By Reginald Johnson
BRIDGEPORT ---- Fascinating piece recently in the Connecticut Post about the city’s resident kingmaker, Mario Testa.
At the election-night victory party for Joe Ganim --- who had just completed a remarkable political comeback by winning the mayoral election in Connecticut's largest city --- reporter Brian Lockhart got Testa, the chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, to open up about his long-standing support for Ganim, and how he (Testa) sees a rather large role for himself in running city government.
When I read the comments by Testa, the word “hubris” kept coming to mind.
Testa revealed that despite his public claims about being neutral during the 2015 mayoral campaign, he was working behind the scenes for a full two years to bring Ganim back and unseat incumbent Mayor Bill Finch.
Ganim had been mayor from 1991 to 2003, before leaving the mayor’s office in disgrace after the FBI found out he was running a wide-ranging corruption scheme. Following his conviction on 16 felony counts, Ganim served seven years in prison, and was released in 2010.
It’s unusual and not exactly kosher for a town committee chairman to be working secretly to undo the top elected official in the city, a person who is from the same political party. The actions by Testa are all the more brazen when one considers that he was trying to replace a mayor who was basically pointing the city in the right direction with someone who had been involved in a major corruption scandal and went to prison for it.
But Mario Testa apparently doesn’t care. He has always believed he has a lot of power, and also believes he can do things other people dare not to.
Testa maintained that he turned on Finch because the mayor and his staff were not consulting him enough on political matters.
“If Bill Finch would have respect for the chairman, he would still be the mayor,” Testa said in the Post interview.
Testa also said he urged Finch to reach out to the minority community more, to party district leaders in black and Latino neighborhoods, and that wasn’t done.
Testa has a point here; the administration could have reached out more to minorities, and Finch in the end paid a price. Ganim got strong support from blacks and Latinos in the primary election, when Ganim upset Finch.
But the Post story indicated the town committee boss wants to be heard not just on political matters, but on City Hall policy issues as well. This was apparently another source of friction with Finch.
This is a key point. I know that going back to the years of Ganim’s first administration, there were a number of people who said privately that Testa was included in a lot of key decisions, including who to hire and who to appoint.
Testa will surely regain this important behind-the-scenes role now that Ganim is back at the helm in City Hall. Since Testa played a central role in helping Ganim mount his comeback, it’s highly unlikely Ganim would now suddenly keep Testa out of the loop on key matters.
So what you have here is a man who wields a tremendous amount of influence in how the city is run, although he never got this power through a public election or appointment. And Testa doesn’t have to answer to the public for anything he does. There’s no accountability.
This is a very troubling situation and one which a lot of people in this city have wanted to change for some time.
Now, it looks like they’re going to have to wait some more before this situation changes.
Ganim will be sworn in as mayor on Dec. 1, and has a four-year term.