Waterbury Democrats Unite Behind Neil O'Leary For Mayor, Sets Up Showdown With Jarjura

Story and photographs by John Murray

  Neil O'Leary has the Irish gift of gab, but unlike many of his ancestors, this Irishman isn't afraid to express his emotions. In the course of twenty minutes O'Leary laughed at his own jokes, emotionally bear-hugged his family, choked-up when talking about his deceased parents, raised his voice and bellowed about the lost opportunity of the past five years under Mayor Jarjura, forcefully jabbed his finger in the air while making a point about leadership, and appeared humbled and slightly awkward when the wrap-up theme song lasted too long.

    It was an emotional night for O'Leary as he was unanimously endorsed by the Democrat Town Committee in front of a packed house at the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the South End of Waterbury. O'Leary has spent much of the past two months cobbling together his under-ticket, which at times was as easy as herding 25 kittens across a meadow.

Former mayoral candidate Ron Napoli Sr., left, sits with Connecticut Speaker of the House Chris Donovan during the Democrat Convention at the Ancient Order Of Hibernians.

   Behind the scenes there was rebellion, confrontation and posturing. There were not enough slots on the ticket to accomodate all interested candidates, and the selection committee was faced with several difficult choices. In the end it appears that O'Leary and the selection committee somehow managed to get the 25 kittens safely across the meadow.

   "I'm not sure how we did it," O'Leary chuckled, " but we have the ticket we want."

    Democrats in Waterbury are a lively bunch. In-fighting is common and expected, but the wrecking ball that demolished Mayor Jarjura's reign in the Democrat party was not Neil O'Leary - it is a series of broken promises Jarjura made to Democrat leaders. Three times in the past six years Jarjura promised to not seek re-election if a political rival holstered their ambition and supported him.

   Three times - in 2007, 2009 and 2011 - he has broken that promise.

   As a consequence Jarjura faced stiff competition within his own party when O'Leary refused to back down in 2011. After O'Leary forcefully stepped into the race in early February political insiders believed the mayor had no shot of securing the top slot on the Democratic ticket in November. But don’t shed any tears for the mayor, he is a wily politician who switched political parties and will square off against O'Leary in November as a Republican. 

After being unanimously approved by the Democrat Town Committee, Neil O'Leary stopped by his family to request they join him on stage for his acceptance speech. Photograph by John Murray

   The past six months have been very good for the O'Leary campaign. He announced in early February and had party support sewn up immediately. He has raised more than $200,000 for his campaign and has an under-ticket filled with candidates that have stepped before the electorate in the past decade and been victorious.

The Democrat Ticket

Mayor - Neil M. O'Leary 

Town Clerk - Antoinette "Chick" Spinelli

City Clerk - Michael Dalton

Sheriff - Steve Conway 

Board of Aldermen:
Joseph Begnal, Jr.
Ernest M. Brunelli
Greg Hadley (newcomer)
Ryan A. Mulcahy (incumbent Independent Party alderman)
Ronald Napoli, Jr.
Paul K. Pernerewski, Jr.
Anne P. Phelan
Anthony T. Piccochi
Ruben Rodriguez (newcomer)

Board of Education:
Patrick J. Hayes, Jr.
Elizabeth Brown
Gregory Harkins
 

After switching political parties in early June, Mayor Jarjura tried to convince Chick Spinelli (pictured above), Mike Dalton and Steve Conway to join him in the GOP. After some initial awkwardness, the three stayed loyal to the Democrat Party. Sitting behind Spinelli is Raechel Guest, who is now the official spokesperson for the O'Leary campaign.

Ruben Rodriguez, center, earned one of the coveted positions for the Board of Aldermen.

Independent Party alderman Ryan Mulcahy, right, will be an alderman candidate on the Democrat ticket. Mulcahy had some bridges to mend with party leadership but with assistance and guidance from his mother, Karen Mulcahy, a former mayoral candidate, he found his way back to his family's political roots.

   (The following are the prepared remarks by Neil O'Leary after accepting the Democratic nomination for mayor on July 21, 2011. O'Leary went off script several times. He took off his glasses and spoke directly to the packed hall when he talked about downtown, and about a visit earlier in the day to his parent's gravesites)

   Good evening everyone! Wow what a turnout for what promises to be one of the most exciting campaigns in a long, long time. I want to first start out by thanking the members of the Democratic Town Committee and especially the Chairman Ned Cullinan and Vice Chairman Monroe Webster for their support. It is truly my honor to accept this nomination for Mayor of this great city, and together with your support we can turn this dream into a reality.
                                                       
   I also want to thank all of the people who went through the screening process. The screening committee had a difficult job putting this ticket together and for those individuals who did not get on the ticket I give you my special thanks and am looking forward to making all of you a part of this administration.

   I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of the current and former elected officials for coming here tonight to support this great ticket. As you all know it takes a very special person to be involved in public service and I would like to recognize each of you for your commitment to this great city, state and country.

   To my family, you know I have been blessed with two unbelievable children, Patrick and Maggie, and I thank God for both of them every day. I also want to acknowledge Maggie’s mom Dale who is here tonight with us as well as Patrick’s mom Kathy who is not only an unbelievable mom but also a great wife.

O'Leary acknowledged his wife, Kathy, left, and his ex-wife, Dale, right, during the evening. They are pictured here reacting to his name being placed in nomination for mayor. 

   I also want to thank my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins who are here tonight in support of me and our family.

   And a special thanks to all the deceased members of our family, my grandparents each of whom emigrated here from Ireland, especially my mom and dad whom we all miss each and every day.

O'Leary choked up when recalling his four grandparents, all from Ireland, and his parents, whose grave sites he visited earlier in the day. "They would all be very proud of this moment," he said.

   To my campaign staff, Gary O’Connor, Ron Napoli, Fran Sullivan, Don McPartland, Mickey and Nick Albini, Saranda Belica, Chris D’Orso, Aunt Edna, Joe Gugliotti, Margie Dowling, Mike Guisto, And our newest member, Raechel Guest, who as of today will fill the role of campaign spokesperson. What a great group of hard working people who have the same dreams as all of you and I, dreams of making this city a better place to work and live.

   As I mentioned earlier it is truly an honor to accept this nomination for Mayor tonight.

   As you all know I spent nearly 30 years working in the best police department in the country, the last seven as Chief of Police. I want to thank every police officer and other city employees who are here tonight.

   As you will all hear in the next three months this administration and ticket is about change, vision, and leadership. While we acknowledge the great work the Oversight Board did in stabilizing the city, we must use that success to move this city forward. The status quo is no longer acceptable.

   In fact we’ve had the highest unemployment rate for the past ten years. More businesses have left Waterbury than those that have moved in.

   The public education system is under performing. Our teachers and administrators and students are crying out for help and support and we will provide them with the leadership and support that has been lacking.

O'Leary stopped in the middle of his speech to ask his daughter, Maggie, how he was doing. When she didn't pull out the hook, O'Leary smiled, and continued on.

   Downtown Waterbury is virtually empty and the building owners are struggling to survive.

   I promise you that under the O’Leary administration we will work tirelessly to bring this city back.

   Jobs, economic development, school re-organization with strong accountability, downtown development, and a true vision for this city will be our #1 priority - every day, all day. I am truely honored to stand ehr tonight with this ticket of dedicated people who will serve this city and its residents with undying commitment.

   Over the next three months we will lay out our plan to move this city forward. A plan that will specifically address unemplyment, economic development, downtown development, our school system, growing our grand list, and lastly show you and the residents of the city our vision going forward.

   Once again thank you all for your continued support and I give you my word this ticket will work hard for each of you and this great city.

   And lastly, remember that when I give my word I don't break my word. Thank you all, and enjoy.

After accepting the Democrat nomination for mayor, Neil O'Leary had his left hand hoisted into the air by the current President of the Board Of Aldermen, Paul Pernerewski.