Published April 03. 2014 4:00AM
In a move that appeared to surprise most everyone, New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio declared himself a lame duck Tuesday, announcing he would not seek re-election in November 2015.
The mayor's stated motivation is to set election politics aside and "dedicate myself fully to the task at hand." That task is pushing for the big increase in spending the mayor says is necessary to restore both fiscal health and basic city services.
"Too much of the debate in our city has been focused on me instead of our real financial problems," the mayor said in his State of the City Address Tuesday.
It is, of course, the mayor's prerogative to decide whether he wants to run again and when to announce that decision. If, however, he expects it will help get his fiscal-policy agenda passed, he may be disappointed.
The debate about the mayor and fiscal policy are inseperable. An early announcement not to run won't change that. The question is whether citizens consider his Tuesday declaration, "We are out of money, and we are out of time," to be credible?
Mayor Finizio has made questionable appointments to his administration, kept in place a development agency he promised to dissolve, reversed his decisions on firings after being adamant he was right, and taken on fights a more deft executive would have sidestepped. This has damaged his credibility, and that damage influences the discussion on fiscal policy.
Rebuilding creditability is essential to gaining support for the controversial fiscal policies Mayor Finizio espouses. It is difficult to see how declaring yourself a one-term mayor at this stage does that. Instead, making it clear he will not run could embolden his adversaries, while his influence with City Council allies could wane given the reality that they now know, for sure, he will only be around for a fixed time.
On the other hand, Mayor Finizio will be freer to veto any budget passed by the council that he considers unrealistic, without concern for political repercussions and the friction he may generate within the city's Democratic Party.
Since the start of his administration, this editorial page has backed the mayor's efforts to tackle the serious fiscal problems he inherited. But we also have acknowledged political realities. That is again the case with the mayor's proposal for an $87.1 million budget, a 7.24 percent increase over this fiscal year.
Mayor Finizio is right, the cupboard is bare and cuts in services have gone too deep, impacting public safety and the ability to maintain the city. There is logic to his contention that the recent revaluation, which saw many property assessments drop precipitously, would make a tax increase more progressive, hitting harder those with the greater ability to pay.
Yet voters would petition to referendum a spending increase as high as he proposes - and likely defeat it. The better option is to start rebuilding, moving toward the goal of an 80-officer police force, for example, by next year going from 65 to 72, and adding back six positions to Public Works, not 12.
With sad irony, Mayor Finizio delivered a masterful performance in announcing his coming exit from the stage. He stuck to policy arguments, explained his thinking and made the case for his proposed course of action. This was the mayor the city thought they were electing in 2011, delivering bold, decisive, articulate leadership.
Certainly, factoring into his decision not to run again was the nature of the attacks the mayor has faced. Criticism from some circles was relentless, personal, at times vile, and often sophomoric. Moving forward the city should strive for a higher level of discourse, heeding the mayor's request to "put our own interests aside and … put our city first."