Former mayor must explain decisions during his term
The announcement was expected. Indeed, many political-types in the city had been murmuring about it for weeks. Former Mayor Edward M. O’Brien is exploring the possibility of a run against current Mayor Nancy Rossi. O’Brien, who was the city’s chief executive for two terms before losing the 2017 Democratic Primary to Rossi, made his intentions known in a letter to this newspaper last week.
O’Brien, a lifetime West Havener, framed his reasoning in the context of seeing what the future of the city would look like 25 years hence. He believes his policy decisions during his four years were such that the picture would be much more taxpayer friendly a quarter-century from now than if Mrs. Rossi stays in power.
Whether O’Brien makes a run for mayor or not is yet to be seen. We believe he will probably decide to run, and the intramural factionalism in the city’s ruling party will be, once again, out in public for all to see. This factionalism, which has roiled the party for generations, not years, has been more pronounced in this last decade and half than in past years.
Democrats have always had a bit of sectarian interest in the party’s membership. Two generations ago, the party was run by Harold Allen, Fred Johnson and Bill Roper. The three party leaders jostled and jockeyed for position and power, usually allying – for a short period – with one of the other factions in order to prevail.
Much the same as then, the so-called Borer, Picard and Morrissey factions jockey for position and power, and do the same short alliances in order to gain control. O’Brien is allied with Morrissey, and was able to parlay with the Borer faction in order to defeat former Mayor John Picard. Rossi was able to wrest that alliance from O’Brien in order to eke out a primary victory in 2017. Little has changed, with the exception that neither Borer nor Picard live in the city any longer, but their names remain attached to their factions.
O’Brien will have a tough challenge ahead. No one doubts his love for the city or his bona fides when it comes to wanting to do what is best for it. The problem is defending the decisions that came from those years. He will have to defend himself and his decisions, particularly as they relate to the cities eroded finances.
The former mayor was never able to bring the city’s budget problems under control. That is a fact. Over his four years, the city ran deficits, though each year we were assured his budget plans were balanced. The city’s operating deficit – an issue that he used to great effect when running against Picard in 2012-2013 – ballooned as revenues never came close to expenditures.
Moreover, the former mayor is going to have to defend how his decision to bond for the deficit – a $25 million bond passed in the waning months of his administration by the City Council – resulted in the empaneling of the Municipal Accountability Review Board, the committee that now oversees city finances and is threatening to take complete control with Tier IV status.
O’Brien had to know – or should have known – that bonding to erase the operating deficit would have resulted in the review board. The law had been passed by the General Assembly. But we remember when the decision to pull the trigger on the bond was made, he was “unsure” of the ramifications.
Finally, O’Brien will have to come clean about his reticence to make contingency budget plans when the General Assembly was locked in the budget battle of 2017. It became very clear very early that funding the city expected was not going to be included. O’Brien insisted at the time that he was assured of state dollars being guaranteed for the city. In the end, the city ended up with a gaping hole in its spending plan as $9 million never came in state aid. The state’s budget difficulties lasted for months. The city’s financial plan was in peril for months. No contingency plans were made.
O’Brien has every right to run for the office he once held. But he will have to explain to taxpayers why he made – or didn’t make – certain decisions.
We hope he has the answers.