Opinion: No substitute for David Martin's experience

Stamford Mayor David Martin.

Stamford Mayor David Martin.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

I support Mayor David Martin in the upcoming Democratic primary, and with good reason. I’ve been in hundreds of meetings with multiple mayors in my 11 years serving as a volunteer in elected office, much of that time as the president of the Board of Education and Board of Finance.

I’ve seen firsthand a mayor’s role in managing the city and what traits are most important. Having worked closely with Mayor Martin these past seven years, I know he is smart and has dedicated his adult life to serving Stamford; but to be an effective mayor requires more than smarts, or being well-intentioned or well-liked. I believe an effective mayor must have experience in the inner workings of our local government gained by prior service on one, or more, of our local boards. It’s not enough to say a candidate will “hire good people”, a phrase I’ve heard often in recent weeks. The mayor sets policy and makes the final decisions, not their staff. Without prior knowledge of local government, a mayor will get rolled by people and factions acting in their self-interest.

Before he was elected, Mayor Martin served as a volunteer on the Boards of Representatives and Finance, for more than 25 years. His knowledge of Stamford government is unparalleled, even among those of us with long service in elected office. The first mayor I worked with, Dan Malloy, was also highly effective, and it’s no coincidence that he had served on the Boards of Finance and Education for more than 10 years before running for mayor.

I’ve worked longest with Mayor Martin. He has been highly effective, with a long list of accomplishments including purchasing, financing and building a new school, purchasing/designing a new police station and relocating the Hoyt Barnum house in the process, saving the city $6 million annually by transferring the Smith House to private management, restoring our AAA bond rating through careful fiscal management, managing the city’s pandemic response, and vigorously attacking the mold crisis in our schools by securing $60 million in capital spending. The enormity of these successes should not be overlooked or underappreciated. It was because Mayor Martin was ready to serve on Day 1 of his administration, based on his prior knowledge of our local government, that he could understand and act on such a diverse, difficult agenda. Looming challenges include continuing to fund the city’s long-term liabilities — like pensions and replacement of our school buildings — without breaking the backs of our taxpayers. Mayor Martin has addressed these challenges skillfully over seven years, and my choice in candidates is the one best able to continue addressing them.

Labor relations is just one example where Mayor Martin’s skill set is unmatched by his challengers. The city’s workforce is governed by over a dozen complex union contracts and the city’s financial health rises and falls on their many detailed provisions controlling pay, benefits and work rules. Most people don’t realize that managing labor relations is perhaps a mayor’s most important job, and Mayor Martin has done an outstanding job. From day one he has set contract negotiation strategy — from the high level to the gritty details — given his deep knowledge of city labor relations acquired over his many years in local government. Having participated in countless contract negotiations myself, I have grave concerns about the city’s future fiscal health under a mayor having no experience in local labor relations.

There is no substitute for experience in many other areas — two prominent ones are managing the budget and directing the city’s capital spending — and the same principle applies: To be effective, a mayor must have had substantial experience in local government; the mayor’s budget is due three months after the election, after all. Mayor Martin’s experience is vast and his judgment is sound. We’ve been fortunate to have him as our mayor these past seven years and I enthusiastically support him for a third and final term.

Richard Freedman is chair of the Stamford Board of Finance.