Waterbury mayor seeks to make history

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Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary made it official — announcing he’s running again for mayor. If he wins a 4th term, by the end of that upcoming term, he would make Waterbury history as the city’s longest-serving mayor. His first win came in 2011.

The mayor officially announced his intentions yesterday at a luncheon with Waterbury’s business community.

“I love this job. I love all of you,” he said. “And with that I’m here to tell you with your support I’m going to run for mayor again in 2019.”

Related: State gives $4 million to Waterbury to rejuvenate downtown economy

The announcement was met with applause in the luncheon conference room and with positivity among the lunch time crowd at the John Bale Book Company Bookshop Cafe downtown on Grand Street, which attracts a diverse cross-section of people representing various political persuasions.

“It’s almost the lead topic of discussion,” said Edie Reynolds, owner of the bookshop cafe. 

Customers gave the mayor high marks for economic development initiatives like bringing part of Post University downtown, occupying the Howland Hughes Department Store building on Bank Street that had sat vacant for 20 years.

“All the employees, we’re out and about,” said Karen Hendricks, one of the 400 workers at Post University who now works, shops, and eats downtown. “We’re visiting all the different types of restaurants. It’s been a wonderful experience.”

“He is working to bring jobs into Waterbury, which we desperately need,” said Ken Killer, a Waterbury resident.

Residents point to other revitailization efforts, like the mayor’s renovation of the Waterbury Green. But, even some who have high praise for his efforts also say there’s still work to be done in The Brass City.

“We’ve got a lot of young kids going around breaking into cars in various neighborhoods and stealing them,” Killer said. “We still have some problems with blight even though we have a very active Blight Control Commission.”

“He spent money on The Green area. He spent too much over there,” said Jose Vega, whose lived in Waterbury close to 40 years. “Our neighborhood, he doesn’t fix at all. The sidewalks are messed up. The streets have a bunch of holes. That’s a problem area — the South End area.”

O’Leary is a Democrat. If he wins, it would be his 4th term in office and at the end of that term, he would become the longest-serving mayor in Waterbury history. Bill DeMaida is one person who will work to end O’Leary’s streak. DeMaida is the Chairman of the Waterbury Republican Party. Waterbury hasn’t had a Republican mayor since the ’80s and DeMaida knows unseating the popular O’Leary will be tough.

“He has a great base. He has the numbers,” DeMaida said. “He’s got the money.”

But, DeMaida says the Republicans will try with the following being some of their main messages in the upcoming campaign:

“Small business, small government,” DeMaida said. “The idea that we have a mill rate around 60 is something people look twice at before they decide to move to Waterbury.”

Mayor O’Leary isn’t expected to get a primary challenge from a fellow Democrat. As of this report, the only Republican who has expressed interest in seeking the GOP nomination for mayor is City Alderman Vernon Matthews.

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