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In New London, Passero engages debate with Mayor Finizio

The mayoral candidacy of Michael Passero moved into its next phase Wednesday when the city councilor presented a campaign platform that invites a substantive debate with the fellow Democrat he seeks to replace, incumbent New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio.

Generating a substantive debate about policy priorities and a vision for New London’s future was a primary reason this newspaper launched a long editorial campaign to switch to a system in which the chief executive — a mayor — is directly elected by the citizens. Four years ago, Mayor Finizio became the first chief executive elected under that new system. His re-election offers the opportunity to renew the debate and Mr. Passero appears up to the challenge.

Mr. Passero’s strong backing within the business community was evident when scanning the roughly 75 supporters who crowded into a room at the Copperwood Grille for the unveiling of the Passero platform. Up to now, the Passero campaign has focused on fundraising, collecting an impressive $47,000 to get its message out over the next few months. Mayor Finizio’s campaign has attracted a lot of money as well, about $33,000.

Which campaign makes best use of that cash remains to be seen, but Mr. Passero’s announcement shows voters will have some clear choices between the two Democrats.

Mr. Passero promised, if elected mayor, to appoint a chief administrative officer in keeping with the guidelines of the City Charter. The charter states this “principal managerial aide to the mayor” should be “appointed on the basis of substantial executive and administrative experience, qualifications and knowledge.”

Mayor Finizio has opted for a different approach, one criticized by this newspaper, choosing to use the position more as a chief executive assistance. Current CAO Laura Natusch in no way meets the charter criteria.

“This is perhaps the greatest failing of the current administration,” Mr. Passero told his supporters.

This focus on skill and qualifications will hold true for other key administrative positions, said Mr. Passero, a departure from Mayor Finizio, who has prioritized loyalty and consociation above formal training and experience in making his appointments.

“I will work to restore confidence and competence in our government through professional management,” said the challenger. We welcome that message.

Mr. Passero, a career New London firefighter and an attorney, also seeks a debate over public safety in the city, most particularly policing. He said he will work to meet the mandate of an ordinance he helped pass, calling for an 80-officer minimum police force. Staffing is now in the mid-60s. He also called for an emphasis on community policing.

Yet Mayor Finizio will be sure to point out that this pledge runs into direct conflict with Mr. Passero’s vow to “curb wasteful spending (and) curtail the dramatic rise in property taxes.” Mr. Passero has been on the council for the last six years. If there were waste to curb, one would think he would have done it by now. Barring a sudden and dramatic influx of new commercial taxpayers into the city, it is hard to see how he can hire and train a dozen new police officers while holding the line on taxes.

It was good to hear Mr. Passero, in response to a question, saying he is researching a new approach to replace the 40-year-old Police Community Relations Committee. As noted in a recent editorial, the city needs some form of a police commission to foster police-community relations and serve as a watchdog on police conduct, but the current committee has no clear authority or defined mission.

Drawing another contrast with the incumbent, Mr. Passero said he would welcome an expanded role for the Renaissance City Development Association to help drive development beyond its current focus of Fort Trumbull. Until recently, Mayor Finizio had sought to dismantle the RCDA.

While a competitive electoral contest will be good for the city, the fact it may not stretch beyond the Sept. 16 Democratic primary, only open to registered Democrats, is distressing. No Republican or unaffiliated candidate has stepped forward to compete in the general election against the Finizio-Passero winner. The loser of the Democratic primary could launch a write-in candidacy, but write-in victories are rare. A cross-endorsement could land one of the Democrats on a minor-party line in the general election, but neither Mayor Finizio nor Mr. Passero have indicated interest in that option.

The funds raised by the Democrats may intimidate other potential contenders, along with the fact this is a strongly Democratic city. But it would be a disappointment if this election ends on primary day, disenfranchising Republican and unaffiliated voters.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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