Manage episode 188645449 series 1576646
Lennie Grimaldi, a longtime journalist, political marketing guru, and the owner and operator of OnlyinBridgeport.com, sits down with Brett to discuss the current state of media and government in the state's largest city and statewide.
Here's a full-text transcript:
Lennie Grimaldi: Okay. Fire away.
Brett Broesder: Welcome to The Tomorrow's Jobs Podcast. I'm your host, Brett Broesder, and today we have a fascinating, great guest, good friend, Lennie Grimaldi of the Only in Bridgeport news website.
Lennie Grimaldi: Can I get a second opinion about being a good friend or an old friend? Go ahead.
Brett Broesder: You can. Yeah, Lennie, thank you, thanks for coming on.
Lennie Grimaldi: Thanks, this is a blast.
Brett Broesder: Lennie, where did you grow up?
Lennie Grimaldi: I was born in Bridgeport. I was raised in Monroe, went through the Monroe public school system. I was a classic, kind of a lonesome, loser kid. In high school, there was this guidance counselor, Charlotte Rosen, who took pity on me one day. She grabbed me, and she goes, "What do you want to do?" I said, "I don't know." Says, "Well, what do you like?" " I like baseball. I like Yankee baseball." She says, "You like sports." "Yeah, yeah." She says, "All right. We are starting a brand new sportswriting class, and I'm going to shove you into that class." In a sea of C's and D's in high school, it was the only A that I received at school.
But she took an extra step on my behalf. She enrolled me in an internship program at then, the Bridgeport Post-Telegram, you know it today as the Connecticut Post and radio station WICC. I had one week in each, by the time I was 17 years old, I had a job with the Bridgeport newspaper. I have a tattoo of a typewriter inside of my right arm as evidence as my profession. Back then, I was composing on an Underwood typewriter. Do you know what that is, anybody? Underwood typewriter, yeah. That's how I got my start in journalism, and it segued more throughout the years, marketing, public relations, political consulting.
Brett Broesder: What was the day-to-day like at a newspaper at that time?
Lennie Grimaldi: It was very different. It was a grind. The newspaper industry, journalism in general, was much different. Everybody went through their local newspaper then, whether it was a daily or weekly. The audience of the Bridgeport Post-Telegram combined was well over 100,000 newspapers. Today, it may be like one-quarter of that, or maybe even less. It was the go-to place back when I started in the late 1970s. What you had was your daily newspaper, and you had the radio, which was big. In this state of Connecticut, radio was big, whether it was Bridgeport, New Haven, or Hartford. It was radio and newspapers and obviously your local television stations. We had channels eight and three, and 30, local affiliates, and that was it.
Now, what you have is you have all kinds of choices. People are getting their information from a variety of locations today. Social media, you can control things on social media. Politicians today can control things on social media. They couldn't do that. Back then, they had to rely much more on the so-called free media, the earned media as we called it. What I learned as a marketing and campaign professional is that, earned media, or free media, is media without a message. You can't control it. During my era, if you were a journalist, you were courted by political operations because that was the natural thing to do, to segue from being a journalist into a political campaign if that's what you wanted.
Most reporters that I know, they make for the worst political operatives on the planet. They're completely different because you're going from a fact-based mentality to a spin mentality. You want to have facts on your side in a political campaign, but you take a lot of latitude with facts. Because if you don't, your opponent will do so by assertion, and that's the nature of the beast. That's kind of how things have evolved. Now they're more like, all the political operatives today -- in particular on the marketing and communications side -- from message to strategy, they're not coming out of newspapers anymore. They're coming right out of college. They're coming from different areas, and they're being groomed that way. That's the big difference between then, and now, you were talking 40 years ago.
Brett Broesder: You were writing for the Connecticut Post, and then courted to work for a mayoral administration, is that correct?
Lennie Grimaldi: Yeah, it was Tom Bucci. Tom Bucci was a Democratic mayor of Bridgeport from November 1985 to November of 1989. I was still a working as a journalist. I spent several years at the Connecticut Post, but then I was kind of eager. I had an entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to write for a variety of different publications. So I spent a little bit of time in corporate PR, at the Dictaphone Corporation, but then realize I just wasn't built for that kind of nine to five.
I kind of hung up a shingle and started hustling for both public relations clients and pitching news editors on stories. I was very, very fortunate. I worked it, by the time I was 21, I was a regular contributor to the New York Times. You learn how to pitch stories. As a freelance journalist, you had to think like an editor. "What if someone's coming to me, what do I want to hear that's going to make me grab or say, 'Assign this person a story.'" That's the mindset that I developed over time. I wrote for a lot of different publications, New York Times; they had a Connecticut Weekly section, I did a lot for them. Connecticut Magazine, I wrote a lot and just hustled. You didn't earn a lot of money, and you got rejected a lot. I used to wallpaper my house with all my rejection slips that I got.
But then, it was somewhere around 1984, Tom Bucci was a Democratic candidate for Mayor of Bridgeport, and he worked in the City Attorney's office. He was a young attorney in the City Attorney's office when I was a young reporter. I liked Bucci because I found that he was one of the few guys in the administration of John C. Mandanici, the mayor then, who wouldn't lie to me. I found someone who wouldn't lie. I could call up and just give me the straight dope, even if it was just for background because you want to make sure you get it right.
He contacted me one day and said, "Hey do you want to come work for me? You want to be," then we called it a press secretary, now they call it a communications director, or something like that. Basically. I said, "Sure," because I wanted to learn about, I had a fascination for the underbelly of cities. I wanted to learn the inner workings of government and campaigns. I went to work for him, and he won, and he offered me a job. The pay was $23,500. I didn't have a suit to my name. I showed up every day at the campaign headquarters with the same gritty outfit. I don't want to describe it; it was pretty gross. I looked the same every day. Corduroy pants and whatever. Bucci looked at me, and said, "You know, you have to get a suit." I said, "How can I buy a suit if I have no money," because he didn't pay me anything.
Brett Broesder: Oh, so you weren't getting paid for the work you were doing on the campaign?
Lennie Grimaldi: It was like a few hundred dollars, it was ridiculous. Yeah, yeah, it was nuts. It was, yeah. He didn't want to pay anybody because what happened, was Tom was much more of a political animal back then, and he was concerned that people were going to look at the campaign finance reports and see who was on it and get grief off of it. It was different. It was a different mindset. Today, you just hire somebody to do your media relations, right? You do your messaging and strategy; they take it for granted. You just hire someone, and you pay them. Back then, it was a little bit different.
I didn't have the money to buy a suit. But my friend, Joe Grabarz, who's in this book that I recently released called Connecticut Characters, he had a credit card. He had no bank account, he had no money, but he did have a credit card. He took me to a local store and fitted me for two suits. Yeah, and I interchanged those two suits every day for like a year. It took me about six months to pay him back. You know, $23,500 didn't stretch very, very far, but that was my big payday.
Brett Broesder: At that time, the media landscape in Bridgeport was different. Today, Bridgeport has News12 as the primary outlet for television news coverage in the area with a little bit of the spillover from those covering the New Haven and Hartford media markets. Back then, you had a lot of broadcast and print media outlets covering the area day-to-day, no?
Lennie Grimaldi: We had a lot and News 12 was emerging then, yeah, good point, all these years later. Now we're like mid, the late '80s, it was just getting started, and News 12 is one of the go-to places now. Back then, in Bridgeport, you had two daily newspapers. You had one, two, three, four radio stations but all had news departments. Today, you have News 12.
I organized weekly press conferences for the Mayor because it got to be so consuming to follow up on all the requests. I needed something like a safety valve, an outlet, so I say, "Okay, everyone, say 11:00 we will do a standard press conference." We had 20 reporters and more. 20 writers. Now, you look, you're lucky to fill a matchbox. Sometimes you conduct news conferences, depending on who you are, where you are in your standing in the community and so on. Then, you had two daily newspapers, the Morning Telegram, and the Afternoon Post, they had beats for everything. There was a police reporter; there was a Fire Department reporter, a Public Works Department correspondent, city government reporter, civil service, labor, transportation. There were beat reporters in both of those papers. Now, you're lucky if you have one reporter that covers the whole city. The Connecticut Post today, and Brian Lockhart's an excellent journalist, he is the one standard, day in, day out, the reporter covering the state's largest city.
They have to fill in here and there, but back then, it was routine to have, I call them my dog and pony shows, and to bring 20 journalists in. You roll out the good news of the day, whatever, and they'd all roll their eyes and then get to the real meat of the matters that they wanted to talk about. It was a very different time, very different place, no social media. Nothing. Nothing. However, what was emerging back then was cable television.
Brett Broesder: Interesting. How did that change things?
Lennie Grimaldi: It became a real pain in the butt because you had more things that you had to pay attention to. There was enough then; you always tried to stay on top of things, especially back then when you had so many journalists, they all wanted a piece of the Mayor. You know this from your experience that there's only so much accessibility you can provide. My attitude back then was to make him as accessible as possible, if he could sell it. Sometimes you represent people who will implode or say something stupid. They puke up what's in their head and don't process and give thoughtful answers.
I was early in the game, if I had to do it all over again, I think I made Tom Bucci, who was very good with me, by the way, maybe too accessible. Because that can be a full-time job, it can just drain the energy out of an elected official if you make them too available. The day in and of itself, being the mayor of the state's largest city or any place, it's a long day, and you get tired, and you can say a lot of stupid stuff. If I had to do it all over again, I think I probably would handle more of the stuff directly. I tried to handle what I could, but there were just sometimes, they were just very aggressive of wanting to get in front of the Mayor or elected official, and sometimes you do it, and sometimes you have to know how to say no.
Brett Broesder: I guess because the newsrooms had so many reporters at that time they were probably able to sit on you until you gave them access, no?
Lennie Grimaldi: There were better staffs, good point, but there was also competition. So although the Connecticut Post publishing company had two papers, the Morning Telegram and Afternoon Post, there was a lot of competition between the two. Tons, oh yeah. They wanted to beat the crap out of each other every day. There was a lot of that, plus you had the radio stations, had news departments. Then you had the emerging television, the cable. You had channel eight and channel three that came in, you know the Bridgeport on the higher profile things. It's very different. But today, you can control messaging so much easier. There was no city website. There was no Facebook page. There was no YouTube. There was none of that stuff. No, there was none of that stuff. You relied heavily on the free media, and I wrote press releases and printed them up on hard copy paper. None of this electronic. You wrote press releases-
Brett Broesder: Faxing, I would imagine?
Lennie Grimaldi: Yeah, we graduated to that. We finally got to that point. Most of it was like you running around with press releases stuck under your arm. That's what it was. Yeah, it was a lot of phones. A lot of time on the phone. And that was it. It was awful. Essentially it was the phone. That's how it worked, and we started the first cell phones were just starting to come out shortly after that.
Brett Broesder: The Zack Morris style, big phone?
Lennie Grimaldi: Yeah, yeah, these big, monster things, like lunchboxes, right? The Mayor, Tom Bucci, had one in his vehicle. He had a phone installed in his car. That was like the first one. Yeah, you get into the early '90s when the phone sizes became more accommodating. You had the explosion of the cell phones, which started changing things a bit. Cameras have gone the way of the 8-track player, right? Because now you have access to a camera on your phone. The front page of the New York Times the other day, What if Cell Phone Kills? What if they killed? Cameras. The stand-alone camera, anyway, because they're on their phone, they're pretty darn good. For guys like me doing stuff on the run, they're fine.
Brett Broesder: On that, when did you start Only in Bridgeport?
Lennie Grimaldi: I started Only in Bridgeport, it's in its tenth year, the tenth anniversary. Want to throw me a party?
Brett Broesder: Definitely, we should do that.
Lennie Grimaldi: I'll probably have a few more, I had one a few months ago. Only in Bridgeport started, I got involved in the front end of the "blogging business." It was brand new. Everybody wanted to do it. There was an editor, then the Fairfield County Weekly, it's deceased. For the last ten years, it had been a lot of funerals for publications. That's been one of them, and some have survived just doing online presence.
Brett Broesder: Did you see that happen, did you see that coming? Is it part of why you launched it?
Lennie Grimaldi: Yeah, well here's what happened, that's a good point. I'm going to segue to that, that's an excellent question. The editor contacted me and said, "Listen, blogging is brand new, you hear about it?" "Yeah, I heard about it. A weblog, right? Blogging." That's what it means, weblog. He said, "What if you start doing a regular column for me? We'll put it online." I started researching it; it was the brand new. And back then, it was like, if you're going to do it, you have to be there two or three times a week. Today, you have to be there every day, multiple times a day. That's how it's evolved over the last ten years. I started writing this column called Only in Bridgeport. It was loaded electronically on their new website-
Brett Broesder: For the Connecticut Post?
Lennie Grimaldi: For the Fairfield County Weekly. Fairfield County Weekly. They had an online presence, they had kind of a revamped website, and they had me on the homepage. Only in Bridgeport, Lennie Grimaldi. I decided I couldn't be all things to all people. If I did that, I would fail. I went with what is my sweet spot, which is government and politics. I love that stuff. It's like sports to me. Now I'm a political junkie; I get embroiled in it. It's like a sporting event. I said, "I'm just going to do government and politics primarily and fill in some other things about what's going on in city life."
A couple of months into it, they started tracking the numbers. They told me they had nearly 50% of the traffic going to the Fairfield County Weekly website was because of Only in Bridgeport. I said, "Hmm, that's pretty good." It wasn't like I was making a lot of money off of it, and traffic is relative. Because even back then, people were still learning to go to websites. They were still conditioned by hard copy publications. That was kind of new to drive traffic there. That was part of what I tried to do. The Tribune company owned Fairfield County Weekly. I was working it, I was developing my following, and I said, "You know what? I'm going to be a corporate casualty at some point because they're going to cut back or they're going to shut this thing down."
It was in, I started it in 2007 under the banner of the Fairfield County Weekly, and then inMarch of 2008, I took it solo with a little trepidation. Because you're asking people to move with you. They were good; I give them credit, I said, "Listen, I'm sorry, I love you guys, thank you for giving me this opportunity, but its corporate culture. It's corporate journalism now. It's not the day of family publications. They don't exist anymore. I know I'm going to end up on the floor. I'm either going to be cut or sold, and it's going to be gone and then I'll be stuck." They were pretty good about it, and they let me announce that I'm moving it to a new independent site.
I took it solo, independently, my site, Only in Bridgeport, and I developed my own, and Sue Katz, who's a great designer, designed the site for me. There was a lot of trepidation, but people came over. Over time, I started building my audience with it and writing about issues, and I call it Only in Bridgeport, but I write about issues that impact the city from the outside. I write about what's going on in the Governor's office, I write about what our local congressman does and how it impacts the state's largest city. I monetize it through display advertising, and it's taken some time to build up enough of an audience to do that, but my site, what I sell is quality over quantity. It's the quality of my audience. They're the most active people. Individuals who go and read government sites or political websites. They're the most active in the community. Fortunate over time, decision makers and stakeholders from around the state will come into reading Only in Bridgeport just to learn about the wacky world of city government. It can be pretty entertaining.
Brett Broesder: When you launched the site on your own, you go from the Fairfield Weekly to starting on your own, a couple of things, one, how did you know it was going to continue to take off? Was there a moment in which you're like, "Okay, this is going to skyrocket concerning audience and ..."
Lennie Grimaldi: It kind of took on a life of its own. I thought there was a market for it when I started it ten years ago because the Connecticut Post did not cover politics. Period. It included very little governmentally. Government and politics are different animals, but they didn't cover politics at all. That was an evolution, and I think that's why you've seen to some degree because news gathering's expensive. It's not cheap; it's costly. When you saw cutbacks in local newsrooms and as a result, no coverage of local government, I think that's going to impact the people who are involved in government because no one's alerting them to what's going on. They're not getting engaged as much, and they're not coming out to the polls as much. I think that was a contribution towards the lower turnouts that we've seen in the last 15, 20 years and there are some trends where it may be improving somewhat, it depends on the kind of race it is.
I thought there was a market, I could fill that void if I stick to government and politics and not get too far out. I would lose readers, and this is what I do. I just do this, this narrow band because if I get too far out on it, I'm not going to please people, I'm not going to satisfy people, and I'm going to lose my core audience. I decided fundamentally I was going to stick to government and politics and that's where I earned my stripes in building up an audience that is interested in knowing what's going on governmentally and politically. That's where the growths become so that to the point where state's largest city, politicians all over Connecticut are interested in what's going on because whether you were a politician from New Haven or Dan Malloy from Stamford when he was Mayor, he was running statewide for Governor. Bridgeport becomes an important place for the establishment to know what's going on.
I allow people to comment and there's a lot of titillation about that. I make no bones about it. I don't care how people get to my site, if you want to come because of the give and take of the exchanges from the comment section, I'm fine by that. We got a lot of critical thinkers and readers, and as you know, you've been subjected to that when you worked in the Mayor's office in Bridgeport. This is a tough crowd that cuts loose. They're not afraid to speak their mind. But you have to police it. You have to police it every single day. I read everything.
Only in Bridgeport takes up a lot of my time, I enjoy it, I love it, but I, fortunately, have a webmaster. My webmaster, Ray Fiucci, he's the guy behind the curtain. He helps me to police it, to keep people honest. He loads my ads. He's the man at two or 3:00 in the morning who is reading every single comment that's come in during the day. I'll do it too to see if someone writes something that has not reached my level of taste. I give people a little latitude. There are certain things; I'll only go so far, you know? You want to say, "Your mother wears Army boots," okay. But if, "Your mother wears Army boots in bed with so and so," well that's going to get whacked. Yeah, yeah.
You have to police it otherwise you lose your credibility. Because in the early days of this stuff, anything went. Going back ten years when they started this thing, websites, and the comment section, anything went. I reached the point where no, I mean there's freedom of speech, but it has limitations to it. The true believers, "Oh I should let it go, blah blah blah," no, you can't. You can't, because this stuff, as we learn, follows people. It follows people. We have individuals who are trying to, some of it's self-induced, but they have to rehabilitate their relationships because of things that are put out there on online news sites. Reputation enhancement, they call it now, but some of it's legit, and some of it's not. You have to stay on top of it and the big difference between then and today, back then it was like you had to be posting something two or three times a week, now it's every day. Every day, and multiple times a day, sometimes, because ten years ago, everyone thought they could do a website. Everyone thought they could do a blog. "I could do this; I could do it." Well, guess what? You can't. Because you have to pay attention to it. Because if you're not there every day, they're not going to show up. You're going to lose your audience.
Brett Broesder: Get a consistency in the high-quality content. It's critical, right?
Lennie Grimaldi: Yeah, and people come in, and they're coming in for quick hits. The average will be, it depends on the news cycle, they're coming in for three minutes, two and a half three minutes.
Brett Broesder: What's your most read story since the start of Only in Bridgeport as your-
Lennie Grimaldi: Easy, easy. Joe Ganim's re-election as Mayor. The two highest trafficked days in Only in Bridgeport, the day that Joe Ganim won the primary over Bill Finch, which was historic. For your audience, some people know Joe Ganim was Mayor of Bridgeport from 1991 to 2003. By and large had a successful mayoralty. Got some stuff done, but Joe had his hand out and got charged and went to trial in New Haven before Judge Arterton, and was convicted and got a stiff sentence. Did his time and came out and ran on a second chance message, which galvanized the black community. He defeated Bill Finch in a primary.
And not anybody was going to beat Bill Finch. Not anybody. It took a special kind of retail politician. Joe Ganim's the best retail politician I've ever seen in my life. Bill Finch is a pretty good retail politician, but he wasn't at Ganim's level, and they're two different kinds of animals. Bill's a very active, strong policy, Bill Finch was the first policy-won Mayor of Bridgeport. Joe Ganim is much more pragmatic. Joe will kind of think through what he's going to say and then say it, where Bill tends to puke up what's in his head right away. Because of that, Bill Finch developed a complicated relationship with the black community; they didn't trust him, they felt his word wasn't any good. Under Ganim, they saw some progress and Ganim just retailed the crap out of it.
Ganim's an interesting study. I worked for him as campaign manager in the 1990s; I don't do any of his political work today. We have a civil relationship. We'll talk about stuff. He's the kind of guy who is pretty thick skinned. If Joe Ganim comes to you and says, "I want your support," and nine times you say no, on the tenth time, in his head, he thinks he's going to get you. Most people you ask them, "Can I have your support?" Well, they go away. Some will say, "Why don't you come back, you're giving up that easy?" But Joe doesn't give up easily, and that'spart of his strength doing that.
Campaigns about match ups. Joe Ganim was probably the only guy who was going to take Bill Finch out in that cycle. You had people voting in that Democratic primary for Mayor that hadn't shown up in a long time. Over a decade. And they were largely in the black community. Finch had his support. If you look at those precincts, Finch won almost half the precincts. But Ganim's blowouts were larger than Finch's blowouts. That made the difference. Joe Ganim is winning the primary over Finch by I think roughly 400 votes and he then wins the general election handily. It wasn't even close, and he's been back in for what, 20 months now?
It's been a mixed bag. Mayors kind of need a couple of years under their belt to show what they got and he's got some things tied up, economic development wise that is happening. Some of them left over from Finch. He's benefiting from some of those things, some of those economic development projects left over from Bill and some he's generated on his own. We'll see where it goes. It's just great for me, but those were the two ... long-winded response to your simple question, right? Two largest audiences from one single day in Only in Bridgeport, 2015, Joe Ganim winning the Democratic primary and then winning the general election.
Brett Broesder: You've seen Joe since, I mean when he ran against Bucci in the primary. Was that '87?
Lennie Grimaldi: Joe, he ran for Mayor for the first time in 1989. It was a six-way primary in 1989 and finished a surprising third. Mary Moran, the last Republican Mayor in Bridgeport, defeated Tom Bucci in the general election. Two years later, Ganim defeated Moran in 1991 and was there until 2003 when he was forced out of office. 12 years later, 12 years later, made a comeback. He was the youngest elected Mayor in city's history in 1991. He was 32 years old. He came back as someone who was 55years old, regaining an office he was forced to leave.
Brett Broesder: How have you seen him evolve? What's a key way that he's grown as a campaigner that you've noticed since the first time he ran for office versus the 2015 race?
Lennie Grimaldi: He was kind of shy initially as a young man campaigner. You know, 32 years old, sometimes you know what, you must get out and get your nose bloody a little bit. And he did. He ran for Mayor; he first ran for state house in 1988. He lost to Lee Samowitz in a primary. He got in the game. He lost a primary to Lee Samowitz. The next year he runs for Mayor and then he's barely ... He gets elected in '91 at 32, and he was 28 years old running for mayor. Ran better than people thought. I was involved in his race in 1991 for the first time when he won. I managed his races throughout the 1990s. Joe's a very confident guy. He's not shy; he doesn't lack for confidence. He's very, very confident in his decision-making. Some politicians are. Good, bad, or ugly. He's very confident. But unlike some politicians, he will listen to what you have to say on the plus side.
On the downside, sometimes he has an attention span of a three-year-old at playtime. You have to grab him by the collar and shake him up. You work for Bill Finch, and Bill was like that sometimes too. Bill, you'd sit down with Bill and you focus him, and all of a sudden, he's off talking about the red-tailed hawk or something. He was a nature boy mayor. I enjoyed a good relationship with Bill because I managed his race for state Senate in 2000 when he beat a Republican incumbent that year, Lee Scarpetti. Great question, because you meet all kinds of politics, that's what I like about it. Ganim and Finch are two completely different animals. Two completely different personalities.
Brett Broesder: What's the biggest difference you see between the two administrations now since ... Only in Bridgeport has spanned maybe a touch of Fabrizi or was it after Fabrizi-
Lennie Grimaldi: Yeah, tough of Fabrizi. John Fabrizi, who had his issues, and the reason that Bill Finch became mayor of Bridgeport is that John Fabrizi had a couple of things. The first thing he could have survived. There were revelations about cocaine use. He 'fessed up to it and John's a very emotional guy, he got very teary-eyed over it and apologized for it. He was probably going to survive that.
What he wasn't going to survive was the spring of 2007 when he walked into a courtroom in the Superior Court of Bridgeport and asked the judge to show leniency on behalf of a sexual predator, who happened to be friends with his son. John did it on behalf of his son. Nice kid. He said, "Look, my son, his friend was in trouble, my son asked me to go speak on his behalf." Fabrizi didn't count on Dan Tepfer, a reporter for the Connecticut Post to be sitting in the courtroom that day. He freelanced it; he didn't tell anybody. He went in, Tepfer sitting there, he goes in front of the judge, and he asked for leniency in the sentencing for this kid who had sex with I think a 13 or 14-year-old. That cut across every single demographic in Bridgeport.
People who have fallen on hard times can be very, very forgiving. They can be the most forgiving people on the planet. But after going through the cocaine thing, and he did apologize, this one just cut through every demographic, no matter how much he was going to apologize. They said, "Yeah, you apologized, but guess what, now your judgment is in serious question, and we don't know if we want someone like that to be our mayor, even though you've been there four years or so."
They did a poll. Democratic party did a survey, and they found out there was no way John Fabrizi was going to be the state rep. Chris Caruso, party maverick, in a Democratic primary, so the party establishment threw Fabrizi under the bus. "You can't run," and they went to Bill Finch. They had to chance on somebody who could beat Chris Caruso in the primary. The guy they thought that could beat Chris Caruso in a primary was Bill Finch, who was an incumbent state Senator and had a reasonably strong standing with the electorate of Bridgeport. It was a close primary, but Bill Finch won the primary, won the general election handily, got re-elected 2011 and served eight years as Mayor. Then had his issues, which Joe Ganim was able to exploit.
The big difference between the two administrations is the Finch administration was much tighter on messaging, much more controlling the message geared than what you have now. Ganim likes to control message, but not nearly to dotting I's and crossing T's on every level that some administrations do. There's a little bit more latitude in the releasing of information. For all the meowing you hear about Ganim, not wanting to release information, Finch administration was way tighter on controlling the flow. They would release information, but it was tightly controlled. A guy like me had to rely much more on my contacts with the Finch administration officials.
There was much more concern about sharing information with me because they didn't want Adam Wood, who is a friend, the chief of staff of Bill Finch, to find out that you're leaking. They were terrified to give me information, no matter how many times they said, "It's back room, it's off the record, don't worry, I'm the dragon protecting the castle, I won't give you up." They were very, very concerned that if he found out that there was going to be hell to pay. Their message was tightly controlled, and you were there, you were communications director, and you were much tighter on what you wanted to release. I don't blame people for doing that. You got your job, and I got my job. And that's how it works. Part of what I had to do is go around a little bit, had to go around a little bit more on the Finch administration to get information. People are more willing to share in Ganim's administration because he's not worried about getting whacked over the head.
What happens though when it's that tightly controlled is people are more intimidated. If you break too many bones, people will start calling you up and saying, "Well you need to know about this." That's the flip side of that. When people start feeling too much intimidation, they will take a risk, especially if they feel like, "I got in the skin in the game here, andI'm not being treated the way I like." I'm not saying one's right or wrong, that's the reality of the situation.
Brett Broesder: You've been on all sides of it. Look at me, I've learned some harsh lessons through it, through what you give, what you don't. What's the right way to go? I guess there isn't; you're playing it situation by situation. In your opinion, do you err on the side of releasing-
Lennie Grimaldi: I get it all out because it's going to come out. Get it out! Even with Ganim administration, you have some of that. There's stuff that I want that I feel public information. A lot of it's the lawyers. In defense of the politicians, whether it's Finch or Adam Wood, or Joe Ganim, and his chief of staff or whatever, in defense of them, sometimes the lawyers who just want to ...
The problem with some of the lawyers in City Attorney's offices is they will sometimes do a disservice, from my perspective to a chief elected official, because they want to control policy. They want to control marketing and communications, and some of this stuff is like a no-brainer, this is great news, let's get it out the door! Instead of just releasing the names of people who've put a bid in on the process, they'll go, "No, we want to wait until the process is completely over and someone is selected." How in the world is the Joe Q. Public going to figure out who's the good guy and who's the bad guy in this process? Who's the most accomplished? Who has the best background? If you don't share that information, because then these requests for proposals and requests for qualifications, there are these packages. We want to renovate the downtown theaters. They submit all their information. Well, the City Attorney's office said, "No. Not until someone's selected." But maybe other people are more qualified. Why should we take you at your word that you've chosen the best one? The answer to that is, "We're choosing the best one because it's our best interest to choose the best one." That's the response. That's what guys like you and I say. What are we going to say now? "Okay, yeah, you're all right."
That's how it works. Sometimes it's the lawyers who sometimes get in the way. That's part of the push and the pull. It's not local government. It's state government as well. Part of what you deal with trying to get information. But I worked both sides of it, so I understand both sides of it, but me, I come on the side of, "Let's get it out," because they're going to find out, someone's going to rat you out. Someone's going to get mad. Someone's going to say, "You're too tight on the information." There are certain things you have to put a lid on. There are certain things you have to, but that kind of stuff's, no. That sort of thing, no. You just want to get it out.
Brett Broesder: Definitely. It is the City Attorney, the legal piece of it, which is difficult I think for both sides of that too, right?
Lennie Grimaldi: Right, when I worked for the Mayor, I worked for two mayors, and we had our battles. I said, "You're not going to dictate my marketing policy. You're not. You're not." We had battles. Ganim is a lawyer, so he's going to want to listen to the lawyers. You tell him, "I don't agree with those guys." "That's what I'm paying them to do." No, sometimes he'll override them. Look, a mayor can override City Attorney's office anytime he wants. There were sometimes that Ganim was like, "Let's get the damn thing out the door." Depending on his mood. Any public official's attitude.
Brett Broesder: You've obviously had dealt with Steel Point since you were a reporter ... Bass Pro Shops. Dan Marr was on the Wheelhouse this week and was talking about different economic development deals that have happened in the last few years, and one of them, as I mentioned, was Bass Pro, said it wasn't necessarily a good deal for the city. What do you think about that?
Lennie Grimaldi: Too soon to say. Some will argue that there should have been a lot more state money in that thing. Bass Pro Shops, it's huge for Bridgeport. It's the primary credential of Bill Finch. And Adam Wood deserves a lot of credit. Adam Wood, Mayor's Chief of Staff, he was the one who jawboned with Bass Pro Shops to get them there. It's their first urban store. I talked to their PR people a couple of weeks ago, and they said, "We're great where our numbers are." They think what we need to see at Steel Point is it going vertical.
I think here's the failure of Steel Point, and here's the piece that was not hammered home during the Finch administration. No one understood the economics of Steel Point. Nobody rolled it out. No one was able to say, "This many jobs, this much in taxes," it became very, very confusing because there was a development agreement in place in which in the initial years, two-thirds of the tax revenue goes back to infrastructure, reimbursement and improvements.
Brett Broesder: Its part of the TIF district.
Lennie Grimaldi: Yeah, exactly. This year, the City of Bridgeport is clearing a half a million dollars in taxes on that property. The tax bill is like $1.7 million. But a good portion of it has to go back for infrastructure and improvements. They're getting a half a million dollars in taxes now. And personal property. It's starting to kick in. I think-
Brett Broesder: It was a little bit of a double-edged sword there internally, in those discussions of, "We're not going to get the tax. The taxes that some people likely would expect and in your term, so we don't want to have that be the focal point because the short run's what matters when you're going into an election year." Which I-
Lennie Grimaldi: Steel Point is a redevelopment of the east side of Bridgeport. 50+ acres. It's all clean. It's clean now, and you got Bass Pro Shops, and you got some other stores in there. It's starting to go vertical. When down the road, the biggest piece of this is going to be the housing bone of it. That's what's going to make it take off. 50 acres of a troubled area was cleaned up. You have a lot of African American and Latino voters who could spit to that property and walk there who never saw the economic value of it, who never saw the economic benefit. If any of those neighborhoods should have been pleased with the redevelopment of Steel Point, it should have been areas on the east side, in the east end, where Bill Finch does not perform well.
Again, it's a tricky thing to sell, but I think the selling of SteelPoint, which is Bill Finch's major accomplishments, and deservedly so, of getting Bass Pro Shops there, that was the failure from day one. Even before you got there. Way before you got there. There was all of this activity, and there was all of this excitement, but you know where it translated? Outside of Bridgeport. More than in the immediate neighborhoods because they never got that. They never got that. For instance, I think what had been a cool thing to do was maybe have a jobs fair.
Brett Broesder: That had occurred, but pretty late in the game.
Lennie Grimaldi: Right, I think it was at the Klein.
Brett Broesder: Yeah.
Lennie Grimaldi: Yeah, right.
Brett Broesder: But to your point, had this happened earlier it would have been ... yeah.
Lennie Grimaldi: But all this is sales. A lot of this stuff's sales. That's what it is. Look, some elected officials, they're terrible. And they get re-elected all the time. You get some that are pretty good. This is business is timing. It's all timing. So much of it. Let's look at the state level. Dan Malloy. Eight years, right? And he's not going to seek re-election. The approval numbers are really low. This guy hasn't caught one break in eight years. Jodi Rell, you could argue that Dan Malloy works ten times harder than Jodi Rell. Very, very nice person, Jodi Rell. But she was like Mother Goose. She could do no wrong. Nothing. People love her; obviously, she was a cancer victim and a survivor, and she fought through it, kind of an inspirational person that way, but she ... til the end. The economy was imploding everywhere. Even Dan, approval numbers were, her rates were excellent, remember? 2008, 2009, right? It's like the economy's terrible, but no one blamed her for it at all. Not saying they should, if it was a personality they weren't crazy about, they're looking for people to blame. But for her, Nah. Mother Goose.
Brett Broesder: That's incredible. Speaking of timing, the City Council obviously just had primaries. What are your thoughts on the local political field in Bridgeport right now?
Lennie Grimaldi: Well politics is the best sport in town. Bridgeport has the 10 City Council districts, and there were nine primaries out of 10 districts. I think part of it is personalities. Some of it is personal stuff. Some of the districts were about Joe Ganim, but not all of them. Too soon to say what this means. What I like about it is you have an emergence of young people getting involved. To me, that's the most exciting thing. It can get pretty stale. As I've written, getting a nice whiff of youthful enthusiasm in the politics is a good thing. Between Bridgeport generation now and the group and the reemergence of the greater Bridgeport Young Democrats, they got involved in some of these local primaries for the City Council and their candidates have been doing well. We'll see if they stick with it. This is a game that takes perseverance, persistence, patience, and timing. Right now the coffee's smelling pretty good. Some days the coffee will be tasting cold. It takes patience.
Brett Broesder: The Council President Tom McCarthy stepping down. How do you think that will change the Council?
Lennie Grimaldi: I had my differences with Tom, he's a friend on some things on Council, but by and large, he provided a stable city council presence. He was very good at galvanizing the votes. He's a steady hand. He's a very, very steady hand. It's like in that job, you got 20 Council members then you got 19 personalities to juggle, and Tom did a good job at that, juggling the characters. I think on some level he's going to be missed, depending on who's going to replace him. There's going to be a contest for that. There's probably going to be three, or four, or five people who are going to want it and they're elected amongst their peers. The members of the City Council elect the Council President and who succeeds the Mayor if he can't go on. The City of Bridgeport, the legislative body, also budget authority. The rank and file City Council members have a significant impact on the local electorate.
Brett Broesder: Kind of broadening it a bit, and I know you've worked on some big statewide races, including race in 1994 among several others. Alexion just announced they're leaving. GE, Aetna, for better, for worse, it comes across at least like it's a trend. How do you think that impacts things moving forward even today as we're talking? The state still has to pass the budget, and they're up right now.
Lennie Grimaldi: I'm a city guy. You can appreciate this, Brett, having worked in cities. Cities need to become economic drivers. I don't think we sell the state enough. I'm a big believer in branding, and Brett, you did a great job in your Bridgeport brand marketing campaign a couple of years ago.
Brett Broesder: Thanks, you did a great job for so many years running marketing campaigns in the '90's for Bridgeport and set a high bar.
Lennie Grimaldi: You have to market your product all the time. And we don't sell our product enough. Look what New York state's doing.
Brett Broesder: Yeah, those ads ...
Lennie Grimaldi: They're like incredibly always in your face, and they're very convincing. Here's why you need to come to Connecticut. And they're doing it in New York. And there's a lot of stuff to sell. I like Connecticut. Taxes are a big issue. I love our location. I love our parks and our beaches and country and diversity of the state and proximity between New York and Boston. The higher education, our public school systems, a lot of things to sell. We don't market our state well enough, number two, and we're not doing enough to drive businesses into the cities.
How do we do it? I have an idea; it's far-fetched to some people. I think we have to make our cities attractive. Here's an idea, a political candidate to take on as an incentive. How do we drive and attract businesses into our cities? Why not place a moratorium on taxing the income of people who live and work in cities? Why not put a moratorium that you have to measure what you're going to lose on the revenue side versus getting a major company to come in. Go out of state and say, "Look, you come to Bridgeport," it's like the three biggest cities, for instance. I think Stamford may be number three now behind Bridgeport and New Haven. Stamford's doing well. This Governor who was the Mayor there, this Governor made sure Stamford was going to do well. I think he could have done a better job at driving, let's skip Bridgeport, and here's why you should go to Bridgeport. He's going to say, "Well Stamford's an easier sell." Well, part of what your job is, Governor, is to transcend that kind of sales and make them say yes.
We saw what Lowell Weicker did with this Governor in his four years, he did a lot of good stuff for Bridgeport, but I think we have to start doing something different. To me, it's like why not go to a company and say, "Look, you come to Bridgeport. We're not going to tax the personal income of your workers for whatever, ten years, forever, for five years," you have to think it through but you have to have some incentive for people to drive businesses there.
I like to say, let's take it a step further, let's not tax the income of people who live or work in the state's largest city. So you're driving younger professionals in. And we're starting to see some more of that in Bridgeport now because of the housing. Housing in Stamford, you go down there, it's $2,000 for six or 700 square feet. 800 square feet. When you get a nice apartment in Bridgeport for $1000, $1200. Downtown Bridgeport, which is safe. Why not have some incentives? Maybe it's an enterprise zone; maybe you can't-do it for the whole city. Maybe you carve out a piece of the city, and you say, "You come here, and we're going to place a moratorium and tax on the income of people who live and work in those areas." I think then you might get something going.
Brett Broesder: In the absence of that, and we've talked about this before, so much of the ability to retain existing, and recruit new, businesses in cities and towns across the state is contingent on how good the economic development director is. I had the pleasure of working with David Kooris who did a tremendous job, and I know you worked with Mike Freimuth and others ...
Lennie Grimaldi: Freimuth was very, very good. David Kooris, Freimuth, and Kooris and even Tommy Gill, who's there now. They're your classic, bureaucratic professionals. They're not there because they bring with them votes. They have no votes. Economic development that's part of marketing your city, it's an economic generator. It's a revenue-generating department. That's what it is. When I started hearing about, "Oh, I have to cut economic development," you have to be crazy. It generates revenue. You have to give the guys the tools to do what they can do. Because they generate revenue.
There's stuff that's teed up in Bridgeport now. I'm more optimistic about Bridgeport than I have been in a long time because it's things that started under Finch are continuing under Ganim, and I think over the next year, or two years, a lot of it is things have to break right. There are a lot of ifs, but if Steel Point starts going vertical, and you have this proposal to replace the Bridgeport Bluefish, which was a success story for a while, but everybody has its shelf life. The Bluefish, the baseball team, started off great in 1998, 99, and 2000, and they averaged 4500 a game, great crowds, it was a real event to go to. For the last several years, the team has fallen on hard times. Some nights there was a few hundred people, it was sad to see.
There was an RFP that went out and Jim Koplik, who's one of the greatest concert promoters in the history of our state, has joined forces for a proposal to build an amphitheater. It's a 6500 seat amphitheater at the location of the ballpark where they're going to renovate it and invest $15 million. The City of Bridgeport put an RFP and selected this outfit to transform the ballpark at Harbor Yard into a 6500 seat concert amphitheater, which could put the city on the map for shows because Koplik is going to work that. He's part of it; he's part of the teaming arrangements in this proposal. He is the context of the great concert acts of the city. It's going through the process, the City Council hasn't approved it, so it's all process driven right now, and they're looking for an opening in the spring of 2019 to get that going.
Brett Broesder: Let's look at Bridgeport from the state level right now. The state budget situation is a mess, and that puts Bridgeport's city finances in a terrible situation. In looking at the state budget chaos happening right now, how does this rate within the worst state budget situations you've ever seen?
Lennie Grimaldi: Last time it was just this bad is 1990. Lowell Weicker gets elected and institutes a personal income tax. It was a big budget shortfall then. It was pretty tough, but then that gave the state a steady revenue stream implementation of the personal income tax for many years. Then people complain about the personal income tax but the economy was roaring in the mid, the late 1990s and yeah, I think on some level, yeah, we're not a tax-friendly state, and the state has to work on that. On the political side, 2018 could be a Republican year, both legislatively and chief executive. It's still sorting its way out.
You got candidates on both sides. Republicans have some pretty good candidates, and the Democratic field is Nancy Wyman, the Lieutenant Governor going to run? If she does run, she's got the Wyman charisma with the Malloy baggage. I like Dan Malloy. He never caught a break, and he's a hard worker, but it's timing, and he never caught a break. Wyman is one of the most charismatic politicians we have. But is she going to run from his record or embrace it? Will she get in it? If she doesn't, you got Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, who's in it. You've got Jonathan Harris, a former State Commissioner. You've got Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim. You've got one of the dark horses, the sleepers, to watch is this Chris Mattei, former federal prosecutor, was the guy who locked up John Rowland the second time around. Mattei is a young man, pretty sharp on his feet, running as a reformer. But intelligent guy. Could he run outside of the system? The Democratic side right now is completely wide open, especially with Kevin Lembo, the state comptroller deciding not to run. Is there room for somebody else to get in it? It's wide open on both sides.
The Republican side you got Tim Herbst from Trumbull the First Selectman, you got Mayor Boughton in Danbury, you got Mayor Lauretti in Shelton, you got David Walker from the U.S. Comptroller General, another Bridgeport guy who's running. You're going to have probably primaries on both sides. It's a long way from being decided. If Wyman gets in, it certainly changes the configuration of the Democratic race, because she will be the endorsed candidate. The question then becomes does anyone want to challenge her in a primary?
Brett Broesder: And, in looking at the overall political landscape, we need to take into account what's happening at the federal level. That said, I know President Trump is a former client of yours. What was it like working with him?
Lennie Grimaldi: I always like to describe working for Trump as riding a bronco. You jump on, you hold on for dear life, and you get tossed and dust yourself off, and you keep rolling with it. With Trump, what you see is what you get. I worked for him for four years. He's a president who's trying to be king. He can't be king as president. You have to work with something called Congress. All of his core promises have not materialized. In the last week, we saw him sniffing around with Democrats a little bit to try to build bridges there, but we'll see. It depends on the day.
The leadership in Congress, they don't want him, but they're stuck with him. They have to work with him on some level. They want to get things done too, and so far they haven't been able to get anything done, and they're in control. Republicans got hold of the House, the Senate, the White House, probably the Supreme Court now too, and have been actually. There's a pragmatic side of Trump that has not kicked in. He can be pragmatic when I worked for him; he could be. We do not see it. We do not see it. He's just trying to get things done through the force of his will, but if the will is not pragmatic, you're not going to be able to get to where you want to go. He's going to have to show a practical side to start getting things done.
Otherwise, what's the point of being Republican? Just leave the party, become an Independent and try to work both sides. He's talking about power wash the system and draining the swamp, and some people say when you drain the swamp what do you get? Alligators and snakes. There's a lot of alligators and snakes in Washington. But he's not a Republican. He's 71 years old. Is he going to be doing this when he's 75? Can he get re-elected? I don't know, we'll see. He'll be 79, 80 years old almost when it's done. If you want to be different, and if you want to be a different kind of president, leave the party, become an Independent. We've never seen that. Work both sides. Work the moderate Republicans, the Democrats, it's not necessarily a recipe for re-election, but does he have a recipe for re-election now? Is he going to get a challenge in the primary, I'm sure he's going to have a primary.
Good news for him is it's early enough. It's the eighth or ninth month, whatever it is, this is September, things can change. What he's going to do, he's not going to build a 2,000-mile wall. Maybe if he's lucky, here's what he'll do. He'll build a couple of hundred miles of wall and declare victory. That's what he does. We're in the longest war in our lifetime in Afghanistan. We couldn't win with 100,000 troops. He puts 4,000 more troops in. We going to win? Of course not, but winning is relative, so here's what he's going to do. He is going to put 4,000 troops in, in a couple of years he seeks re-election, he's going to say, "I'm pulling them out, we declare victory." That's what he does.
He's got one-third of the electorate that still kind of believes him on some level, depending on the polling. He's got by, and large, not great approval ratings or pretty terrible, but still has core support. Unfortunately, he's always focused on that. He's focused on that 30 whatever percent that's pretty much never going to leave him, versus getting outside of that having some compromise. A lot of that 30%, you know what they are? They're low information voters, non-educated, white voters, totally frustrated. Once you get beyond the parts and politics democrats running Democrats and Republicans running Republicans, you get that. What got him elected, what got him those small margins in Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin? They're low information, non-educated, white voters. That's what got him elected. You're battling at the margins there. You took him by half point voter swings in those three states. If Hillary Clinton had won those three states, she's president today. So fragile these things are.
He's not getting anything done. He has to show some stuff. It's there, he has a pragmatic side, but he's very, very difficult to get focused on one thing for an extended period. He gets frustrated, and he pulls his Twitter, his phone out, and starts beating everybody up on it.
Brett Broesder: Trying to understand his psychology is fascinating, no?
Lennie Grimaldi: It is! It's fun.
Brett Broesder: When you mentioned Congress, and if President Trump is seeking out finding allies on both sides of the aisles, which he has to do at this point. With bipartisanship in mind, I can't help but mention that the largest bipartisan interest group caucus in the country is the craft beer caucus. That said, what's your favorite craft brewed beer in Connecticut? I know you're not a big beer drinker.
Lennie Grimaldi: Whatever Brett Broesder likes, I'm in.
Brett Broesder: Two Roads right here.
Lennie Grimaldi: Two Roads? Yeah, Two Roads in Stratford, right?
Brett Broesder: Yeah.
Lennie Grimaldi: Yeah, I've been to Two Roads.
Brett Broesder: Yeah, in Bridgeport, there's Aspetuck. And, then to talk about the ballpark, where there's currently a Two Roads Brewery presence, do you want to talk about Live Nation coming into the city?
Lennie Grimaldi: That's been an area of our state economically where we're thriving, right?
Brett Broesder: Yeah. It's one of the few.
Lennie Grimaldi: Well, let's keep the head rising.
Brett Broesder: Well in so many brownfields in Bridgeport, where mediating those properties seem to be those big, industrial complexes appear to lend themselves to craft beer industry. One piece you had mentioned earlier, the Dictaphone company, which is a fascinating piece of Bridgeport history.
Lennie Grimaldi: Oh yeah, I mean there's so much history in Bridgeport. One of my favorite characters of all time is P.T. Barnum, who was the city's Mayor for, I don't remember if back there, but he's the single greatest contributor to Bridgeport's history. You see it all over Bridgeport. Seaside Park and Washington Park, the public library system, the water company, and the local banks, those were all Barnum contributions to the city. He was President of the ferry company. President of the water company. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Brett Broesder: He was floating the entire city.
Lennie Grimaldi: One of the founders of Bridgeport hospital. Tremendous impact. Hugh Jackman is playing him in an upcoming musical based on his life. The Greatest Showman, it's coming out in December. I saw a clip on that. Right around Christmas, it will be coming out. I'm looking forward to that.
Brett Broesder: And you've got a new book out.
Lennie Grimaldi: I do, I do. It's called Connecticut Characters: Personalities Spicing Up a Nutmeg State. I had a moment of mortality last year, I woke up and said, "You know, I've been doing this for 40 years, so why not put a collection of stories together over the last 40 years of people I've chronicled, gotten to know, work for," and there are chapters on Donald Trump and Joe Ganim and John Rollin, the actress Linda Blair, who was my first big story when I was 19 years old. There are 17 chapters in the book, 16 of the chapters have been previously published, either in Connecticut magazine, New York Times, all the local publications in Connecticut. The last chapter I wanted something new and fresh, and it's a section on the master builder, Robert Moses, who's famous for laying out the infrastructure and the highways of New York City. Well, he was born in New Haven. He was raised in the shadows of Yale University, so I close out the book there. I've just been moving around the state, talking to the public library throughout Connecticut, talking about my book. Connecticut Characters: Personalities Spicing Up a Nutmeg State. Great gift book.
Brett Broesder: You can get it on Amazon, right?
Lennie Grimaldi: You can get it on Amazon. If you contact me directly and you want bulk purchases, I will give you a discount. So please call me. Easy to find. You can find me Lennie Grimaldi, OnlyinBridgeport.com, or just search on Only in Bridgeport. Or my name. My contact info will come up or just contact Brett Broesder, my communications director.
Brett Broesder: Honored. Honored. I can't thank you enough for your generosity of time. Quick last question. You have written extensively, such an accomplished writer. For young writers, or young folks looking to go into politics, what do you give them as advice regarding not only on the process but also just what they should be seeking to do? You've learned throughout your extensive political career and writing career?
Lennie Grimaldi: Don't just walk away from negative people. Run. Run as fast you can from negative people. Becaus
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