Neil O'Leary Takes The Mayoral Plunge

 

Destination...

 

Downtown

(Editor’s note - The following speech was delivered by Neil O’Leary on February 6th, 2011, inside a delapidated store front on East Main Street in downtown Waterbury)

   Let me begin by thanking all of you who have taken time out of your busy schedules to join us today. I want to take this moment to acknowledge my family, my brothers and sisters, their children, my cousins, my brother and sister police officers, firefighters, teachers and all of our friends. I also want to thank and acknowledge all the elected and appointed officials here today. Wow, what an incredible turnout. And, I don’t just mean the size of the crowd, but the diversity of this group as well. We have friends here from all backgrounds, occupations, races and ethnicities. All the folks who make up this great city of Waterbury.

   And, why is the diversity of this crowd important? Because unlike this current administration, my administration will be inclusive of all the people who make up Waterbury. We will need the combined talents and perspectives of all our citizens to overcome the challenges that lie ahead.

   It is no accident that we have chosen this location for my announcement. I want to thank John Lombard for allowing us to use this building today. This vacant storefront along East Main Street symbolizes the steady decline of downtown Waterbury as the result of years of status quo leadership in the Mayor’s Office. The challenges we face require bold and creative leadership where the status quo is never accepted.

   We believe that most Waterburians understand that a change in City Hall is required if we are to bring back our City to prosperity and vibrancy. Our future and our children’s future depend on it.

   Over the past decade we have seen few initiatives, plans or programs introduced at the city level aside from the fiscal reforms instigated by the Oversight Board. Little has been done to close the education gap between Waterbury’s students and those in the suburbs. Even less has been done to build meaningful partnerships with our corporate community to build an economic development program that creates jobs and allows businesses to flourish. And, as a consequence, the Waterbury labor market ended 2010 with the state’s highest unemployment rate at 11.6%--a distinction we have held for the past ten years.

   And look at Downtown. Nothing was done to capitalize on the tremendous investment made by former Governor John Rowland ten years ago. Unfortunately, nothing will change without strong decisive leadership. It will take this strong leadership in every aspect of City government to move things forward. We believe that being mayor of this great city is a full time 24/7 job. It is the kind of leadership that the people of Waterbury deserve and have every right to expect.

   My friends, transforming our city can be done. We need only look at the remarkable job then Mayor Dan Malloy accomplished in Stamford. He transformed Stamford from a waning broken city to one of the leading financial service centers in the country.

   I’m sure over the next few months we’ll suddenly hear about a number of plans and initiatives from the current administration, but we won’t be fooled. For ten years we have been given promises, but we have little to show for it. That will never happen in my administration. When I make a promise, I’ll keep it. When I give my word, it is final. And while we are on that subject let me just say this: It was Michael Jarjura who asked me not to run for Mayor in 2009. It was Michael Jarjura who asked me out of respect to himself and his family to wait two more years. It was Michael Jarjura in a room full of people who promised his support for my candidacy in 2011. Now I must be completely honest with all of you: I really wanted to run for Mayor in 2009, but at the same time I did respect Michael Jajura, and the Jarjura family, especially Mr. JP Jarjura, and I did not want to split the party or put our friends and families in uncomfortable positions. So I decided to do what I thought was the right thing and conceded to Mike Jarjura’s wishes.

   People who know me—both friend and foe—acknowledge that during my tenure as Police Superintendent, I demonstrated strong and creative leadership, and openly embraced the oversight boards initiatives that produced the following results:

   • We initiated fiscal reforms that produced balanced budgets;

   • We reduced the number of police officers from 340 to 300 through attrition;

   • Through a creative reorganization of the Department, we were able to save the city millions of dollars in overtime and salary expenditures.

   Yet, at the same time we initiated these fiscal reforms:

   • We increased professionalism and morale among our great police officers;

   • We expanded services provided by the Department;

   • We witnessed a reduction in violent crime and overall crime in each year of my term as Police Chief which continues to this day.

   • We built a reputation throughout the country as being one of the best police departments in the nation.

   Most importantly, our police officers became actively involved in this community. We realized that having our officer’s serve as role models and mentors to the City’s youth, was the best possible method of crime prevention. Most of you know of our involvement with PAL and I want to take this moment to acknowledge and thank the many young people from PAL for being here today. We took a floundering organization and through a public/private partnership we have expanded participation to more than 3400 children and young people—and the numbers are growing every day.

   We were able to purchase, through private contributions, a school and gymnasium, convert an old abandoned warehouse building into a boxing facility and we are now in the process of remediating a Brownfield site and developing it as a public recreation area complete with a baseball field, basketball courts and tennis courts.  We have also purchased two properties and made them into public gardens. I am proud to say that PAL is more than just athletics.  We have developed after-school programs that include:  nutrition, reading, writing, math and urban agriculture classes, as well as a learn to swim program.  We have enlisted, as volunteers, dozens of police officers, teachers and members of all professions.

   We have the support of not only the children, but their parents and the entire community. Folks from every neighborhood in Waterbury and many of the surrounding suburbs are working together for a common goal:  to make things better for all of our youth regardless of race, religion, nationality or economic background. The Waterbury PAL program has received national acclaim. It is a shining example of what can be done by providing strong leadership and vision by inspiring and motivating a dedicated team of volunteers.

   I learned firsthand at our PAL school that when given the chance ALL children can and will learn…. As you all know I became a member of the City’s Board of Education upon my retirement as Police Chief of Waterbury. I simply could not sit back and accept the status quo while our children’s education suffered.  And let me be frank, it has taken decades to create this problem and it will take a number of years to correct. But it can be done.  We must first recognize the challenges our teachers and administrators face each and every day. Instead of finger pointing and playing the blame game we must recognize that solutions can be identified but ONLY if we are ALL willing to sit and work together. We must improve our schools and close the achievement gap. . We must require greater accountability—not only from our great teachers, not only from our administrators, not only from our parents, but from the Superintendent of Schools, the Board of Education and yes ladies and gentlemen, the Mayor as well.

   As ex-officio chairman of the Board of Education, the Mayor must take responsibility and be held accountable for our dismal test scores. As you know currently both the Bd of Ed and the alderman meet on Monday nights. As Mayor one of the first things I will do is change the night the Board of Education meets so that both the board of alderman and the Mayor can be more involved. As the Mayor I will chair the Board of Ed meetings. We must ALL take responsibility for our 21 failing schools. The status quo approach that has been displayed year after year is unacceptable. And check this out: Currently the Superintendent of schools and his two Assistant Superintendents are each located in SEPARATE buildings. Under my administration there will be a complete reorganization of the Department of Education and one thing for sure the upper management team will all be under the same roof working TOGETHER for the youth of this city. We must recognize that there are new successful approaches to teaching.  To that end, I am exploring introducing a charter school in our district. Waterbury PAL has applied to open a charter school in the north end of Waterbury.

   If approved, this school can serve as a pilot program for the rest of the City. I would like to be clear on one point: my Administration will support our teachers. We are blessed with some of the finest teachers in the State. They have been frustrated by a lack of vision and creative leadership. My goal will be to make them part of the solution, just as I did with our police officers when I was Police Chief. That is what leadership is all about:

   • Providing a vision

   • Building a team;

   • And demanding excellence from those involved.

    I respectfully submit that I have a proven track record of leadership. With your support, I would like to bring this positive leadership to ALL aspects of City government. It is for this reason, I am announcing my candidacy for Mayor of the City of Waterbury.

   Waterbury is a wonderful City with incredible potential.

   • We are ideally located.

   • We have maintained, so far, our solid working and middle class residents, who care about their City.

   • We possess a talented workforce.

   For too long city politicians have failed to tap into this unleashed potential and move Waterbury in the right direction. For too long they have placed their own interests first. This must stop. The taxpayers and the wonderful employees of the city have sacrificed greatly, during the reforms instituted by the Oversight Board. They have, indeed, placed the interests of Waterbury first. It’s time that they have a Mayor who will do so as well. And to let the people of Waterbury know I am serious, I will not take my pension from the city while I am Mayor. I will direct that amount to be earmarked for economic development, and downtown revitalization. You see ladies and gentleman it’s not about the money, it’s about the city of Waterbury, plain and simple.

   Ladies and gentlemen, this is a critical time in our City’s history. We can continue on the same old course of business as usual as our City continues to decline economically, physically, educationally and culturally. We can accept our fate as a failing mill town, or we can transform our city into a center of innovation and excellence:

   • A City thriving in commerce and industry;

   • A City with high paying jobs;

   • A City with a flourishing downtown, where people not only shop and work, but live as well.

   Make no mistake about it; the difficult challenges that lie ahead will require imaginative, thoughtful and determined leadership. We need a full-time Mayor whose word is his bond and who can inspire the City to achieve great things.

   I respectfully submit that, if elected, I will be this kind of Mayor.  I ask for your support and the support of every person in Waterbury.  Together we can make a difference.

   Together, we can transform Waterbury into a vibrant community with a bright future for many generations to come.

   As some of you may have noticed from the banner, bumper stickers, and signs, the website olearyformayor.com went live this week. I want to make something clear about this website. Unlike other political websites, this site is specifically tailored to create an avenue that allows YOU to become part of forming my platform. My website not only informs you of my leadership history, positions, and future plans for the City, it also provides each of you with a means to directly discuss any issue with me via a variety of channels. Whether it be Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or any other social media, the purpose of the site is to bring this campaign down to a one-on-one grass roots level. You can also contact me directly through my site in order to discuss any issue that is of concern to you. I am proud to say that no other candidate running for Mayor of this City has created such direct access to the process as we have created with my site. I encourage all of you to visit my website for updated blogs, video, photographs, and social media discussions as the campaign kicks into gear and I also encourage everyone to directly participate in this election through the site that I have created specifically with each of you in mind.

   In closing I sincerely thank you all for being here today and together we will bring change to this great city. I found this song and under the O’Leary administration we will all sing it with true and real meaning....(and then Neil O'Leary began to sing along to Petula Clark's "Downtown")

Petula Clark's “Downtown”

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go - downtown
When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know - downtown
Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown, things’ll be great when you’re
Downtown - no finer place, for sure
Downtown - everything’s waiting for you
Don’t hang around and let your problems surround you
There are movie shows - downtown
Maybe you know some little places to go to
Where they never close - downtown
Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa nova
You’ll be dancing with him too before the night is over
Happy again
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown, where all the lights are bright
Downtown - waiting for you tonight
Downtown - you’re gonna be all right now
[Instrumental break]
And you may find somebody kind to help and understand you
Someone who is just like you and needs a gentle hand to
Guide them along
So maybe I’ll see you there
We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares
So go downtown, things’ll be great when you’re
Downtown - don’t wait a minute for
Downtown - everything’s waiting for you
Downtown, downtown, downtown, downtown ...