Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Moving On

Over the past year it has been my privilege to serve the City of Waterbury as a member of the Human Rights Commission. However, due to other commitments, I find that I am no longer able to devote the time to this commission that it deserves. Therefore, I am resigning my post as a member of the Human Rights Commission effective immediately. I appreciate the chance to work with the wonderful members of the Human Rights Commission and wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Why I'm Supporting Mayor Jarjura

Over the past several months I have been trying to listen to the three different campaigns for Mayor to decide who to vote for to lead the city of Waterbury during the next two years. I tried to keep an open mind about all three candidates, which was no easy task, considering the large amount of negative mailers I received from both the Republicans and the Democrats. It seemed to me that most of the “slam” pieces I received were from Commissioner O’Leary’s campaign, but that may have just been a matter of perception. I must commend Alderman DePillo for his ability to stay out of the hand-to-hand bare-knuckled fight that developed, and that he was able to maintain a positive message throughout the campaign. While I don’t agree with every policy position he has taken of the past two years as Alderman, I feel he has done an admirable job keeping his head in an unusual election cycle.

Unlike previous municipal elections, where I was one of the candidates for Board of Aldermen, I was only able to make one of the many forums and debates that the Mayoral candidates had throughout the city. The forum that I attended was the Downtown Merchants Forum that was held at the UCONN Waterbury branch on October 20. By attending that one event I was able to clearly decide that the right decision on Election Day would be to re elect Mike Jarjura.

During this particular forum, each of the three candidates for Mayor had an opportunity to address the crowd of merchants and interested citizens for about 40 minutes. Unlike a typical debate, each candidate would be able to present their opinions for downtown on their own. It seemed to me that it was a great chance for each candidate to do their best to ensure that the message they wanted to express was accurately portrayed to those in attendance.

First at the podium was Mayor Jarjura, who seemed to focus his message on making downtown one of Waterbury’s most vibrant communities. Mayor Jarjura admitted that the downtown area would not return to the status it once held. The City of Waterbury has changed, and our vision for downtown must change with it. Instead of a restoration of downtown, Mayor Jarjura seemed to speak of the need to reinvent downtown into something new and exciting. Mayor Mike Jarjura felt that downtown should be transformed into the government and cultural center. With market rate apartments and specialty shops, this would be a place that people want to live. Mayor Jarjura also spoke of the need to recognize the importance of arts and education as an economic driver for downtown Waterbury. Overall, Mayor Jarjura’s comments focused on what had already been accomplished downtown, while recognizing that a considerable amount of work still needed to occur.

The second speaker of the evening was Commissioner O’Leary, who provided a stark contrast to the comments of Mayor Jarjura. While Mayor Jarjura’s talk was mostly positive, Commissioner O’Leary’s comments were extremely critical. During the course of his presentation Commissioner O’Leary stated that the city had abandoned downtown and complained that downtown is both underutilized and underrepresented. Commissioner O’Leary’s comments made almost no mention of the work that Main Street Waterbury has done of the past 7 years, and presented an image of downtown as a place that was completely falling apart. While Commissioner O’Leary did compliment the fact that Waterbury is the safest city in Connecticut, he also referred to downtown as “filthy” multiple times. He also made an ill-timed reference to the fact that he was grateful that all of the businesses that had closed recently in Waterbury were small businesses. While I understand that what Commissioner O’Leary was trying to say was that no one closure had decimated the city’s employment figures, the fact that he made this remark to a room full of small business owners was unfortunate. Finally, during his remarks Commissioner O’Leary compared Waterbury to Providence, RI, but stated that it was unfortunate that we didn’t have as nice a river to capitalize on. This particular comment caught me off guard after all the work that has been done over the past three years trying to get a Naugatuck River greenway built through our downtown. Overall, I found Commissioner O’Leary’s remarks very discouraging and overly critical. He spent so much time telling us what was wrong with downtown, that he never got to tell us much about what his positive vision was for the future of this great city.

The final speaker of the evening was Alderman DePillo, who has (as I mentioned before) done an admirable job keeping a positive message before the voters. Alderman DePillo also expressed an opinion that not enough has been done to market and improve downtown Waterbury, and like any good challenger spoke of how he believed he could do a better job then Mayor Jarjura. However, while Commissioner O’Leary only spoke of the negatives, Alderman DePillo offered some alternatives to the present course of action that he felt would improve downtown. Some of the concepts that Alderman DePillo put before the attendees that night were the establishment of a “legal services” district in the downtown, as well as finding incentives to help new businesses get started, though he did not mention any specifics to support these ideas. Throughout his remarks Alderman DePillo spoke of a desire to abide by the wishes of the downtown building owners and business owners. He seemed like a candidate that truly wanted the input of the taxpayers before making any decisions or changes that would affect them personally.

In the final analysis, I was impressed by both Mayor Jarjura’s understanding of the situation downtown, and of Alderman DePillo’s research in learning and meeting as many of the individual business owners as possible before the forum. I was greatly disappointed by Commissioner O’Leary’s tone and attitude at the forum, and was turned off from even considering voting for him as a result of his comments that night. While I agree that Mayor Jarjura’s tenure has been far from perfect, and sometimes I believe the Mayor should be much more proactive then he currently is, I could not find any concrete reason not to support his reelection campaign. If I had felt a change was necessary for the city of Waterbury, then I would have given my support to Alderman DePillo. However, his belief that an industrial base would return to Waterbury in this national and state-wide economic climate made me feel that he was a close second to Mayor Jarjura.

I’m sure that there are some that will disagree with my opinions and my interpretation of the events at the forum on October 20, and I would welcome any comments from those who were also at the forum. Regardless of who you support, I hope everyone gets out and votes tomorrow, and when the sun rises on November 9, we can put the campaign behind us to work for the future of Waterbury.

After all, as Sen. Edward Livingston of Louisiana said back in 1830:

We undoubtedly think differently of particular measures, and have our preferences for particular men: these, surely, cannot arrange us into any but temporary divisions, lasting no longer than while the election of the man is pending, or the debate on the measure continues.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Preparing to Vote

Well, it looks like the City of Waterbury has finally dug itself out of last weekends freak October snowstorm, and things are slowly returning to normal. Any sense of normalcy will be short-lived however as the three mayoral campaigns gear up for the election on Tuesday, November 8.

In preparation for Tuesday's election, I have prepared a short, non-partisan, primer for those of you that may still have some questions. Some of the questions that focus on how the government of Waterbury operates were covered last month in a post by Raechel Guest. Here in my post I will cover some of the more technical aspects of voting in this years election.

First off, some people may be confused as where they are supposed to go to vote. As is also mentioned on Raechel's page, there are two possible ways to determine this information. You can either go to the Registrar of Voters web page, and see the list of every polling place in the city of Waterbury, or you can go to a web page provided by the Office of the Secretary of State and find your specific voting location. Please remember, though, that the entrance to your polling place may not match the street address of the building. (This is especially true if you vote at Tinker School.)

Secondly, I have often heard some misconceptions about how to use the new ballots. In past elections people have mistakenly believed that you could only vote for one person per column on the ballot. While this is true for the offices of Mayor, Town Clerk, City Clerk, and City Sheriff, this is NOT true for the Board of Aldermen or Board of Education.

As an example, I have two friends that are running for the Board of Aldermen this year. One (Jerry Padula) is a Republican, the other (Ron Napoli Jr.) is a Democrat. This year, both gentlemen wound up in column 12 on the Waterbury ballot. Fortunately, I do not have to choose which of my friends I am going to vote for, I can (and will) vote for both of them.

The only way a ballot will be rejected is if you vote for more then 9 Aldermanic Candidates or more then 3 Board of Education candidates. If you are someone who votes along a party line, then you have nothing to worry about. However, if you are like me and split your ticket, then you just need to make sure that you don't go over the limit.

For those who are interested, the Secretary of State has posted a PDF of the Waterbury ballot online.

Finally, whoever you support in this years election, I encourage everyone to get out and vote. As I mentioned after the 2009 election, the City of Waterbury has shown an alarming drop in voter turnout over the past 10 years. This is a trend that needs to be reversed and soon.

If you still have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to answer it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

This is Leadership? - Part 2

On Thursday I posted about Commissioner O'Leary's surprise verbal attack on fellow Board of Education Commissioner and Democratic candidate Pat Hayes in the Wednesday Republican-American. It seems that, after reading Wednesday's paper Commissioner O'Leary realized that he made a rather large mistake, and issued an apology to Commissioner Hayes, both personally and in writing. While I admire Commissioner O'Leary's willingness to admit he made a mistake and apologize for it, unfortunately I felt his apology left a lot to be desired.

Primarily I found it rather distasteful that O'Leary felt it necessary to make his apology as public an affair as he made his excoriation of Commissioner Hayes just three days earlier. As I've mentioned before, I don't feel it is appropriate for any group, campaign, or similar organization to air all of its personal squabbles in public. Some may disagree with me, but even Commissioner Hayes was disappointed in the public nature of Wednesday's events.

From Friday's Republican-American:
"I thought this would be a personal thing, not part of the campaign," Hayes said.
The other aspect of Commissioner O'Leary's apology that I found lacking was his explanation of why he said what he said. In his apology he claims that he mis-spoke due to the "frustration" he had been enduring as a result of the "ugly campaign". I find it extremely difficult to consider a statement as blunt as "Pat Hayes? Can't stand him." something that you could mis-speak.

Furthermore, if you're frustrated at the personal bickering between Commissioners, as Commissioner O'Leary claims to be in his apology, then why not say "I can't stand those meetings," instead of singling out the Board President.

While I understand that emotions can sometimes get the best of people, it's different when you're talking specifically about an individual. I remember when I was on the Charter Revision Commission back in 2010, and one of my Thursday night posts from Twitter wound up in print the following Monday. It was embarrassing for me to see something that I wrote in frustration printed in the paper, but I also did not single any individual member of the Commission as the target of my anger.

All in all, I'm glad to see that Commissioner O'Leary apologized, but I feel that his apparent penchant for speaking without considering the consequences of his words leaves serious questions regarding his ability to lead the City of Waterbury.

Friday, October 28, 2011

O'Leary Playing Favorites?

As I mentioned yesterday, Commissioner O'Leary seems to have no problem ripping apart a member of his own ticket, sometimes even without provocation.

On the other side of the spectrum, it also appears that Commissioner O'Leary is playing favorites among the candidates on his under ticket. While I was driving around Waterbury, I noticed a sign that said "O'Leary Mayor / Harkins Board of Education" in the standard blue and white pattern of this years campaign.

However, at the same intersection I also saw a sign that was designed solely to promote Mr. Harkins's candidacy to the Board of Education.

It appears, from looking at the second sign, that Mr. Harkins has taken it on himself to establish his own campaign committee with his own treasurer (Mr. Kevin Marano), lawn signs, and website. He has even made a point of securing endorsements for his candidacy, separately from anyone else on the O'Leary ticket.

I find this behavior both unprofessional and upsetting. When I ran for Board of Aldermen in 2007 and 2009, I made every effort I could to remind people that I was part of a team of candidates that were working together for the betterment of Waterbury. At no point did I ever consider setting up my own campaign committee and running a blatant bullet campaign at the expense of my fellow Republicans.

(In fact, I cannot recall any time in the last 26 years that a member of either party's under ticket ran such an overt campaign of self-promotion. Yes, there have been slates that have devolved to bullet campaigning before, but not to this level.)

What is equally disturbing about Mr. Harkins's actions this year, is that they seem to have the implicit endorsement of Commissioner O'Leary. If you go to the bio that Mr. Harkins posted on the O'Leary for Mayor website, you can see a link to his seperate campaign page at the bottom.

I feel that Mr. Harkins's actions, as well as Commissioner O'Leary's inaction, raise serious concerns about their ability to lead the City and the School System.

If Mr. Harkins cannot work as a member of a team during the campaign, I have serious doubts that he will be able to work with his fellow Board of Education Commissioners for the benefit of Waterbury's 18,000 students.

If Commissioner O'Leary is unwilling, or unable, to ensure that his candidates can work together as a cohesive unit, how can we be sure that he will be able to bring together all of the different departments and boards that comprise the City of Waterbury, and keep them all moving in the same direction?

I realize that some may not hold the same weight to these matters as I do, but I feel they show an important aspect of the O'Leary campaign. Someone who truly wants to lead the City of Waterbury should be able to keep the 15 candidates on his slate moving as a single unit. Someone who truly wants to lead the City of Waterbury would not use the press to air out "in family" fights. These actions are not the way I believe someone who wants to lead the City of Waterbury should behave.