Just to be clear, THIS is a politically-charged blog post.
Let me also make clear where I'm coming from on this. Two years ago I ran in the Democrat primary as a candidate for the Board of Aldermen on Paul Vance's slate. I consider myself a community activist, not a politician. I believe that if you think things should be done differently, you have a duty to step up and try to help out. I have been encouraged by several people to again run for political office, and if I am invited to do so, I will. Until then, I am just another voter who wants to see a change in city leadership.
The Mayoral campaign season began in earnest today with Neil O'Leary's campaign kick-off at 62 East Main Street (in the Lombard Building). I attended not as an ardent supporter, but because I wanted to hear what he had to say. I try to approach this sort of thing (assessing a candidate) in a logical, analytical way, weighing the pros and cons, so forgive me if this comes off as cold or harsh.
Before I even stepped inside, I was impressed by the number of people waiting to get in.
Here's when I thought I knew how big the crowd was. I was impressed by the large number of people. For those of you who keep track of these things, some of the political types in attendance included former Mayor Bergin, Karen Mulcahy, Paul Pernerewski, Paul Noguiera, Antonio Pinto, Victor Diaz, Jimmie Griffin and a few others I'm forgetting right now (apologies to those I've left out!).
Then I walked to the far end of the room and got a better idea of the size of the crowd. At this point, not everyone had yet arrived. There was still a very long line out the door of people waiting to get in.
Cotton candy, a clown and balloon animals to keep the little ones happy.
Finally, everyone made it inside and the speech began.
O'Leary hit on a number of points that are important to me: getting the buses to run after 6, changing horrible unemployment rate (which has been the worst in the state for a decade), continuing to revive downtown, seeking private funds when possible instead of relying just on tax dollars, and striving for something better than the status quo. I was also impressed by his desire to create collaborations with state government and to improve the effectiveness and quality of government. He drew on his experiences on the Board of Education to highlight inefficiencies and poor communication within the school system that can easily be changed. He recommends changing the meeting schedules of the Board of Education so that the Mayor and the Aldermen can be more involved. And, of course, he highlighted the successes of the PAL program (all well-deserving of praise), from which he said he has learned a few things about the realities of education in today's world. O'Leary pledged that he would not accept his city pension while earning a salary as Mayor.
It was a good speech, and there is also a lot of information on his campaign website, olearyformayor.com, but I still have some unanswered questions and concerns. Two years ago, while I campaigned, the one thing I heard over and over from voters is that they pay their taxes and feel like they get nothing in return. Quality of life in Waterbury needs improvement for all residents, not just those in Bunker Hill. Does O'Leary have a clear vision of how Waterbury will be made better under his leadership, or is he just mouthing things that sound good? Will he, in fact, be a positive change in leadership? I think he would be an improvement over Jarjura, but is he a better choice than Vance? It's only February, so there is plenty of time to find out the answers!
Here's one last photo, of the crowd slowly filing out of the room. O'Leary has not yet rented a campaign headquarters. This space was chosen for today's event because of its large size and because it is an empty storefront downtown, symbolic of how much room for improvement there is in Waterbury.