By MIKE CHAIKEN
The two mayoral candidates took to the stage at St. Paul Catholic High School last Monday for the annual Bristol Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum.
The focus was primarily on business and the economy at the face-off between Republican incumbent Ken Cockayne and Democratic challenger Ellen Zoppo-Sassu.
The candidates were asked to describe their visions for economic development.
“The city has many great assets,” said Zoppo. “We can be a vibrant community… but we have to connect the dots.”
“We’re doing it (economic development),” said Cockayne. A $66 million rise in the value of the city’s grand list, “doesn’t happen by chance.” Regarding the empty mall property in downtown, Cockayne said, “I’m fixing the mess my opponent made” when the property was brought when Zoppo-Sassu served on the council. “If you think the state is doing great, I’m not the your guy. Vote for my opponent… While the governor is running businesses out of Connecticut, we’re bringing them in.”
The candidates also were asked about taxes, especially in light of the unsettled atmosphere in the state legislature.
Zoppo-Sassu noted that the city seems to only have zero tax increases during election years. But on the off years, they are raised. In regards to the state budget situation, Zoppo-Sassu said Gov. Dannel Malloy has not been the only captain steering the state ship. She pointed out Republican governors Jodi Rell and John Rowland often would borrow from the rainy day fund to close budget gaps. She also said Lowell Weicker, a former Republican, established the state income tax.
The candidates also were asked about the resolution of opioid abuse.
Zoppo-Sassu said she has a four point plan to address the matter: Prevention, Recovery, Response and Treatment. She said the problem needs to be addressed because employers are finding it hard to find workers who can pass drug tests.
Cockayne said the city has established a drug prevention task force exploring prevention and education. He said the focus of the task force has been on “starter drugs” like alcohol and marijuana. Additionally, he noted the city also has joined a lawsuit to take legal action against the manufacturers of prescription drugs who facilitated the over-prescription of opioid drugs.
The candidates were also asked about collaboration with on services with other communities.
“We’re doing it,” said Cockayne, noting the city’s membership in the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, with communities like Waterbury. He also noted the Veterans Strong facility, which was slated to closure by the federal government, has now been regionalized for use by surrounding communities, Additionally, he said the city has been working on services with Plainville and Southington.
“You need a leader who gets along with people,” said Cockayne.
Zoppo-Sassu said with the number of communities and school districts in Connecticut, there needs to be conversations about regionalism. “Public and private partnerships are needed with limited resources.”
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com.