Among Daryl Justin Finizio’s campaign materials are cards asking, “Who’s this new guy? And what can he do for New London?” For Finizio, being a new resident is one of the key advantages he believes can help move the city forward.
“New London needs new leadership,” he said.
Finizio’s name has already been through the ballot box twice since he , with wildly different outcomes. When the Democratic Town Committee , he came in last out of three of the party’s contenders with only six votes out of 75 cast. But after forcing a primary against City Councilor Michael Buscetto III—the DTC pick—Finizio last month when he received 1,108 to Buscetto’s 744.
The November election provides the last and most uncertain test for Finizio. He will face Buscetto once again, after the latter’s decision to run a write-in campaign, along with four other contenders for the mayor’s office.
Naming education as his top priority, Finizio said the mayor cannot make policy on hiring, curriculum changes, or other operations of the Board of Education and . He said the mayor must instead use his or her ex-officio seat on the Board of Education to advocate for the schools, while also using the office for initiatives such as bonding for school improvements and the possibility of merging the financial departments for the city and schools. According to his platform, “A Vision For New London,” Finizio would also encourage financial restructuring to focus on attracting the best educators and administrators, a merit pay program for teachers, a public service requirement for graduation, and conflict resolution and mediation programs. He has pledged to donate five percent of the mayor’s salary to a scholarship awarding a graduate excelling in volunteerism.
“We absolutely must turn our education system around now before we face a state takeover, a loss of accreditation, a reorganization of our Board of Education, and a possible loss of $7.8 million in federal funds,” he said.
Finizio said he also considers public safety and job creation as areas the mayor must work to improve within six months of taking office. He has proposed the addition of six officers to the as well as the increased use of surveillance cameras as a crime deterrent. His platform calls for initiatives such as the adoption of a COMPSTAT program to determine where to allocate patrols, an emergency preparation plan for natural or other disasters, and identifying at-risk youth and connecting them with available youth organizations and programs.
Finizio says his job creation strategy would focus on attracting small businesses to the city, with a special focus on green technology and clean energy industries. Part of the development plan includes efforts to improve entryways into the city to be more aesthetically pleasing to travelers as well as the reconnection of the northern part of the city to downtown via methods such as trolleys and a water taxi. He said he is encouraging voters to oppose the sale of a portion of to the and would like to see the park better utilized if the sale does not go through. He said the mayor will have to abide by the decision taken at the November referendum, but that some legal matters would require resolution in the event of a sale such as whether the nine acres sold would have to be replaced with nine acres of open space elsewhere in the city.
“What’s being left is not really usable land,” he said. “It’s almost an insult.”
Finizio has also proposed the use of land value tax, a method in which property owners would be assessed for their land only rather than structures on it. He said property owners are taxed higher if they improve buildings, and that this strategy would remove that disincentive and lead to infrastructure repairs in the city.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of controversy over this issue, but really it’s one page in a 45-page platform where I say it’s a concept I support,” he said.
Finizio said the state would have to enact a pilot program for land value tax, the City Council would have to approve it, and the Planning and Zoning Commission would have to find a zone to put it into place. He said he supports the use of an LVT zone in the downtown business district, or methods such as abatements or tax credits to achieve similar goals toward building improvement if LVT is not put into place.
Throughout his campaign, Finizio has strongly supported the addition of a grants coordinator position and a legislative lobbyist position to help advocate the city and bring in revenue. According to his platform, the grants coordinator could be funded by ensuring that the salary for the chief administrative officer is reduced to approximately $80,000. Finizio said the role of this latter position in the mayor’s office would be someone with skills to complement his own, as well as political and administrative experience.
“No staffer will be making mayoral decisions,” he said. “I’m not looking for someone to be the mayor while I serve as a figurehead.”
Recently, Finizio has received some criticism for his pledge to abolish the if he is elected. At a debate in May, Finizio said he was opposed to disbanding the organization due to a potentially costly legal fight and favored a more cooperative approach. He said he has always been opposed to the use of eminent domain, and that he made the pledge after developments in the . Finizio said he believes the initial use of the townhouses as rental units, as well as the tax abatement and , are indicative of NLDC moving ahead with bad decisions.
“I think it’s gotten to the point where it’s worth the fight, because it’s the only way the city will have control” he said. “I don’t see that as waffling. I see that as responsible leadership.”
Critics have also questioned whether Finizio’s past is an indication that he may not be able to commit to New London. A member of the Republican Party in Rhode Island, he became a Democrat when he moved to Connecticut. He also left the Westerly City Council to accept a fellowship at Northeastern University in Boston. He has lived in New London for just over a year, purchasing a house on Ocean Avenue in June of 2010.
Finizio said that he visited New London frequently while he was living in Westerly, and met and married his partner, Todd Ledbetter, in the city. He said the departure from the Westerly City Council occurred in the “lame duck” period of his term, and that he accepted the fellowship because it was a “unique, once in a lifetime opportunity.” Finizio said he has always held liberal views and believed the Rhode Island GOP was representative of them, while the Democratic Party is more representative of them in Connecticut.
“I haven’t changed my political principles,” he said. “I’ve always considered myself very progressive.”
Finizio has also pledged that he will not accept private employment or run for another office while mayor, and that he does not believe a mayor should hold office for more than three terms. He said his campaign has not accepted donations from New London public employees and that he will not appoint anyone who contributed more than $100 to his campaign.
A practicing attorney since 2006, the 34-year-old candidate served on the Westerly City Council from 2006 to 2008, interned with the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office, and served as a page in the United States Senate. He formerly worked as a legislative policy analyst and staff analyst for the New York City Council, and is finishing his last semester teaching introductory and urban law courses at Northeastern University in Boston.
Finizio earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, a master's degree in public administration from New York University, and a juris doctorate from Roger Williams University. He is a member of gym and .
A new profile on each mayoral candidate will post at 3 p.m. every weekday through Oct. 17. Tomorrow, the profile will be on Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh.