Meet the mayoral candidates: Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, Democrat, Challenger

Ellen Zoppo Sassu

Democrat

What would you like to see happen with Memorial Boulevard School?

It’s been five years too long for this project. The city needs to empower the Memorial Boulevard Cultural Center fundraising committee to start raising private and grant money for the theater. The magnet school is a fine idea and we have state Rep. Christopher Ziogas working on procuring that funding. The task force’s recommendation for a mixed use cultural center is a solid Plan B for if the magnet school falls apart due to the state’s fiscal crisis.

 

How do you feel about the progress of revitalizing the city’s downtown? What more should or can be done?

This is a two -part question: what can be done on the mall property and then, downtown in general? No matter what the end goal is nothing works without a critical mass of people: no people no customers, no customers no business. Having large empty storefronts does not promote development, and building roads where they already exist is nothing but a smoke screen. The MBS would have been a perfect “catalyst” project to jumpstart development.

My concern for development downtown is that there doesn’t seem to be a cohesive vision. We need to understand and execute the plan of development that should act as the guide that includes mixed used development — retail, office space, and housing — so that residents of Bristol and neighboring towns can visit to eat, shop, and be entertained. I applaud the hospital’s commitment and look forward to working with them. Overall, we need people living and working downtown, so existing and new businesses have a base from which to thrive. We need a mayor that can execute development deals, rather than constantly tease that they’re in the works, and yet nothing ever comes to fruition.

 

Which phrase do you agree with… Bristol is a city on the rise or Bristol is a city in stagnation? Why do you feel that way? If it’s on the rise, what can be done to ensure that direction is maintained? If you feel it’s stagnant, how can we get ourselves “unstuck?”

We are treading water, with the biggest hurdle being our own attention span. Meaningful development takes a lot of work and time and our current “take whatever we can get right now” attitude is a recipe for failure. We have been attempting to reinvent our downtown since the ‘60s and we haven’t managed to do it yet. The big empty lot downtown remains big and empty. For every PODS that enters Bristol, there is a Barley Vine, Frankie’s or an Ultimate Wireforms that packs up and leaves. Class sizes are increasing. A strong education system is the best marketing tool a community has for economic development. The mayor’s constant war with the BOE is a marketing disaster. It sends a message that education is a low priority.

 

Are we doing enough for economic development in Bristol? If no, what should be done to spur growth? If yes, what are doing to spur growth and why is this a positive thing?

The most vibrant communities can always be doing more. Widening the scope is a good start, as well as finding strategies to combat the state’s economic climate. Job training programs, methods for shared services, coordinated advertising strategies, preferential hiring and bids for local vendors all could be factors in combating the stifling cost of doing business. The strategy needs to be two-fold – recruiting as well as retaining existing businesses who may need a little assistance to expand.

 

Put yourself in the shoes of your opponent for the mayor’s seat. What do you think their biggest criticism of you is? And how would you counter that criticism?

My opponent tells everyone that I’m on record as saying residents of Bristol don’t pay enough in taxes. Despite my inquiries, he hasn’t been able to produce the PROOF of where or when I said that — but that’s my opponent’s modus operandi. He likes to embellish his record and lie about others. I’ve never said citizens of Bristol don’t pay enough in taxes. Rather, I question if we’re getting the most out of our tax dollars. I question if we’re spending taxpayer money responsibly and efficiently. I see that our property values are slipping and the quality of our schools and the quality of life is diminishing. That’s what I want to fix. I want to raise property values and the quality of life in Bristol — not taxes. And ironically, when he had two major policy initiatives that directly impact quality of life that needed to get done – MBS and code enforcement – he appointed me to chair them.

 

Then as yourself, what is your biggest criticism of your opponent and why are you the better alternative?

This administration is form over substance, never mind ethically challenged, which puts the city in a bad light. In election years he moves a little dirt around to give the illusion of progress and attends a lot of ribbon cuttings so he gets his picture taken. Motion and static activity is not progress. Manipulation of crime, job creation, and unemployment rate data – and then taking credit for it and putting it on a billboard – is ridiculous. Nothing he has done is sustainable or has long term value. Bristol is a strong mayor form of government. This is a job, not a performance.

The complete lack of a strategic plan leaves us open to a catastrophe if our larger taxpayers and employers continue to face challenges. While we’ve landed some small businesses we’ve also lost some mid-sized ones. We need to have a strategy to attract all levels. We have no insurance policy against a major loss. A well-defined strategic plan that considers downside “what ifs” is badly needed.

The city also has no strategy for restaurants-they live and die on their own. Other communities do a much better job on promoting restaurants because they tend to be the heart of economic development.

 

Finally is there an issue you have not been asked about that you feel is vital to voters, why and how would you address it?

There are many issues that need to be addressed. The lack of accountability and transparency in financial matters like his refusal to account for code enforcement and demolition expenses, no-bid contracting, and no plan for re-use and restoration of these code properties; His own spending, which included renovating and soundproofing his office, as well as his poor attendance record at commission meetings he is supposed to be chairing (and thus leading). Also, the complete lack of interest in the opioid public health crisis and its impact on Bristol families and businesses, as well as how we are responding to and delivering services. I have issued platform pieces on all of the above, www.ellenzopposassu.com

Ellen Zoppo-Sassu