New London mayor needlessly damaging credibility

New London's new mayor has shown a troubling propensity for needlessly incurring self-inflicted political wounds at the most inopportune of times. If it keeps up, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio risks fatally damaging his credibility before he even gets started.

The first misstep came before the mayor was even sworn in. Aglow in the honeymoon period that usually follows a strong electoral victory, he unnecessarily thrust himself into the Riverside Park controversy. Though voters had narrowly approved selling a portion of the park to the adjacent U.S. Coast Guard Academy, then Mayor-elect Finizio, an opponent of the sale, said it would not go through despite the vote, pointing to problems with the sales contract. Many complained, including this newspaper, that he was usurping the will of the voters.

The next day a recount changed the results, showing voters had rejected the sale.

With that recount result and the intervening Thanksgiving break, questions over the incoming mayor's rash Riverside actions faded into the background in time for last Monday's inaugural.

Held at the Garde Arts Center, it was a great event. About 650 people attended, providing in full display this small city's ethnic, racial, economic and cultural diversity. It was a crowd excited by the potential of the new mayoral system and ready to support its first office holder, Mayor Finizio.

The glow was back.

For inexplicable reasons Mayor Finizio picked the next morning, his first on the job, to issue a series of executive orders, the most controversial of which ordered police officers to look the other way if they suspect marijuana is being used on private property.

In an instant, excitement turned to anger and unity to a bitter debate over the mayor's actions.

By Wednesday Mayor Finizio was backpedaling, forced to withdraw his order after State's Attorney Michael L. Regan, the local prosecutor, informed him that it was beyond a mayor's authority to order police not to enforce a law.

As we stated in an earlier editorial, taking the position that recreational use of marijuana should not be a top law enforcement priority makes sense. The legislature has reduced possession of small amounts of cannabis to an infraction, akin to a ticket. There are certainly more pressing matters.

But as we also stated in that editorial, and as Mr. Regan has since pointed out, law enforcement priorities can and should be set in discussions with Police Chief Margaret Ackley, not by issuing edicts that could encourage flaunting of the law.

Mayor Finizio says he ran the executive order by his police chief and city attorney Jeffrey T. Londregan. Perhaps he should have received better advice from them, but the political mistake was his. The new mayor may consider his actions as decisive, but he has to recognize that many are viewing them as arrogant.

Relatively young, 34, and inexperienced in executive responsibilities, Mayor Finizio could benefit from experienced advice. He needs someone unafraid to tell him, "Mayor, I think this is a bad idea."

With a long history in the city's political and civic life, Jane Glover, chief administrative officer, can contribute in this role. We endorsed the mayor's decision to appoint her.

But the new mayor would also profit from seeking counsel from an astute, trusted political veteran from outside his administration. Final decisions must, of course, be his. But getting frank, objective and candid feedback can inform those decisions.

Mayor Finizio has the ability to do this job well, but with each misstep confidence in that ability erodes. Think carefully, seek advice, consider consequences, and only then, act.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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