Our Way Forward
A Strategic Operating Plan for New London
By: Daryl Justin Finizio Mayor of the City of New London
- Fiscal Responsibility
- Economic Development
- Social Justice
- Environmental Sustainability
- Epilogue ~ Everyone Matters Equally
Five years ago, New Londoners wanted change. After decades of false starts and a lack of clear leadership, we wanted a leader accountable to the people, not a city manager accountable to seven City Councilors. We wanted a government where decisions are made, not to appease the politically connected few, but to advance the common good. We wanted an outstanding education for all of New London’s children, not solely for children whose families can afford to send them to private schools.
We spoke through the ballot box. Five years ago, we changed from a city manager to a strong mayor form of government. Four years ago, I was elected our Mayor. One year ago, we approved the magnet school pathways construction project, a historic investment and one which will transform our city. As a result, New London is moving forward. In multiple areas—education, economic development, social justice, public safety and sustainability—we’ve come a long way, and we are poised to advance further. At the same time, we’ve stabilized our finances, curtailed spending, and begun to replenish our depleted financial reserves.
None of this came without controversy or opposition. None of it is so far along that it’s immune from the danger of being stalled or reversed. In the coming years, we must proceed responsibly to see the magnet school construction project through to completion, build the National Coast Guard Museum, revitalize our neighborhoods, maintain public safety, advance social justice and increase economic opportunities for all of our residents, including people at the lowest rungs of the pay scale.
This document lays out a plan which builds on the progress we’ve already made. If this plan is seen through to completion, New London will be a city where the quality of a child’s education doesn’t depend on the street on which she or he lives; where public safety doesn’t come at the expense of civil rights; where the course of future economic development is decided by the people of New London rather than by a private development corporation; where green initiatives save money and reduce carbon emissions; where our bond rating is secure, and a stable tax rate won’t price people out of their homes.
I don’t want to turn us into a Newport or the Hamptons. I want us to be a stronger, more vibrant version of ourselves: a thriving, diverse, creative, resilient, New London, where everyone matters equally.Back To top
When I first ran for Mayor in 2011, I spoke about the need to protect our bond rating, to place one-time, unanticipated revenues in a rainy day fund rather than spend them, and to make financial decisions based on the long term financial health of the City. In my campaign platform, I wrote, “The City budget should honestly estimate all sources of revenue and err on the side of caution, so that larger shortfalls in future budget cycles are avoided.”
How prescient those words proved. In early 2012, just weeks after I was sworn in as Mayor, our Finance Director informed me that New London had overspent the previous year’s budget by millions of dollars, and we were on track to overspend the 2012 budget as well. Worse, back-to-back deficits had wiped out most of our savings. With the slimmest of financial cushions, we were on the brink of insolvency. Overnight, regardless of whatever other plans I’d had for the City, stabilizing the City’s finances became my top priority. Over the next two years, my Administration stopped the financial bleeding. I cut municipal spending in fiscal year 2013 by two million dollars, reduced our municipal workforce by 25% and reduced the minimum number of fire fighters per shift from eighteen to sixteen. None of this was easy or popular, but the City went from a $3.7 million dollar annual deficit to a balanced budget in a single year, and I’ve balanced every budget thereafter.
However, our annual operating deficit was only half the problem. The other half was financial liquidity, or having enough cash on hand to pay our bills even when revenues come in at an uneven pace. Early in my administration, our unrestricted fund balance—a combination of money in the bank and money owed to us—was only 1.3 million dollars, just 1.4% of our annual budget. By our own ordinance, the fund should equal at least 8% of our annual budget, and according to our City’s financial advisor, it should be even higher: two months of operating expenses, or thirteen million dollars. In April 2014, our finance director called me to say, “We’re out of cash.” It had been months since we’d received our January tax revenues, and we were a few weeks away from receiving a sizable amount of State funds. Without an advance from the State of our Education Cost Sharing funds, we weren’t going to make payroll.
Although Governor Malloy did agree to send us the funds ahead of schedule, this wasn’t a request I wanted to make more than once. I put together a fund balance replacement plan which required that we budget at least $250,000 annually for savings, that we not budget one-time revenues such as property sales towards operating expenses, and that we bond to pay for past projects’ cost overruns which we’d covered by dipping into our savings, and which could have been bonded originally. This last part of my plan was fought by my mayoral opponent, but voters approved it by wide margins last November, and it remains instrumental in improving our cash flow.
Since we enacted my fund balance replacement plan, our rating agencies have held our bond rating steady. If they were to downgrade us, the bonding for our school construction projects and infrastructure improvements would become much more expensive. Unfortunately, this year we have seen how a City Council’s commitment to building our financial reserves can weaken in the face of political pressure. I will never jeopardize our bond rating or financial stability for my own popularity or political ambition.
Moving forward, we need to stay on the path of fiscal responsibility. The math is simple: if you know how much your health insurance and workers’ compensation will cost, then there is no justification for underbudgeting these items in the City budget. I will veto any future budget which reverts to the bad practices of underfunding fixed costs or overestimating revenues, as I vetoed the city budget approved by our City Council this year. I will also continue to use all legal means within my authority to balance the final budget, regardless of whether I think it is a good budget or not. Lastly, I will remain committed to our fund balance replacement plan. Our fund balance is still less than half of what it should be according to our City ordinance. With accurate budgeting and increased State revenue, it should be fully replenished within six to eight years.
I will also continue to advocate at the State level for changes to our property tax system. Connecticut’s reliance on property tax helps the rich, and hurts the poor and middle class. The wealthiest 1% of Connecticut’s families, with incomes averaging $3.8 million a year, pay only 1.2% of their income in local property taxes, yet the bottom 20%, with incomes averaging just $13,000 a year, pay over 5% of their income in property taxes.
Property taxes are especially hard on Connecticut’s cities. In New London, for example, 46% of our property is tax exempt. We have very little land from which to generate revenue, despite having to provide more services to our residents than do Connecticut’s suburbs.
I have traveled numerous times to Hartford to testify in favor of property tax reforms, many of which passed this year, thanks to our Democratic leaders. As a result, over the next two years, New Londoners will see their motor vehicle taxes drop by 25%, and the City will see an increase in the amount of money we receive as Payment in Lieu of Taxes for our colleges and hospital. This extra State revenue means that the era of big tax increases in New London is over!
I will also continue to advocate for legislation which will benefit New London. This year, I successfully lobbied to receive volume discounts for health insurance by placing our employees in the same insurance pool as State employees. By receiving this discount on health insurance, we are able to provide quality insurance to our employees while protecting taxpayers from increased healthcare costs. I also successfully lobbied the Governor’s Office and the General Assembly for funding for water taxis to support the Thames River Maritime Heritage Park.
My highest legislative priority over the next four years, however, will be more equitable education funding. In education, above all else, the playing field must be level. That will not happen until the State, rather than individual municipalities with disparate abilities to pay, are responsible for the bulk of the education funding.
Lastly, I want to assure New Londoners that the worst is behind us. The last four years were hard on our taxpayers: after years of deficit spending and dishonest budgets, we had to make difficult budgetary corrections, and we also went through a mandated property reevaluation which caused a jump in our mill rate.
The next four years will be easier. The financial burden is lifting, as we will be getting increased revenue from the State, from upcoming development projects which will grow our grand list, from tax abatements which are lifting, and from our new grants writer who is bringing in new funding for equipment and infrastructure improvements.
Additionally, according to new legislation, in order to receive the maximum amount of our share of the State sales tax, we will be required to limit any municipal spending increase, excluding debt service, to no more than 2.5% annually. I will meet this 2.5% spending cap by continuing to look for efficiencies, continuing to negotiate contracts which are fair to taxpayers as well as to employees, and continuing to fill vacancies gradually, only as we can afford to do so. We will keep City spending within a 2.5% annual cap each year of this next Mayoral term.
I’m proud of the way my staff and I have turned around the City’s finances, but I also recognize how painful these cuts and tax increases have been. I’ve been honest with you whenever I had to share bad financial news, and I’m honest with you now: if we follow my plan, the years of big tax increases in New London are over.Back To top
Economic development doesn’t happen all at once, or with a single idea. Nor can a city entirely determine what types of development projects will come to fruition, unless it takes on the financial risk of developing those projects itself. But a city can lay the groundwork for development by providing good infrastructure, by becoming an attractive place to live or visit, by marketing the City well, by removing regulatory roadblocks, and by identifying areas where development is most feasible and allocating its resources accordingly.
Over the last four years, New London has moved forward in all of these areas. We’re seeing some of the results already, and over the next four years we can expect new development to take off. The most important step we’ve taken for economic development is our commitment to improving our schools. Already, our Science Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut has been recognized as one of the top magnet schools in the country. By 2020, all of our schools will be newly constructed or renovated as new magnet schools, and all of our students will be in K-12 magnet pathways. Fewer parents will leave New London when their children reach school age, and real estate agents will no longer steer clients away from New London because of our schools. In fact, our schools will attract homebuyers, because only New London residents will be guaranteed a spot in our magnet schools. Over the next four years, we anticipate a dramatic rise in tourism. Tourism is a natural fit for New London because of our role as a transportation hub, our historic architecture and attractions, our arts scene, our relationship with the U.S. Coast Guard, and our beaches and water views. My Administration has hired a public relations firm, Quinn and Harry, to raise our profile as a tourist destination and as a place in which to invest. They’ve placed positive stories promoting New London in The Courant, the Providence Journal, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe, as well as regional magazines.
The National Coast Guard Museum will bring hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to downtown New London. I was instrumental in securing New London as the location of the museum and in securing a twenty million dollar commitment from the State for museum-related infrastructure. I worked with City Council to transfer City-owned land to the National Coast Guard Museum Association. My Administration also helped negotiate agreements with the adjoining property owners.
Over the next three to four years, as fundraising and construction for the museum are completed, we must continue to prepare for the museum by ensuring that we have adequate parking, by working with State and Federal officials to ensure all regulatory requirements are met, and by advocating for and actively seeking all available federal and private funding.
We must also modernize our traffic patterns and parking policies. One-way streets like Eugene O’Neill Drive are a relic of resident flight from our urban centers, and the outdated notion that streets should whisk a suburban work force in and out of our cities as quickly as possible. Our downtown traffic patterns may have shaved a few minutes off of commuting times, but they are not pedestrian-friendly, and they hurt local businesses.
Several studies have already recommended calming and rerouting downtown traffic by changing some one-way streets to two-way. Currently, with the help of Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, we are conducting a city-wide traffic study which takes into account the projected effect of the future National Coast Guard Museum and our increasing role as an intermodal transit hub. Once this study is complete and I’ve reviewed its findings, I will advocate for changes to make it easier for visitors to sightsee downtown and for everyone to navigate our streets.
Our local businesses are also hurt by parking policies which pit them against each other rather than allowing them to act as a mutual draw. It is counterproductive to force visitors to move every two hours or risk a parking ticket if they want to visit several businesses or galleries, get their hair cut and colored, and eat. This spring and summer we are piloting smart meters in the Pequot Avenue lots. The next step is to bring smart meters downtown.
A tourist attraction, which will include the National Coast Guard Museum, is the Thames River Maritime Heritage Park. This innovative and cost-effective park links existing attractions on both sides of the Thames River through infrastructure and marketing. This integrated project builds on what Alan Plattus has stated numerous time in studies about New London: that historic tourism is the primary economic driver in the northeast and that more people walk the freedom trail in Boston than go through the gates at Walt Disney World. This park can become Groton/New London’s own freedom trail. This past year, my Administration has worked closely with Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith to bring the park to fruition. Together, we successfully lobbied the Governor’s office and the General Assembly for State funding for water taxis. This project is well underway, but requires additional development if it is to become a major tourism draw.
In order to prepare for and attract additional development, we’ll need to proactively upgrade some of our infrastructure. In particular, we’ll need to replace our century-old wooden pipes in order to have the capacity to support additional use. By making these improvements over the next two-to-three years, we’ll be prepared for downtown revitalization rather than scrambling to make these upgrades at the last minute.
Broadband internet is another form of infrastructure which attracts development, particularly big data businesses. Last year, New London became one of 46 municipalities to sign onto the CTgig project, and City staff and I attended multiple meetings to hear proposals from the RFQ respondents and to explore next steps. Seeing this through to completion will require the cooperation of multiple municipal leaders and State officials, but the result will be an increased ability to attract business investment, as well as access to affordable high speed residential service, available to all.
Beautification of public spaces is also important for economic development. An investor is more likely to see New London as a good place to locate a business or improve a building if the City has done its part to make the location attractive. My Administration has secured grants for murals and for landscaping improvements to the downtown municipal parking lot. I personally painted most of the downtown fire hydrants Whaler green and gold, and enlisted volunteers to paint the rest. Over the next few years, we will continue to look for funding for public art, and will seek permission from the State to create safe and attractive walkway underneath the Gold Star Memorial Bridge along the Williams Street corridor. Of course, economic development isn’t limited to our downtown. We must also focus on strengthening and connecting our neighborhoods, particularly in areas which act as gateways into the city. One area I’m focused on is Northeast New London, which was cut off by eminent domain from other neighborhoods for urban renewal and the construction of I-95. City staff worked with New London Landmarks to secure a $100,000 grant to develop recommendations for enhancing Hodges Square, improving Riverside Park, and reconnecting Northeast New London to downtown.
We have already begun to implement some of these recommendations, including donating City land for a community garden near the entrance to Riverside Park, and hiring an architect to better integrate Riverside Park with the Winthrop STEM Elementary School. Additionally, the City worked with Connecticut College and the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments to locate a SEAT bus stop at the entrance of the Connecticut College Arboretum. Meanwhile, students and neighborhood activists have completed the first phase of construction of a new park in the heart of Hodges Square. My Administration will undertake streetscape improvements, bicycle-friendly infrastructure, and the relocation of a historic water fountain back to Hodges Square.
I personally fought hard to save Riverside Park before I was elected, and wrote in my 2011 platform about the importance of revitalizing this asset. I helped increase the park’s usage by locating the annual Neighbor Day celebration there, and successfully lobbied City Council for funding for park improvements. The landscape architect hired by the City has recently finished the design for the entire park, and separated the work into three phases. We will complete Phase 1, which focuses on the area nearest Winthrop School, in 2016. Phase 2 will improve safety by separating vehicular traffic from pedestrians and bicyclists, and will make Emilie’s Shady Spot handicap accessible. Phase 3 is a longer term project which will include working with New England Railroad Company to tear down the abandoned bridge and to provide coastal access.
In other areas of the City, we have partnered with neighborhood and faith-based groups to improve Fulton Park and Williams Park, and are in the design phase of improvements to Veterans Field.
Lastly, no discussion of New London’s economic development is complete without talking about the Fort Trumbull peninsula. I support many of the recommendations of the 2011 Yale Urban Design Workshop Study, including its recommendation to make the peninsula more accessible via foot, bicycle and water taxi. We successfully piloted water taxis last year. Over the next four years, the City will explore the feasibility of working with Amtrak to modify the existing bridge or to construct a new bridge from the downtown waterfront to Fort Trumbull.
Another recommendation already underway is the development of the lot at the corner of Bank Street and Howard Street. This lot, known as Parcel J, has been empty for more than forty years. I anticipate that ground will be broken there this year on a mixed use development project which, once completed, will not only expand our tax base, but complement City Flats and Harbor Towers while making the Howard Street corridor more attractive to developers.
In fact, I believe that development along Howard Street is key to developing the peninsula, because the existing wasteland acts as a barrier between Bank Street and Fort Trumbull. With the help of Congressman Courtney, my Administration secured a grant to remediate soil along Howard Street, and this remediation should be completed in 2016. This will allow mixed use and residential development to occur from the core of our downtown outward.
Other recommendations within the Yale Urban Design Workshop plan which I support include the location of a small or mid-size, independently owned spa or inn to complement our tourism industry; mixed use development appealing to artists and artisans along Hamilton Street; structured parking; a focus on green building standards and small, green technology businesses; and requiring that any development on the peninsula be undertaken with an eye to preserving and highlighting its exceptional topography. Finally, I am willing to accept NLDC’s proposal that the original site of the Kelo house should serve a traditional public use, as was suggested by the Yale Urban Design Workshop.
However, my power and the power of any future Mayor or City Council to determine the future of Fort Trumbull is limited so long as properties along Howard Street and on the peninsula remain in the hands of the New London Development Corporation, now the Renaissance City Development Association. I have long argued that the NLDC abused their power and stigmatized New London in the original eminent domain takings, and that the titles of the NLDC’s properties should revert back to the City.
Unfortunately, I didn’t win that fight. The votes on our City Council simply weren’t there. If the votes are there in the future I would still welcome the transfer of these land titles to the City. I have, however, been willing to accept the current political reality, and am willing to work with the NLDC for the good of the City. However, I will always believe that critical decisions about future development belong in the hands of the people via their elected officials, not in the hands of a private corporation, many of whose members do not even reside in New London.
For this reason, I do not share my opponent’s wish to see the role of the NLDC expanded. The NLDC has argued that the City still retains adequate control over development, because any development proposal would need the City’s approval. However, they retain sole control over which proposals come before our City Council, and which die in their backroom without any public discussion.
My hope is that in every future development decision, we avoid the mistakes of our past. We need to expand our tax base, but that expansion must never again come at the expense of the people who call New London their home.Back To top
Throughout our country, urban school districts have struggled to provide the same quality of education available to children in wealthier suburbs. The reasons are complex: mortgage lenders’ unwillingness to extend credit to urban homeowners led to declining property values and a smaller tax base; tax-exempt properties were disproportionately located in cities; the advent of the automobile age combined with racial tensions led to the rise of the suburbs and the concentration of urban poverty. The results have been underfunded urban schools and an unforgivable loss of human potential.
New London, however, is the midst of a transformation that will make us a national model for educational excellence. The magnet school pathways project will make us the first all-magnet school district in Connecticut, and possibly in the United States. I’ve championed this project since its inception, and my commitment to its completion weighed heavily in my decision to run for reelection. Perhaps because New London has been working on the magnet school conversion since 2012, the completion of the magnet school pathways has seemed inevitable. However, many people don’t know how close the project came to falling apart last year.
It was critically important that the construction bonding for both the New London High School and Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School be approved simultaneously. If New London High School was to be rebuilt as a 6-12 school for our public service pathway and core curriculum for our arts pathway, then Bennie Dover would also need to be reconfigured as a 6-12 school for the dual language pathway. To commit to one without committing to the other would have jeopardized the entire project.
Yet, on the night that City Council voted on the bonding ordinance, my opponent argued that the two projects should be voted on separately, so that Councilors could approve only the New London High School project. He also tried to amend the ordinance to include a provision that we issue the bonds only if we could do so without any increase to our debt service. This would have been a poison pill, making the construction impossible, as it would have authorized the project only if we never had to pay for it.
Had I not lobbied hard for other Councilors’ support, and had I not enlisted other members of the community, including union members, to lobby them as well, I have little doubt that our conversion to an all magnet school district would have failed that night.
Fortunately, the magnet school pathways project was ultimately approved by both the City Council and—by a 2-to-1 margin–by New London voters. The City will soon be choosing an architect for New London High School. Next year, we will select an architect and begin the design phase for Bennie Dover Jackson. Although our timeline is preliminary and subject to variables, we expect both schools to be ready for students by the beginning of the 2020 school year.
I am more proud of this than of any other achievement of my first term as Mayor. Yet we’re not out of the woods. The project still requires us to combine our school and city finance departments, secure temporary classroom space during construction, and develop a staffing and funding plan for additional school maintenance. I hope my record demonstrates my commitment to our youth and my ability to help navigate these upcoming logistical challenges.
Meanwhile, other changes are helping the students currently in our school system. Early in my Administration, I appointed Dr. Manuel J. Rivera as my volunteer Senior Education Policy Advisor, and later I encouraged Dr. Manuel J. Rivera to apply for the position of Superintendent of Schools. Although I recused myself from all aspects of the selection process, I am thrilled that he was offered, and that he accepted, this position.
As an ex-officio member of the Board of Education, I spoke in favor of, and will continue to support, the restorative justice program recently brought before our Board of Education by the School Discipline Working Group. Too often, schools reduce students’ class time by relying on suspensions, expulsions and in-school arrests to resolve student disciplinary problems. The restorative justice program will introduce non-punitive alternatives such as peer mediation and student courts, thereby reducing absenteeism, increasing graduation rates, teaching conflict resolution skills, and keeping students out of the school-to-prison pipeline. As a result, more of our students will be able to learn from their mistakes without limiting their future opportunities.
As important as our public schools are, education doesn’t begin in kindergarten and it doesn’t end at high school graduation. Ideally, it begins in early childhood and continues throughout our lives. That’s why our investment in our public schools is only one component of a community-wide education initiative. Public libraries are one of any community’s most important educational resources. Unfortunately, after five years of level-funding, our per capita investment in the Public Library of New London was less than half of the state average. This year, in the midst of one of the toughest budget fights in recent memory, I successfully advocated for a substantial increase in library funding. As a result, the library will be able to hire a children’s librarian, expand its operating hours, and conduct community outreach, particularly to parents of young children. This is especially important because, according to Reading Is Fundamental, over 60% of children living below the poverty line do not have a single book in their homes. In the upcoming years, I will continue to advocate for additional appropriations to our library until we have reached at least the state average.
Lastly, over the next four years I will be collaborating with Dr. Rivera to expand free, pre-K education in New London. Investment in early childhood education will ensure that more children enter our public schools ready to learn, complementing the investment we are making in our public schools. Unfortunately, children in poverty hear about 13 million words by the age of four, whereas children in high income households hear approximately 45 million words. As a result, even by the age of five there is an achievement gap, with children in poverty less likely to reach kindergarten knowing their alphabet or knowing how to count to twenty. Early childhood education reduces this achievement gap and pays lifelong dividends in higher graduation rates, higher college entry rates, higher earning power, and lower arrest rates.
Dr. Rivera believes, and I agree, that public private partnerships can be formed with major local employers and cultural agencies that will provide the means to make universal pre-K a reality for all New London children. Over the next four years, I will work closely with Dr. Rivera, and the Board of Education, to make this dream a reality.Back To top
Income inequality in this country is as high as it’s ever been, and recent events nationwide have made visible to everyone the racism and classism that still divide us. No single municipality can solve these problems on its own, but every municipality has the ability and the moral responsibility to confront them on a local level.
In fact, social change often begins in cities and towns before spreading to the state and federal levels. Progressive Mayors have led the way in raising the minimum wage, in preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation, in ending racial and ethnic disparities in law enforcement, and in providing protections to residents with questionable immigration status.
I firmly believe that the transformation of our school system is as important for social justice as it is for educational standards. By racially, ethnically and socio-economically integrating all of our public schools, we will be living up to the ideals embedded in the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision in Sheff v. O’Neill, which found that school segregation caused by district boundaries is against the Connecticut constitution. Connecticut’s investment in magnet schools has already resulted in our being the only state in the Northeast where public schools are becoming more integrated, not less. New London’s schools are taking it further, because every New London student will be in an integrated magnet school, not—as in other Connecticut cities—only the students lucky enough to win the magnet school lottery.
However, as we complete our magnet schools pathways, as well as the National Coast Guard Museum, property values in New London are likely to rise. Although this will create household wealth for homeowners, we need to ensure that prosperity is shared so that gentrification doesn’t price other New Londoners out of our community.
Our gridlocked federal government has not raised the minimum wage since 2009. Connecticut state leaders, to their credit, have passed legislation which will raise our state minimum wage to $10.10 in 2017, and last year, I introduced an ordinance which raised the minimum wage of New London’s municipal employees and contractors to $10.10. I’m encouraged by this progress, but it is only a beginning. If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with overall national income growth since 1968, our minimum wage would be $21.16.
That’s why I joined progressive Mayors and legislators in Hartford this year in supporting legislation which would incentivize big corporations to pay $15/hour, and which would use revenue from noncompliance fines to pay for health care, child care and other social services that their employees can’t afford. That’s why I participated in and helped organize a Fight for $15 rally here in New London, in solidarity with low wage workers here and across the nation.
I believe that the Fight for $15 movement will ultimately prevail, but here in New London, fast food workers and big box retail employees are struggling right now. For too long, multi-billion dollar corporations have kept their employees in poverty while extracting profits from our communities. They will continue doing so for as long as we allow it.
The time has come for New London to join cities such as Los Angeles and Seattle in passing a municipal minimum wage ordinance which will raise the minimum wage for fast food workers and other employees of large businesses to $15/hour. I propose making this increase in annual increments of $1/hour beginning in 2016.
Not only will this increase directly help many of our working poor families, but it will also have a ripple effect throughout our local economy, as more people have breathing room in their budgets. It will also apply pressure on big corporations to raise their wages throughout the region, and on State and federal legislators to mandate that they do so.
In addition to reducing income inequality, progressive cities throughout the nation are taking a closer look at law enforcement. Every New London resident wants our city to be safe, and every New London resident, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or immigration status, wants and deserves to be treated fairly and impartially.
Over the last four years, impartial and unbiased police protocols have been a priority of my Administration. Executive Order #1, issued on my first full day in office, banned profiling based on racial, ethnic, religious or sexual background as a sole or primary reason for any police stop, or for establishing probable cause.
Executive Order #4, also issued on my first day in office, directed New London police not to inquire about the immigration status of our residents and visitors, unless that status pertains directly to a criminal investigation. This is a matter of public safety, not only for immigrants who are vulnerable to being victimized, but for our entire city. When people fear that a call to law enforcement could result in deportation, crimes go unreported, criminal activity grows, and neighborhoods suffer. I have also strengthened the ability of our NLPD to serve and reflect our Hispanic community by increasing the number of police officers who are bilingual. I will continue to strongly consider an applicant’s ability to speak Spanish when reviewing applications to the New London Police Department.
I have also directed the NLPD not to prioritize arrests for minor marijuana offenses. Too often throughout our nation, minor drug infractions have been used as an excuse to harass and criminalize people of color. They are also a drain on scarce law enforcement resources. By focusing our resources on more serious offenses, we can make our neighborhoods safer. I agree with Governor Malloy who said, before signing legislation decriminalizing marijuana in 2011, “There is no question that the state’s criminal justice resources could be more effectively utilized for convicting, incarcerating and supervising violent and more serious offenders.”
Throughout my term, I have consistently opposed the expansion of biting dogs within our police K-9 unit. Prior to my taking office, our K-9 program had a disparate effect on our minority population, with sixteen out of eighteen dog deployments being against minorities from 2009-2011. Although I support the use of tracking dogs and, if financial resources allow, minimal-force “bark and hold” patrol dogs, I do not believe dogs trained to bite and hold are appropriate in a modern diverse city, nor do I think they are the most cost-effective use of scarce resources.
Our nation has been rocked by instances of police abuse which would have gone unrecognized had civilians not been present to record events. This has highlighted the importance of police body cameras and of proper police training. Last year I piloted, and this year I intend to implement, body cameras for our patrol officers. Body cameras help protect residents from civil rights violations and provide valuable evidence should such violations occur, while also protecting good officers from unwarranted allegations of abuse and excessive force. Additionally, our police officers received training in fair and unbiased policing, focused on communication, respect and recognizing unconscious biases.
When an internal investigation finds that an officer has violated our own policies on the use of deadly force, I strongly believe that we should have the right to terminate that officer’s employment. This is an area where my opponent and I strongly disagree. In 2012, when our Police Department’s investigation determined that an officer was not justified in shooting an unarmed suspect, I fired that officer, and wanted to appeal the State Board of Arbitration and Mediation’s decision that the officer be rehired. However, the City Council, at my opponent’s urging and direction, decided not to move forward with an appeal in a 4-3 vote.
During my Administration, we’ve used computer-aided technology to analyze 911 calls and incident reports in order to allocate police resources where they’re most needed; we’ve stepped up enforcement of existing ordinances in order to reduce aggressive panhandling, and we’ve increased our use of social media and texting in order to engage the community in solving and preventing crimes. Violent crime has dropped by half since I took office. The past four years have demonstrated that modern policing can be effective, unbiased and impartial.
Lastly, I believe that New London should lead by example when it comes to social justice. I’m proud that I’ve increased diversity in our municipal work force, that I’ve improved services for Spanish-speaking residents by hiring a bilingual City Clerk, and that I’ve improved parks in previously under-served areas of our city.
But there is one area where we still need to rectify a wrong: when New London reduced the number of voting districts from six to three, we disproportionately affected residents who live north of Bank Street. Voters on and around Crystal Avenue, who used to be able to vote at the Winthrop School, must now travel three miles to New London High School to vote, sometimes by bus, taxi or even walking. Other voters who live close to NLHS are now in District 2 and have to travel to Harbor School. Regardless of the intention behind reducing our voting districts, the impact has landed most severely on residents of color and residents with lower incomes. The remedy is to increase the number of voting districts to a minimum of four, and ideally six, before the 2016 presidential election.Back To top
When President Obama came to New London last May and gave the United States Coast Guard Academy commencement speech, he referred to climate change as a peril that can affect generations, and he emphasized that every one of us needs to reduce our carbon emissions.
The science is incontrovertible. The amount of CO2 in our atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million (ppm)—85 ppm higher than it was just 55 years ago, and the highest it’s been in the last million years. Our planet has never seen such a rapid increase of atmospheric CO2. Worse, the carbon we’ve already released into our atmosphere will stay there for centuries, if not millenniums.
Already, Arctic ice is melting, sea levels are rising, and even the ocean currents are changing. No corner of the world is immune from climate change, particularly not a coastal city like New London. If we are to prevent its worst catastrophic effects, we all need to take action now.
In my own life, I’ve taken steps to reduce my carbon footprint. My husband and I are adding solar panels to our home. I frequently ride my bicycle to work. My efforts are matched by the efforts of millions across the world, and together we are having an effect.
But as Mayor of New London, I want to reduce not just my own carbon emissions, but the carbon emissions of our entire city. To that end, I added language to the magnet school pathways bonding ordinance which guarantees that our new schools will be solarized. I increased the number of bicycle racks downtown. I am moving forward with the conversion of City street lights to LEDs. Additionally, under my Administration, the municipal parking garage has added an electric vehicle charging station. Lastly, as Chair of the Pension Committee, and inspired by the divestment movement during South Africa’s apartheid era, I directed our Finance Director to divest our pension funds from fossil fuels, and invest instead in green technologies. Not only was this a moral imperative, but it also directly resulted in New London being one of only two Connecticut municipalities, along with Guilford, to see our investment portfolio grow last year.
But we can, and we must, do more. The State of Connecticut has set a goal of reducing statewide carbon emissions to ten percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and eighty per cent below 2001 levels by 2050. In the next fiscal year, I will propose purchasing inexpensive software which will enable us to calculate municipal carbon output and make suggestions for reducing our future carbon emissions and energy costs. I will then make the results of annual carbon emission audits available online.
New London can also continue to make the city more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Not only will this help reduce carbon emissions, but it will also be attractive to visitors who arrive via train and ferry, to millennials who value being able to live car-free, and to anyone who wants to bike or walk to save money and improve their health. Where street width allows, future paving projects should routinely include bicycle lanes, and we should continue to support the number of bicycle racks in parks and commercial areas. As we receive additional PILOT funding from the State, we should prioritize the repair of existing sidewalks, and build additional sidewalks where necessary, particularly along Water Street between downtown and Fulton Park.
I am also working to bring a privately-financed bike-sharing program to New London within the next year. Bike sharing will complement the Thames River Maritime Heritage Park by allowing visitors to travel to our historic sites and parks without a car, and will also help to better connect our colleges to downtown.
In the next four years, I will work to make geothermal heating and cooling more available. When we install parking meters or replace downtown sewage and water pipes, we will have an opportunity to bring geothermal to entire blocks with minimal, if any, additional street disruption. If City Center District members are interested in switching to geothermal, I will coordinate the City’s work schedule with that of their chosen contractor.
Lastly, we have the ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save hundreds of thousands of dollars by diverting more trash from the Preston incinerator. We can do this by increasing the size of our recycling containers as we replace them, by expanding our community outreach, and by working with our Public Works Director and Sustainability Committee to set a recycling goal and track our progress. A longer-term goal is to join the more than one hundred and sixty U.S. cities that provide curbside compost pick up. Fully implementing this service will require higher Public Works staffing levels than we’ve had during my first term, but we can pilot this program with volunteer households within the next four years and study its broader feasibility.Back To top
Epilogue ~ Everyone Matters Equally
I was not born, or raised, in New London; I chose to make this City my home.
I chose New London because of its diversity and its progressive community values. Come what may in the coming election, I will always love, and live in, our great City.
Over the past 4 years, I have taken many criticisms, some political, some personal. My family and I have accepted the rigors of public life as a worthy sacrifice in the greater cause of making our City better. Only one criticism that I have heard has truly affected me, however: the claim that if I lose re-election, I will leave New London. I have also heard that, win or lose, I will leave the Mayor’s office and/or the City to take another job, or run for another office.
Sadly, I know that because I did not grow up in our City, many residents do not, and will not ever, know me on a personal level. That is why I end this plan with an explanation of my personal motivations in seeking this office.
I didn’t move to New London because I wanted a nice house by the beach. I didn’t move here to run for Mayor, or start a political career. I moved here because I am a progressive Unitarian Universalist married to a New London Puerto Rican who is also a drag performer.
There are many fine places in our nation to live, but there is something special about the diversity of the New London community.
When I met my husband Todd, and started coming to New London a decade ago, I was struck that this City’s diversity was an integrated diversity. A community with many inter-racial couples, a City where Rabbis and Imams, Priests and Ministers, frequently stood together to advance the causes of peace and social justice. A City where, in every neighborhood, in every restaurant, in every house of worship, you saw people from every walk of life.
The vast majority of the people of New London are good, caring people who help each other in times of need. We are a good community with progressive values, but our government has not always reflected those values.
Bulldozing homes for large corporations, level funding schools, engaging in harsh police tactics; these things do not reflect the values of our community. I ran for Mayor to stop these policies and to change them for the better so that our community could become its true self. We have stopped trying to hold down New London’s diversity, or bulldoze it out of the way for large corporations and out-of-town interests. New London is getting better, not only because of the policy points I have discussed in this plan, but in a broader sense because we are no longer trying to be something we are not and, instead, are embracing New London for what we already are; a diverse, artistic, progressive City, with hope for our future.
My faith, and my fundamental belief in the American dream, teaches me that everyone must be treated equally under the law. I believe that everyone deserves basic economic opportunities, that everyone’s home is as special and sacred to them as anyone else’s. I believe that every child deserves an equal educational opportunity. I believe that every person deserves equal access to good quality health care. I believe that every neighborhood, every person, deserves equal attention from their government. In short; when I say everyone matters equally, I mean: Everyone Matters Equally!
If re-elected, and allowed to complete this strategic operating plan for our City, I will work to ensure that this principle that everyone matters equally is embedded in all City policies and protocols. We need to keep New London moving forward, not just for the wealthiest interests that have a stake in our community, but for all the people of our City.
We are all better off now than we were four years ago. Crime is down, the schools are improving and we have promising plans for our economic development; but, more importantly we are a City moving forward with a simple goal, a simple guiding principle. This principle of equality must be our compass and our guide through the difficult waters ahead.
I hope you will support my candidacy in the Mayoral election, but as important, I hope you will work in your own way to advance in our community the simple value that Everyone Matters Equally.Back To top
Paid for by Finizio for Mayor, Sera Vicki, Treasurer. Approved by Daryl Justin Finizio