The Observer interviewed both mayoral candidates—incumbent Republican Ken Cockayne and Democratic challenger Ellen Zoppo-Sassu about the issues facing the city and about their own qualifications for the job.
A) Many of the hot topics in Bristol can be boiled down to economic development, whether it is the West End, downtown, Route 6, industrial parks, etc. What do you feel have been the economic successes for the city during the past two years—or what have been its failures? Explain.
B) What do you think should be done with the Memorial Boulevard School and what is
C) Both of you are incumbents, what do you see as your successes in your respective offices over the past two years?
D) How would you describe your leadership style, and why do you think it’s the best approach to achieve success?
E) Why do you think that the city needs you in the Mayor’s Office to achieve success over the next two years?
F) What is your philosophy regarding taxes and the city budget?
G) What do you see as the priorities for the town for the next two years if you are elected?
H) Why should people pick you and not your opponent?
Compiled by staff writer Lisa Capobianco.
A) During my administration, Bristol has enjoyed many successes despite the sluggish state economy and massive tax increases imposed by Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Democrats in the General Assembly. Since my inauguration, we have sold two lots in the Southeast Bristol Business Park, providing an increase to our grand list and in the number of local jobs. After several years of stagnation, my administration with the help of our new, dynamic Economic Development Director, Justin Malley, was able to get it done…
I’m also very encouraged by the approval of the $8.1 million state Department of Transportation project to overhaul intersections in the West End. This project will hopefully be completed in the next few years, easing congestion in the West End, while helping boost businesses and providing new opportunities for economic development in the area…
B) The best use for the former Memorial Boulevard School is to save the historic theater for community use and to re-purpose the rest of the building in a way that generates revenue, sustains the theater, and minimizes risk for the city. While the theater remains the focal point for many in the community looking to re-use the building, ultimately the rest of the building will be the most critical in ensuring that the theater and building as a whole remain viable in the years to come. Ideas like business and artist incubator space deserve to be strongly considered by the recently established non-profit. With that said, I strongly believe that securing a long-term tenant is the key to minimizing financial exposure and risk. …
The City Council and Board of Finance have allocated $400,000 to begin the necessary architectural and engineering design work to determine the actual costs of renovating the building. Upon taking office, I established a Task Force of community leaders, including my opponent in this year’s election, to create a vision, framework, and re-use strategy for the building. Despite the cloud of controversy surrounding my opponent’s actions as chairwoman of this committee, I am still impressed with the work the committee accomplished and eagerly await the results of the design study so an honest discussion with the taxpayers…
C) It has been an honor and pleasure to serve the people of Bristol as mayor. One of the things I am extremely proud of is that I have made the Mayor’s Office much more accessible by establishing a presence on social media. Utilizing social media has enabled my office to more conveniently engaged with the public and to learn of issues more quickly. In turn, we have been able to respond and resolve these issues in a timely manner. I’m proud of my administration’s ability to provide funding of critical infrastructure and programs, such as full-day kindergarten and an additional $1.6 million for road replacement, all while passing a zero tax increase this year. I’m encouraged by our attraction of new businesses and the expansion of others, as well as the re-use of several of our closed school buildings. I’m proud of the aggressive stance that we have taken on blight, which I believe has already had lasting impact on neighborhoods throughout the city. Lastly, I am very proud of the Senior Volunteer Tax Credit Program that was implemented during my term to help the seniors who give back to our community.
D) My leadership style is vastly different from my opponent’s. The people of Bristol hired me, in part, to oversee departments, not run them… I am an efficient delegator and expect employees to do their jobs. I have ensured that problems and questions are addressed and answered, taking action when necessary. I communicate well, listen to people’s concerns, and solicit feedback.
E) During my tenure on the City Council I made a push to fund the war on blight. Towards the end of my term, the Board of Finance began funding the push to demolish unsafe structures. I believe the city needs my leadership as mayor to continue this initiative. By showing slumlords that the city will not tolerate substandard living conditions for its residents, and educating owners about the resources available to those willing to tackle the restoration of these unsafe structures, Bristol has seen the private investment of millions of dollars in formerly blighted and neglected homes. This has resulted in additional tax revenue to the town, and an improved the quality of life for those impacted.
Transparency also is a key issue in this campaign. Unlike my opponent who has held secret and scripted meetings, my office has been transparent and open to the public. I will continue to do the city’s business in public, with input from my constituents.
Our marketing program is starting to see results and with the progress that we have made I believe the city needs my leadership to continue its momentum.
Lastly, as mayor you need to work with everyone, including appointed board members and volunteers that may not always agree with you.
F) There is no question that better illustrates the philosophical difference between my opponent and I than this. She has already stated that we don’t pay enough in taxes. I believe we pay our fair share. She believes increased spending and higher taxes will attract new citizens and businesses, while I believe a reasonable, stable mill rate is the key to economic growth. I believe in taking care of needs before wants, while she believes in wants over needs…
My goal is to once again hold the line on spending. We need to continue to grow the grand list, which will help in keeping our property taxes at a reasonable rate. However, as everyone knows, under the Democratic leadership in Hartford, the State of Connecticut is broke. Municipalities are going to have to fend for themselves when it comes to state aid…. I will continue to employ a fiscally conservative approach towards the city’s budget while ensuring that all departments, including the Board of Education, receive adequate funding to deliver an appropriate level of services to the taxpayers.
G) My biggest priority is to continue our efforts to bring new business and jobs to the city, while seeking alternative strategies to develop downtown. No one can be more frustrated than I am with the length of time this project has taken to get off the ground. As you likely already know, my opponent voted to buy the Bristol Centre Mall in 2004 despite a public outcry against the purchase. I disagreed with the purchase like many of you at the time, and hindsight has shown the public was right. The purchase of this property was the impetus for me to decide to get involved politically and run for office. With that, and the preferred developer agreement in the rearview mirror, the project is now at a crossroads, and the next two years is critical to the future of this property and to the future of downtown….
I’ll continue to fight blight in Bristol, work to hold the line on spending, and seek to make it easier to do business in the city…
Lastly, I have begun the process of meeting with stakeholders regarding the issuance of building permits and approval processes for businesses and homeowners…
H) I believe I deserve a second term as mayor because I have followed through on the very platform the voters elected me to accomplish. In 2013, I pledged to get tough on blight, to hold the line on taxes, and to do everything in my power to better market the city to businesses and families alike. Since taking office, I have done just that. My office has been accessible, transparent, and above all, receptive to the ideas and suggestions of the city’s employees and citizens alike…