Waterbury leaders react to confrontation as Republicans choose candidate for mayor

News 8 Exclusive

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — It was a moment caught on camera exclusively by News 8. In fact, News 8 was the only local TV station there as Waterbury Republicans selected their candidate for mayor Wednesday night.

Alderman Vernon Matthews, Jr. was looking to become the first Black person to win a major party’s nomination for mayor ever in Waterbury. But, in order to do that, according to party rules, a member of the Republican Town Committee had to place his name up for nomination and a different member would have to “second” the nomination. But, no one did.

That led to a loud outburst by Rodney Parker, a Matthews supporter.

“No one?” he yelled to the silent room. “Just quiet?”

“I want to speak!” he demanded to the party leaders running the procedures.

“I’m asking you to sit down,” they responded. “As a gentleman I’m asking you to sit down.”

“I want to speak!” Parker demanded.

“I’m sorry sir it’s a point of order,” they responded. “You simply cannot do this.”

After things settled down, Parker went outside and spoke to News 8.

“For some reason they locked him out,” Parker said. “I thought it was unfair. He couldn’t even get nominated. That’s unfair.”

The GOP nomination eventually went to Ray Work. He’s a small business owner in Waterbury, heads the city’s Planning Commission, and is very involved in the community.

He shared his reactions to the moment of controversy with News8. We asked Work if there was any kind of deal in place to limit Mr. Matthews.

“Absolutely not — no deal whatsoever,” Work said. “It was incumbent on all of the people who wanted to be elected last night to put their slates together and their nominations together and so forth. I had to find people to nominate me, do a second, all of that.”

The controversy caught the mayor’s attention and drew a reaction from him, as well.

“I’ve known the Republican leadership here in the city of Waterbury for the last 40 years,” Democratic Mayor Neil O’Leary told News 8. “What I can tell you is there wasn’t a hint of racism in my humble opinion….The leadership of the Republican Town Committee are people of integrity.”

This kicks off a campaign that’s now headed to November. Republican Ray Work against longtime incumbent mayor, Democrat Neil O’Leary.

“I’m excited about the campaign,” Mayor O’Leary said. “Ray Work is a formidable candidate. Ray Work has been a lifelong Republican…. he’s a hard worker, his family are great people, he’s a strong volunteer in the city, he’s well known. We have work to do.”

Ray Work says one thing he’ll focus on during the campaign is the need to step up the fight against crime — especially when it comes to the number of stolen cars in the city.

“Not only the stolen cars but also just the people rifling through cars,” Work said. “I myself have had my car broken into 3 times out in front of my own home.”

When asked about specific ideas, Work told News8 he’s still thinking about that. Work also feels his career as a small business owner will help bring more businesses and jobs to Waterbury.

Mayor O’Leary says he’s proud of his record revitalizing Waterbury’s downtown, bringing in new economic development like the deal that transformed the old, vacant Howland Hughes department store building on Bank Street into a new downtown campus for Post University.

Last week, he told News 8 he wants to continue economic development that brings young people into the city and additional revenue. And he points to his efforts to remediate brownfields in the city and tear down old, decaying factory buildings and turn them into new sources of tax revenue.

As far as fighting crime is concerned, he says the police department has begun an aggressive community outreach campaign to improve relations with people in the community, which he hopes will better control and deter youth gangs.

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