Sunday, October 27, 2013

Campaign Season, 2013 Style

Election Day is almost upon us, so I figured I ought to do at least one blog post about this year's campaign. There's not as much to cover this year. Even if I were involved with the campaign, as I was two years ago, there's not much to cover. There seems to be a consensus that Mayor O'Leary will win re-election and that all of the Democrat candidates running with him will win election. The only unknown is which of the other non-Mayoral candidates will win.

There are four lines of candidates to choose from this year: the Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and on the fourth line, two incumbents who are running without any party affiliation.

Sample Ballot from the Secretary of State's website.
Take a look at the ballot now, so you know what to expect on Election Day.

Row D: Petitioning Candidates

Let's start with the wild cards: Frank Burgio and Ann Sweeney. Burgio is running for re-election to the Board of Aldermen. Sweeney is running for re-election to the Board of Education. Because they are no longer affiliated with any of Waterbury's three established parties, they are Petitioning Candidates on Row D of the ballot. There's no telling how they will do in the election. Although they are incumbents, they'll probably receive fewer votes this year, since they don't have the benefit of a party helping them campaign. This raises the question: how many votes do they need?

Election results for the past 8 years are available online. There are a few things you can learn from them. One of the things the results tell us is that any given candidate for the Board of Aldermen or the Board of Education  needs at least 5,000 votes to win (based on the minimum needed in past elections--if voter turnout is low this year, candidates will need fewer votes to win).

Row C: Independents

Waterbury's Independent Party was formed in 2003 by disgruntled political insiders who found themselves on the outside of Waterbury politics. Since then, members of the Independent Party have been elected to the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Education, particularly after the Republican Party fell from grace following the arrest of Philip Giordano.

The Independent Party lost its seats on the Board of Aldermen in 2011, swept aside by the Republicans, who had placed Mayor Jarjura at the head of their ticket. The Independents might have been able to hold onto one seat, but Larry DePillo chose to run for Mayor instead of running for re-election as Alderman.  (Side note: someone should point this out to whoever runs their website; DePillo's resume claims that he is still serving on the Board of Aldermen.)

This year, the Independents discussed joining forces with the Republicans, but the negotiations fell apart and now both parties are running full slates. Well, sort of. DePillo is on his slate twice, running for both Mayor and Alderman, leaving the Independent ticket technically short one person.

The slate of candidates for the Independent Party can be reviewed on their website.

Row B: Democrats

The Democrats are the dominant party in Waterbury right now. They have the largest base of supporters and hold a majority on the Board of Aldermen and Board of Education. It is widely assumed that their slate of candidates will all win election, riding the coattails of Mayor O'Leary.

Biographies of the Democrat candidates can be reviewed on the O'Leary for Mayor website.

Row A: Republicans

The Republican slate is looking to hold on to the second-place position they gained in 2011 (or maybe even seize a majority on the Board of Aldermen, although that's a bit of a long shot). The party has done a good job of presenting themselves as responsible adults over the past two years (by this I refer only to the Republicans in Waterbury!), helping to repair the damage done by Giordano.

The main competition for the Republicans this year are the Independents, who are likely to win at least one seat on the Board of Aldermen (unless DePillo's base has shrunk, or his supporters are confused by having to vote for him twice).

The Republican slate of candidates can be reviewed on the Van Stone for Mayor website.

Mayoral Candidates

Now for the meat of the election: the Mayoral candidates. Because Waterbury's parties use a slate system of election, in which all the candidates of each party run as a team, the headliner gets all the attention from the media. There have been numerous debates during this year's election, none of which included any candidates other than the Mayoral candidates.

Neil O'Leary

Mayor O'Leary is running for re-election after a little less than two years in office. During his time in office, he's made a lot of progress in turning the city around. Yes, there is still a ways to go, but you can't undo decades of neglect and mismanagement in two years.  O'Leary is steering us in the right direction, and we should let him keep leading us for another two years.

Two years ago, I worked very hard and very long hours to help O'Leary win the election. I have not been disappointed by the results. In addition to steering the city in the right direction,  he has demonstrated some amazing out-of-the-box thinking. Two examples of this have something in common: when presented with a problem that seemingly has no solution, O'Leary finds a solution that inspires everyone involved. Remember the awful blizzard that has us stuck in our homes for days, buried under four feet of snow? It was a nightmare to deal with. O'Leary's plan to hire bored teenagers to shovel out the schools was brilliant, a stroke of genius. The city got dug out faster, the kids and adults who signed up were able to earn some extra money, the parents got a break from the kids, the city's morale improved, and Waterbury got some positive media coverage. The other example is from this past summer, when O'Leary merged two problems to create two solutions. One of Waterbury's big problems of recent years is the proliferation of halfway houses, which get filled up by people with few job prospects, too much free time, and a likelihood of returning to crime. For years and years, city residents and city officials have moaned and groaned about the halfway houses blighting the city. O'Leary looked at this problem and saw an opportunity to solve one of the city's other problems: not enough workers to maintain all of the city parks. He offered the residents of the halfway houses the opportunity to work, clearing the overgrowth out of an abandoned city park, and to enroll in a job training program. The program gave the workers a chance to rebuild their lives, and the city got some very affordable labor out of it. It was a win-win-win scenario.

O'Leary's opponents in this election seem to have two basic criticisms of his leadership that are worth mentioning: 1. Some people have seen their taxes go up; 2. He doesn't follow the rules of bureaucracy.

I see the tax issue as somewhat ironic. O'Leary has done a great job of holding the line on city spending, while improving city services. Taxes went up due to the recent property revaluation, not because the mill rate went up. If your taxes went up, it's because the value of your home didn't fall into the gutter. One of Waterbury's biggest problems is the large stock of devalued properties. The city is full of mortgages that are under water, of houses that went from being worth $120,000 ten years ago to being worth $40,000 today. Speaking as someone whose home is currently worth about $30,000 less than what I owe on the mortgage, I'm a little jealous of people who saw their taxes go up. The fact that my taxes went down is small consolation for knowing that my home has no monetary value.

As to the criticism about not following the rules, I don't see how that is accurate. It's been pretty well substantiated that O'Leary follows the rules of bureaucracy, despite accusations made by DePillo. In fact, there have been several times when the Mayor has consulted with Corporation Counsel to make sure that he's following the rules. Chalk that up to another example of DePillo getting his facts wrong.

Larry DePillo

The Independent candidate for Mayor, Larry DePillo, has run unsuccessfully many times. When this campaign season began, he stated on WATR that he does not expect to win this time either. He's also running for Alderman, which supports his statement that he doesn't think he'll win the Mayoral election. I suspect that the Independents couldn't get anyone else to agree to run for Mayor on their ticket.

The Independents have been running a pretty ugly campaign, launching personal attacks against O'Leary, calling him a bully, a liar, and a racist. Their Facebook posts have been particularly ugly. It's the sort of thing that turns people away from politics. So far, the Independents have only presented reasons to hate the Mayor, and no reasons to vote for anyone else.

Jason Van Stone

The Republican candidate for Mayor, Jason Van Stone, is currently a member of the Board of Education. His term on the Board doesn't expire this year, which means that he is risking nothing by running for Mayor. If he loses, he keeps his seat on the Board of Education and has gained a lot of exposure, improving his political future.

The Republicans have been playing it safe this election, possibly too safe. Van Stone recently stated that they are targeting their base, hoping that if voter turnout is low and they can get enough Republicans to come out to vote, they'll win (which explains why they seem to be campaigning mostly in Town Plot). I'm not sure that's the best strategy. It certainly doesn't seem like a healthy strategy.


It has been said that the Independents and the Republicans are in a race for second place. Waterbury has approximately 22,000 registered Democrats and about 5,600 registered Republicans. Judging by the 2011 election results, the number of die-hard DePillo supporters has dropped to about 3,100 people. Looking again at 2011, when O'Leary was untested as Mayor, he pulled in 7,648 votes. If the Republicans can get most of their party to vote, and assuming that most voters vote along the party line, they'll fare better than the Independents, but are unlikely to defeat any of the Democrats.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Wine on Main Street

Following on the success of the annual Brass City Brew Fest, Main Street Waterbury has launched a similar event for wine lovers. I've been looking forward to this event since I first heard about it over a year ago, and it was great!

The event started at Howland-Hughes on Bank Street a little after noon. After signing a waiver, I was given my souvenir wine glass and my passport, with my group assignment (701). 

The hundred or so participants were organized into seven "flight" groups. Seven restaurants participated, each representing a different country, pairing sample wines with appropriate foods (so, for example, our Spain stop featured Spanish wines and paella).

Our passport booklet was filled with coupons for each of the participating restaurants.

Participants spent some time socializing at Howland-Hughes while we waited for our "flights" to depart just before 1 p.m.

People browsed the plaques of the Waterbury Hall of Fame and checked out some of the Waterbury-related displays.

Raffle prizes.

The "boarding area" for each flight group.

When the groups gathered together at the start of the event, everyone seemed a little nervous, unsure who these strangers in their group might be, wondering if they would enjoy spending the next four or five hours together, wondering what was in store for them at this new event. By the end of the first hour, everyone was having a great time together.

The first stop for my flight was California.

California (Signature's Restaurant)

This was a great event for exploring downtown restaurants and bars. We spent half an hour at each location, sampling their food and ambiance along with the wine. Quite a few participants discovered new restaurants that they really liked and would never have known about otherwise.

Each location had a wine menu explaining what we were sampling. I made notes about each wine and whether or not I liked it. One of the event organizers, Nutmeg Wine and Liquor, offered a special tasting day order form, giving us a chance to buy the wines we sampled at a discounted price at the end of the day (with 5% of the proceeds being donated to Main Street Waterbury).

And, of course, there was the food. Signature's served pastries stuffed with broccoli rabe and with steak tips. The orange slices were marinated in olive oil and garlic, sprinkled with black pepper. The flavor was surprisingly good.

South America (Braza Churrascaria)

We walked from one venue to the next, allowing participants to discover businesses they didn't know about before. You notice so much more when you're walking than when you're driving. Several times I overheard someone say "I didn't know this was here!"

Artist Eduardo Paredes had an easel set up outside of Braza on Bank Street, creating a painting inspired by the Wine event.

Braza is one of my favorite Waterbury restaurants, but it is strictly for meat lovers. Their Brazilian BBQ special features eleven different meats.

Group 701 checking out the setup at Braza.

The wines sampled at Braza.

The food served at Braza for the wine lovers: a salad with carmelized pears, walnuts, and goat cheese; and chicken sausages with peppers and onions.

On the left, in Wine on Main burgundy shirts, our flight attendants: Main Street Waterbury volunteers who escorted us from venue to venue, keeping us moving and on time.

Northern California (City Hall Cafe)

The longest walk was to City Hall Cafe, but we had a good time. We passed a few people, waiting for a bus, who looked very confused to see a cheery group of people carrying empty wine glasses through downtown.

The weather was nice enough to use the outdoor patio at City Hall Cafe.

The wine samples were served up in plastic shot glasses. The server explained which food was intended to be paired with which wine.

Crab cakes, bacon-wrapped steak, mini quiches, and spanakopita.

France (Tryst Lounge)

Every so often, we crossed paths with one of the other groups. They all seemed as happy as our group. Wine has that effect on people. In fact, a couple of people in my group were so happy, they declared this to be the best Saturday they'd ever had.

We spent a little more time at Tryst than at other locations, largely because most of our group had never been there before and went upstairs for a tour of The Loft.

Toasted pita bread, cheese, and an olive/cheese spread.

Fresh-cooked mussels in a delicious sauce.

This couple was celebrating their 11th anniversary with Wine on Main.

Another one of the groups, waiting for their turn at Tryst.

Spain (Courtyard by Marriott)

Chorizo in apple cider, asparagus and artichokes, tapas paella.

Italy (Diorio)

We cut through the hotel building to go to Diorio's without stepping outside.

The food for the Italian wines was gemelli and sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, mascarpone cream sauce.

Leaving Diorio's for the last stop on our tour.

Australia (The Shamrock)

By the time we got to The Shamrock, we were all ready to stay put for a while.

My ride arrived (no way would I plan to drive after spending an afternoon drinking!) around 6 p.m. and hung out with the remaining group members while I placed my order for the wines I liked. We were on the patio until it got dark out.

This was a fantastic event, fun for everyone who participated and a boost for the participating restaurants. I'm definitely looking forward to doing this again next year, although getting a ticket might be harder. Everyone had such a great time, they'll be telling everyone they know to try it next year.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Waterbury's Trolls

As you may know, the internet has spawned a new category of people called trolls. Trolls typically spend a lot of time posting hate-filled comments on news articles, Twitter posts, and elsewhere online. Trolls are typically anonymous, hiding their true identities behind screen names. Trolls love to argue. Trolls are also very self-righteous and love attention.

The only way to deal with trolls is to block them, to ban them from posting comments on your website, Twitter feed, etc. Trolls can also be reported to the authorities if they have written any threatening comments.

Trolls are venomous creatures, who like to dominate online conversations, bullying anyone who disagrees with them, driving away polite discourse, and shaping public perception.

The Rep-Am newspaper website is severely plagued with trolls. There have been many times when I have read an interesting article online, then scrolled down a little further to read the comments, and then been disgusted, repulsed, and sickened by the comments.

The Waterbury trolls are fairly predictable. If a Rep-Am article has anything to do with minorities, the poor, or city government, the trolls will fill the comments with their venom.

Take, for example, a recent article titled "Hispanics nearly half of city's student population." Although the Rep-Am has deleted some of the worst comments, many of the ones that remain are disgusting. Here are a few examples (I have refrained from pointing out the false information in them; hopefully it is self-evident to you):

saints wrote on Oct 14, 2013 7:55 AM:
"Is anyone checking on the legal status of these students parents just to make sure they're not stealing education? Never mind; I already know the answer to that. Do they still have American Flags in each classroom or have they taken them down yet? There might be room for a few more flags yet. "
Truth wrote on Oct 14, 2013 8:20 AM:
" The article should answer the question, how many residents are taxpayers? The city welfare population is destroying this society! "
Donna wrote on Oct 14, 2013 10:03 AM:
"We used to shop in Waterbury but get angry when we see hoards of Hispanic teens pushing expensive baby carriages, dressed in expensive clothes and jewelry, or packed into the nail salons, while we worked our entire lives and can't afford to buy anything. I can't count how many times I have remarked that they must have gone to college at 12, graduated and become professionals to have that much disposable cash while raising two or three children at the age of 20. In Torrington, they fill the shelter for "abused women" and their kids run wild while they have men in their rooms. During the day they pick through garbage cans for bottles and push them around in shopping carts which they also use for baby carriages. Welcome to the new America.. "
conservative1 wrote on Oct 15, 2013 10:33 AM:
" Jimmy..came on earlier boats? No one here came on earlier boat than blacks. And the Hispanics either fly in or cross the border by foot (with backpacks full of drugs). If you're referring to Europeans, They came here legally and EARNED that place. They didn't come here for free stuff. They came here to work hard and succeed. Just as they are coming from Eastern Europe right now. They are skipping right over blacks and hispanics by working hard and earning respect. They learn the language and are proud to be a part of America.
As I've said before, stop listening to democrats that tell you you are being held down by whitey, that you are too stupid to take care of yourself, that you need the government to take care of you, because it's not true. You can do it Jimmy. All on your own. "

conservative1 wrote on Oct 18, 2013 9:39 AM:
" The BOE wants to celebrate the latino heritage in Waterbury. Freeloading and crime. What a bunch of gutless votewhores. "

Want more? Here are some "gems" posted to the article "Waterbury school board member questions integrity of magnet school lottery": 
conservative1 wrote on Oct 15, 2013 10:06 AM:
" Ginny have to agree and disagree. The Board is corrupt and backward thinking and are ALL COWARDS. Yes Ms Harvey is a racist. We have a school board that rewards laziness and irresponsibility. That is why it is so expensive and still failing.
We need someone with the balls to say to parent, yes parent because these kids only have one (if that). That as the adult responsible for the student YOU WILL BE INVOLVED or your child will be expelled. Sports are for HONOR students only. Want to play B-Ball? Get your grades up. Cause trouble or habitually absent. EXPELLED.
It's time to take a hard line with education or we are just setting these kids up for failure in the real world.

As far as these "lotteries" they were fixed during Giordano and Jarjura administrations. Assuming things haven't changed. I'd argue they are fixed for MINORITIES though. The reason they are "whiter" than the general population is because whites come in from other towns and WHITE parents bother to fill out the lottery applications in higher numbers than minority parent. "
conservative1 wrote on Oct 15, 2013 10:12 AM:
" @ Tax payer. your kids better off . These maggot schools are no better than the regular pre-prison schools. The idea behind them was ok but there are just as many trouble makers in them.
Pay the money, your kids will thank you when they are older. I would also suggest moving out of this dump. Assuming you are a homeowner. Between your $8000 in tuition and you're $ 6000-$10000 in property taxes you're getting killed. You could live anywhere in the state for that amount. "

And then there's this lovely comment posted to "Effort to rename school dropped":

conservative1 wrote on Oct 18, 2013 9:29 AM:
" The Entire BOE needs to be replaced.
Board of Education member Karen Harvey urged Hispanic residents not to give up their attempt to name a city school.

"I really think we as a community need to come together and say it is time, it is time to honor our Latino heritage in Waterbury," Brown said. OK Ms Brown. WHAT HISPANIC IS DESERVING OF A SCHOOL NAMED AFTER THEM???? The Latino heritage in Waterbury is of freeloading and committing crime. You really want to celebrate that?? Ms Brown is a typical politician.

@ Mayoral aide Geraldo Reyes . I ask the same question. WHAT LATINO IS DESERVING?? You don't honor a race just because we haven't yet. That just dishonors those previously honored justly. You sir should be "let go".
To Mayor OLeary and the BOE Is there anyone in this city's history more deserving honor than Mario Generali? "

These examples are relatively mild compared to some of the other comments I've seen posted on the Rep-Am site, but they are still horrific for one simple reason: the writers are demonizing an entire class of people. This is unacceptable.
If you are black or Hispanic, the Waterbury trolls are against you. If you are poor, the Waterbury trolls are against you. If you don't own your own home or a car (and therefore are "not a taxpayer"), the Waterbury trolls are against you. If you are a city official, the Waterbury trolls are against you.

There are a handful of trolls who frequent the Rep-Am's website and poison the online discussions. Their screen names include: conservative1 (the worst offender, in my opinion), al.cap, wtbywtchdog, stanley, blue star, ratsmik, and Truth. Other comment writers fall prey to their bait and engage them in argument, which is what the trolls love. Occasionally, there are other trolls who surface to add their venom to a discussion. As a result, the comment sections are filled with insults, derogatory comments, and bullying. Anyone who isn't a troll winds up feeling angry and frustrated. The trolls create an atmosphere that makes people lose interest in Waterbury.

Ultimately, the responsibility for the content of the Rep-Am's comment sections lies with the Rep-Am. The newspaper is privately owned, which means they have full authority to ban certain types of comments. If the trolls really want to get their message out there, they can get their own blog and stop polluting the Rep-Am.
While the Rep-Am does delete the most offensive comments, they still let the trolls control the dialogue. I recently dropped my subscription to the Rep-Am for this reason. Until they change their standards and ban the trolls, as well as any comment that demonizes an entire class of people, I will not spend any money on the Rep-Am. This is a personal decision, part of a larger rethinking of what I will and will not tolerate. I will not tolerate trolls, and I will not support anyone who enables them. If they are allowed to make hate-filled statements targeting minorities and the poor and whoever else online, pretty soon it will be commonplace to say such things in public. The venomous comments posted by the trolls is like a cancer that threatens to spread, and it needs to be stopped.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Art at Cup of Praise

I dropped by Cup of Praise on Wolcott Street this evening for a reception featuring the art of Eduardo Paredes (and enjoyed some delicious flan while I was there).

I took advantage of a moment when everyone was over by the counter to take this photo. The artist is working in the corner.

Eduardo Paredes posing with some of his art.

Eduardo's sculptures are created from recycled materials. He joked that this is one way to deal with blight in Waterbury--use it to create art. This sculpture is composed of papier-mâché, computer/phone parts, and other found objects.

This sculpture is made with cement...

...with a happy face on its back.

The artist at work.