaves, it would seem it doesn't look so good.

It is hard to imagine how he can successfully climb out of the quagmire of a broken public works department and an understaffed and combative police department run by a chief who has been missing for so long it seems like they should issue a silver alert for her.

I don't think they can have enough simulated groundbreaking for a new Coast Guard Museum by the fall of 2015 to make that project a factor.

More worrisome for the mayor is the fact that Democrats didn't even re-elect him to their town committee. It's hard to think they will support him for another term as mayor.

But, hey, the winds of March haven't even started to warm up yet.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

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