WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — After a dozen years as mayor of Waterbury, Neil M. O’Leary announced Thursday during his annual state of the city speech that he will not seek reelection.
The 64-year-old has been a dominant force in city politics, winning nearly 70% of the votes in the last election. He is the longest continuously-serving mayor in Waterbury’s history.
“After much agonizing thoughts and reflections, I have decided that this will be my last term as mayor of our city,” O’Leary said during his state of the city address, saying he’d like to spend more time with family.
O’Leary, a city native, has spent 43 years in public service. First as a Waterbury police officer, then police chief, and the last 12 years as mayor.
An old-school Democratic politician with a big personality who started in the city as a patrol officer, O’Leary has worked hard to build allies in Washington, D.C., and at the state capitol in Hartford. Cleaning up blighted and abandoned factory buildings in the old manufacturing city has been a top priority.
VIDEO: O’Leary announces he will not run for another term as Waterbury mayor
O’Leary has been outspoken on reforming state laws to target repeat gun offenders. Like other Connecticut cities, Waterbury has struggled recently with a surge in violent crime.
“More than half of all violent crime in Watbury is being committed by individuals who have a long history,” the mayor said.
“There’s a very small group of individuals who are engaged in prior violent felony offenses, prior gun offenses, that are committing the majority of gun violence in our state today,” Waterbury police Chief Fernando Spagnolo said.
O’Leary said while the city is not perfect, they’re moving in the right direction.
“I think that the city is in the best shape it’s ever been in, starting from the fiscal point of view,” O’Leary said. “We’re moving forward. We have businesses moving in. We’re taking care of our people.”
O’Leary said more than 4,000 people moved to Waterbury during the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re investing millions of federal dollars for infrastructure and service programs, and the real estate value increased by $2 billion.
The mayor’s message to the nearly 400 people in attendance Thursday afternoon was simple — keep moving forward.
“Stand tough and stand tall,” O’Leary said. “Be fair. Be as generous as we can, but we’re not going back to those dark days.”
Under his leadership, Waterbury hired the first African American to lead the police department, city parks have been renovated, and Waterbury has begun cleaning up long-neglected industrial properties, such as the former Anaconda American Brass property. He has also worked closely with the state to rebuild the “mixmaster” intersection of Interstate 84 and Route 8. The state has also expanded commuter train service for Waterbury with O’Leary as mayor.
The city clerk’s office said, so far, three people are considering entering the mayoral race.
Democrat Paul Pernerewski, Jr., the Waterbury Board of Aldermen president, is forming an exploratory committee. Dawn Maiorano is considering running as a Republican, and Keisha Gilliams has not specified her political party.
Former five-term mayor of Waterbury, Michael Jarjura, told News 8 he would decide on a possible run in May.