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The Best Of Waterbury 2011
Story by John Murray and Chelsea Murray, Photographs by John Murray
Neil O’Leary, the Naugatuck River and patriotism were all big winners in the Waterbury Observer’s 17th Annual Best of Waterbury Readers’ Poll. Getting a big thumbs down were garbage, litter, abandoned buildings, grafitti and the City of Waterbury’s snow removal efforts this past winter.
The Observer published 28,000 ballots in March and April and asked our readers to vote for their favorite businesses, restaurants and community leaders. While not every reader filled out a ballot, many did take the time to provide thoughtful answers about what’s good and right in Waterbury.
Sure, if you polled everyone in the state of Connecticut, Waterbury takes it on the chin. Do we care? No, we have plenty to celebrate in Waterbury, and that’s really what the Best of Waterbury is all about. We’re throwing ourselves a party, so take the time to check out the winners and celebrate.
Politics remains center stage in Waterbury, and with a mayoral election looming in November, we asked our readers to vote for the Person You’d Like To See As Next Mayor. It was a popular category for readers to fill out and the overwhelming winner in this year’s poll is former Waterbury Police Chief Neil O’Leary. O’Leary mulled a challenge to incumbent Mike Jarjura in 2009, but leaders in the Democrat Party brokered a deal that if O’Leary waited until 2011 to run, Jarjura would step aside and fully support him.
Democratic candidate for mayor, Neil O'Leary, singing at his announcement in February.
O’Leary did step aside in 2009, but Jarjura changed his mind and earlier this year decided to run for a record sixth consecutive term. Frustrated with Jarjura’s broken promises, the leadrship of the Democrat Party has thrown its support behind O’Leary, leaving Mayor Jarjura with scant party support. In early June Mayor Jarjura announced he had switched political parties and was now a registered Republican. O’Leary still faces a stiff challenge for the Democrat Party nomination from former Board of Alderman President J. Paul Vance, Jr., and the two could square off in a Democrat primary in September.
While the official Republican line is that Jarjura is being considered for the top slot on the GOP ticket, the unoffical version is that it is a 100% certainty that Mike Jarjura’s will be the Republican candidate for mayor. Either O’Leary or Vance will be the Democrat, and the Independent Party is still cobbling together a ticket.
O’Leary was also voted The Most Powerful Main In Waterbury, and scored extremely well in several other categories.
“I’m humbled by the results and will do my best to run an issue oriented campaign that will provide the voters of Waterbury a choice in November,” O’Leary said. “I look forward to exchanging ideas about the city’s future and laying out my vision for moving us forward.”
The Best Thing to Happen in Waterbury this past year was the restoration of City Hall. The battle to restore the architectural jewel was fierce, with some even proposing to demolish the building and start anew. Mayor Jarjura never wavered in his vision to save the 95 year old building and to fully restore it to its original glory.
The fountain in front of City Hall was part of the $36 million restoration project.
Incumbent mayor, Mike Jarjura, left, helped lead the fight to restore City Hall, which was designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert. Jarjura was joined at a community re-opening celebration with former mayors Mike Bergin, middle, and Joe Santopietro.
“I hope I’m remembered as the mayor who modernized the financial and physical structure of the city,” Jarjura said. “I have a deep loyalty to history, and our magnificent City Hall is part of what made Waterbury, Waterbury.”
Waterbury Mayor Mike Jarjura
Jarjura understands the concerns some taxpayers have about the cost of the project. “Some of our citizens are struggling for food and will not be able to appreciate the history and architecture of City Hall, but I believe in 100 years people will look back on our decision and say it was the right thing to do.”
Also mentioned as the Best Thing To Happen In Waterbury is the Earth Day cleanup, Mission of Mercy, enthusiasm for the Naugatuck River Greenway, sound city finances, opening of apartments on 70 Bank Street, “My Waterbury” with Art Denze, Neil O’Leary’s campaign for Mayor, the sighting of Bald Eagles along the Naugatuck River, and the work of Waterbury Veterans Memorial Committee.
At least three Bald Eagles spent a portion of the winter flying back and forth between Naugatuck and the South End of Waterbury
After a particularly brutal winter it’s not surprising that Observer readers voted snow removal as the Worst Thing To Happen In Waterbury The Past Year. The winter of 2010-2011 will long be remembered for massive piles of snow, and the second highest snow accumulation in Connecticut in the past 100 years. The sidewalks were piled high with snow and it took guerilla war tactics to secure a parking spot. Entire lanes were missing due to the immense snow pile up. Dozens of buildings collapsed under the weight of four and five feet of snow. Mayor Jarjura defended the city’s efforts to keep the streets clean.
“Overall, considering the severity of the storms we had, I think the crews did a great job,” Jarjura said. “Many raods were turned into one lane roads, but if you looked around the state there were communities shut down for a week.”
Jarjura said Waterbury is “not an easy city to clear of snow. We have a lot of hills and people park on the street and there isn’t always great cooperation in moving cars to allow for snow removal. But I undertsand why people would vote this the worst thing in the past year - it’s a cry of frustration.”
Other things that were mentioned as the worst in Waterbury this year were taxes, the passing of Tom Carusello, the economy, welfare, Waterbury’s high unemployment rate, traffic jams, the passing of J.P. Jarjura, rude people, Walnut Street, the North End, the renovation of City Hall, the John Connelly scandal, building new schools, abuse given to fire fighters, crime, the Beer Fest, the scandals in the education department, taxes raised by the Jarjura Administration and pot holes galore.
The Worst Local Eyesore was a toss-up between the Anaconda American building (pictured above) on Freight Street, and the general answer of abandoned buildings. They tied for the first place. Other eyesores that made the cut were broken down homes, litter, trash on the street, all of Downtown, the South End, the North End, the Brooklyn neighborhood, garbage in the parks, graffiti, sidewalks, the building collapse on North Elm street, East Main Street in back of Hometown Buffet, Chestnut Avenue, Bronson Street, and the mix master.
In the category of Best Reason To Live In Waterbury the winner this year was the neighborhoods, followed by the people, the history, affordable housing, highway access, family, the Naugatuck River, the architecture, the restaurants and the Palace Theater.
The Palace Theater was the big winner in the category of Best Reason To Go Downtown. Also garnering awards were the Mattatuck Museum, churches, the Silas Bronson Library, the Green, Dreschers, John Bale Book Company, UConn, the YMCA, Sin City, City hall and to check out the beautiful architecture throughout downtown.
The Mattatuck Museum, right, reflects the spectacular architexture of the Soldiers Monument and St. John's Epsicopal Churh in its window.
The Mattatuck Museum in Downtown Waterbury overwhelmingly won as the Best Cultural Attraction. Also mentioned, the Palace Theater, the Mt. Caramel Feast, nothing, the Festa di San Donato, the Beer Festival, and OLLI OSHER.
The Festa di San Donato, more commonly known as the Ponte Feast won the title of Best Festival in Greater Waterbury. The Pontelendolfo Community Club was formed in 1965 by Italian immigrants from the village of Pontelandolfo. The club started out small, but has expanded to include playing fields, an outdoor pavilion and a banquet hall. The Beer Festival held in Library Park, the Greek Festival, Summer Fest, Albanian Festival, RiverFest, Spirit of Waterbury, Mount Carmel Feast, and Lebanese Festivals were all mentioned in the vote.
Traditional dancing at the Albanian Festival
Every Halloween for the past few years, Bank Street has been transformed into a creepy haven for young costumed revelers with an event called Mardi Gross. Between four and five thousand people flood into downtown Waterbury for free trick-or-treat candy distributed by merchants and community leaders lead by Ede Reynolds. Mardi Gross was voted Best Community Gathering.
Ede Reynolds has helped crerate a community gathering place with The John Bale Book Company.
Also mentioned for Best Community Gathering; The Festa di San Donato, Spirit of Waterbury, Beer Fest, Mount Carmel Feast, the Waterbury Green, Library Park, Thank God I am Female at Waterbury Hospital, PAL, and the Back to School Rally.
The tropical CoCo Key Water Resort was voted the Most Fun Destination in Greater Waterbury again. Other fun destinations mentioned were Sin City, Roller Magic, McFairlawn Tavern, Mardi Gross, the Turf Restaurant, The Palace Theater, Holy Land, Jump Zone and Quassy Amusement Park.
Looking for creative first date ideas? Take note of these results. The Palace Theater was the runaway winner as the Best Place for a First Date. Some others that were mentioned included LaTavola, Roller Magic, The Naugatuck River, Carmen Anthony’s, Blackie’s, walking the Middlebury Greenway, the movies at Regal Cinemas, The Mattatuck Museum, Mardi Gross, Paisano’s Restaurant, Anna Donte’s, D’Amelio’s, Quassy Amusement Park and L Restaurant. Funny votes were sprinkled through the ballots including “my bedroom”, and the Moon.
Parks are the people’s playground and have been voted the Best Thing to Do for Free in Waterbury. Other free activities include fishing, the Waterbury Green, the Silas Bronson Library, Downtown walks (guide tapes are available at the Mattatuck Museum), Memorial Day Parade, veterans' ceremonies, Downtown Waterbury, walking, walking in the Brass Mill Mall, walking the Greenway in Middlebury, feeding the ducks, concerts on the Green, people watching Downtown, Mardi Gross, riding a bicycle, taking grandchildren to the park, and reading “Lost Rights” in a park.
Memorial Day ceremonies on the Green in downtown Waterbury.
WATR was voted The Best Radio Station for the 17th year in a row, with Tom Chute coming away with the title of Best AM Radio Personality. The work WATR performs in the community is vital for the health of the city. Having a radio station based in Waterbury has been a cultural gem for city residents.
The passing of J.P. Jarjura this past year was voted one of The Worst Things To Happen In Waterbury. The business his started sixty years ago, Jarjura Farms, was voted Business of the Year.
Jarjura Farm Market was voted Business of the Year by Observer readers. Also getting a slew of votes was The John Bale Book Company, Webster Bank, The Connecticut Store and Family Services of Greater Waterbury.
The Waterbury Observer was again voted Best Newspaper, a category the Observer has won 16 out of 17 years. Admidtedly it’s our own readers voting, but we don’t care. We’re thrilled. The Republican-American came in second and The Hartford Courant came in third.
Alderman Larry De Pillo was voted Best Community Activist, and tied for first as Best Alderman.
Alderman Larry DePillo was voted Best Community Activist for his tireless effort to make Waterbury a better place. De Pillo can be cantakerous and isn’t always popular with members of the Democrat and Republican parties, but he tackles thorny issues most elected officials ignore. Also receiving votes were former Police Chief and CEO of Waterbury PAL, Neil O’ Leary, Naugatuck River advocate, Kevin Zak, Mayor Mike Jarjura, NAACP President Victor Diaz, The Waterbury Observer Publisher, John Murray, State Representative, Selim Noujaim, Ede Reynolds, and Quality Consignment Shop owner and cable access host, Selma Frohn.
Observer readers voted The John Bale Book Company as The Most Community Minded Business, and it’s not hard to see why. The book store has become a community gathering place serving great food and a bold cup of coffee. They also stage community events inside the store, including a rare public performance in December by the choir from the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem. Ede Reynolds is the mastermind behind two community gatherings - Mardi Gross, and The Spirit of Waterbury, and no one is more civic minded than her. In just a few short years The John Bale Book Company has become an incubator for community innovation. Also getting votes for Most Community Minded Business were S&P Carting, Jarjura Market, Shop Rite, Girls INC, Webster Bank, Staywell Healthcare Facility, Abbott Terrace, The Waterbury Observer, Target, and KENecticut Hardware.
Raechel Guest’s interesting blog, Waterbury Thoughts, was voted Best Local Blog. Guest is emerging on the community scene as a reasoned voice calling for better city service into the North End of Waterbury. Guest lives in Scovill Row Housing on Wood Street and has used her camera and computer to effectively expose the disparity poor city residents receive in services from the city, versus the more affluent neighborhoods of Bunker Hill and Town Plot. Guest’s blog can be read at waterburythoughts.blogspot.com
Also mentioned as popular blogs were Waterbury Time Machine, Second Generation, Tom Hill, TOPIX, Facebook and Chelsea Murray’s Travel Blog.
The City of Waterbury won top spot for Best Local Website followed by The Waterbury Observer, Spiritofwaterbury.com, O’Leary for Mayor, the Republican-American newspaper, Timexpo, the Waterbury Police, the Waterbury Firefighters and the Mattatuck Museum.
The winner of “Local Hero” is Richard “Rick” Mastracchio, pictured above, a NASA astronaut and American engineer. He has flown on three NASA Space Shuttle missions as a mission specialist. Mastracchio grew up in Waterbury and graduated from Crosby High School in 1978. Also mentioned were former police chief and PAL director. Neil O’ Leary, environmentalist Kevin Zak, Mayor Mike Jarjura, Webster Bank CEO Jim Smith, Bonnie Orintas of the Beautification and Litter Commission, America’s strongest man, Derek Poundstone and missing person activists Jan and Bill Smolinski. Also receiving a smattering of votes were vets fighting overseas, any Waterbury Firefighter, Jeff Santopietro, Jimmy Arline and Joe Caiazzo.
Congressman Chris Murphy was voted Best Legislator
Congressman Chris Murphy was the clear winner in the Best Legislator category. Murphy survived a tough 2010 campaign against popular State Senator Sam Caliguri to win a third term in Washington D.C., and has announced he is now seeking to to replace retirting U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman. Murphy has collected endorsements from top Democrats across the state and it has been widely speculated that he is the frontrunner for the Democrat nomination, and would most likely square off with Republican Linda Mcmahon in 2012. Also mentioned as Best Legislator were State Senator Joan V. Hartley, State Representative Tony D’Amelio, State Representative Selim Noujaim, Sam Caliguiri, State Senator Rob Kane and US Senator Joe Lieberman.
Paul Pernerewski tied for first as Best Alderman.
In the Best Alderman category there was a first place tie between Board President Paul Pernerewski and Larry De Pillo, who ironiacally tangle with each other at many meetings. De Pillo is well known for belaboring points as he plumbs an issue and Pernerewski has the task of keeping the meetings on track. They may butt heads, but both men are popular with Observer readers. Pernerewski is widely rumoured to be pondering a run for the Democrat nomination for the 5th District of Congress being vacated by Chris Murphy, and De Pillo’s name is in the mix for another mayoral run in 2011. Also mentioned were Joe Begnal, Frank Burgio, Cicero Booker, Ron Napoli, Jr. and Anthony Padula. Former Aldermen Paul Vance, Jeff Berger and Ron Napoli also received votes, as did question mark, and Neil O’ Leary, who was never an alderman.
Former Police Chief, Neil O’Leary trounced the competition as the Most Powerful Man in Waterbury. Also mentioned, Mayor Michael Jarjura, Paul Pernerewski, Former Governor John Rowland, Jeff Santopietro, Derek Poundstone and Joe Caiazzo.
Joan Hartley was instrumental in getting the water sculpture installed in the UConn courtyard, and was once again voted Most Powerful Woman.
State Senator Joan Hartley was voted Most Powerful Woman in Waterbury followed closely by her sister, Cathy Smith, the Board President at the Mattatuck Museum and a community activist. Also mentioned were Cathy Awaad, Selma Frohn, Donna Palomba, Maritza Tiru, Ofielia Matos, Janice Smolinski, Debra McKenna and Mrs. Jarjura.
Neil O’Leary is the man that The Waterbury Observer readers voted as The Person They Would Like To See As Next Mayor. Also receiving a slew of votes were Larry DePillo, Jason Van Stone, Bryan Baker, J. Paul Vance Jr,, Mayor Michael Jarjura, Ronald McDonald, a woman, and not O’Leary.
The Most Influential Non-Political Person is Jim Smith, CEO of Webster Bank. Also mentioned were Ziggy the Flag Man, Carl Rosa, Cathy Smith, Jimmy Griffin, Janice Smolinski, Reverend Bevins. Kevin Zak, and Waterbury Observer publisher, John Murray.
Bill and Jan Smolinski went to Washington D.C. to testify in front of Congress about Missing Person reform called "Billy's Law". The legislation is named after their son who vanished seven years ago.
In the Most Inspirational category the solid winner was Janice Smolinski for her tireless effort to search for her missing son, Billy Smolinksi, and to reform local, state and federal laws about how law enforcement officers handle reports of missing adults. Also mentioned were former Governor John Rowland, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ziggy the Flagman, Raechel Guest, Larry Rivkin, Reverand Bevins, Donna Palomba, Mayor Michael Jarjura, Kevin Zak, Paul Ciochetti and the late Tom Carusello. •