Power of incumbency felt in mayoral election

Published on November 19, 2011 by

The election for the next mayor of Bridgeport is history and incumbent Democrat Bill Finch was elected by an overwhelming majority. The result was not particularly unexpected.

Finch easily outdistanced Republican challenger Rick Torres by garnering approximately 70 percent of the total votes cast. Independent candidate Jeff Kohut finished in third place. Of the 12,316 votes cast, Finch received 8,435 votes, Torres polled 3,344 and Kohut ended up with 439 ballots being cast for him.

Torres and Kohut both ran vigorous campaigns, especially the Republican nominee. Torres advertised in several media outlets, including WICC, billboards, the Fairfield County Independent and the Bridgeport Banner. He also purchased a large red van which he used as his campaign bus and attended several events on the scooter-like Segway.  For his efforts, Torres received the votes of about 75 percent of the city’s registered Republicans, but that support had little impact on the overwhelming majority of Bridgeport’s registered Democrats.

This is in direct contrast to the approach taken by Finch. Bridgeport has not elected a Republican mayor since Mary Moran in 1989. Coupled with the vast majority of registered Democrats, a strong Democratic Town Committee headed by Chairman Mario Testa and his convincing win in the Democratic primary over challenger Mary-Jane Foster, Finch seemed destined for re-election.

Finch did plenty of campaigning and fundraising, but for the most part he let his incumbency do the talking. He went about his many duties as mayor and consistently touted the Park City’s successes. Obviously the strategy worked.

Kohut also proved to be an effective campaigner, although you couldn’t tell that from his paltry vote total. But the petitioning candidate stayed on point and consistently spoke to the issues with clearly defined policy ideas. His primary issue was to rebuild Bridgeport as a green manufacturing center and circulated a petition to ask General Electric to relocate its solar cell manufacturing operation to the company’s Boston Avenue location. Kohut may have finished third at the ballot box, but his ideas are out there and should be considered even if the man himself is not in office.

What was particularly troubling about this election is Bridgeport’s voter turnout, which has significantly been bad in recent election, but bottomed out to an all-time low at 18.24 percent this year. Of the 67,525 registered voters in the Park City, only 12,316 bothered to show up at the polls. That is disgraceful.

Of course there are some reasons for the low turnout that do not necessarily reflect voter apathy. First, in a non-federal election year, voter turnout is traditionally low throughout the entire country. Second, since many voters considered Finch a shoo-in they may not have felt it worth the effort to cast their ballots.

However, the real reason is indeed voter apathy a factor Torres vigorously campaigned against during the campaign. We’re too lazy, indifferent or jaded to bother with a local election, even though local officials affect our lives in a far greater manner than any other elected officials. Maybe we’re jaded because the city only seems to elect Democrats. After all, all 20 members of the City Council are Democrats.

But none of these reasons are particularly valid. As William Shakespeare once wrote in the play Julius Caesar, “The fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars but in ourselves.”

In any event, Bill Finch is back for another four years, low turnout or not. Voters believe the mayor has done a credible job and showed that on Nov. 8. At every opportunity during both the primary season and the general election, Finch ticked off a laundry list of accomplishments achieved during his first four years in office.

He was especially proud of his BGreen 2020 program and he is striving to be the reason for Bridgeport becoming the cleanest and greenest city in the state. Of course, he also received flak for his involvement of the state takeover of the Park City’s elected school board and the quality of Bridgeport public schools has been an ongoing problem here.

But at the end of the day, that issue wasn’t enough to give any of this year’s candidates enough legs to defeat the incumbent. That is especially true of Foster who has filed a lawsuit over the issue. And, again at the end of the day, Bridgeport voters said, “Hey. We think this guy’s doing a pretty good job.”