WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) –News 8 is following the race for Waterbury’s mayoral election, as incumbent Mayor Neil O’Leary is not seeking reelection for the first time since 2011.  

The Waterbury mayoral race took center stage Wednesday, just three weeks before the Nov. 7 election. 

Among the candidates is Republican-endorsed candidate Dawn Maiorano. She is a Waterbury native and fourth-generation funeral home owner. 

“I’m running for mayor because it’s time for a better Waterbury, one reminiscent of the Waterbury that we all knew and love, the hustle and the bustle, not the crime and the boarded-up buildings,” Maiorano said during opening remarks.  

Democratic-endorsed candidate Paul Pernerewski is a Waterbury native who has spent the last 21 years serving on Waterbury’s Board of Alderman and the last 14 of those as the board’s president.  

“A serious leader, with serious solutions, can meet those significant challenges and keep Waterbury moving forward,” Pernerewski said in his opening remarks. “My record shows that I am that leader. I’ve lived through those difficult times, and I’ve been part of those difficult decisions.” 

Independent petitioning candidate Karen Jackson was born in Jamaica. She is a former Bridgeport City Council member and is a current student with a background in education.  

“I am here to make a change, to make a social justice change, to make an environmental justice change to Waterbury,” Jackson said. 

Some of the key issues discussed during the debate were economic development, small businesses and negotiations over the sale of Waterbury Hospital. 

Education is a top priority for the mayoral candidates.

“One of the things I would do is create a liaison between my office and the superintendent’s office to make sure that there’s communication back and forth, that we know what’s going on at the Department of Education, the Board of Education,” Pernerewski said.  

“One of the main ways to get control of the education system is to engage the parents,” Jackson said. “Once you engage the parents, everything else will fall in line; but no one’s engaging the parents.” 

“[Students] don’t have the basic skills,” Maiorano said. “The teachers need support. The admins need support. They need communication. They need reinforcement. We need to go back to basics.” 

Another concern discussed during the debate was about tackling violent crime. 

“As far as young people are concerned if they commit a crime, I would rather them start cleaning up the city and give them jobs thereafter, instead of giving them records for the rest of their lives,” Jackson said.   

“There are laws on the books that need to be enforced,” Maiorano said. “We need stronger enforcement policies. Violent offenders need to be held accountable.” 

“Eighty percent of all of the crimes being committed are being committed by 20 percent of the perpetrators,” Pernerewski said. “So, it’s a lot of repeat offenders, people who are out on early release; juveniles who know, having raised the age from 16 to 18 for juvenile offenders, know that there are no consequences.”    

Independent petitioning candidate Keisha Gilliams could not attend Wednesday’s debate.

We reached out to Gilliams for an interview or statement but have not yet received a response.