Never too soon to kick off New London's favorite sport

Such is the nature of New London politics that it is more fun speculating what will happen in the city's November 2015 mayoral election than it is conjecturing about many of the state races this coming November.

On April 1 - yup, April Fool's Day - Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, again displaying his flair for the dramatic, stole the thunder from his own budget message and State of the City Address by announcing that he would not seek re-election in November 2015.

The announcement came a little more than two months after The Day published a story under the headline, "New London mayor to run for re-election." That story noted that the mayor had registered as a candidate for re-election in the city clerk's office and formed a re-election committee. He was, in his words, "actively fundraising."

Finizio, however, explained on April 1 that he had never settled on running again. He formed the committee to keep his options open. In announcing he would not seek re-election, the mayor said his intent was to turn the conversation away from him to his policy proposals. Finizio felt his critics were so intent on attacking him and blocking his re-election that no proposal he generated would get a fair hearing.

The mayor has had a decent run since saying he would not be a candidate for re-election. The council backed his budget proposal, and its sizeable tax increase, with relatively minor adjustments, apparently buying into his argument that the recent revaluation provided an opportunity to get the city out of constant fiscal crisis.

Assessments in the working-class neighborhoods, away from the water, dropped significantly in the city, shielding many of those homeowners from the big tax hike. Homes in the more affluent neighborhoods will receive the brunt of the increase, but they are better positioned to afford it, argues Finizio.

The council also passed a series of bonding proposals introduced by his honor to rebuild the city's fund balance and provide cash-flow flexibility.

Did Finizio's I-won't-run announcement make the difference? Looking at the votes, I don't think so, but it is impossible to say for sure.

Cynics speculate whether Finizio may find an excuse to reverse course and run after all. When I asked him, he said, "absolutely not."

After Finizio made his April Fool's Day announcement, Martin Olsen, the lone Republican on the council, said to me, "that's going to shake up the political calculations."

To which I replied, "Are you announcing?" He smiled.

Olsen, who was part of a crowded field of candidates for mayor of New London in 2011, is quite right.

Until the mayor took himself off the playing field, there was an anybody-but-Finizio movement brewing. The likely beneficiary of this was Democratic councilor and former council president Michael Passero. Some Republicans, speaking to me on background, speculated whether it would be better for the party to back Passero, fearing that Finizio would run as an independent and might win a 3-way race against Passero and a Republican.

Now it appears the field will be wide open, much as it was in 2011, the first election since the change to a strong-mayor form of government. Once again, the city could see multiple candidates running, with petitioning candidates challenging the Republican and Democratic nominees.

What role will Finizio play? In 2011 he ran the greatest campaign at the local level that I have ever seen, winning the election handily less than two years after moving to the city from Westerly. If he governed half as well as he campaigned, he would be running again.

Will Finizio rally behind a candidate and try to energize what is left of his core supporters, or conclude his backing is more harmful than helpful?

Too bad we all have to get through this 2014 election first to find out what happens.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.


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