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One For The Ages
Nobody seems to know what to expect on election day in Waterbury this year. There are six candidates running for mayor, five of whom are fully engaged in campaigning. Each believes they have a shot at being elected mayor November 8th. Let's break out the scorecards, take a hard look at the five active campaigners, and try and decipher the race.
Despite losing in a Democratic primary in September, this two term Waterbury mayor is still a force to reckon with. After the primary defeat Jarjura said he had accepted the will of the people and started packing boxes inside his office. He attributed his shocking loss to Karen Mulcahy as pockets of discontent joining forces to take him down. Jarjura said it was more of vote against him, than it was a vote of support for Mulcahy.
"A block of voters loyal to Larry DePillo was helpful to her," Jarjura said. "And people with small grievances against some of the unpopular and necessary decisions I made these past four years as mayor were against me. But the biggest reason I lost is that I did a lousy job of campaigning and let her define me. I was slow to react. It was a horrible campaign and I take responsibility."
As he mulled over the loss and continued to pack boxes, Jarjura said his phone wouldn't stop ringing as political strategists angled to get him back into the race. The key, most believed, was to get Jarjura's name back on the ballot. He couldn't run as an independent petitioning candidate because the deadline for collecting signatures had expired. A high level meeting with political leaders from both the Republican and Democrat parties was organized to explore the notion that Jarjura would replace Republican Tom Tremaglio at the top of the GOP ticket. Many at the meeting thought is was possible to scare Tremaglio out of the race by threatening to destroy him with rumor and innuendo. Tremaglio refused to back down, or to get out of the race. If Jarjura wanted to be an option on election day he would have to find another way.
"The write in campaign started out as a whimsical idea," Jarjura said. "But serious politicians told me we could mount a serious and credible campaign. They told me "we could do this.".
So another high level meeting of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated met to examine the pros and cons of a write in effort. Commitments were made for "a full throttle 30 day effort" and Jarjura said "he is in this to win."
Thus began the "Write In" campaign, which was announced the day after the October issue of the Observer went to press. (That's why Jarjura was not included in the in-depth candidate profiles).
"People were distraught over the choices they had for mayor and didn't know who they could vote for," Jarjura said. "So I decided to get back in the race as a write in candidate and give the voters a meaningful choice."
Jarjura has huge name recognition, but nobody can seem to recall a write in candidate ever winning an election in Waterbury, Connecticut or the United States.
"We're going to make history," Jarjura said. And make no mistake about it, the mayor believes he will be re-elected on November 8th.
While many political pundits initially viewed Jarjura's write in campaign as an attempt to thwart Mulcahy's run to the mayor's office, Jarjura dismisses this idea.
"This is not aimed at Karen Mulcahy," Jarjura said. "I simply don't believe any of the other candidates can mange a $330 million dollar organization. They don't have the expertise to handle the public's money. I do."
And for a man who reluctantly entered the race four years ago, and never wanted to be mayor of Waterbury, Mike Jarjura is fired up. He is energized and going after this write in campaign with a passion he has never displayed before.
Former seven term mayor Mike Bergin is helping the Jarjura campaign, as is former republican aldermen Nick Augelli and Cathy Awwad.
The Jarjura brain trust tried unsuccessfully to have a Jarjura rubber stamp allowed in each voting booth, but that idea was eventually shot down by the Secretary of the State. Instead, Jarjura will hand out pencils with his name on it, and hope the voters go into the booths and write in his name. He has spent considerable money in trying to educate the public on how to cast a write in vote, and whether the voters are comfortable doing so remains to be seen.
Jarjura is fully supporting the Democratic underticket, many of whom he has worked with for the past four years.
"I want Democrats to sweep the table," Jarjura said. "Except I want to replace Karen Mulcahy's name on top of the ticket with the name Mike Jarjura."
Using a boxing analogy, Karen Mulcahy beat "the man" in September, so at the moment that makes her "the champ", or the person to beat on November 8th. She would have to be the favorite. There are 25,000 registered Democrats in the city and she is on the top of the ticket.
More importantly, when considering Mike Jarjura, her name is already on the ballot and voters only have to pull her lever. That should give her another advantage over the mayor.
She ran a blistering primary campaign that knocked Jarjura on his heels. She defined the issues and went on the attack. For months her focus was on how Jarjura conducted himself in office. Jarjura was the campaign. After she knocked him off, though, it took her a few weeks to regroup and develop a new campaign strategy. Without Jarjura to blast, she had to present her own ideas and platform and tell the voters what she would do in office. In the past month she has laid out many specifics on the issues.
But campaigning got a whole lot easier for her when Jarjura threw his hat back in the ring. Karen cranked up the Jarjura attacks again and seemed to be re-energized. At several campaign debates she and Jarjura went at it like roused pit bulls. They don't like each other and both see this as a showdown of good versus evil, and obviously they both see themselves wearing the white hat.
She had help from Larry DePillo in the primary, and behind the scenes she has some political kingpins working on her behalf. Tommy Gahan is in her corner, as is Joe and Jeff Santopietro.
Mulcahy has publicly stated she will be the "People's Mayor", if elected. Before Jarjura re-entered the race, Karen Mulcahy may have steamrolled to victory in November. But his re-emergence will certainly impact her votes on election day and brings the other candidates into play.
But at this moment, it seems like it's Karen Mulcahy as the favorite.
Besides Mike Jarjura, no candidate knows the issues inside and out like Larry DePillo. This is his fourth run for Waterbury mayor, and in 1997 he was the Democratic candidate for comptroller. That's eight straight years that DePillo has been in the mix, narrowly losing the 1999 general election to Phil Giordano, and losing the 2001 Democratic primary to Mike Jarjura by 14 votes.
And for most of the past 20 years Larry DePillo, who now heads the Independent Party, has been one of the leading community activists in Waterbury. Nobody can ever accuse the man of not being committed to the city of Waterbury. He is tenacious in his vision for the city's future and continues to bulldog himself forward into the mix.
Until Jarjura was upended in the Democratic primary, few people gave DePillo much of a shot on November 8th. But when Mulcahy took down "the man", suddenly Larry DePillo's years of experience and commitment to Waterbury were being reconsidered.
DePillo has a loyal following of voters who would walk through walls to get into the voting booth to pull the lever for him. Although his numbers have gradually decreased over the years, in 2003 he snared 5000 votes. If he can repeat that feat on November 8th, Larry DePillo might be the next mayor of Waterbury.
DePillo has hinged his campaign on the concept of bringing a water bottling plant to Waterbury, an idea that has resonated with the voters. The city has billions of gallons of excess water in its massive reservoir system throughout Litchfield County, and DePillo aims to utilize the asset to reduce Waterbury's $400 million unfunded pension liability.
DePillo is a frugal and independent man. That he is in the hunt on November 8th is a testimony to his perseverance. He has an excellent shot to win.
Ten months ago nobody could have predicted that Mike Jarjura would lose a Democratic primary, and that the mayor's only shot of holding onto his job would be to win an against the odds write-in campaign. Ten months ago it seemed like Mike Jarjura would cruise to re-election. Believing they had no shot at unseating Jarjura, several well known potential Republican mayoral candidates (Tony D'Amelio, Dennis Odle, Selim Noujaim) decided to sit this election out. There was even a movement in July by the GOP to endorse Jarjura for another term. But a faction of Republicans was appalled at the idea and launched a last minute search to find a candidate. They found former three term alderman Tom Tremaglio. Initially thrown to the wolves as the Republican sacrificial lamb, Tremaglio has rebuffed several attempts to oust him from the ticket. After Jarjura was defeated, suddenly a whole cast of candidates wanted to step forward. Tremaglio showed character and courage in staring down the revolt within his own party, and in the final month of the campaign has seemed to make headway with the voters in Waterbury.
Tremaglio has an impressive underticket and is blitzing voters with four mailers in the final week of the election and an all out door to door campaign.
Tremaglio has avoided criticizing his opponents and has run a positive campaign. While Jarjura and Mulcahy will slug it out straight through November 8th, Tremaglio has focused on issues and reform. His style is a refreshing change in Waterbury politics.
Despite many political pundits who give Tremaglio little shot at the top prize, do not underestimate his chance to win. He has 25 years of experience working as a salesman for Japanese and German manufacturing companies, the most efficient and demanding cultures in the world. He has years of experience cutting budget costs and is committed to reducing spending in Waterbury and cutting taxes.
Those ideas resonate with voters.
He also has deep roots in the Town Plot and Bunker Hill neighborhoods and he never saw himself as a sacrificial lamb.
Tremaglio is in the hunt.
Speaking of refreshing, this young, impassioned business owner has provided a blast of compassion, and political innocence, to this 2005 campaign. Ayash has traveled throughout the world and is in the race for all the right reasons. He saw something he didn't like and decided to do something about it.
Ayash believed Mike Jarjura was trying to sell the city's water system and he was appalled. He attended a hearing, took the microphone and began speaking from his heart. He is emotional, high energy, and has not backed down from his high powered and influential opponents.
Ayash has refused campaign contributions and spent $5000 of his own money buying ads in newspapers and on the WATR radio. Like another maverick politician before him, Andy Michaud, Jimmy Ayash has brilliantly cross marketed himself on radio, newspaper and TV.
He shined a bright light on the chamber of commerce for excluding him from their debate, and rolled up his sleeves and attended the event anyway. While not allowed to speak, Ayash handed out literature at the debate until someone from the chamber called the Waterbury police to escort him out. Police Chief Neil O'Leary intervened and Ayash was allowed to continue handing out literature. After leaving the debate, several TV crews followed him outside, and his exclusion turned into a several minute interview on statewide television.
Realistically, Jimmy Ayash doesn't have much chance to be elected mayor on November 8th, but he will make a difference on election night. In a tight four-way race, the votes for Jimmy Ayash can swing the balance to one candidate or the other.
And no matter how many votes Jimmy Ayash gets, the 2005 mayoral campaign was enriched by his spirit and his "can do" attitude. Waterbury needs more candidates like Jimmy Ayash, young, bold and willing to take a stand.
So who's going to be Waterbury's next mayor? It could be any of the candidates in this wild and unpredictable municipal election. Although I can't predict who is going to win, I would be stunned in there was a winner declared on November 8th. This election will be won by a razor thin margin and there is the possibility that Jarjura's write-in votes could take days to count accurately. Who needs hanging chads and Florida. This is Waterbury politics. Welcome to the carnival.....