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?
A) Bristol has had a successful economic development incentive and grant program for almost 20 years that has helped businesses grow. In other areas we need to start connecting the dots and prioritizing projects. We have a vacant downtown, a stalled Memorial Boulevard project, and a well-watered patch of grass. Code enforcement efforts will aid in improving the appearance of downtown, which will assist in attracting new investors. We have wasted several years and need to stop the waiting game and act decisively to help existing businesses survive and prosper, improve the property values, quality of life, and the overall perception of our city so it attracts businesses and residents. The money spent on The Patch and non-priority projects like the $6 million Engine 4 fire house renovation on Vincent P. Kelly Rd., which only minimally increased firefighter training capacity, are two great examples of misguided priorities.
B) Memorial Boulevard School can be the catalyst project to jump- start bringing activity and people downtown. My MBS Task Force worked diligently for 15 months to create a workable and financially feasible plan. The test events attracted people from across the region. Renovating the theater is the best use for this historic asset that means so much to the community. Its location on the gateway to downtown and on the Veterans Memorial Boulevard contributes to the need to re-use and revitalize it in a creative manner. Other proposed uses include office space, artist space and possible municipal use.
C) I like to be hands-on with projects, whether it’s solving a constituent’s issue or working on large-scale policy projects like chairing the MBS Task Force or the Code Enforcement Committee. I am proud of the committee work we have done, which brings over a dozen departments to the table to work together on policy, enforcement and sharing information, as well as utilizing all resources at our disposal to ensure that residents are living in safe and sanitary conditions, and that landlords are maintaining their properties. The MBS project brought together a wide variety of people to work toward a common goal, despite differences in approach and efforts to politicize it. These “big picture” projects connect back to our priorities and community value.
D) I have a collaborative leadership style where I like to have as many people around the table as possible who can offer insights. The city employees who are on the front lines of code enforcement are a good example of this – additional departments have been added to our code meetings due to the value they bring to the discussions. The Bristol Development Authority’s housing rehabilitation program has helped several homeowners who have been cited but could not afford repairs. Also, the Bristol Housing Authority attends to monitor activity so they are not referring clients to properties and/or landlords who are in violation, which impacts the landlords in the wallet, and tends to bring about compliance. Staff also suggested new ordinance language to add tools to the toolbox. It’s now time to deal with the larger issues of the vacant lots and boarded up abandoned properties which are controlled by banks and create a policy to get these properties in other people’s hands who will build new or rehabilitate properties. Some vacant lots may be earmarked for neighborhood use, off-street parking, divided between abutting owners, or transferred to non-profits like Habitat for Humanity to create better housing.
E) Bristol is at a crossroads. It’s time to invest in ourselves so we become the vibrant community I know is possible. This will require partners in Hartford and Washington D.C., private investors, and making critical policy decisions to maximize every dollar we expend for best results. Leadership is needed to prioritize projects like MBS and downtown, as well as critical road repair and the quality of education. When people are shopping for a community, they do the same thing we all do in a store – shop for the best product at the best price. Good schools, safe neighborhoods, recreational and cultural opportunities, clean parks are all part of this. Strong management and coordinating the goals of the various departments is going to be critical. I believe in bipartisanship and putting the right people in the right seats on the bus to get us moving in the right direction. These are all priorities for the next two years.
F) There are many opportunities to improve efficiencies and explore new revenues to add to the budget. Bristol’s tax rate is comparable to, or lower than, most surrounding communities other than Farmington. The constant remarks from the Republicans that I am going to raise taxes should be viewed as an insult to voters’ intelligence. This year’s zero tax increase was thanks to a large increase in state aid. Early projections from the State of Connecticut are showing that Bristol may receive the same or more in state aid next year. I believe there are many opportunities to deliver quality services in a more efficient manner.
H) I have a bachelor’s degree from Providence College and a masters degree from UConn in public administration. I have the skills and knowledge of a city manager balanced with the knowledge of the community from the various organizations and committees that I have served on over the last 25 years, as well as a proven track record of getting things done. Being mayor in 2015 requires more than cutting ribbons and getting your picture taken. It requires critical thinking and collaboration. I have strong relationships in Hartford and with city unions and other local groups and organizations that will benefit the community and the discussions we need to have in the next few years to move the city in a positive direction.