Published October 27. 2013 4:00AM
Republican attacks on the Democratic mayor in an election year are to be expected. I was a bit surprised, however, when New London City Council President Michael Passero heaved Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio down the stairs during his Oct. 16 visit with The Day editorial board. Aren't these guys on the same Democratic team?
Passero placed much of the blame for both the loss of officers from the New London Police Department and the internal morale problems on Finizio. The mayor is not up for re-election until 2015. Passero is currently running for council re-election.
"He decimated the leadership structure of the department. His decisions were rash, costly and the department's still recovering," said Passero.
Recall that early in 2012, soon after he took office as the first directly elected mayor in nearly a century in the city, Finizio set about cleaning house in the police department. He reaffirmed support for Police Chief Margaret Ackley, who had planned to leave because, she alleged, a past councilor had meddled in her department. Those accusations never stuck, but Ackley ended up sticking around.
Finizio negotiated and signed severance deals with captains Michael Lacey and William Dittman and announced the city was not renewing the contract of Deputy Chief Marshall Segar. It provided Ackley and the administration the ability to put in place an entire new command structure.
"It was one of the greatest failures of the current administration," said Passero, who remains convinced it was a major blunder to rip that much institutional knowledge out of the department.
Things got real ugly, you might recall, when the council refused to approve the lucrative severance deals given Lacey and Dittman. Both sued. They had signed contracts. Seven months later the council relented and approved the deals, not wanting to waste money on a losing cause. Dittman is now police chief for the Mashantucket Pequot tribe.
"The City Council was more or less held hostage," Passero said about the contracts.
Finizio conceded at the time he should not have signed the contracts without first getting council approval - a rookie mistake compounded by the nuances of the new form of government.
The mayor, however, has a much different view of his decision to clean house. That, he insists, was the right move. A fresh start was necessary in the department. Over the long term it will be a better police force for having "ripped off the bandage," he told me in an earlier interview.
Finizio attributes the recent exodus of officers largely to the threat of layoffs tied to the city's fiscal troubles. But the budget is stabilizing and, so too, will police staffing, he predicted.
Both are right, to an extent. Finizio did act rashly in making those personnel cuts so soon after arriving in office and the severance packages were far too generous. Yet I think his explanation for officers leaving of late is probably closer to the truth.
When I expressed surprise that Passero would so harshly criticize the mayor - there were certainly more diplomatic ways to make his point - he shrugged.
"It's history," Passero said, adding that he now has a working, if not warm, relationship with the mayor.
Speculation has already begun on the possibility of Passero challenging Finizio in a 2015 Democratic primary. Was his criticism a very early salvo?
In a follow-up interview Passero would not rule himself in or out in 2015, but said if Finizio doesn't step up his game the next two years, someone strong will need to challenge him.
It will be interesting to watch Passero's relationship with Finizio over the next two years.
And, yes, I am assuming Passero will be re-elected Nov. 5.
Dr. George Sprecace's Oct. 7 commentary criticizing Obamacare and explaining how he intends to "survive" it, generated several critical letters, subsequently published Oct. 13. After the exchange of views, the doctor asked me to pass along this.
"For all who seek enlightenment regarding my statements recently published in The Day, please see my extended comments on the subject of Health Care extending back to the late 1970s. Visit: www.asthma-drsprecace.com."
Paul Choiniere is the Editorial Page Editor.