Stepping Out

By Bryan Baker

   The 2011 election cycle promises to be one of the most interesting campaigns the city of Waterbury has seen in a long time. With 3 Democratic candidates already having declared their intentions to run for Mayor, there is sure to be an intense fight for the Democratic nomination.

    When you add the Republican and Independent parties to the mix, there is a strong chance that the November election will be at least a four person contest, with the Democratic endorsed candidate on Row A, a Republican on Row B, an Independent candidate on Row C, and possibly a Petitioning Candidate on Row D.

    Some will look at this situation and assume that the Republican and Independent candidates have little to no chance. I look at the political landscape, and see a tremendous opportunity. I see an opportunity for the Republican Party in Waterbury to pick itself up off the mat and take a bold step into the future. I see an opportunity for the Republican Party to usher in a new era of leadership with new voices bringing Waterbury to the 21st century.

   For the Republican Party to capitalize on this opportunity, however, someone needs to be willing to step forward and brave the rough and tumble world of Waterbury politics. In taking that first step, I have decided to form an exploratory committee to seek the Republican nomination for Mayor in the 2011 election.  However, I consider this only the first step in a lengthy election process. It is my intention to be on the ballot on November 8 as the Republican nominee for Mayor.

   I have spent almost my entire life calling the City of Waterbury home. A proud product of the Waterbury Public Schools, having attended Wendell Cross Elementary, Wallace Middle School and graduating from Crosby High School in 1996. As a young man I was involved in several different aspects of city life through the East Mountain Athletic Association, productions at Seven Angels Theater, and as a member of Boy Scout Troop 27 in neighboring Prospect. On April 15, 1996, I was honored to receive the rank of Eagle Scout as a result of my work with Troop 27.

   After graduating from Crosby High School, I attended Arcadia University, earning a B.S. degree in Chemistry while also successfully completing the requirements of the University’s Honors Program in May of 2000. After graduation, I attended The Ohio State University for a year and a half of graduate work. While there, I decided to enter the field of education. After substitute teaching in Westerville, OH for six months, I returned to Waterbury and earned a position as a Science Teacher at Wilby High School, which I held from August of 2002 until June of 2009. I then took a position as a Program Educator at the Connecticut Science Center, leaving the Connecticut Science Center at the end of August 2010, and have worked part time teaching science at Waterbury Adult Education since November 2010.

  I made the choice to return to Waterbury to remain a resident in my hometown. In June of 2007, I married my wife, Kerri, and we bought our first home in my neighborhood of East Mountain. Despite the availability of homes in the suburbs, we chose to remain in the Brass City and continue my efforts on the city’s behalf.

   When I returned to Waterbury in the summer of 2002, I returned to my roots of community service. Since my return, I have been a dues-paying member of the East Mountain Neighborhood Association. I have been a member of the Saints Peter and Paul Church Choir since March of 2005 and in January of 2010 became a 3rd Degree member of the Knights of Columbus Sheridan Council #24. This past fall, I also helped coach Middle School students from the Waterbury Arts Magnet School as they started a FIRST Robotics team.

   I have also committed myself to helping my community through work on different volunteer organizations. In December of 2004, I joined the Main Street Waterbury Design Committee, and in October of 2008 was nominated as one of the Co-Chairs of the committee. As a member of the Design Committee, I was a vocal supporter of the restoration of City Hall. Furthermore I have worked to help establish guidelines for outdoor dining downtown, as well as regulations to prevent the inappropriate spread of paper boxes throughout our downtown. For my efforts, I was named Main Street Waterbury’s “Volunteer of the Year” in 2009.

   I have served on several city boards during the past few years. I served as a member of the Environmental Control Commission from October of 2005 until April of 2010, the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Truancy and Drop-Out Prevention from November of 2006 until May of 2008, and the Charter Revision Commission from January 2010 to August of 2010.

   With this wealth of knowledge and experience and the support of good friends, I have developed a list of issues that I feel are essential for the future of Waterbury.

Downtown Revitalization
   Waterbury’s future lies in bringing new business into our city, especially our downtown. Through the use of tax credits and other appropriate incentives we can entice companies to start, or expand, in Waterbury. When new companies come to our city they will provide jobs for our citizens, and a solid tax base. The future of downtown Waterbury lies in its ability to be a place to work, dine, be entertained, and call home. Therefore, the city needs to do everything within its power to continue improving our downtown, through the promotion of events and encouragement of mixed-use development. Over the course of the last five years I have spent countless hours volunteering on projects to improve our downtown and how it is perceived. By working together we can restore our downtown to its former and future glory.

Education Reform
   The Waterbury Public Schools are more than vital to the future of our city.  Our students need the tools to prepare themselves for the 21st century, and the skills that will serve them well as they pursue a college education and employment in the workforce.  As someone who has taught in the Waterbury schools for seven years, and is currently teaching at the Adult Education Center, I have a first-hand understanding of what our schools need to be competitive with the surrounding districts.  By working with the community, the teachers, and the parents, we can ensure that every student in the Waterbury School System has the chance to reach their full potential.

Maintaining Our Neighborhoods
    The many diverse neighborhoods in Waterbury have been the backbone of our city for generations. As someone who chose to stay in the neighborhood I grew up in, I realize how important these foundations are. As a result, our city has a responsibility to do what it can to support its neighborhoods, and requires continuing the work of successful programs such as the Earth Day Cleanup. We should also expand our efforts to rid the city of blighted properties, maintain and improve our park system, and work with the neighborhoods to deal with the issues that arise daily.
   This will also require a Mayor who is willing to work with all neighborhoods for the betterment of the city.  I am willing to sit down with representatives from each of Waterbury’s neighborhoods to determine their unique needs and concerns.  When I know what those concerns are, I will be able to develop a strategy that will best serve all of Waterbury’s citizens. By building and improving the bonds between the neighborhoods and the Mayor’s office destine Waterbury for a brighter future.

Taxes and Spending
   Waterbury has one of the highest mill rates in the region.  As a result too many people find it easier to move to the suburbs or out of the area all together.  To reverse this trend we need to give our high school graduates and young families a reason to stay in Waterbury, this can only be achieved by bringing businesses into Waterbury.  Once these new companies have moved into the city, some of the city’s tax burden will be taken off the residents and we will be able to compete with neighboring towns.
   We also need to find ways to trim the budget and streamline government to eliminate any waste that exists. The most important goal for any Mayor crafting a city budget is to ensure that their citizens are getting the most they can for their tax dollars.

A New Vision of Government
   Walter Lippman once said that, “In a democracy, the opposition is not only tolerated as constitutional, but must be maintained because it is indispensable.” For any government to thrive, citizens from every political party and neighborhood must feel confident that their voices are heard. It is not enough to allow people to speak at our Board of Aldermen and Board of Education meetings because the law requires it. When the administration takes the time to listen to all viewpoints, and consider alternative solutions, it is likely that together they will come up with resolutions that are in the best interests of all citizens. Furthermore, if citizens are left with the impression that disagreeing with the administration will lead to some form of retribution, our city will miss out on golden opportunities that may have not otherwise have been considered.
   When you consider my years of political experience and community service, I feel that I can make an impact in the future of Waterbury politics. Together we can continue working for the betterment of our city.