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.

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