Stamford Trivia Question: What does Life Time Fitness have in common with chief of police nominee Chris Murtha?

July 25, 2019

Stamford Trivia Answer:  Those who are opposed, are really opposed.  Those in favor; well—their support is much less energized.

 

In hindsight this point is obvious.  On the one hand, you have a candidate facing allegations of racial discrimination, nominated by a mayor with a public relations problem,* with a preferred hometown candidate interested in the same job.  On the other hand, you have the candidate himself, who, as far as any Stamford residents are concerned, is just “some guy” from out of state that nobody in Stamford (other than a handful of his family members) has any connection to or investment in whatsoever.  

 

A basketball friend I’ve played with for over a decade drove this point home, when I saw him at the July 1st Board of Reps meeting (the one where the Mayor pulled Murtha’s name just before the vote).  My friend hadn’t been to a single government meeting prior to the chief of police nomination, but was “here to support Jim,” as his kids grew up with Matheny’s kids, and he thought Matheny would be an excellent chief of police.  Without exception, I’ve heard similarly positive sentiments from a number of other Stamford parents and friends who have known Matheny and his children for years.  (Friends tell me I’ve probably crossed paths with his kids; if so, I have no recollection.)

 

This asymmetry in intensity of support versus opposition makes it a difficult vote for Representatives who would like to support him.  I’m told that at least one Representative has privately indicated they will support Murtha, but also would have supported Matheny if Matheny was the nominee.  I imagine the majority of Reps who will ultimately support Murtha feel the same way.  

 

It’s tough to know how much re-election concerns factor into the votes of unpaid representatives that 90% or more of our city residents probably wouldn’t recognize, much less could name, but all the same, this is about as difficult a vote as our Board members will have to make.  (Rep. Jacobson (D-12) wrote that he considers this his “most difficult vote[.]”)

 

* * * 

 

In light of this headwind, whether or not you agree with the Mayor’s decision to nominate Murtha, the Mayor deserves credit for sticking with his nomination through this controversy.  The Mayor is expending significant time and political capital to try and get Murtha confirmed.  It would have been much easier politically to have withdrawn Murtha’s name at the first sign of resistance, and proceed with a candidate more easily confirmable.  The Mayor’s efforts—and I think stubborn is a good descriptor—signal to me that the Mayor really believes that Murtha is the best person to be chief of police for the city of Stamford, and he is fighting to make that happen.  (Also possible is that the Mayor believes it would set a bad precedent to withdraw a nominee because of allegations the Mayor believes are groundless.)

 

As always, one cannot rule out some non-transparent ulterior motive for getting Murtha confirmed, but that seems highly unlikely here.  One rumor refuted by the Mayor is that Murtha’s sister helped care for his dying wife.  Aside from that, I’m struggling to come up with another ulterior motive that would drive the Mayor’s support for Murtha.

 

* * * 

 

Other assorted thoughts on the chief of police controversy:

 

1.    At the July 1st meeting, Rep. Zelinksy (D-11) said it was disrespectful to the members of the Board to pull the vote.  I’m not sure that’s entirely fair.  There was no need to put Murtha through a vote the Mayor knows he’s going to lose, especially if the Mayor believes more minds can be changed as more facts come out.  As we’ve written previously, “Mr. Murtha too is a person; who should be treated with fairness and respect” throughout this process.  So, I have less objection to the belated pulling of the name, although perhaps this could have been done with more time prior to the presumptive vote.

 

2.    One speaker at the July 1 meeting (I believe the police officer who spoke against Murtha’s confirmation, Willie Guilford, although I haven’t checked the tape to confirm) said the search committee’s vote to send Murtha forward was 4-3.  I have no idea if it’s true (and frankly, we shouldn’t trust that it is true, because anyone who would have disclosed that information is prima facie untrustworthy, as they violated their promise to keep confidential the deliberations of the search committee**), but assuming it is, that seems like a bad process.  If I were appointing a search committee, I would require at least a 5-2 supermajority in favor of proceeding with a certain candidate.

 

3.    After pulling Murtha’s name before the July 1 vote, the Mayor has held not just one, but will be holding a second public information session on his nomination.  As we explained in our first piece on the Murtha nomination, we felt it was primarily a failure of process, and not of substance, which would ultimately doom the nomination.  Better late than never, the Mayor is working to explain the process behind the nomination.

 

4.    On the incident of the “Guilford Hates White People” scrawled across a “dirty, dusty window of a car parked deep inside the police parking area under the Stamford courthouse garage[,]” it seems there are three possibilities:  (1) a white police department employee made the writing because he was angry with Guilford’s comments at the July 1 Board of Reps meting in opposition to Murtha; (2) a police department friend of Guilford made the writing to troll or prank him; or (3) a police department sympathizer, or Guilford himself, made the writing to support the narrative that race relations in the Stamford PD are too fragile to allow Murtha to be confirmed.  Editor John Breunig’s piece in the Advocate appears to assume it had to be (1), but I think it’s too early to speculate who wrote the window scrawl until more facts come out.  Of course, it’s also possible we’ll never learn who made the writing.

 

* * * 

 

*A reader has written in to question if the Mayor is truly “unpopular,” as we have written previously.  Upon further reflection, I agree “unpopular” is not the best descriptor, and that “mayor with a PR problem” is a more precise characterization.

 

**This point was made first I believe by Rep. McMullen (R-18) in the Advocate comments section on an article regarding the Murtha nomination.  (Advocate: this is why you should get rid of the Insider articles, which do not allow for insightful comments like these.)
 

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