Meet the council candidates of District 3

As Bristol residents prepare this year’s municipal elections on Nov. 5, the Observer asked the council candidates for the city three districts a series of questions that will help voters make their choices when they turn out to cast their ballots.
Derek Czenczelewski
Republican candidate for District 3

As an incumbent, what is an accomplishment you are most proud of during the time you have served?
I’m most proud of the progress that has been made on the Pine Lake Area Study Committee and the Commission on Persons with Disabilities. Both committees have provided valuable service to the community, from finalizing plans for the Pine Lake Handicapped Fishing Pier and Parking lot to the CPD’s organization of the “Get Ready Capitol Region” training and focus on ADA improvements around the city. Both boards have worked with other community groups, and together, to produce efficient results. Although they often go overlooked, I could not be more proud of the dedication and perseverance both boards have shown.

What do you believe are the biggest issues Bristol faces in the next two years and, if elected, how will you contribute to address them?
The issues I’m most focused on are attracting more industry to the city, continuing to implement the myriad recommendations from past completed studies, seeing downtown begin the first phase of redevelopment, and keeping our budget in check. To address these items, in short, we will continue working with the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce and our marketing consultant to get the message out on why Bristol is the perfect place for business. We will continue working with our state legislators and city staff to secure funding to implement study recommendations, monitoring the efforts of Renaissance Downtowns, and continuing to explore efficiencies in our city operations.

What can you do, if elected, to attract more business to the city?
What we have done, and will continue to do, is to make the business community across the region aware of the incentives Bristol offers, and the benefits of relocating and expanding here in Bristol. The council’s focus on marketing, as well as the continued collaboration with commercial brokers, the Bristol Development Authority, and the Chamber of Commerce will ensure we differentiate ourselves and attract top employers and new jobs to the City

If elected, what will you do to make sure taxes are low without city services being cut?
After being named the top municipality for 2013 in the Greater Hartford region by Hartford Magazine for “Best Bang for the Buck,” I think a lot has already been done to maintain city services at an affordable rate here in Bristol. If re-elected, we will continue to look for better efficiencies, increased buying power through regionalization efforts, and maintaining a conservative approach to city financing. In my opinion, the best way to keep taxes low is to grow the grand list, and with a continued focus on luring business to Bristol, we can accomplish this.

Bio: I’m a life-long resident of Bristol, the son of Bruno and Maureen Czenczelewski, and the brother of Breanna Czenczelewski. I grew up in Forestville, played baseball at Forestville Little League, and attended Bristol Public Schools. I’m a proud University of Connecticut alumnus, and have worked for ESPN and consulting firms in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry since graduating. I’m currently employed by The S/L/A/M Collaborative, a Glastonbury-headquartered architecture firm as a marketing coordinator. In 2011, my fiancé and I bought our newly built home in the Stafford School neighborhood of Bristol, and we couldn’t be happier. We are getting married in February, 2014 and look forward to many years of fun ahead, and raising a family here in Bristol.


Ellen Zoppo-Sassu
Democratic candidate for District 3

As a challenger, what is an issue that has come up to the council in which you would have handled differently? How?
I think that the Republican tactic of making the city employees a “target” and “the problem” in terms of budget issues was a way for them to avoid responsibility in coming up with the needed solutions needed to balance the budget. City employees are on the front line of delivering services and know where improvements can be made and savings found. We did this very successfully years ago when I served on Council with the Task Force on Government Efficiency. Employees had a seat at the table and helped find over $500,000 in savings and improved ways of conducting city business. Putting code enforcement back on track as a substantive policy instead of the window dressing it has been up until this past summer is another matter. The mayor and current Council members rarely attended any of the meetings so there was no priority given or leadership offered. Council members need to be hands-on and provide that leadership, working collaboratively with the departments.

What do you believe are the biggest issues Bristol faces in the next two years and, if elected, how will you contribute to address them?
The most important issue is to carefully balance all the factors to make Bristol a well-rounded community – aggressive economic development efforts to attract new businesses and help existing ones grow; a strong education system that attracts families and stabilizes the middle class and property values, and quality of life enhancements such as recreational opportunities, and arts and culture. It is also important to deliver the services that residents need such as Dial-A-Ride, so that we help our older citizens stay independent as long as they can; pre-K programs for children to get them ready, and enough extracurricular activities for students to have a well-rounded school experience and prepare them for future. Every policy and program should be evaluated as to how it impacts these priorities.

What can you do, if elected, to attract more business to the city?
It is critical to showcase Bristol’s assets: infrastructure and services, central location, and the affordable nature of available housing, quality schools, etc. for potential employees. I support the program that started during the (Mayor Frank) Nicastro administration to offer incentive grants to businesses that gives Bristol an edge in attracting businesses. It is also critical, in this technological age, that public officials conduct themselves in a civil and professional manner since many companies, residents and others are likely to “Google” or do media research on an area to get a feel for it. These past two years with the high level of political bickering has not benefited Bristol.

If elected, what will you do to make sure taxes are low without city services being cut?
This is always a balance of growing the tax base so there is more revenue to work with, as well as ensuring that every dollar is spent efficiently. Sharing resources among departments and on a regional basis is one area that should be explored as well as managing health care costs and ensuring we have the best plans in place for the employees, especially in the area of preventative care that saves money in the long-run; and also that the city’s health care vendors stay transparent and deliver the best products, rebates, and services for the city’s investment.

Bio: Ellen Zoppo-Sassu is a lifelong Bristol resident, attended local schools, and graduated from Providence College with a degree in political science and public Administration. She then went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in local and urban government from the University of Connecticut. Zoppo currently works for the Connecticut Pharmacists Association as the director of communications and marketing. Previously, she had worked as development director at the Boys & Girls Club and Family Center, and at the New Britain Chamber of Commerce where she still works on special projects. She also currently serves as the part-time director of development and grants for the Bristol Historical Society. She also previously served on the City Council, representing District 2, from 2001-2007.
Zoppo is married to Peter Sassu who is the police school resource Officer at Bristol Eastern High School. They have three children, Michaela, 16; Zachary, 14, and Carson, 12, all of whom attend Bristol schools. Zoppo is active in the community, serving on a number of boards and committees.
In both her previous elected service as well as the time spent volunteering in the community, Ellen has focused on quality of life issues. As a candidate for City Council in the Third District, she will continue her efforts to create a community that is attractive to families and those enjoying their golden years, strong schools, and vibrant neighborhoods.

James Albert
Republican candidate for
District 3

Q: As a challenger, what is an issue that has come up to the council in which you would have handled differently? How?
I would have voted to discontinue the search for food service alternatives in our schools once the city negotiated a contract with the food service union and entered formal arbitration. The time to look at options and alternatives is before you enter arbitration, not after. Continuing to search for options after a negotiated contract was brought to a vote of union members and the parties entered formal arbitration, can be interpreted as acting in bad faith and creates mistrust.

Q: What do you believe are the biggest issues Bristol faces in the next two years and, if elected, how will you contribute to address them?
The biggest issue has been, and will continue to be, eliminating waste in the city budget. Bristol residents, including many city workers and managers, are frustrated with how much inefficiency and waste exists in the way Bristol spends money and manages its budget. Most people I speak with are fed up with “business as usual” stagnation in city government. Others are worried they will not be able to afford to live in Bristol when they retire, or that their children cannot find work here after school. Bristol is an expensive city in the most expensive state in the country. As a result, we are losing too many good people, young and old.
How did this happen? For years, city departments were allowed to overspend with little action taken to correct it. Over the past two years, the Republican-led City Council has been asking detailed questions about the spending habits of city departments and programs, which has made many people in city government very uncomfortable. The result, however, was lowering of property taxes for most people and discovery of many areas of inefficiency and waste in city operations. If elected, I will watch city spending closely, ask a lot of questions, and insist each department and program look for ways to get more out of current investments before asking for more tax dollars. I will also ensure the city adopts better planning, management and oversight policies and procedures to get the most out of our current tax dollars.

Q: What can you do, if elected, to attract more business to the city?
Certainly keeping a close eye on city budgets and spending habits will improve the financial stability and reputation of Bristol. In addition, Bristol is blessed with hundreds of civic, social, fraternal, religious, neighborhood, sports and community-based grass roots organizations. The efforts, talents, and resources of these citizen-led groups form the backbone of our quality of life and should be better communicated, coordinated and supported by city government and the resources of the business community. Together we are stronger than the sum of our individual parts. Closer ties between the residents and City government and businesses will serve to energize and breathe life back to our City in ways we used to enjoy, but no longer exist.

Q: If elected, what will you do to make sure taxes are low without city services being cut?
As mentioned earlier, I believe the current city budget is large enough to meet our needs and provide a high quality of life for all. I don’t favor adding or cutting current investments at this time. Rather, I believe strongly there is waste and inefficiency in the current budget that, if found and corrected, will provide millions of dollars to fund priorities that were reduced, eliminated, or delayed in recent years. Bristol is a city of about 60,000 people and budget of about $180 million. That is roughly $3,000 per person – and that is enough, for now, to meet our needs. We should focus on eliminating waste first, then take those dollars and add them to improve and enhance the quality of life for our citizens and businesses.

Bio: James Albert retired as a lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Air Force in 1998 after managing and directing several of the largest data and telecommunications centers and systems in the world. While serving in the Air Force, he led technology projects and programs worth over a billion dollars and was awarded IT Project Manager of the Year for supporting space shuttle missions, Strategic Defense Initiative research, regional and worldwide military operations, high-speed global networking and large-scale supercomputing software application development. His last role in the Air Force was as special assistant for research and engineering in the office of the Secretary of Defense developing legislation, speeches, papers and presentations for senior Pentagon and White House officials and helping manage the $9 billion defense research budget.
Since his retirement from the Air Force, Albert has served as vice-president and chief information officer for four healthcare systems: Bristol Hospital in Bristol; Masonicare in Wallingford; Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington; and Jordan Hospital in Plymouth, Mass. Albert also owns and operates a private consulting firm specializing in executive-level strategic planning and project management for leading edge healthcare systems and technologies. He also teaches graduate courses in healthcare technology for the University of Connecticut and Boston University.
Albert is a decorated military officer with degrees from the University of Connecticut and The American University in Washington, D.C. He currently resides in Bristol.

Mary Fortier
Democrat Candidate District 3

As a challenger, what is an issue that has come up to the council which you would have handled differently? How?
The future of the schools that were closed, when the new schools opened, is something I would have handled differently. First, I would have started the planning for their future use earlier, prior to their closing, so they would not have been vacant as long. Secondly, the CCRPA (Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency) should have been involved in the initial planning, particularly because multiple buildings were being closed at the same time, and CCRPA has the resources to help all parties involved see the big picture and fit in with other plans already in existence, or in the planning stages, such as Renaissance Downtowns among others. The public should have been informed and invited to participate at all stages. Last, but not least, the Memorial Boulevard School should never have been considered a commodity for sale.

What do you believe are the biggest issues Bristol faces in the next two years and, if elected, how will you contribute to address them?
I think the biggest issue Bristol faces in the next two years is seeing that the 17-acre downtown parcel development actually breaks ground and continues in a timely manner as soon as possible. As a city, we need the businesses and jobs, but as a community we need the energy, the optimism, the rejuvenation this will bring to all of us who have been waiting. Renaissance Downtowns and Bristol Rising need our continued support and the council should work with any entity needed for efficient facilitation of their efforts. Tangentially, both literally and figuratively, the neighborhoods surrounding the downtown center need our time and attention. Renewed efforts in code enforcement with cooperation among various city departments should be a priority and will contribute to making our entire downtown a showpiece.

What can you do, if elected, to attract more business to the city?
Certainly, the development of downtown will be the biggest contribution to business growth in the near future. Jobs will be created in the building and maintaining of the development as well as in the businesses that occupy the space. While facilitating development is important, the city also needs to focus on what the city does best, educating young people, developing and maintaining our beautiful parks, and providing the services necessary to any community, such as, fire, police and sanitation. When our city is attractive to families, then businesses become attracted by those families. Bristol is also home to one of the state’s vocational technical high schools, and this should be highlighted since high-tech education is another key to attracting the business of the future.

If elected, what will you do to make sure taxes are low without city services being cut?
Obviously, the expansion of the tax base helps maintain lower taxes, but there is always room for increased efficiency in how tax revenues are spent. One area I will advocate for is reducing rising health care costs for city employees. The Board of Education and city employees combined make the city the third largest employer in Bristol. Pooling these employees together with other municipal and state employees could save significant money and even improve their health care. The savings would provide more money for more direct services for residents.

Bio: Mary Fortier has lived in Bristol her whole life. She is a lawyer who works for the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, currently in complex litigation at the Waterbury courthouse. She and her husband David (he writes a column for this publication) have raised six adult children.