Larry De Pillo has placed his name before the voters in Waterbury 14 consecutive years. He has been a relentless watchdog of municipal government, and a tireless community activist.
Interview and Photographs By John Murray
Observer - How do you define the role of mayor in Waterbury? Give me a brief description of the job you are applying for.
De Pillo -The Mayor of Waterbury is the leader of the city government and his job or her job is to make sure that the taxes are kept in check, to make sure that the citizens receive the services that they’re paying for, and that he is either capable himself, or with the team that he puts together, to continue to grow the grand list by bringing new businesses to the city. The mayor also must meet with the business community on a regular basis to make sure that their needs are met because without a stable business community you do not have a stable job base. Waterbury’s strength is the fact that it has strong neighborhood groups and the mayor must make sure that they are satisfied with the services being provided as far as the parks in their areas, the cleanliness of the streets and sidewalks in their area, and that if there are issues regarding blight and crime that they get addressed. To me, that’s the job of the mayor of the City of Waterbury.
Observer: What key element in your background qualifies you to perform this job?
De Pillo: I’ve been in manufacturing for many years. I am a computer consultant even today. I went to Mark Eyelet because I had an instrument that was patented and the owner of the company had decided he wanted to diversify. During the short period of time that I was there he saw that I was a hands-on guy....
Observer: What was the patent for?
De Pillo: The patent was on an expanded scale analog instrument for aircraft and commercial use.
Observer: Did you invent it here in your house?
De Pillo: Yes, believe it or not, probably at my kitchen table. I was actually working at Lewis Engineering at the time and somebody that’s very well known in the community, Dana Blackwell, was on the Board of Directors. The company had spent about a million and a half dollars developing an expanded instrument using light, and I developed a solid state expanded scale instrument on my table, and it was brought before the Board of Directors. The President of the company, Harry Edwards, said my instrument didn’t work. The patent attorney said that he’d seen the instrument and it worked fine. Edwards insisted the instrument didn’t work and threatened to leave the company if we moved forward with my instrument. Several board members took me aside and said that Edwards had them over a barrel. They released the instrument to me and gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted with it. They also asked me for some feedback about the employees and I pointed out the deadwood and they were later fired. I took my instrument and began working with Mark Eyelet doing research and development. The owner of Mark Eyelet, Fred Rinaldi, saw that I developed everything from scratch, could do purchasing and understood materials control. The company was very busy and was losing money. The busier they got the more money they lost.
Observer: Sounds like City government.
De Pillo: Yes, at times, absolutely. So Fred Rinaldi brought in Owen Cooney who was with the largest accounting firm in Boston at that time. This was the very early 80’s. He came down and interviewed everybody in the plant and Fred told Owen he wanted him to interview me, even though I wasn’t really working directly for the company. So I was interviewed, and at the end of the week Fred came back to me and asked me to put the instrument aside for a month and concentrate on production materials control. I was there sometimes until three o’clock in the morning, whatever it took, and I developed a manual materials and production control system. After the month was over, they came back and asked me to do it for another two months. I agreed, and at the end of that time Fred informed me that the company was now making money, and he directly related the profit and positive cash flow to the work I had done. He offered to double my salary if I stopped working on my instrument and concentrated on production control. I agreed and put in a fully automated computer system for material production control, I hired a programmer from IBM to set up the program and I laid out the whole system manually. We fully automated Mark Eyelet and a year later they doubled my salary again, and for all practical purposes I became the general manager of the facility.
Observer: How do you translate your production and materials control to running the city of Waterbury?
De Pillo: Running a city government is like running a business and I have the experience in a business and making things work. I’m a hands-on guy. I understand that people work 8 hours a day, but you don’t get 8 hours of production out of a person. People are entitled to coffee breaks and entitled to go to the facilities when necessary, so maybe you’ll get 7.3 hours of work a day out of a person, but you are expecting 7.3 hours of a day of work. You have to have accountability. I see in Waterbury that people go to work everyday, but you don’t have anything at the end of the day to say what was accomplished.
Observer: Recently, I went into the Chase Building looking for a neighborhood map and I ended up getting shuffled around to three different departments. I went into the first department and a woman was playing solitaire on her computer. I was referred to a second department where I found an employee sound to sleep with a newspaper opened in his lap. I was referred to a third department which had loud country music playing, but there were no employees for 20 minutes. Eventually, I went to the Mayor’s Office and mayoral aide, Steve Gambini showed me how to get the map online in about 30 seconds.
De Pillo: There is no accountability now. I understand that the city of Waterbury is a union job, but by the same token I also understand the taxpayers of Waterbury are hurting pretty bad and they pay good money to have people do their job for them in city government. At Mark Eyelet, we required people to fill out slips every day on various jobs they were working on. The paper got put in the box and no one ever looked at the slips. After awhile the slips became meaningless and people just put anything down. Once we put in control systems every single one of those slips of paper was looked at every day by the people who worked for me. If the paper didn’t match what was in the machine, and the production on the floor didn’t match what was on paper, we went downstairs and had a talk with the people. Very quickly the employees realized that these things were actually being looked at, and they were being tracked, and all of a sudden the accuracy significantly improved. We knew exactly what was coming off those machines every day. We knew who was operating the machine, how long they were running and how long they were down because the information was being tracked. This was not implemented to hurt people, but to make sure that we had a good handle on what the product cost was.
In the city of Waterbury most people go to work because they have to go to work and the people you find sleeping, the people that you find aren’t in the rooms, or people playing solitaire, those are the protected class in Waterbury. They are politically protected and there’s no room for those people in my administration. If you want to get paid every week I will expect an honest week’s work for that pay.
Observer: How do you keep track of that?
De Pillo: People would have to fill out slips and again if it’s a matter of discussing this and showing the union where this has to be done, and why this has to be done, I’m willing to do it. I’m also willing to bring it directly to the people if necessary, because it’s accountability that translates into efficiency. Nobody has to get killed working in their 8 hour shift, but people have to be accountable for what they do, and that’s what I bring from the private industry to city government.
Being sworn in as an alderman in December 2009 was surely a political highlight for Larry De Pillo. He was now inside the game, and despite predictions that he couldn't make a difference as one individual on a board of 15, De Pillo has been one of the most effective aldermen in decades. Both of his political opponents acknowledge he would have been a shoo-in for re-election, but De Pillo's campaign slogan is "If you liked what I did as Alderman, you'll love what I can do for you as Mayor."
Observer: Be Mike Jarjura’s boss for a moment. You call him into the office for his job evaluation. What would you say to Mayor Jarjura?
De Pillo: I’d say Mayor Jarjura has been a good salesman. I believe he has done a number of things right. Mayor Jarjura has put in a number of controls in city government that will slow down the possibility that we could end up with another Giordano administration running hog wild over the city of Waterbury. His focus has not been where it needed to be and there have been a lot of sweetheart deals. There will not be any side agreements with me, and it would not be private if somebody had to temporarily do a job and they had to be given extra money to do that job. There are a lot of private deals the mayor has made that give some people an extra $250 or $400 in their paycheck. For what reason? The Board of Aldermen is not informed about these private sweetheart deals and it’s not right. If these employees have more responsibility it should be defined in a job classification so there would not be these side agreements that have been very detrimental to the city. Look at the special pension deal Ken Scope in the Water Department got. Mayor Jarjura can blame the Oversight Board, but in reality the Oversight Board washed their hands of the situation and left it up to the mayor. To give anybody 20 years of service in their pension for the rest of their life when they only worked 14 years is absolutely ridiculous
It was that kind of abuse that now requires the mayor to bring all contracts before the Board of Aldermen.
Mayor Jarjura could have done a lot more for the economic development of Waterbury. Other than being on the map people outside of Waterbury don’t know much about us, or if they know about us, they obviously have read the New York Times about the corruption in the Hayes administration, the Giordano administration, and what happened with the Bergin administration. But that’s not the Waterbury that I know, and it’s not the Waterbury that many people who have lived here all their lives know. Mayor Jarjura failed to sell Waterbury and he failed to put together a real economic team that created jobs and prosperity.
Observer - If we go back to this for a second Larry. Mike’s your employee and you’re going through this evaluation. He’s done some good things and some bad things. At the end of the evaluation, are you firing him? Because that’s really the question before the Waterbury electorate right now. Do we rehire this guy? Do we give him another two years, or do we say enough, you haven’t done what we want you to do.
De Pillo - I’m running for mayor because I feel I’m the better person for the city of Waterbury. Do I think the citizens should re-elect Mike Jarjura? No, I think they should elect me mayor for a number of reasons. When I first went on the Board of Alderman, people said to me you are an Independent, okay, you can’t get anything done. People had a certain impression about my personality, alright, but for those who watch the Board of Aldermen meetings, I think that they are finding out that I can work very well with the other aldermen, I can get a number of Republicans and a number Democrats that actually support a number of the resolutions that I brought forward because they’re not political resolutions, they were what was right for Waterbury. I’ve proven that I can build a consensus downtown when I met with the downtown business people and was able to get Bank Street re-paved and re-done. Prior to that nobody would listen to the downtown merchants regarding the need to redo Bank Street.
If you’re asking which of the three candidates is going to do the best for the citizens of Waterbury, Mayor Jarjura is a capable individual, Neil O’Leary is a capable individual, but right now Larry De Pillo is the right individual for the city of Waterbury.
Observer – If you are sworn as mayor on December 1st, what’s your number one priority?
De Pillo - Jobs. We have to create a job base in this city that is going to put this city back to work. I saw in a newspaper article that our net income or standard of living has actually increased in the city of Waterbury, it was the only city throughout the state. But the people who are involved in taking care of the unemployed in the city have told me they have never had to serve so many people and have expanded their services. One time unemployment was based on whether you had a job or you didn’t have a job. Today, once you stop unemployment benefits, you are no longer considered unemployed. You are simply out of the system and off the radar screen. Unemployment figures are a skewed number, we have a lot more people unemployed in Waterbury than the numbers reflect. We have to put Waterbury back to work.
Observer – Easy to say, but how do you do that though? What is your action plan?
De Pillo - A mayor has to have at his fingertips who the employers are in the city of Waterbury, and what they’re doing today, and more importantly, have met with those individuals to know what their plans are one year, five years and ten years from now. 25% of the US gross domestic product comes from the Northeast. There is a vast population of 18,807,000 just in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey okay. Now, what do we have in Waterbury? I’ve identified 38 manufacturing companies in a very specific industry, but the Republicans and Democrats keep saying ‘don’t listen to Larry De Pillo, manufacturing is dead.’ If manufacturing was dead in Waterbury the people would not be able to afford the taxes, because as bad as they are now, they would be absolutely out of touch. We have screw machine companies, we have metal stamping suppliers in Waterbury, we have eyelet suppliers in the city of Waterbury. We have people that still make rivets in the city of Waterbury. We have people that have copper strip non-ferrous metals still rolling and plating and providing it to industry.
A lot of people don’t know that Platt Brothers down on South Main Street is the oldest manufacturing company in Waterbury. They were founded in 1797 and they are still here in the city, still producing a product, and they employ a number of people in this city and we have to make sure that they continue to prosper in the city. We have ITW Industries, which is the old Highland and Anchor Fasteners. Highland was formed in 1944 and Anchor Fasteners in 1951. They are both here in the city and we need to make sure that those industries can survive, and if they have plans to expand what that expansion involves and how many jobs.
Observer – Larry, you are identifying who is here, but that doesn’t create any new jobs.
De Pillo – No, it doesn’t. I have met with Jim Behuniak, who is the President of Platt Brothers on a different issue, at a different time, but we talked about his company. They are big in zinc and zinc plating, but you really need to sit down with a group of CEOs because these guys talk to each other, but they don’t get anybody in government to want to talk to them. Platt Brothers did have an expansion a number years back on South Main Street, so obviously they saw a need to expand and they decided that Waterbury, Connecticut was the place to do it. We need to find out from the CEO of Platt Brothers whether or not there’s any future expansion for them and what is it they see in Waterbury and why are they here today and why will they be here five years from now, or ten years from now.
Observer – You’re talking about doing outreach to the business community and finding out what their needs are. That’s an interesting point because the city almost lost Lavata from the Chase Industrial complex last year because Lavata didn’t understand what the city was planning to do with the new Public Works facility. It appeared to be a case of poor communication.
De Pillo - Let me tell you where I’m different than the other two candidates. I heard the same thing you did about this company negotiating to leave Waterbury. Lavata has an extrusion press and those things are in the ground 30 feet sometimes. They are huge. I was even told which facility they were negotiating with to move to. I didn’t do anything publicly in the paper. I did call the mayor’s office and I did alert Mayor Jarjura and his staff as to what I was hearing. I told them they needed to sit down with Lavata and their CEO to find out what their intentions were. If Lavata felt that the city was ignoring them, then we needed to do whatever was necessary to keep them here, and their jobs here. The Jarjura administration was not aware of what I knew because I know people that work in these companies. Everybody thinks Larry De Pillo has trouble with this one and that one, but I’m not ashamed to pick up the phone and talk to anybody. It’s critically important for the mayor of Waterbury to stay on top of what’s going on in the business community. If a business is thinking of leaving Waterbury, the mayor has to knock on their door to find out why. Do they have the right location? Is there something the city can do to help a business secure state and federal assistance? I’ll do quietly whatever needs to be done because what is important to me is keeping that job base here. As it turns out, the administration ended up resolving the Lavata lease issue and identified additional space for future expansion. But a lack of communication with city government almost drove Lavata out of Waterbury. That is unacceptable.
I’ve done this with a number of companies that have stayed in Waterbury, or relocated to Waterbury, who were not getting cooperation from the administration or the Waterbury Development Corporation. I did this as a private citizen and after I am elected mayor you will see these kinds of things happening all the time.
Observer – We have an economic coordinator working for the Chamber of Commerce, former Gov. John Rowland, whose job description is to go out and deal with business. You’ve had a contentious relationship with Rowland, and I could paint a legitimate picture that if he had not interceded and pressured Mike Jarjura into the 2001 race, that you would’ve been the mayor. Rowland has a contract through June 2012, can you work with him?
De Pillo - This is not about John Rowland, this is about creating jobs and creating a business base in Waterbury. Do I believe that position belongs with the Greater Waterbury Chamber of Commerce? No, I do not. Do I believe it belongs to the Waterbury Development Corporation? Maybe, depending on how that agency is reconstituted to specifically identify and bring businesses to the city. Does that mean that the people that are there now will be pulling the shots? Probably not, because I’m going to tell you John, if you’re going to be talking to businesses CEOs talk to CEOs. CEOs are not interested in talking to somebody who is running an agency that knows absolutely nothing about their business and what their needs are. They certainly aren’t interested in talking to a second or third tier individual.
We are very fortunate in this city that we have CEOs of companies that are still pretty good-sized companies and that they communicate on a daily basis with people in their industries. The people that have to really spearhead what we do as far as identifying industries and bringing them here to Waterbury are the CEOs of those businesses.
There may be somebody in the mayor’s office coordinating economic development, and I may be doing some of that myself because I’m very familiar with a number of the metalworking industries in this town, but you really have to have the CEOs of the companies that are here sitting at the table. We have active CEOs and retired CEOs that would love nothing better than for the mayor of the city of Waterbury to go to them and say I need your help. In doing so we will be able to put together a group of people who will be able to talk to the CEOs of prospective companies, their own peers, to explain why it’s a benefit to either expand their company here, or possibly even move their company here. It’s not going to be done by a political person like John Rowland. This is not politics. If anything, it’s politics that has smothered industry here in Waterbury.
The position of economic developer has to be an industrialist that understands industry. We will completely redesign the way that we are going out there to bring businesses here to the city and I have no doubt, with the right people, that we will be extremely successful in bringing a number of businesses to the city.
Observer – One of the criticisms of the Jarjura administration is that we have John Rowland at the Chamber of Commerce, Leo Frank at WDC, and underneath Mayor Jarjura is Terri Calderone and Kathy McNamara. There are three separate economic development forces here - like little feudal groups - and they don’t talk to each other. This one doesn’t like that one, this one is threatened by the other one. There is either bad communication, or no communication. If you are elected mayor, how do you stop that?
De Pillo - By defining the group that is necessary to bring business to the city of Waterbury.
Observer – You’re talking about the CEOs?
De Pillo – Yes, I’m talking about the CEOs. There may be one person in the mayor’s office that will spearhead that because you have to have somebody who is going to sit down with this group and really define a plan of exactly what industries we are going to target, how we are going to bring them here, and what expertise we need to do it. If the Chamber of Commerce wants to be in mix, I think they should be involved, but not in an adversarial situation. We have a grant writer in the city of Waterbury and we will continue to have a grant writer in the city, but we need these people to work cohesively with this group. Those people not willing to be team players, and who continue to think it’s about them and their little fiefdom, they will move on because we are beyond the petty politics that goes on in this city. We have to put a group together that is going to work aggressively so by the time my first two years is up people are going to see new manufacturers in the city of Waterbury. That is my job for the next two years if I’m the mayor. There will be new businesses here and there will be a group that will actively pursue bringing businesses here. After two years, if there are no new businesses here then the citizens should vote me out, because I wouldn’t have performed my job.
De Pillo addressing the Independent Party during their nominating caucus in September. The success of the Independent Party in Waterbury has been touted by Ralph Nader as a remarkable accomplishment. The Independents have won posts to the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Education. De Pillo aims to be the first to win the mayor's seat.
Observer - Your campaigns in the past have largely hinged on the vision of bringing in a water bottling plant. I hear a lot of direct criticism of Larry De Pillo that when he didn’t get elected he took his idea and sulked away. As an Alderman these past two years have you attempted to make a water bottling plant a reality in the city?
De Pillo - No. Let me explain what happened with the bottled water. The two individuals that were spearheading this effort have passed away. The lead person who was going to bring the bottling company to Waterbury was Michael Sendzimir (He was the foremost authority in the world on multi-roll rolling mills for flat products, and was one of the principals in the conception, development, adaptation, and commercialization of the Sendzimir cold strip mill). Ninety percent of all metal rolled in the world today is rolled on a machine he developed. He agreed that he would meet with the CEOs of what he called the big three - Nestlé’s, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and had absolutely promised that one of those companies was going to bring a major bottling company here to the city. The other person was my neighbor, Frank Bergin, who was the former vice-president of sales at Highland Manufacturing, which to this day is still here and an extremely profitable metal stamping and eyelet company. Frank has sold all over the world. It was Frank Bergin with his sales experience and Michael Sendzimir with his contacts in the beverage industry that were going to make this happen. I had a guarantee from Michael that he had already met with the CEOs of the three companies and had convinced the CEO of one of those companies to bring a bottler to the city. I was not at liberty to have that discussion, because to be quite honest, Mr. Sendzimir did not want to be dragged into Waterbury’s politics. He told me that I was the only political individual that ever took the time to come to his plant and ask for his help. He said he would provide the help. After I lost that election, Mayor Jarjura publicly went on television a number of times and said that he had reached out to Larry De Pillo and met with Larry De Pillo. I am stating for the record, on my father’s grave, that those conversations never took place. I never received a call from the Mayor. He never showed any interest whatsoever in doing anything with the bottled water industry, or the beverage industry, and I believe the reason was because he was more worried about who was going to get credit for bringing this into city. I think Mayor Jarjura’s biggest fear was that if Nestlé’s built a million square foot plant in Waterbury and brought 600 jobs, that on the next election Larry De Pillo would be mayor. And he couldn’t afford to have that happen. So rather than have me, or even ask me to work with Mr. Sendzimir and Mr. Bergin, who I’m sure would have been more than happy to work with the mayor, they made sure that they villainized the idea by saying we’d have city employees bottling water in the city. Mayor Jarjura minimized and degraded the idea for his own political gain, and in doing so, we lost the chance at a major bottling plant in Waterbury.
Observer – A book written by historian Doris Goodwin Kearns called “Team Of Rivals” is about Abraham Lincoln after he won the election of 1860. Lincoln brought into his cabinet his political opponents and rivals, the people that hated his guts, his enemies. He brought them in and worked with them for the betterment of the country. From your story it appears that Mike Jarjura failed to bring a team of rivals together. So did you reach out to him?
De Pillo- Yes, I reached out to him. Mayor Jarjura and I had a coffee up at the Prospect Dairy Bar. This was after the 2001 election and I recognized he was the new mayor and I offered to help him any way possible. I reached out an olive branch and he never called me back. As far as people who would consider Larry De Pillo to be their rival or that Larry De Pillo has bumped heads with them in the past regarding projects that they wanted, I fought because I didn’t believe it was in the best interest of Waterbury. Those same people would privately say I had a conversation with Larry De Pillo and he helped me move this other project forward. Although he stopped me on this one project, he helped me move another project forward. To me it’s about Waterbury, it’s not about the individuals. Had Mike Jarjura reached out to me after that cup of coffee some really positive things for the city would have occurred. I wanted to help, but Mike Jarjura did not want my help.
Observer –This election is getting very personal between Jarjura and O’Leary, and all three of you will come up with some great ideas for moving the city forward. Every municipal election is a brainstorming session, but after the election the losers are vanquished and their ideas are flushed away. If you are elected mayor what would be your philosophy of reaching out to your opponents?
De Pillo - On December 1, or even prior to that, I will definitely be meeting with Mike Jarjura and Neil O’Leary. Everybody brings something to the table and any ideas they have, any help that they are willing to give, I am going to listen to. I’m definitely asking them to sit at the table and to help as much as they are willing, to help bring economic development to the city.
I’m sure Neil has some excellent ideas on what worked in the police department and how we might apply those lessons to other municipal departments. He has had success dealing with unions and eliminating positions in the police department. The man has talents and I certainly will ask him to help us to better define city government.
I will ask Mike Jarjura to do the same, because to me the thing that has killed Waterbury is exactly what you talked about. After the election the priority has been to kill and vanquish anybody who threatens your position of power. It didn’t matter if your opponents might be able to help improve the city, the focus was on the next election two years away. I will not work this way.
Observer: The most influential group that goes into the polls every election are the senior citizens. They are still totally engaged in the community. The younger people much less so. What is your position on building a senior center?
De Pillo - Waterbury needs a senior shuttle. My Mom is still with me and she is very fortunate that she has me and my sisters to take her to the doctors and other such places. Other seniors are not so fortunate. We have to make sure our seniors are able to get to their appointments at a reasonable cost so they can afford it. Many of them are on a very small fixed income. A lot has been said about building a big senior center, but that idea seems to have died on the vine. I believe that we have to engage the seniors and find out whether satellite senior centers really provide them with the services that they need, or whether or not a larger more centrally located center would better suit their needs. Many of our senior population go to the senior center in Prospect and the other towns because they find they serve their needs better. That’s a shame.
Here we are a major city and we have half of our seniors going to the suburbs to get the services they need that Waterbury doesn’t offer. I’ll do everything I can as the mayor to facilitate for our seniors so they can say, ‘the Prospect senior center was nice, but the Waterbury one is nicer.’
Observer – Isn’t the city building one in the East End at the old Mattatuck Manufacturing site?
De Pillo – Yes, but it’s a small one, only 8000 square feet, and the seniors don’t want it. I know Joe Savoy is talking about doing some type of center for the seniors in Town Plot. Do we really want to divide the seniors up and say this center is for Town Plot and this one is for those on North Main Street and this one is for the East Enders. Or do we want to bring all of our seniors together no matter where they are from.
Back when Dennis Odle was running for mayor in 2007, the Independent Party proposed a senior facility up on Industrial Lane. It was empty then, but I’m not sure if it’s still empty up there where the agency on aging is located. Mayor Jarjura made an issue about how there is not bus service up there. I talked to the bus company and they are willing to provide services to that area and even at a discounted rate for seniors. Again, unfortunately, the reason things don’t happen in Waterbury is because somebody else might get the credit for it. In the case of the senior center, it was an election against Mayor Jarjura and that facility up there, which was a gorgeous facility, wasn’t used. Not because it didn’t serve the seniors, but because it didn’t serve Mayor Jarjura.
Look, I don’t care who gets credit for it. If I bring a senior center to Waterbury and it’s Mayor Jarjura who picks out the spot, donates the facility whatever the case is. Former Mayor I should say. Guess what? He gets to stand in front of the ribbon and he gets to cut it. I can be five people back. I don’t care because it’s not about me. It’s about Waterbury. That’s not the way it is now. Things don’t happen in this city and the reason is God forbid the wrong person gets the credit because we can’t have that happen because politically we have to stay in power and that’s what it’s about.
If the voters give The Independent Party two years in Waterbury you’ll see major changes because it’s not about the party, and not about me as a person. It’s about Waterbury. If I got re-elected after that, fine, and if I didn’t, I can walk away saying I did the absolute best job I could do for the people and for the city in those 2 years. I could walk away, like I can from the Board of Aldermen, knowing that I accomplished a number of things that wouldn’t have been done if I didn’t sit in that seat.
Observer – We reached out through social media networks for some public input in formulating a few questions for the candidates. One woman wrote that all the problems in Waterbury could have been solved a long time ago. There are, and have been, decent people willing to help with hundreds of ideas, but the only reason why they are not completed is because the ideas are not from what she referred to as the Waterbury 11.
De Pillo - I hear the frustration that woman has. I’ve seen a number of Waterbury people trying to do good things in the neighborhoods, but elected officials only give them lip service. The Waterbury politician will bend over backwards for people during an election process, but once elected, the Waterbury 11, or whatever it is, they don’t want to hear from the public. All they care about are those people that got them elected. I see this time and time again.
I saw this in Town Plot Park. I saw the people in the Town Plot neighborhood group wanting to see that park redone. They got qualified engineers to draw up plans. The group was willing to put sweat equity in and had that park designed the way the people wanted it. This was during the Giordano administration and there was several hundred thousand dollars spent hiring architects that didn’t want to hear a thing the people had to say. By the time it actually came to construction, most of the money was gone and what was done was sub-standard. After Giordano, the Town Plot Association went to Jarjura to explain exactly what they wanted. Art Denze explained that we were now spending thousands of dollars resurveying a property in the city that already had the boundaries established in the 1930s. Again, the people were ignored, and we now have a ball field at Town Plot Park, which is totally unusable because it has so many rocks in the outfield that it is not safe for the children. This pattern has repeated itself across the city many times, most recently in Fulton Park. I was at Fulton Park just a week ago helping clean up some of the brush. You hear a lot in the city where one can’t do things because the public works, the unions, won’t let you. There were two individuals there from the public works department. They were helping, they were working getting the debris on the trucks. You must have had 30 or 40 local residents really cleaning up the park. Let me tell you, these parks are so far gone that without help from the community we can never bring them back. There was a resident there that had taken care of flowers near one of the fountains personally and the city, for whatever reason, dug them up.
People are enthusiastic about getting the greenhouse redone in Fulton Park and now we discover there is contamination in the green house. Of course there is contamination in the greenhouse. Imagine the pesticides in the greenhouse. And there is lead on the metal. So do you encapsulate it, sand blast it, do what you need to do? No. You know what the solution today is? That they are going to knock down the greenhouse and use the money elsewhere in the park. The frustration of the woman you referred to unfortunately reflects the way business is done in the city of Waterbury.
Under my administration it is not how business will be done in the city. The people will be invited to actually work with the consultants and with the engineering department to form a group that will decide how that money will be spent in that park, and how it will be accomplished.
Observer - So you will be more inclusive and not really care where the credit goes.
De Pillo - I’ve never cared where the credit goes. One of the of things, I do it on my TV show is if Selim Noujaim sends me something in the mail I will always mention that I received the information from Selim Noujaim. Last night, Mike Telesca (the chairman of the Independent Party) came up with an idea for the downtown which I thought was a good idea. It’s not something that I’m going to push onto the downtown merchants, and the parking authority, but as the mayor I will facilitate a meeting to decide whether his idea is feasible.
Observer - What's the idea?
De Pillo - The downtown merchants are really upset because the parking meters are 15 minutes. The customers put the money in the meter, they are 20 minutes in a store, and there is a parking ticket sitting on their car for 20 bucks. Mike Telesca’s idea is one I’m willing to float between the parking authority and the merchants, which is the first time the matron goes through maybe a ticket will be put on the car that says that your meter is overdue please put in the proper change. Then when the matron makes their second round and a car is still sitting there and the tag is on the car then they can issue a ticket. This idea gives the shopper an extra five minutes, and if they are like the people that I know in Waterbury, they will put an extra dime or quarter in the meter and drive away knowing they have not gotten a $20 ticket. We are using the tickets downtown now as a revenue source and that doesn’t do the downtown businesses any good. And it certainly doesn’t do the citizens that use the downtown any good who think the Waterbury parking authority people are out to get them.
Observer - The excessive downtown parking tickets discourage shoppers from coming downtown at all. The short term gain of revenue hurts the long term vitality of downtown Waterbury.
De Pillo – Right, this is just an idea that might be worth exploring. When I become mayor I will go meet with the downtown merchants and if they feel this is driving business away from their establishments, and the parking authority understands, we may agree to put a pilot program like this in place. There are other ideas for downtown.
Observer - Go ahead share them.
De Pillo - The Renaissance group that the Board of Alderman put in place….. I recently talked to a number of downtown people and they have not heard from these people, nor do they feel that this is something that is workable.
Larry De Pillo, right, grilled Don Monte of Renaissance Downtown in March 2010. De Pillo is one of the few elected officials who reads through his meeting packet line by line. In 2010 De Pillo personally went through file drawers in an attempt to locate warranty contracts on school roofs. Many were missing, and De Pillo discovered that the city was only getting ten year warranties when the industry standard was 25 years. He is a stickler for details.
Observer - When Renaissance came before the board almost everyone was going to give them a pass, but you were the chief inquisitor. You dug into their background and it seems you were right, it really was some kind of glorified ponzi scheme. So what do we do in downtown now?
De Pillo - First of all, it has to involve the downtown business owners and the people that rent from those businesses. As I said before, I put together Mr. Goldstein from Ideal Jewelers and Hank Paine and Arnie Minicucci when Bank Street needed to be redone. People were falling down because the bricks were all pulling up and the first thing they said to me was we’ll meet with you, but you won’t be able to do anything. I said give me a try. It wasn’t because I was running for mayor. I listened to Arnie, where I bought my suits from, and I listened to Mr. Goldstein, where I had my watches fixed, and I always love to stop and talk to Hank Paine. I said we’ll get the neighborhood groups to help support fixing up Bank Street. I quietly sat down with the neighborhood group presidents and had meetings with Hank Paine and the downtown group and we convinced the Giordano administration that Bank Street needed to be done, and there was money available to do it.
Larry De Pillo wasn’t standing up front when they brought the saw in and Phil Giordano was driving the first saw cut into Bank Street. I didn’t care because it’s never been about me.
Observer - Phil could use that saw now.
De Pillo - Yeah, I guess so. But any ways, when it comes to downtown that’s the way I work. It’s going to have to be with the business owners and the people that have their businesses there. We’re going to have to determine really and truly what they see as a future for downtown. To be quite honest, they are very frustrated because they have tried a number of things. I remember when they went out and actually hired their own consultant to try and market the Downtown and they spent a fair amount of their own personal monies and nothing happened. They didn’t get a lot of support from the city.
So my idea is that we bring these people together and we say that we are not the only downtown that has every existed in this country. There are other downtown’s similar to Waterbury, Connecticut. Let’s find out the downtown’s that are successful and what they have done to become successful. Have they transformed their downtowns into market rate housing? Have they somehow gone out and gotten certain specific businesses to come in that have attracted people? What is it that they have done that has made them successful that we haven’t been able to do? Maybe getting owners of businesses like Hank Paine and other merchants talking to an owner of a business in another community. A city like Waterbury that has been successful. When they come back all of a sudden there will be a different perspective about what can happen in Downtown. Whether we use the Renaissance group or a private group like that to work with our Downtown people has yet to be determined, but we have to do something.
Observer - Did you see the article in today’s Republican-American newspaper about Torrington’s downtown?
De Pillo - Not yet, no.
Observer - Torrington is considering creating a downtown district that will have a special tax on it and the money will be micro-targeted into marketing and keeping the area clean. The downtown merchants in Torrington said they’d listen, but they were noncommittal because it involved more tax. Out of the top five cities in Connecticut, Waterbury is the only one that doesn’t have a special downtown district. What do you think of that idea?
De Pillo - We’re going to have to see how successful that is in other places. I know the downtown people actually paid for their own marketer, which was a sort of mini-tax of their own. If you talk about Waterbury and the tax rate and you go to the businesses and say we’re going to try and tax you some more to do what your elected officials should be doing for you, I have an issue with that. The job of the mayor is the mayor of the whole city of Waterbury and those downtown people have obviously been hanging on a long time. They deserve a mayor that is really and truly going to work hard to try and rehabilitate our downtown so they can get some benefit for holding onto these properties all this time.
One idea I want to potentially discuss involves the courthouses. We have three of them downtown which is very unique. Maybe the district that we form is a special district that is geared towards specific support groups for the courthouses. Almost like they tried to do with an Information Technology Zone, but that got killed because of all the politics that got involved and the people that had property outside the zone that had to be taken care of. Again, more politics to kill Waterbury. But maybe the way to do this, if the downtown people think it’s viable, is to create a zone where attorneys, marshals, stenographers and people that are specifically geared towards providing goods and services to the court system here in Waterbury will be given a special tax consideration. Maybe we can get some of the upper floors of these buildings, and even some of the lower floors, populated because we’ll offer a decent incentive to attorneys who are outside the downtown area.
Observer - There remains a perception that downtown Waterbury is unsafe. Look around the Green and you can see that downtown, with all it’s non-profits and service agencies, has become a magnet for the disadvantaged and poor. There are a lot of rough looking characters all over downtown. How would you deal with this sensitive issue?
De Pillo - Well, you have a couple of issues. Yes, unfortunately downtown has become a magnet for all those group homes and those social services. It has in some ways turned our downtown away from retail business. Not that the downtown is ever going to be the hub of retail business in the city again, but it can be a lot better. There was an attempt back when the mall was built to have a shuttle between the mall and downtown that would continually be making the rounds. It would bring people from the free parking that was at the mall to those smaller shops that couldn’t afford to be in the mall. The shuttle would allow people the access to walk the downtown and take the shuttle back to the mall.. Again, it’s the politicians that are always long in the tooth, but short in the action. Every politician swore it was going to happen, but of course it never did and the downtown floundered because of it.
So, the downtown has become a magnet for these social services and unfortunately these people involved in these social services do not have the disposable income to actually go into the stores and do some shopping. I’m not trying to be negative here, but that’s why we have dollar stores downtown where we used to have clothiers and people selling fine porcelain wears and dishes and everything else that people used to go downtown for. So, we need to change that.
Just as we regulate how many package stores there can be in a specific area, maybe there has to be regulation put into place as to how many community programs provided by the state and others are allowed in a certain area so we don’t get a high density of these organizations. I don’t know whether or not that is feasible. Unfortunately, all those state services have been pushed in here. The state has not given the cities like Waterbury the support that they needed for providing all these services. And the state unfortunately is walking away more and more from providing additional compensation to the cities for taking care of all these programs. There are a lot of things that have to be looked at and again, I plan on working with our delegation. To address this issue.
A number of these non profits unfortunately bring no tax base to the city whatsoever, but take up a big portion of our resources. You ask about the downtown being safe? I know what we need to do. We need to have a better police presence downtown. When I grew up the policemen walked the beat. They were tough cops. They were no nonsense guys. Somebody sitting on a park bench with a bottle in a paper bag taking a drink was hauled away and not allowed to sit there and do that. These are different times today. I’ve certainly noted the way policeman do their job today and the way the laws are in a lot of ways different than they were years ago when I was growing up as a teenager in downtown. A couple of things, number one, we need a more visible police presence, and number two, good bad or ugly we have to tell the people what the statistics are downtown.
Observer - They appear to be pretty good.
De Pillo - If the statistics are good then the mayor has to let the public know what the statistics are. Maybe when they understand that the perception might be unsafe, but the reality is that downtown is very safe, well maybe we can begin to change this.
Observer - I did a story about the safety perception when the Palace Theater opened up. I interviewed Neil O’Leary two weeks before the opening and he said they planned to have 75 police officers in downtown that night. Police were on every floor of the rampages and it was almost a armed fortress around the theater. There had been $30 million invested in restoring the Palace and O’Leary said that if on opening night there was one incident downtown there would have been major repercussions. He said the number of cops that night was going to be totally absurd, but it was all about perception. O’Leary said all that was needed was a handful of cops, but people from Middlebury and Cheshire and Litchfield were coming into downtown that night and they were uneasy about the downtown element. Which is basically code for unease with people who are different from you – black, Hispanic, whatever…
De Pillo - It is a huge problem. People are quite afraid of coming into Waterbury. We need to change the perception by actually publishing the incidents and letting people know what our downtown statistics are versus a downtown in the other major cities, and if we need to, even compare our statistics to some of the towns around us. Let them know that Waterbury’s downtown is as safe as Watertown or Prospect. If it’s not equally safe, then we need to do what we need to do with the police to bring us to a level where the people are confident that they can go downtown. There may be somebody that may have a mental affliction. There may be somebody that just because of the economics is not so well dressed. But if they are not violent, they’re entitled to walk down the sidewalk and the streets like everybody else.
Observer - The Waterbury Police Department does a terrific job with the violent crimes, murders, rapes, but it seems that a lot of things like enforcing the noise ordinances or littering that they are not doing their job. I’ve seen a guy throw a grinder on the ground and a police officer ten feet away looks the other way. That’s a fine right there.
De Pillo - The people that are responsible to maintain the cleanliness of the city, their feet will be held to the fire. If somebody tells me that a police officer is standing ten feet from somebody that threw a grinder or smashed a bottle on a street and that officer did not move, he will be reported to the chief of police and that officer better have an answer as to why he was standing there and not issuing a summons, or calling for assistance to take this man downtown to be processed. You have to let people know that kind of behavior is not tolerated.
Go downtown any time of the day or night and go by Howland-Hughes. It is clean, swept and is taken care of. Why? Because Hank Paine has pride in his building and in and what he stands for downtown. Yet, on Saturday I went downtown I’m not going to name the store or stores, but you can barely see people walk the sidewalks for the boxes that were loaded in front of the stores. That would not be tolerated in the past those boxes had to be stored downstairs and on collection day those grates opened up and those boxes were put out there and if they don’t have that system then they are going to have to find someplace to keep these boxes, because you are absolutely right, that they have to be told it is not acceptable behavior. It’s not going to be accepted and if you continue to do that you’re going to be fined.
Observer –My daughter, Chelsea and I were just in Charlotte, North Carolina, a city with a population of 700,000 people. There was no litter or garbage in the streets. It can be done. The place was unbelievably clean. Instead of aggressive tickets for overdue parking in downtown Waterbury, what do you think of an aggressive campaign directed at people who litter?
De Pillo - It’s a matter of enforcement. If it’s the social agencies, and I’m not going to blame them, but if it’s the social agencies that are creating the problem they will be told that they will have somebody supervise these people when they’re out. If someone has a mental illness, or they have a drug problem, or whatever, and they take what they have and throw it in the street, the social agency will be responsible to supervise them to make sure it doesn’t happen. The only way that we’re going to cleanup downtown’s physical appearance is by making sure that we do not tolerate people abusing the downtown, and that goes to the property owners and renters.
In the old days business owners were required to go out and sweep the sidewalks and to pick up what was in front of their building as far as the gutters. We have to enforce that. If you want to have your business downtown then you will maintain your sidewalk and maintain your gutter in front of your business and make sure that it is clean.
Now on the other hand, we have to make sure that the officers and the people downtown that are responsible to make sure that downtown is clean do their job. If the landowners see that the city is enforcing the rules they will do their part as well, and that’s how you are going to keep the downtown clean.
Observer – It appears to be a chain of command issue. The mayor has to insist to the police chief that the litter ordinance be enforced. Then the police chief has to insist the cops on the street follow through. It doesn’t appear to be a priority right now. Would it be a priority for the De Pillo administration?
De Pillo – Yes. Last Sunday I was at Fulton Park and a group was using the upper Fulton Park ball fields. The ball fields were in good shape and I was happy to see that it was something they could really use and enjoy themselves. I was walking on the perimeter of the field and I was looking at the litter and the bottles and everything else. People there had coolers and were not cleaning up after themselves. I saw that and I decided two things needed to happen in the future. Number one, whoever is responsible needs to make sure that those fields are in good shape and make sure we have a crew up there, and that kind of garbage is picked up. There were people from Waterbury and outside the city coming in, and they saw the little Whiskey bottles that had discarded. It does not give a good impression of the city. So, number one we need to make sure to clean. Number two, before the affair breaks up, there needs to be an officer or somebody there at both entrances telling the group that this place was swept and cleaned before you came and before you guys leave you need to completely walk the perimeter and make sure that this field is left in the condition that it was when you arrived. If not, then you have to fine them or cite them.
Observer - This is a question posed by Mike Ptak from East Mountain, “What are your plans on handling blight and litter, would you be interested in raising taxes by a mill to fund a blight team year round, I have submitted a proposal for this when I was on the litter commission and it paid for 12 guys and a supervisor for 12 months/5 years.”
De Pillo - Am I interested in raising taxes by a mil to do that? No. Am I going to address blight in the city of Waterbury? Absolutely. Jobs are the number one priority, taxes is the number two priority, and blight and the neighborhood revitalization is the next priority. We are going to address blight a number of ways without raising taxes. First of all, when I was on the Board of Aldermen this million dollars that went to clean up blight in the neighborhoods that Leo Frank refused to give a list of properties, that’s not going to happen. When I become Mayor, we are going to get the people responsible and in charge of blight in the city, Mr. Gilmore, Mr. Frank, whoever the temporary and permanent blight people are being paid for through the police department, and we are going to have an understanding. Number one we are going to get an inventory of the properties in the city. We need exact data about which blighted properties are owned by the city of Waterbury, which blighted properties are privately owned and which ones have foreclosure signs on them since 2008 and nobody has done anything about it. We are going to find who the responsible parties are for all of these blighted properties.
Observer - There is no inventory right now?
De Pillo – No, there is absolutely no list of blighted properties and buildings. I asked for it, but there is none, and we don’t even seem to know who is in charge of blight in the city. We will know who is in charge of blight in the city when Larry De Pillo is mayor. There will be a group in charge of blight in the city to make sure that it is addressed. We are going to address the foreclosures that are causing blight. There will be a list of those properties that A) need to be condemned and taken down and B) those that need to be rehabilitated.
I’m willing to work with property owners that have walked away from these properties and have nothing more to do with them. I think a good example is on Ives Street. I went on Ives Street and I really feel for the people that live there. It’s up there by the Scovill homes. You have somebody that has a very nicely maintained Scovill unit and next to that unit you have a home that has a foreclosure sign and has been there since 2008 with broken windows, no doors, sitting next to this person that is trying to maintain their half of the unit. If it’s in foreclosure and there are no windows and no doors then you know what? Maybe what the city of Waterbury needs to do is have specific money set aside from the federal government, or let’s see what we have from WDC, that would allow the person that owns that unit next to that abandoned unit, to actually buy it. They aren’t going to be able to go to the bank because many of these people are poor, but neither is it fair for them to try and maintain their unit when the unit next door is blown out and nobody has any interest in doing anything. The whole house will end up being knocked down in 10 years time because all the water going into the other unit will undermine everything. Instead there might be a system where we allow the person from next door to buy that unit, own that unit, fix up that unit and then ultimately either rent it, or sell it.
What I’ve seen in Waterbury is blighted properties just sitting there until some developer comes along and says yeah maybe I can make a buck on it or the blight just gets worse and worse and the deterioration gets worse and worse. As a mayor I am not going to allow that to occur. We are going to address this issue and have an inventory and we are going to have a plan to condemn and get the buildings down that need to be taken down, and rehabilitate any of those buildings that need to be rehabilitated. If we need to put a special fund together to assist people in doing that, we’ll do what we need to do.
Observer - Will you create a charter revision commission, and if so, what would be your top priorities?
De Pillo – Yes to a charter revision commission. People in this town have been talking about electing aldermen by district for twenty years. We have had three charter revision commissions, all of which were supposed to address aldermen by district, and all of whom said it’s to complicated an issue, we can’t address it. Look, if I’m mayor and the people come banging on my door and say that they want a charter revision commission to address electing aldermen by district, then we will have a charter revision commission to address alderman by district.
The other issue is that Mayor Jarjura has taken away a number of positions in the city that belonged to city residents, and allowed them to go to out of towners. Like the budget director, the director of finance and the tax collector. I believe that the Waterbury citizens have a right to be governed by their peers, by Waterbury residents. I am going to state emphatically that if I am given a list of people that are eligible for a job and a qualified person on that list is a Waterbury resident even if personally I may not love the individual, that individual is going to get the job. I am going to put the Waterbury people in this city first. We are no longer allowed to have residency for certain positions, but there are a number of positions that we can have residency and Mayor Jarjura has taken that out of the charter. If the people are interested in residency, then I will give them the opportunity to put that back in the charter.
Observer - What was your take on the Dr. Portia Bonner for Superintendent of Schools debate? Here was someone that was highly qualified from Waterbury. Both your political opponents, whether for politics, or whatever, supported Portia Bonner. What was your take on that whole thing?
De Pillo - I like Portia Bonner. Let’s put it this way, Dr. Ouellette (who was hired) was given a salary of 205,00 dollars, which was 5,000 more than the Board of Aldermen put as a top number. If she wasn’t willing to work for the 200,000 dollars that was the top number, then I would have given the job to Portia Bonner. I can’t second guess the Board of Education because I’m not on the Board of Education. Mayor Jarjura was sitting there as mayor. He needs to answer for what he saw as far as the Board of Education and whether or not Dr. Ouellete’s qualifications far exceeded the rest of them that she should have be given the job. Again, it’s not a job that the mayor picks, it’s a job that the Board of Education picks. All I can say is if the individual concerned is a city resident, I would like to see that preference go to them. In civil service Portia Bonner came out as number one on the exam only to have Dr. Ouellette beat her out as the Board of Education’s choice. What I will say about the superintendent search is that I absolutely disagree with how it was done. I have no issue with going in front of the civil service commission and telling them what I think that they are doing something that is not in the best interest of the citizens of Waterbury. I did that during the superintendent search when they locked out all of the people in our system with certificates from the state of Connecticut saying they can be superintendents, only to have civil service say without three years of front office experience they were excluded. I will do what I can to get that changed, so that people that are in the Waterbury system holding certificates to be a superintendent will have a shot at getting the job. They shouldn’t have to move to another district to get three years experience, then, maybe, when there is an opening come back to Waterbury to get the job. That’s not right.
Observer - The Education Department comprises the lion’s share of the city budget. Former Mayor Mike Bergin was a micro-manager of every municipal department, while current mayor, Mike Jarjura, is hands off allowing department heads to have authority to make important decisions. What would be your style in dealing with the Education Department?
De Pillo - My style is the middle. I don’t want to be a micro-manager, but neither am I going to be hands off. We have 18,000 students and we spend $325 million a year in this city. That is a staggering amount of money and yet you look at where our test scores are and the conditions of the schools, and it is absolutely unacceptable. Number one, our schools have to be clean. John Theriault did a terrific job of documenting what was going on with the maintenance in our schools, an effort which ultimately led to the departure of Mr. Greengas. On the Board of Alderman I voted against the ABF contract because I did not believe we had to spend $444,000 over an 18 month period to replace somebody that was, with benefits, making under $150,000 a year. The Board of Education and the Education Department have done nothing since then. Maybe they are waiting for the next mayor so they can bring ABF before them again. If I’m the Mayor, don’t waste your time. It’s dead on arrival. We have plenty of people who live in the city of Waterbury who are carpenters, electricians, master plumbers who are more than capable to supervise the maintenance committee of the city of Waterbury. I personally would like to see the position become a department head position with a three-year contract so somebody is not part of the union. A private entrepreneur out there who has a little edge.
John Lawlor get’s a 3-year-contract for being the head of the public works department. Again, a person hired to be the head of our school maintenance would be a department head. Now, my understanding is that the union contract doesn’t allow for that now. I’ll need to sit down with the union and explain the need for it.
K-8 schools are also a high priority. We can’t have a city that is divided, if the city has made the decision to go K through 8, then there should be a plan in place that within the next two years the city will be citywide K-8. If we are going to continue with middle schools then we are wasting our time with a K-8 system. It is not going to work where we have these two systems pulling against each other. I talked to Paul Guidone (school operations manager) about K-8 and he said we could have the entire school system this way in 20 years after we build these new grammar schools. Hello! What are you going to do with the three middle schools we have now? These gigantic campuses that are bringing no tax revenue to the city. Oh well, 20 years from now we’ll figure out what to do with them. Maybe we’ll knock the buildings down because they’ll be in disrepair and no one will be in them. No. We need to sit down with the Board of Education, educators in this system, Dr. Ouellette, her staff, principals, and people that are on the ground. We have to decide whether or not we are going to take our three middle schools and break them into six grammar schools, and make them six K-8 schools. Most of the schools in Waterbury used to be K-8. I don’t buy that we can’t bring them back. What do you mean you can’t bring them back? They all started as K-8.
I’m willing to sit down and listen to how we can make the three middle schools into six K-8 schools. The Board of Education and the Education Department itself has taken no initiative whatsoever on whether this city is going to be a K-8 city or a middle school city. That is unacceptable.
Observer - What is your take on the Chase Building?
De Pillo - It’s horrible. Let’s face it, the Chase Building has to be repaired. The question is, to what level? I disagreed with the way City Hall was done. I thought City Hall could be done in phases, just like a number of businesses are done in phases while people still work there. It’s probably how I would do the Chase Building. I know the mayor was looking to renovate the Chase Building for the Education Department, figuring that once that was done, he could get 70% paid for by the state of Connecticut. If we need a building of that size for education in the city of Waterbury, I think it needs to be proven that we need it. But you look at it now, we have our registrar of voters there. We have public works there, which will be moving to a different facility. The question really is how much of that building is necessary for non-educational purposes? If it’s determined that the building needs to be used for non-educational purposes then we can’t afford to spend another $36 million like we did on City Hall. There’s no question that the windows either need to be restored or replaced. We need to find out the condition of the roof and see if that’s necessary. I understand they did something with the roof recently and maybe that does not need to be replaced. Yes, the marble needs to be cleaned and sandblasted. A sprinkler system needs to be put in. It needs new electrical and air conditioning, but that can all be done floor by floor. Especially with public works moving out of there. I believe we can do it very reasonably. We can look and see what funds are available to help us do that. The last ten years of Mayor Jarjura I didn’t see any maintenance being done on that building whatsoever, except maybe they replaced the front doors. That would not go another 2 years under the De Pillo administration. We’ll put together the group, we’ll decide how we’re going to rehabilitate that building and what it needs to be used for. If it’s education we will see what the state is willing to pick up and what we would have to pick up if it’s for non-education purpose. We would figure out how to best utilize the city’s dollars to rehabilitate that building and make it into a usable facility for the city.
Observer - What significance do you think you’ve made as a member of the Board of Alderman?
De Pillo - Oh, I think I’ve done a lot. My campaign slogan is “If you like what I’ve done for you as a member of the Board of Aldermen, you are absolutely going to love what I’m going to do for you as the next mayor of Waterbury.” I’m serious about that.
Larry De Pillo has run for mayor of Waterbury five previous times, barely losing to Phil Giordano in 1999, and Mike Jarjura in 2001. Many political insiders believe De Pillo would have easily been elected mayor in 2001 if John Rowland hadn't interceded and pressured a reluctant Jarjura into the race. De Pillo had vowed to slow down the UConn/Palace Theater project and open it up to public hearings.
Observer - Why should people like what you’ve done? What have you done?
De Pillo - I’ve worked very hard for the citizens of Waterbury and I’ve gone over every single item that has been in the packet. I look at every item as whether or not what is being proposed is beneficial to the citizens of Waterbury or not. Whether or not this is going to be paid for by state dollars or whether or not it is actually coming out of the pockets of the citizens of Waterbury, and if it’s something they can afford. Obviously, I was not happy about the water rate increases. I voted against the last increase. I believe because of my lobbying that the 10% increase that was proposed for this year was killed.
Recently, there was a $2.5 million bond to upgrade the meters in the houses to be self reading meters. I did not oppose that, but neither do I want a piece of paper put in front of me without a breakdown of the costs and what the return on our investment is going to be and what the true costs is going to be. I was given a hard time in the committee about doing that. They said they’d get the report for me and I said no, I want the report for the Board of Aldermen. I said we’ll go out on the floor and discuss it for about half an hour after the committee meeting. They said no, no we don’t want you to take it off the consent calendar. I said okay, get the report to us by the next Board of Alderman meeting. They know when I take things off the consent calendar the meetings run a little bit long. I’ve told them in the past, I don’t care if we’re here until 3 AM., I’m willing to stay. They want to get the meetings over, so when I tell them that I’m going to take something off the consent calendar, the other aldermen know that I can discuss something on the floor for a half hour or better. Most times they decide to get the report instead. Okay, well we get the report and what do we find out? That we have five meter readers that are making $270,000 a year. That we lost 2 because of the White Collar contract and instead of going out and finding two people to replace them for $100,000 a year with a benefit package, they hire a private company for $333,000 dollars a year. This was never said to us in committee. On top of that, there is no disclosure as to what is going to happen to the other three employees. Are they going to be absorbed some place? Are you going to fire them? What are we going to do? It got to the point where Alderman Piccochi, who usually decides not to go along, actually agreed with me.
We agree on many more things than what people think at the Board of Alderman. I wasn’t shocked. Alderman Piccochi was looking at it from the standpoint of the employees. I look at it from the standpoint of the employees and the dollars. We revoked the bond and now the water company has to come before the Board of Aldermen at the next meeting to explain to us about this privatization and the additional cost to the city and why we should give them a bond. That’s one small issue.
We had a big issue with nepotism in the Water Department and other departments in the city. People get hired not based on what they know, but who they know. In looking over figures, I could not understand why the city was paying $1.4 million in unemployment in the Water Department. I said wait a minute, we don’t lay anybody off so how could we be paying $1.4 million in unemployment? What we find out is that people - typically the right people - were hired for 6 months and then let go. Guess what? Those people we’re able to collect 94 weeks of unemployment compensation, which is 100% funded by the citizens of Waterbury because we are self insured. Now, we made a policy on nepotism. It literally says if there is nepotism that it will go before the ethics commission and they will decide whether the department head decided to deal with it acceptably. If it’s not acceptable, then the ethics commission will decide what the final decision is. As far as part time or temporary people, we are looking to not hire people for six months. Also, if there are just temporary positions such as life guards and things like that it will actually be less expensive for the city to go and have it bid out by an agency that provides temporary help. In that case, they pay the unemployment compensation and all of the fees.
Observer - You seem to take your role as a watch dog very seriously. Does that come back to your private industry experience when you were looking at production? It’s the same mind set isn’t it?
De Pillo - It is. I’ll give you a good example. When I walked into Duggan School, I didn’t walk in and say “Oh what a gorgeous building. Beautiful.” I walked in the building and I looked to see if it is safe. Was it put together right? I’ll be one of the few guys to look at the rafters. I looked at the rafters in Duggan School and I found out when they brought the main carrier beam in they hit the cinder block and knocked three of them out of place and then just painted over it instead of having them put back in place.
I was there the other day and I noticed there were two electrical boxes in the cafeteria that were left uncapped and the wires were sticking out. You have to understand my mind set. When I was involved in industry there was something called OSHA. If OSHA knocked on the door, they walked through and they looked up at the lights and they looked up at the fixtures and they wanted to know whether or not there was an open box or electrical hazard or whatever.
Observer – That doesn’t happen in the schools?
De Pillo - No. Absolutely not. I look at the fact that it’s a beautiful building and believe me, I appreciate Duggan School. I appreciate City Hall. I appreciate all the beautiful buildings that are in Waterbury. But I’m not there as an Alderman to walk in there with blinders and simply walk through it and say what a beautiful building. I look at it and want to see how clean the floors are. I want to know whether or not when you flush the toilets in the bathrooms that it goes out to the septic or does it end up on the floor in the basement. I look and I want to know whether or not the electrical is done to code and if it’s acceptable. When I was in private industry, that’s what I had to do. I had to make sure the chemicals were stored properly. I walked by one room down in City Hall, maybe the same one you walked by, and where is the guy in charge? He is sitting there with his feet crossed up on the desk. I didn’t say a word to him. You know why? Because he could have been on his ten-minute coffee break, and if he was, then he was allowed to sit there with the door open with his feet up on the desk and a cup of coffee in his hand. It’s not up to me to tell him how to spend his ten minute break. But as mayor I’m going to find out when his 10 minute break is and see whether or not he sits there like that during his break or if that is how he does business. I’ll tell you what, I looked at the floor and it was filthy. Rags on the floor and open cans. If that was OSHA walking through the door, there would have been an immediate citation and an immediate fine. So, yeah, when I walk in a building, I look at it different than other people.
Observer - People were calling you a party pooper when City Hall opened up. People were gaga over everything being so spectacular and you were talking about the functionality of the speaker system. There were problems. They had to block off the front of the City Hall for four months because people couldn’t walk there because of ice.
De Pillo - I’m very disappointed in that. People say to me, you don’t know anything about construction, who are you to criticize? Well, I know a lot more than people think only because I have run companies. I had to make sure it was done the right way because if I put in marble in the front of my building and somebody slipped and fell and got injured I was looking at major lawsuits. I was looking at being investigated by any number of agencies for the work that was done. Go over to the Ponte Club and look at the people that really know how to do brick and mortar. Take a look at their walkways. The marble that was put in front of City Hall was left sharp. It is not the way you leave marble if you look at other places which actually have a rounded or broken angle around the corners so that it can’t be chipped. I actually have my own chip of City Hall. I joke about it, but it’s not a joke, because we’re going to have to live with that for the next 20 or 30 years. If it continues to break up it certainly isn’t what we paid for.
I actually had employees and department heads call me aside and say they can’t work in the new lighting, it’s horrible. It looks pretty. It’s beautiful, but it’s not functional. So, yeah, I’m the bad guy, but I’m there as an elected alderman and the guy that has to bring before the public, and before the agencies that were responsible, that this is not a functional building. The lighting I understand is being addressed, and will be addressed downstairs before I leave as an alderman December 1st. You can be absolutely sure that I’ll make sure it’s addressed.
It’s my job as an elected official to look out for the tax payers of the city and make sure that when we spend their money that the job is done correctly. And if it isn’t, I feel it is my responsibility to bring it forward. If people want to say that Larry De Pillo is a party pooper, well all I can say is maybe next time do the job a little bit better so I don’t have to be.
De Pillo and Mike Telesca have been the driving force behind the Independent Party in Waterbury.
Observer - Both of your opponents have said that you would be a shoo -in for re-election to the Board of Aldermen. Both Jarjura and O’Leary were surprised that you gave up what seemed like a good position for a fifth run at being elected mayor. Take us through the process you made to make this decision. What were you thinking?
De Pillo - First of all I had to ask my wife. She gave me permission. Look, I went on the Board of Aldermen and most people felt I wouldn’t be able to do too much. I think I distinguished myself because I did on the Board of Aldermen what I would have done had I been elected mayor earlier. What I’ve always done when I’ve taken on a job is take it serious. And you’re right, I have no doubt that I would be an absolute shoo-in again should I run for the Board of Aldermen. But the point is, as an alderman that wasn’t supposed to accomplish anything, I was able to accomplish a lot on behalf of the public to the point where both opponents are saying that guy is a shoo-in for re-election. But if I ran for re-election I would only be able to do what I was able to do these past two years.
But if I run for mayor, and the people decide to elect me, I will work the exact same way but will be able to have a much bigger impact on city government and wasteful spending. As a member of the Board of Aldermen I can’t correct the sweetheart deals. I can’t correct bringing jobs into the city of Waterbury because I’m not in the position where I can sit down with the delegation, or the Governor, or the business people and actually move that forward. There are many things that I have done on the Board of Aldermen that I will do as the mayor of the city of Waterbury and that’s the reason I’m running.
I’m giving the people of Waterbury one more opportunity to take a look at Larry De Pillo. If you like what I’ve done on the Board of Aldermen, knowing full well that everybody said I wasn’t going to get anything accomplished, then give me two years and you are going to see a different Waterbury.
All I can do on the alderman is what I’ve been doing, but it’s not going to really and truly effect the job situation, the business situation. The blight situation in Waterbury. I can only effect that as the mayor and that’s why I’m running for the job.
Observer - The percentage of taxes people pay in Waterbury versus the amount of income that the residents in Waterbury make is called per capita tax burden. Waterbury has one of the highest percentages in the United States. What specific plan do you have to address this issue? How do you lower taxes? You said you weren’t going to raise taxes, but how can you lower taxes?
De Pillo - If I were to say to the Waterbury public tomorrow that when I become mayor I’m going to lower your taxes, most people would say I don’t believe him. Just another politician pandering to try and get votes from the public. I’m definitely not going to raise taxes and my number one priority is bringing jobs to the city of Waterbury, which is going to lower the taxes. You have to grow the grand list. You have to create a job base. How do you grow the grand list? You bring businesses into the city. They pay a business tax and taxes on personal property.
The wealth is in our business community. If you bring a manufacturer in, not if, we have to. They are going to actually grow in the city and maybe even bring additional businesses here to the city. What that brings us is additional wealth. You bring in additional wealth.
Can we lower taxes? I believe by tightening city government, making it work more efficiently, and by recruiting new business we will lower the taxes. People can’t afford to keep paying these taxes.
When it comes to affording a house, people say I can’t afford my house, I can’t afford my tax. I tell people they will foreclose on you and when that happens someone else will come in, buy your house, pay your tax and you’re not going to be a resident of Waterbury anymore.
What really bothers me is that we have people that are third generation Waterburians who now have their house in foreclosure and they have to leave the city because they can’t afford to live here. It doesn’t mean that their house isn’t going to be sold and somebody else isn’t going to come here. But that third generation Waterburian who feels stronger about this city than even I do, will no longer live here. So we have to affect the tax base in order to really allow those citizens who make Waterbury their home know that their political leaders are seriously working on their behalf.
Observer - There is little feeling that there is a college downtown or even a magnet art school. We have these big buildings, but they are like fortresses. When my daughter is downtown she looks around and asks where all the college kids are? We’ve invested millions and millions into these schools, but if you’re mayor how will you get the youth out of these fortresses to interact with Downtown?
De Pillo - What we have to do is have a serious collaboration between city government and the college to find out what it will take for the students to leave campus. Is there a particular retail establishment that means something to them? Does it have to have internet access? The students that are downtown will tell you what support services they are willing to populate once school is over.
As far as the arts magnet school, one of the big complaints while it was being built was that it was being built so that school buses will pull in, drop the kids off, and pull in and pick them up. They did not want to have downtown foot traffic. When I went to Wilby High School and other people went to Crosby and Holy Cross High School your buses were on the Green. You had to leave the school. You had to walk down East Main Street. You had to walk down Willow Street. There were establishments along the way that you stopped and populated.
Maybe if the buses were on the Green there would be some establishments along the way between the arts magnet school and the Green that student population would be willing to populate. But the way we do things now is door to door. When people say they don’t see the children from the arts magnet school coming from downtown it’s because they are dropped off at the school and picked up from the school. There is no downtown for them.
Observer - It seems everything is fear based. I know Rowland had to fight with UConn to move it off Hillside and to come downtown. The UConn administration in Storrs wasn’t thrilled about coming downtown. Now we’ve built a school where the students do the same thing you just described at the arts magnet school. They drive in, park in a secure area, and after class they leave.
De Pillo - People say I was against having UConn downtown. Whether I thought it should be downtown or on Chase Avenue, that argument has been settled. It’s downtown, so we have to make it work downtown. You are absolutely right about it being a fortress. We have to find out from the students what it is that would draw them out of that fortress and into the downtown. Maybe it is market rate housing for certain numbers of those individuals. Maybe it is a Starbucks at the bottom of the Rectory Building. Maybe it is two or three other eateries or bookstores or something like that is going to draw them out. Students need to come out of the fortress and not fear the downtown because it is safe.
Observer - You're a member of the Waterbury Greenway committee. What would be your strategy in working with the committee and implementing the Greenway project?
De Pillo - I’m on the committee and to my understanding the project is now in the hands of the Department of Transportation. They are approving the group that is going to start the construction. I see the Greenway as an opportunity for Waterbury to talk about the Naugatuck River and all that it has to offer. If we are going to revitalize Waterbury we have to have a Greenway and a place where people feel safe and actually enjoy the Naugatuck River, which is a beautiful river.
Observer – We’ve been on the committee together for three years now and we haven’t seen the mayor at all. He has no direct interaction with the Greenway Committee as a whole. If you are the mayor do you continue like that, or do you get more involved? Should the mayor be deciding what’s happening? What would be your philosophy of dealing with the Greenway Committee?
De Pillo - There is a Greenway Committee and I don’t think the mayor should run rough shod over it. Certainly, the mayor should be there to facilitate any help that the committee needs, whether that be at the state or federal level. He certainly will be speaking with the State Reps and State Senators on a regular basis, and if it’s a matter of getting the state involved to move the DOT forward a little faster then certainly a mayor can facilitate that.
I know the head of the federal department of transportation was down here. They had enough interest to come down and look at the Greenway and potentially lend a hand. Chris Murphy’s office was involved. So the Mayor needs to get involved to make sure that doesn’t die on the vine. The Congressman’s office will do everything he can to bring federal funds to this project. A mayor can facilitate an awful lot without getting in the way of the committee. But without the mayor being part of the Greenway process it will take a lot longer than it should.
Observer: Describe for our readers what you envision for Waterbury in 25 years. Will there be a mix master, massive greenway, a minority mayor, Aldermen by District. Lay it out for me. Where do you see all of this going?
De Pillo: I’m hoping as of December 1st, 2011 that there will be an Independent Mayor of the city of Waterbury. I love history. I tell the people of Waterbury that you have to understand that in 1945 Waterbury, CT was the richest city in the Northeast. Nobody had more resources, money, or more power up in Hartford than the city of Waterbury. Can Waterbury be a powerhouse like that again? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what, in 25 years, I envision that if I’m elected Mayor that we will have more businesses and identified industries that will come to the city and populate the city. As the businesses came into Waterbury and provided a disposable income people started to buy up the houses and rehabilitate it. Waterbury will become the clean and good city that I knew growing up. Go into some of these metropolitan areas like Cleveland or Pittsburgh that were absolutely devastated. They are different cities today. When I went to Philadelphia a number of years ago the row houses were abandoned and falling down. Now, they sell for $100,000 a piece. If it can happen in other major cities, it can happen in Waterbury. Whether I’m mayor for 1 term, 5 terms or 13 terms, in 25 years I probably will not have enough sense to be able to sit in the mayor’s seat. I would like to think that 25 years from now, we may not be the richest city in the Northeast, but we’ll end up being one of the players in the Northeast as far as a city. We have the resources to do it, we just need the will to do it. I believe I will be able to bring that will to City Hall.