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Waterbury mayor race could make history

Politics

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — You may think it’s the time of the year when you’re kicking back, enjoying summer and you’re just coming off a long holiday weekend celebrating the 4th of July. But, there are signs that some political fireworks could be coming soon in Waterbury.

Longtime Mayor Neil O’Leary has just opened up a campaign re-election office on Bank Street. The signs are hanging on the windows.

If he secures the Democratic nomination next week at the party nomination meeting, he could make history. If he wins the election in November and serves out that term, he would be in the mayor’s chair for 12 continuous years and it would make him the longest-serving mayor in Waterbury history.

“It hits me with humility and a sincere appreciation to the voters of Waterbury,” the mayor said.

Waterbury Republicans hold their nomination meeting next week, too. They could also make history. Rookie City Alderman Vernon Matthews, Jr. is seeking the GOP nomination. If he gets it, he would become the first African-American to ever be nominated for mayor by a major political party in Waterbury history.

“I want to be THE person. In 166 years, neither party has nominated a Black for the major seat,” Alderman Matthews said.

In terms of improvements he’d like to see in the city, Alderman Matthews told News 8,

“People will tell you about the taxes and the mill rate, but there are sections of Waterbury that definitely need it like The North End and South End really needs it.”

Rookie City Alderman Vernon Matthews, Jr

Mayor O’Leary touts his record of trying to revitalize downtown — like striking a deal to bring Post University programs and workers to the old, vacant Howland Hughes Department store building downtown – generating new tax revenue and breathing new life into the Bank Street corridor downtown.

“We’ll continue to do the downtown redevelopment, downtown revitalization, bringing young people into our city,” the mayor said.

Last week, a new candidate emerged in this race and while he tries to derail the mayor, he would first have to derail Vernon Matthews’ dreams of making history in his own party.

Ray Work has come forward officially seeking the GOP nomination.

“I’ve seen how the city works and I think I can help it grow into the future,” Work said.

Work owns a small business in Waterbury and once spent ten years on the city’s planning commission. He also used to be the chairman of the commission. His main priority as mayor would be:

“Bringing in more small businesses and new development and I think I can help with that,” Work said.

By defeating Mayor O’Leary, both men would defeat someone who’s never lost a mayoral election before — a popular mayor whose won by hefty margins over the years. He also has a big attachment to the city.

“I’ve worked for Waterbury my whole adult life,” Mayor O’Leary said. “I love this city.”

The mayor also served the city as a police officer and police chief. But, Work also touts his own history here as a reason for running.

“I have fairly good credentials for the job. I’m a small businessman, I am a servant for the city, and have been for a long time, and I’ve raised four children here in the city, I pretty much am Waterbury…Of course it’s going to be a tough battle. But, if I didn’t think I could win I wouldn’t be in it.”

Ray Work

Matthews has high hopes, as well.

“I can honestly go to Gatesville, North Carolina next month when I go to visit my dad’s grave and tell him we did it….we did it,” Matthews said. “I think he’s looking down on me now telling me to push for it.”

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