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Will Chris Murtha be confirmed as our next chief of police? (Updated August 1, 2019)

I don’t believe so, but it will be close. I don’t see how he gets past 18 or 19 “yeas,” although there is always the wild card of which Reps will be absent from the meeting this upcoming Monday, August 5th (I believe there were two absences at the July meeting when the first vote was expected, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there were more in August as people often take off for summer vacation).

Remember, Murtha needs an affirmative vote in favor; a tie means he is not confirmed (which is precisely what happened when the Mayor sought Ernie Orgera’s re-appointment to be director of the Office of Operations).

I’ve counted projected votes below (cumulative projected totals in parentheses), and given a reason for each projection (“voting history” = “educated guess based on what I’ve seen”). I’ve assumed many “yeas” for Reps who vote with the Mayor on important issues about half of the time, and otherwise haven’t really made public comments on the nomination, so if anything, I think I’ve projected too many “yeas.”

Some of these I’ve confirmed either personally or through hearsay; others I’m extrapolating based on the appointments committee vote, and on who signed the op-ed from the Board of Reps in opposition to his nomination. Already, I count 19 public “nays” from just those two sources. Even though the district court dismissed Murtha from the lawsuit in Prince George’s County, I don’t believe that will sway many (if any) of the op-ed signatories, although if the dismissal moves even just one or two to the “yeas” column, that could swing the vote. I’ve also heard rumors that some signatories to the op-ed were mistakenly included, but I haven’t seen any correction, or heard any of the signatories indicate there was such a mistake. If any Representatives want to email me and confirm how they will be voting, I would be glad to update my count accordingly.

As far as public “yeas,” the only one I’ve seen is from Rep. Lion (D-19) (in a Twitter post that appears to have since been deleted), although there are others, such as Rep. McMullen (R-18) who appear to be clear “yeas” without explicitly stating so. We’ve also got the recent news that the Board of Ethics issued an advisory opinion that Rep. Figueroa (D-8) has a conflict and should abstain from voting; if she abstains, that turns a likely “nay” into a nonvote.

I anticipate the vote will be close, with most Republicans, and many of the establishment Democrats in support; and with Reform, along with other Democrats often opposed to Mayor, in opposition. We’ve written before that Stamford local politics are not partisan, and the Murtha vote promises to be a great example of this. Interestingly, while Reform and the Republicans have often been aligned in opposition to Mayor Martin, here I expect their members find themselves on opposite sides of an issue.

The public seems to be opposed to confirmation. It will be interesting to see which Representatives—knowing Murtha is likely not to be confirmed—nonetheless cast a vote in his favor all the same.

Projected Board Vote

Update: I'm told Rep. Nabel (D-20) has switched from "nay" to "yea," and that Rep. Spadaccini (R-14) has been a "nay" the whole time.

* * *

Virtually absent from the Murtha controversy is discussion regarding—assuming he is not confirmed— what happens next?

I think many have the mistaken impression that if Murtha is not confirmed, the position will fall to Assistant Police Chief Jim Matheny. To begin with, it is unclear from the Advocate’s reporting if he would still be interested, as, while he has been quoted saying “I’m not a candidate for the job,” it is not clear that statement remains true even if Murtha is not confirmed and the process of nominating a chief of police is resumed. However, even assuming Matheny is still interested, it strikes me as unlikely that this Mayor would nominate Matheny in any event. Fair or not, I think the Mayor would view a subsequent nomination of Matheny as “rewarding” the Board’s obstruction of the Mayor’s beliefs on how to best run the city.

So, if the Board declines to confirm Murtha, our process to choose a new chief of police may be nearly back to square one.