Leadership, not bickering is needed for the city right now
The city saw the transition of political power flow seamlessly following the swearing-in of the various elected officials on Dec. 3. Mayor Nancy Rossi, in her remarks following the ceremony, promised what her predecessors vowed: to work among the various factions and party affiliations in the city for a better West Haven. We hope she makes good on that promise, which was decidedly lacking in those who came before her.
It is a well-known aphorism in the city that “Politics in West Haven is hardball.” People take their party and their intra-mural loyalties seriously, sometimes too seriously. The city city’s fortunes, indeed the city’s ability to rebound after 30 years of decline, depends on those in political power to get along.
Over the last three decades we have had less and less cooperation between the parties. In the events that led up to the city coming under state control in the early 1990s, it was the lack of cooperation among Democrats with Republicans that allowed a blatantly out-of-balance budget to be implemented by default, following an 8-5 no vote.
In the interest of gaining advantage, Democrats did not work with those Republicans who were fighting their own mayor, at the time Clemente Evangeliste. Instead, a horribly flawed budget was allowed to go through in the interest of the next election.
Since 1991, the city has been under the control of the Democratic Party, but as it has been for many decades, the party is segmented into three warring factions. At one time the factions were labeled Johnson, Allen, Roper. Now they are labeled Picard, Morrissey, Borer. The only thing that is different: the names attached.
The enmity that exists between the factions is palpable, and has been for more than two decades, with distrust all around. Meanwhile, those who sat in the mayor’s office have exploited the factionalism to put through programs that have done little to advance the city and little that results in intraparty cooperation. One can only wonder what the city would look like if cooperation existed.
One of the major components of the distrust and lack of cooperation is the complete shutting out and ignoring of ideas that might come from those factions out of power. Instead of giving a good hearing to those ideas, they are immediately dismissed as politically motivated.
A good example, though not the only one, is the bickering that occurred between former Mayor Edward M. O’Brien and current Mayor Rossi. There was no doubt that budgets passed under the former administration were coming up short and adding to the deficit. Rossi, and others, pointed this out, but were dismissed as political hacks.
Of course, the blame wasn’t all with the third floor of City Hall. Instead of attempting to work with the administration, the political calculus of winning seats in the next election was seen as the ultimate goal. Again, it was all about the gaining of power.
Voter dissatisfaction played a big role in this year’s elections, and Rossi found herself winning not only the primary in September, but the general election last month.
Now we have Rossi in office and those who were in power ready to grind their political axes. Insiders expect the City Council to be a place of distrust and non-cooperation – again. And once again, it is a two-way street. We are seeing the same characters that have populated former administrations beginning to settle into their offices. Few new faces and many old ones will be picking up where they left off.
In a city that is floundering, in a city that has not seen economic growth, but shrinkage in its tax base, in a city that is losing more well-to-do residents, and gaining poorer, less educated residents, the factionalism exacerbates the problem. It’s time for the high horses on all sides to be dismounted and a plan of action that includes all sides to be implemented.
Running the city is more about who gets what job, or who sits on what board. There is little power in a city that can’t pay its bills or attract new businesses.
To use another metaphor: We struck the iceberg and don’t really care where the deck chairs are arranged. Unless the leadership in this city gets its act together, we are going to find ourselves in the briny depths.