Finch spending $8K of taxpayer's cash to send b-day cards to seniors.
Posted in the Trumbull Forum
#1 Dec 10, 2013
BRIDGEPORT -- The late comedian George Carlin had his own way of coping with turning 60 years old.
"That's 16 Celsius," Carlin quipped.
In Bridgeport, it's now the age at which residents can count on a no-frills, city-printed and funded birthday card bearing the signature of Mayor Bill Finch.
The Democratic administration this fall began producing and mailing birthday greetings to roughly 17,000 residents turning 60 and older, at an estimated cost of around $8,000 a year.
Deputy Chief of Staff Ruben Felipe said the idea had been percolating for a while as another way for Finch to reach out to constituents.
The personal information was culled from voter files and also senior event sign-up sheets.
But Felipe emphasized that the initiative doesn't discriminate. Anyone of age is eligible, regardless of political affiliation.
"It's not a campaign thing," he said. "We're not even close to campaign season."
But Finch certainly has his 2015 re-election bid on his mind. The mayor has been doing some serious fundraising this year to get a jump-start on any potential opponents in a Democratic primary.
Richard Hanley, director of the graduate journalism program at Quinnipiac University, said the cards aren't unusual. The White House, for example, takes requests for birthday greetings from the president, although the minimum age is 80.
But, Hanley added, it's hard to argue that there's no motive behind Finch's initiative, particularly since older residents are reliable voters.
"In the political world, it's to secure some sort of advantage," Hanley said. "Maybe not in terms of donations or support for an issue. But (recipients) say,`Oh, that guy's a nice guy, he took the time out to send me a card.' "
Finch might be breaking a bit of new ground in Connecticut. Staff with the state's branch of the American Association of Retired Persons were not immediately aware of other municipalities that distribute birthday cards to seniors or those approaching that age.
Bridgeport community leader Nancy Szwejkowski, chief elder at the First United Church of Christ on Clinton Avenue, received one of Finch's cards recently to mark her 67th birthday.
"I thought it was a nice gesture," said Szwejkowski, who has known the mayor for years. "Just think how the elderly in their 70s or 80s feel to get a card ... They think it's the greatest thing, because a lot of them are forgotten."
And, she said, in these days of email and texting, older people appreciate well-wishes in the mail.
Marilyn Auerbach, 85, who celebrates a birthday in the spring, said she can think of better ways for the city to spend $8,000.
"I only like to receive cards from people I know," said Auerbach, who has voted for Finch in the past. "Let them spend it on something important."
Thoughtful gesture or a waste of taxpayer dollars, Finch's cards will not land him in hot water with state elections officials. State laws prohibit incumbents from using public funds to mail or print re-election fliers or other promotional materials three months preceding an election.
And since Finch's office began mailing his birthday greetings this fall -- two years away from his re-election day -- it's possible the activity would be considered an established practice, rather than campaign propaganda, during that same three month period in 2015, said a state Elections Enforcement Commission staffer.
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