Mayor Finizio falls short on a big promise

In the world of broken campaign promises, I would have to put Mayor Daryl Finizio's unfulfilled pledge to abolish the New London Development Corp. right up there on a top shelf.

To recall the disdain the mayoral candidate expressed toward the agency, one need look no further than Finizio's acceptance speech, still viewable on YouTube, in which he characterizes himself as the agent of change, moving the city away from the era of a capricious taking of people's homes by eminent domain.

"By electing a candidate pledged to the abolition of the NLDC, by defeating the last city municipal officials who supported the use of eminent domain, today the people of the City of New London washed clean the dark stain on the honor of our city, our state and our nation," Finizio said to a packed room of cheering supporters.

Wow. Big stuff. And it was a prominent part of his acceptance speech, since, indeed, that's why a lot of people voted for him.

Who would have thought that night that the victorious mayor would then go on, in making his first significant appointment in office, to make Jane Glover, a former councilwoman so supportive of eminent domain that she got the nickname "Eminent Jane," his new chief of staff.

Glover famously complained to The New York Times in 2005, after the holdouts in the eminent domain fight finally lost their battle in the U.S. Supreme Court: "Winning took so long."

At that same time, when even Connecticut's Republican Gov. Jodi Rell, sensing the national sentiment against the cause, was calling for restraint, the NLDC was chomping to finish the evil deed.

Michael Joplin, then NLDC president, practically firing up the bulldozers himself, was finally led into talks to find a more publicly tenable solution to taking the holdouts' houses.

In the end, there were negotiated settlements.

So here we are, almost two years into the term of a mayor elected for his pledge to abolish the NLDC, and some of the same people are still involved, presiding over the ghost-like empty neighborhood.

The mayor did not abolish the agency, instead renaming it Renaissance City Development Association, apparently using the kicker line from that same election night acceptance speech, in which he called for New London to become the Renaissance City.

He should know a renaissance infers a fresh start, not renaming the old and shuffling the chairs around the table.

Why does it matter? After all, clearly New London would not dare to use eminent domain again to take people's homes for economic development.

Part of it is certainly the cleansing ritual of starting new, a catharsis candidate Finizio clearly promised and hasn't delivered.

More important, though, the thing I think voters had in mind but that the mayor doesn't grasp, is that people were offended not just that people's homes were taken but that it was done in a high-handed way by an agency enabled by the City Council but not accountable to voters and headed by someone from out of town.

The lack of accountability is still the dominant feature of the agency of eminent domain renamed for an insincere election night speech.

Just last week, we learned that the agency is still negotiating with a developer who has, according to the agency, reneged on his contract, dragged the agency into mediation, and now wants to put affordable housing on land to be given to them for free, with significant tax abatements thrown in. That's a far cry from the taxable condominiums for homeowners promised at the outset.

People expect someone to stand up and say we've had enough.

Instead, when asked about the continuing talks with the developer over plans for this hallowed city ground, Mayor Finizio - "the candidate pledged to the abolition of the NLDC" - couldn't run fast enough from the latest NLDC mess, which he is in fact enabling.

"At this point, the city administration has no formal role in deciding whether this project moves forward or not," he told a reporter.

You would think he was asked about some project in Afghanistan.

Both a former city law director and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, when he was attorney general, have said the deeds to much of Fort Trumbull should be held by the city, not the NLDC, according to state law. The state would retain its liens.

This is important because it would shift responsibility for this important property, what could soon be the gateway between a national museum and a beautiful state park, to the city and its elected officials.

Decisions about what happens to it should be made by the city's elected representatives on the City Council, subject to input and/or veto by the mayor. Some of the same unelected people who sponsored eminent domain should no longer be in charge.

If Mayor Finizio can't get this done, or even understand it, then the city may have to find a mayor who can.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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