By KAITLYN NAPLES
Just three weeks before a vote takes place, the two candidates running for the city’s top job faced off in a debate that covered a variety of issues the city is facing.
Republican mayoral candidate Ken Cockayne and Democrat mayoral candidate Chris Wilson spent about 75 minutes last Monday evening at St. Paul Catholic High School, discussing various topics and telling the public why they are the best choice to be mayor of the city.
“I bring the skills and experiences needed for leadership,” Wilson said, adding that he understands what is required to be mayor of the city, and will lead by creating a culture of transparency. He said the city has a public relations problem, and he said “our challenge is to create an environment” where the city feels safe and successful.
Cockayne said he has what it takes to be mayor, since he has held the position of “acting mayor” before and currently holds it as well. Also, he has been a councilman for the last six years, and said he has the knowledge and experience to “hit the ground running” without lag time.
“We need a leader who has a proven track record,” Cockayne said, “and that leader is me.”
While the two candidates agreed on some issues, like promoting the city of Bristol in a positive light and that the city is not defined by one person and that the residents only want the best for their families, they disagreed on other issues, like the status of the West End neighborhood of Bristol.
The West End “has come a long way over the last six years,” Cockayne said, adding that realigning the intersection in the West End is critical, and he also commended the “thriving” West End Association. He said funding from the state and federal level would be necessary for a project like aligning the intersection, and if elected he would pursue that.
Wilson disagreed, and said the neighborhood is still full of blight and vacant or shell businesses, and has not come a long way over the last six years. He said code enforcement is necessary in the area, and if elected he will make that a focus.
Downtown Develop-ment, Branding, Bristol Development Authority
Another issue that was brought up at last week’s debate was the downtown development of Depot Square, and where the candidates saw its progress after their first term as mayor, if elected.
Cockayne said he sees “phase 1” of the project as completed, and that would include mixed-use buildings. He also said he sees the city holding onto its tax base and continuing the consolidation efforts among departments and services.
Wilson said he wants to focus on things “we can really accomplish” like working with unions, and properly funding the city’s education, as he said it has been level funded for several years. While he said he wants to see the development of the downtown lot succeed, the marketplace has to support it, or the city needs to take another look at the plan for that space. On the topic of the downtown project, Wilson said he is “cautiously optimistic” the project will come to fruition.
Education and Schools
When it comes to the vision of the city’s education and how to keep the system competitive, Wilson said “we need to remain diligent and undergird the board’s finances” and keep a high quality level of education.
Cockayne said his opponent “believes education starts with administration” but he believes education starts with teachers and students.
“We need to get resources to the people who are teaching our students,” Cockayne said, adding that he has a son in the Bristol School District and is marrying a teacher.
Regarding the four closed schools that have been vacant, Jennings School is the only one that has been purchased for redevelopment. Wilson said the city needs to have a “large planning meeting” to see what the best fit is for all of the vacant schools. He said the schools should be sold to entrepreneurs, with the exception of Memorial Boulevard School, which he said should be used for an incubation facility for small businesses, or find other uses.
Cockayne said the real estate committee has had several meetings to figure out what to do with the schools, have put the schools out to bid, and now the issue is being taken up by the city planner.
The next opportunity to watch the full mayoral debate on Nutmeg Television will be on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 8 p.m., on Government Channel 96.
Comments? Email knaples@BristolObserver.com.
By KAITLYN NAPLES