November 27, 2017

Bronin should finish what he started

Greg Bordonaro Editor

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin has done an admirable job getting the city to the cusp of long-term fiscal reforms, but there is still much work to be done.

As the city potentially prepares to go under the control of a state-run oversight board and renegotiate contracts and debt with labor unions and bondholders, the stakes have never been higher in terms of needing a competent leader at city hall.

That's why Bronin should restrain his political ambitions, for now, by shunning the allure of the governor's mansion and finishing his first term as Hartford's mayor.

Bronin recently announced that he was seriously considering a gubernatorial run, an about face for the 38-year-old Democrat who told various media outlets in recent weeks that he wasn't yet interested in running for higher office.

While Bronin, a Rhodes scholar who graduated from Yale Law School and worked at senior-level positions in the U.S. Treasury and at The Hartford and served in Afghanistan as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, certainly has the pedigree to be governor, his political accomplishments so far remain unfinished.

He gets credit for winning the mayorship on his first-ever run for political office. He's also cut costs in city government, been open and honest about Hartford's fiscal challenges, and made some tough decisions, including firing Centerplan Construction, the original developer of Dunkin' Donuts Park, in order to bring in a more competent manager to finish the minor league baseball stadium.

Just as important, he's stood up to organized labor — with mixed results — and garnered the support and confidence of the business community, even getting three major employers — The Hartford, Aetna and Travelers — to pledge $50 million in aid to the city, if Bronin and other stakeholders develop a long-term solution to Hartford's fiscal crisis.

But here's the thing, Hartford does not yet have that solution. Are we closer than ever before to a potential true restructuring of city government and finances? Yes, but there are months of negotiations left with bondholders, labor unions, the state and other stakeholders to figure out how to tackle Hartford's long-term debt overhang.

As part of the recently passed state budget, lawmakers pledged potentially tens of millions of dollars in additional financial aid for the city, if it agrees to be placed under an oversight board, which would monitor Hartford's finances and have some power over labor-union contracts.

That should provide greater accountability, but the tougher task will be trying to convince bondholders to take a haircut on debt that is expected to cost the city as much as $61 million annually by 2021, which would represent nearly 20 percent of the entire city budget.

Without those concessions, bankruptcy may still be an option, Bronin has warned.

That's why we need a competent, fully engaged mayor to lead the city through this process. It's tough to see how Bronin would be able to mount a serious gubernatorial campaign and run the city at the same time.

Bronin is already getting flak for considering a run for governor this early into his political career. Many people saw his Hartford mayoral bid as a stepping stone to higher political office, which was a safe bet.

But we shouldn't fault Bronin, or any other politician, for having ambitions.

Most leaders, whether they be in the private, government or nonprofit sector, are ambitious people. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as they aren't guided by blind ambitions rooted only in self aggrandizement. There must be some desire to achieve a greater good, whether it's for an organization, community, state or society as a whole.

Whether Bronin's contributions to Hartford and the state would be better served with him in city hall or the state Capitol remains to be seen, but he should only focus on occupying one office at a time during this still tumultuous and uncertain period.

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