Neil O’Leary marching along Baldwin Street during the 2011 St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Interview and Photographs By John Murray
Observer –How do you define the role of mayor in Waterbury? Give a brief description of the job you are applying for.
O’Leary: I define the role of the mayor of Waterbury as the number one person responsible for the day to day operations of the city. The person who is solely responsible for the perception of the city. The person who should be the city’s biggest cheerleader on a 24-hour, seven-day a week basis. The person who has to collaborate with all the department heads for the running of the city. The person who has to offer a listening ear to his constituents who have elected him to run the city, and understanding the citizens are his bosses. A mayor must remain ever sensitive to the needs of the community and his constituents. They elected him for a reason, and we must never forget that if the people elect us then they have elected us for a reason, and what were those reasons? Obviously, strong leadership skills. Obviously, strong trust between the candidate and the constituents. Obviously, a belief that the person they are voting for is going to lead their city in the direction they want to see it go in. I think that is what the mayor’s primary responsibilities are. I think what happens a lot, especially if a person is a long-term incumbent, is that those constituency beliefs some how get watered down over time. I like to call it I.A., not the internal affairs as I’m familiar with, but incumbent arrogance. It’s not something that an incumbent sets out to strive for, it’s something that just develops over time.
Observer: What experience qualifies Neil O’Leary for this position?
O’Leary: I think the biggest experience I’ve had is my role as chief of police in the city of Waterbury for six years, and deputy police chief for a year. I believe that all my upper management ranks qualify me. I believe that my two years on the board of education, although a grueling and time consuming experience, has further qualified me for the position of mayor.
Observer: A good investment in learning about the education department….
O’Leary: As you know, John, the education department is the largest single budget for the city. I believe that as chairman of the finance committee I’ve learned about the dollars that it takes to run the education department. I think that has been very helpful. Running the police department is the best point on my resume, not only in the sense that I ran a $25 million a year business, but I always ran it in the black.
Observer: How big is the police department?
O’Leary: Right now? There are 280 sworn officers and about 50 civilians, so there are about 330 people. When I took over the police department there were 337 sworn officers and I reduced that down to 280. That was a huge savings to the city and we did that without one grievance or labor complaint. That was an awesome accomplishment saving millions. Not only did we reduce the manpower, and this is the part that is hard for the layperson to understand, we also reduced the overtime. Now you would think since you were cutting positions that you would be raising up overtime, but we managed to cut positions and reduce overtime.
Observer: How did you do that?
O’Leary: A lot of the positions that we reduced we did through attrition. We took all the inside officers and eliminated those positions making those civilian positions. People assigned to records, property, evidence and parking authority we just eliminated those positions. We had plans to eliminate more that just never came to fruition. We were able to realize that the staffing on the patrol side had been so archaic. They had the same number of beats and cars for 30-35 year. The city had changed so much and policing had changed so much that we really took an emphasis off of filling every beat and every car every day of the week and every night of the week. And more by scheduling sensibly. Assigning officers certainly on a Friday night you would have more officers on the street than you would have on a Monday night, which is traditionally the slowest night of the week. We started to use some common sense approaches, but it really came down to scheduling and working with the police union to ensure that they had a full understanding of what our goal was to run an efficient department and save the tax payers money, but at the same time to make sure the city was covered adequately. Once I built that trust up with the union, then it was much easier to get those objectives done.
O’Leary ended his 30-year career with the Waterbury Police Department with a final roll-call in June 2009. O’Leary has often been described as the best detective in the department’s history, and it’s most political.
Observer: You also showed a quick response to problems in the department. You addressed inadequcies in the way police officers handled sexual assault investigations, and missing persons reports. You have treied to change the culture inside the department, haven’t you?
O’Leary: What I set out to do from the rank of Captain up was to change the culture of the department. To ensure that officers knew that there was a new mission. Certainly, in the Detective Bureau I was able to do that because I was in charge. Basically, what I did was I wanted to have these officers understand that it’s a privilege to work for the city of Waterbury. It’s not an entitlement. I think that is the problem in any municipal or government job over time. I think they take it for granted and think they are entitled to these positions that they have. My position is that you come to work every day for the people of the city and that it is a privilege to come to work and be a part of the city. A big part of that is to be a stakeholder in the community. Obviously, I’d like to have every police officer and fire fighter and city employee live in the city. Some day I’d like to figure out how to do that. But the fact is that if they are not going to be residents of the city…I would reward and acknowledge the people that would go the extra mile to become a stakeholder in their community.
That can be in many different ways, as a volunteer, as a mentor. It could be something just as simple as to get involved in the life of an elderly resident in the community. It could be to take a poverty stricken family and give them referrals to agencies that will help them become more productive members of the community. I attended role call on numerous occasions. I would immediately acknowledge officers who were willing to step up into those roles in the community. By acknowledging, I rewarded them. It was no secret that I sent the stakeholders to special training. Some officers were interested in certain things that other officers may not be interested in. I would call them in the office and acknowledge their commitment to their community and say what would you like? Would you like to be an accident re-constructionist? Would you like to be a forensic person? Would you like to be in a youth squad working with children? Would you like to be a school resource officer?
Observer: And they responded well to all of this?
O’Leary: Did they ever. And by the way, these were tumultuous times in the police department. This was during the oversight board when there was massive cuts in union contracts. Morale was at an all-time low. We chose to take the high road and go out and cooperate with the oversight board knowing that the end game was going to be the end game no matter which road we traveled down. We learned from other city unions who were not as successful and we decided to take the approach that we took. I have to tell you the people in the police department responded magnificently. They really did. I’m very, very proud of that.
Observer: Can you use that experience if you are sworn in as mayor on Dec.1st? Give me an example.
O’Leary: Perfect example. What I did from the moment I became the deputy chief and active chief is I started to have staff meetings every week. On Tuesdays at 10:30 I had upper management staff meeting. That would be Captains and above who I would solicit opinions on how to better run the police department. Tell me what is important to you. What’s important to your men and women of the department and tell me how I can help you accomplish those goals as chief. On Thursdays at 10:30 we had a department wide staff meeting. That would mean that everyone in every department was invited to my meeting on Thursdays. It got to be quite a social event as well, where people from different departments would bond and learn each others concerns. We had a lot of fun. There wasn’t a Thursday that went by that there wasn’t an uproar of laughter in the room at some point in time. It brought the department very, very close. It gave the people the opportunity to feel that they were a part of the solution to the problems. As mayor of the city, one of the things that has disappointed me is that when Garett Casey was the chief of staff we had very regular department head meetings. Then when Garrett left, not to reflect on anyone that has replaced him, it just seemed that the focus was less important on those staff meetings. Now, I know there have been staff meetings, but nothing to the degree and frequency we had before, and I’ve heard that from department heads. It was an opportunity for everyone to get in the room and talk. Now, under my leadership, there will be morning staff meetings every morning at 9:00. Not 9:01, not 9:05, not 9:10. The door locks at 9:00. There will be department head staff meetings and I will hear from every single department as to what is going on every single day.
Observer: Will the department heads respond?
O’Leary: That’s the way it’s going to start because what I have found in this city is there is a disconnect between departments. People don’t talk to each other. People don’t like each other. People refuse to sit in the same room with each other. That’s unacceptable. My message is going to be clear on December 2nd. I’m going to have everyone in and I’m going to tell them if they can’t play in the same sand box, there will be no sand box. It’s going to be deliberate and firm. I’m going to give everyone an opportunity to reunite with each other, but I will not tolerate what is going on in the city today because it’s unacceptable for the tax payers and the city residents. I will run this city like a business. When people don’t communicate with each other it’s ineffective and inefficient. It’s not going to happen, and more importantly, it won’t be tolerated.
Observer: One of the knocks that people have on Neil O’Leary is that you come from a military chain of command in the police department. There is a leader, and a lot of “yes sirs”. When I asked Mayor Jarjura why he had changed his mind and was running again, he said that Neil O’Leary does not have the personality to deal with the politics of the office. Mayor Jarjura said you have an explosive personality and that you weren’t going to be able to work with people. So coming from a paramilitary organization to a purely political organization, would you have to change your style?
O’Leary: I couldn’t disagree more with the mayor. The mayor has painted me as this authoritative leadership person with enormous consequences for those that don’t fall in line, and that’s very disappointing to me because the mayor knows that I’m a great collaborator. He knows that. I worked for the mayor. The mayor knows that I can put people in a room and get things done. The mayor has called on me in numerous occasions to help facilitate all types of different objectives, not only with policing, but with other departments to get things going other than what was on the mayor’s agenda. The mayor knows that I am a strong person who believes you have to earn respect to get respect. I believe that many of the employees of the city of Waterbury, department heads and other employees, subordinates, really respect me not only as police chief, but as a member of the board of education. I believe I come off as firm and consistent, but fair.
The mayor has more of a Laissez Faire managerial approach. There is nothing wrong with it as long as it is effective. My point is it is ineffective. Why do I say that? I say that because it’s no secret that there are many department heads that have personality issues with one another. It’s no secret that there are certain people who don’t speak to each other, and these are people in vital, critical positions, long term positions in the day to day operations in the city of Waterbury. This is a significant difference between Neil O’Leary and Mike Jarjura – I won’t tolerate that. I will not tolerate someone not speaking to another person in a room, at a meeting, where everyone is being solicited for comments and advice. That’s just not the way to run business or the city. What I will do is use my managerial skills to rehabilitate their relationships so that we can all get together and play in the same sand box for the betterment of the city. But if that becomes an impossibility, then I will make those tough decisions that the mayor has not made. I will make those tough decisions. I will give everybody an opportunity to be a part of this administration. There’s no question about it. But if they are unwilling to do the right thing for the city because of some personality thing, or some ridiculous incident that happened last month, or last year, or five years ago, that’s not the way it works with me. That’s one of my strongest points. I’m not a dictator by any stretch of the imagination, although Mike Jarjura would like to have you think that I am. What I am is a strong, respectable leader. That’s what I’ve been told by the people who have worked for me not only in Waterbury, not only in Wolcott, but also from the people in the department of education.
Observer: A survey of police chiefs across the country revealed that dealing with politicians was one of the most difficult challenges of their job. A former police chief in Phoenix said “If I’m looking at a problem in the department, I look at it from a police officer’s perspective. But politicians look for issues and solutions that enhance their political base and their political strength.” How would you relate that comment to your experience as police chief in Waterbury, and through what lens would you view the police department if you are elected mayor November 8th?
O’Leary: Well, I don’t agree with the police chief’s comment from Phoenix, Arizona. I think that his job is to do both. I think that we as police chiefs know who our bosses are, and our boss is the mayor. The effective police chief has to understand where the mayor is coming from and to have an understanding of what his needs are and his constituents needs are. That makes for a better police department with higher morale and a better relationship with your police chief and your mayor. There have been mayors in Waterbury in the past that have been extremely difficult to work for, obviously some more than others. The most difficult mayor in the history of the department. I shouldn’t say the history, but during my 30-year tenure in the department was Phil Giordano. Listen, that was widely reported, but any other mayor, including Joe Santopietro, Mike Bergin and Mike Jarjura, I have had a strong working relationship with. Even at the end, as unpleasant as some of the experiences were, I didn’t have a problem working and getting done the objectives of the department with Giordano. He kind of gave up trying to micromanage the police department and had a lot of other issues on his mind, which was to the benefit of the department. One of the things about the laisezz faire style that Mike Jarjura exhibits, and again this is not a criticism, everyone has their own management style, I was allowed to run the police department the way I thought it should be run without any interference whatsoever from Mike Jarjura, or anyone on his staff. Not to say that I didn’t keep the mayor informed on a daily basis of what was going on in the department.
Observer: So you appreciated the laissez faire management style at that point?
O’Leary: I appreciated it at that point because it allowed me, don’t forget I took over the department during very difficult times, John. First, start with the oversight board and then start with contract negotiations and all those things. SoI was in a position where I enjoyed that relationship with Mike Jarjura and his hands off approach. And it allowed me to improve the department, build morale and also have the membership of the department feel like they were true stakeholders in the department. So that worked out well. Mike Bergin was a little bit more demanding of the department, and so was Joe Santopietro. They were more of a hands on approach, not micromanaging, but more of a hands on approach. They wanted to know the day-to-day operations and also wanted to know who would be assigned where, and why, which Mike Jarjura never took an interest in. I’d like to think it’s because he knew the department was running well.
Observer: You brought up Mike Bergin. The Observer published a story back in 1996 called “The Grip” where we documented the systemic influence of politics in the Waterbury Police Department. You played a big role in the story. In order to make detective, a police officer needed a powerful politician known as “a horse”, to back them. Former mayor Mike Bergin was your horse, which was like having Secretariat in your corner. Does that system still exist? And what role does politics play in the police department now?
O’Leary: No, that practice is gone. I remember the article very well. A lot of the practices of the old days are gone. Union contracts and civil service has changed a lot of those things. Like all police departments, and there are still many like the olden days, most modern police agencies don’t practice any of those political initiatives of the old days. Well, let’s go back to what brought civil service to Waterbury in the first place. It was the use of patronage, nepotism and cronyism that brought civil service in. Waterbury has one of the strongest civil service agencies in the country. Under the early Bergin years from 75-85 there was no civil service examination for the role of detective. The union successfully fought that and brought that in. Once that came in you had to take a test and pass a test in order to be placed in the detective bureau. The chief of police still has enormous discretion. We are very professional police department and we are now perforance driven.
If you ask any law enforcement officer in Connecticut about the Waterbury Police Department’s reputation I would be shocked if they didn’t tell you that we were a very professional organization with very good results in our initiatives. We are a model for many other police departments now and we are very proud of that. The reality is that in this world that we live in that politics is going to be everywhere. It’s going to be in the police department, the fire department, the street department, the school department, but we’ve minimized that. Now we’re looking for qualified people because our reputation is on the line. So the politics through the years, not only in Waterbury, but most police departments has been minimized and that’s when you get results. If you are just going to have political hacks you aren’t going to get the results.
Observer: You have been touted as one of the top detectives in Waterbury history, and also one of the most political police officers in city history. You’ve cut your teeth on politics early and you’ve rode the wave of change. You’ve lived through this change.
O’Leary: I have. At age 23, excuse me, 24, I was put in the detective bureau. I’d like to think I made it into the detective bureau because I had a degree in forensic science. I had some brains and also had some luck. I knew plenty of people, my first appointment came from Fred Sullivan, Superintendent of Police. After that everything came through civil service, but my first appointment, make no mistake about it came through Fred Sullivan. At the time, when I walked into the detective bureau I was probably the only person there that had a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice and Forensic Science. Maybe that had something to do with it, maybe it didn’t, depends who you talk to probably. But I worked every single major case from that point until I left the detective bureau in 2003. For 20 years I worked every high profile murder case, rape case and robbery case. Every capital felony case. I worked the really sad cases over the years – Joanne DiChiara, the victim behind the Westside Lobster House was one of my first cases. I worked the murder of the police officer Walter Williams, and apprehended the killer. I testified in numerous court appearances on that case. I worked the Cedrick Cobb-Julia Ash case which still brings out strong emotions. I worked the Ivo Colon capital felony case with the victim, Keriana Tellabo. just two and a half years old. I worked the Breton case where Robert Breton murdered his wife and his son. I was the lead investigator in all those cases and if I wasn’t the lead, I was one of the leads.
Observer: You’ve seen a lot.
O’Leary: I have. I’ve testified more than anyone else in the police department during those years. I built strong relationships with the state’s attorneys office and the different prosecutors, but you know getting back to what your initial question was, and I apologize for rambling on, when I went on the police force in 1980 Bergin was the mayor. Bergin was a family friend, so from 80 to 85, my first five years on the department was Mike Bergin. The next six years was Joe Santopietro and I learned quickly that if you wanted to enjoy your role in the police department, I never really got involved politically with Joe Santopietro, but I got know Joe Santopietro, and his family, and I liked him aside from all the issues. Joe Santopietro was there for six years and then who comes back? Mike Bergin. Mike Bergin comes back for the next four years. Ironically enough, I never got one promotion under Mike Bergin. Every promotion I got, Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain, came under Republicans. I love to tell that to Mike Bergin when he gets me going. But Bergin came in, then Bergin left and Phil Giordano came in. Those were the roughest years, as tumultuous as any that I had in the department.
Observer: Giordano was going after you…
O’Leary: Yeah, he did. He made it his personal mission to come after me. But if not for the guys like Connelly, Eddie Bergin, and people who knew that I was a pretty good police officer he would have been successful. Fortunately, I was able to maintain those positions in the police department and carry on. Then of course, Mike Jarjura came in. By the time Mike Jarjura came in as mayor I had developed a pretty good reputation in the department as a pretty good cop. I learned that you need to understand whether you are the chief, captain, lieutenant or detective, you have to understand that politics and the mayor is an important part of your position, because ultimately you work for the man. You have to have a strong working relationship and respect the mayor. They are elected by the people of the city and that needs to be understood.
Observer: As the police chief you shepherded over an incredible emergence of the PAL program. It went from 80 kids to 3500? It’s being touted as a model program around the country. Just explain briefly how you think this program has impacted the quality of life of Waterbury.
The astonishing turn-around of the Waterbury Police Athletic League is O’Leary’s signature accomplishment as Police Chief. O’Leary led a PAL resurgence that grew from 80 kids to 3500 kids, and it’s now considered a model program in America.
O’Leary: It has had a huge impact on the quality of life of Waterbury over the last six years. There’s no question about it. I’m very proud of the PAL program, and protective as well, because it has been lobbied around political circles. I think some of the people that have been critical of the program don’t understand the benefits that it has on the city. Let me just give them to you quick. There has been a 20% reduction of violent crime in the city. I would put our statistics and our demographics up against Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport, all day, every day. We’ve had two homicides in the city of Waterbury and it’s September 27. Two. Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport are all in double digits and I think two of the cities are over 20. Violent crime reduction is vital to economic development and stakeholdership for the people that live in our community.
The thing that needs to be understood the most is PAL is not the answer to everything. But we go after kids from age 5 and up and what I like about it is that we have been there long enough that our statistics are very telling. Not only has violent crime dropped 20% in the city, but overall crime has dropped over 30%. What I love the most though is this next statistic. Juvenile arrests have gone down 57% since PAL started. Do you have any idea what that means for the city of Waterbury at large?
Less kids are getting arrested. Less kids are having negative interactions with police. Less families are having negative interaction with police. And instead of arresting kids we are taking all that energy and putting it to positive use. The longterm impacts are astronomical, not only for the city, but for the state, because most kids who start to get arrested as juveniles end up being incarcerated, especially with our demographics. So we have a program here that is absolutely phenomenal, and down the road is having such major impacts, not only on the city, but on the state of Connecticut. We are very proud of that. Listen, the role that PAL has played in this community has not only been beneficial to this city, but has also set a model for other organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, and Youth Services. What I mean by that is that we are showing these organizations that if solicited you can find volunteers, mentors and stakeholders to make your programs work.
Each of those organizations is different, but at PAL we are proud of the fact that I, the vice president, treasurer and secretary don’t draw a salary. The key to the success of PAL is officers assigned to community relations who are running the day to day operations of PAL, but the benefits of the program for the community far outweighs the costs. To get those kind of results with four or five officers assigned to community relations is just astronomical.
Observer: So, you are intervening in lives early on before they head off track?
O’Leary: John, let me tell you something. I spent twenty years of my life knocking down doors dragging out bad guys, killers, rapists, bad people. After awhile you learn it’s generational – it’s the father, the grandfather, the son, the uncle, the brother. After awhile, it dawns on you that the only way to break the cycle is to get them when they are young. You’ve got to get these kids while they are young. You’ve got to show them and their families that there are alternatives out there to criminal activity. With a city with a high poverty rate, as we do, it is a work in progress when you form a community like the PAL community has formed. Where kids and parents know there is a place where they can go to get help in this town and that speaks volumes. By the way, it costs the tax payers of the city zero, except for the in-kind services. We ask and sometimes get some grants through the city, state and federal government, but what we do each and every day at PAL, we do the after-school program for free, plus we provide the transportation. We provide all the tutoring and mentoring on the weekend programs free to the city. We do the agriculture, industrial arts, nutrition, free to the city. We provide a place where kids can go day and night, free to the city. It’s an enormous benefit to the city of Waterbury. It has been touted as a national model, and it should be.
Observer: If you are are the mayor how would you interact with PAL? Can you expand this out further, or do you just keep it going the way that it is?
O’Leary: I think we would keep PAL going the way that it is, but I think as mayor I would do something much more than this mayor does. I would find ways to support the other youth service agencies in this city. I would find ways to support the United Way. the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club and Waterbury Youth Services. I would find ways to support Bridge to Success. I would find ways to support any of these social service agencies, or youth agencies, to enhance their programs. In these tough economic times, it has been a challenge to everyone to maintain the services they have tried to maintain. The only way to recognize and address the systemic issues of society is to get them while their young. My focus would be to take the success and knowledge that we have learned from PAL and spread it across the city. That would include supporting the agencies I just suggested, and any other agency that would take the time to help the youth in this city. Any agency.
Observer: Have you considered having satelitte PAL programs set up in other neighborhoods around the city? The kids in Brooklyn may have trouble getting to the PAL complex in the north end. You could have PALs all over the place.
O’Leary: Of course. That’s a phenomenal idea. Let’s look at the city. In East Mountain they have a beautiful park. I love going up there and walking around it. I love it. You’ve got the park over there at Fairlawn. Attorney Joe Summa had a great impact in putting that together to start that park and refurbish it. Bunker Hill Park. Beautiful park. Jeff Berger was instrumental in getting that going. We’ve got the East Mountain Sports Association, the Bunker Hill Sports Association and the Overlook Sports Association. You’ve got Fulton Park.
What’s in Brooklyn? Not a lot. That would be a place you could focus right away. You’ve got the empty Brooklyn School over there. I would focus on the Brooklyn Neighborhood Association and say hey, we’ve got this school here, let’s work with the Archdiocese of Hartford on trying to get a youth association together to focus on the youth. Certainly up the hill you’ve got Town Plot sports association. Healthy, vibrant. Brooklyn. a forgotten area.
South End, you have the South End Recreational center that provides a need for those kids down there, but that’s not enough. Look at the parks, the Rivera-Hughes Park, it’s a dump. Look at Coe Park off of Brookside Road, PAL maintains that park along with the city. I gave $10,000 to the city just to buy dirt for baseball diamonds out of PAL money. That’s what I’m talking about. You can invigorate the whole city as mayor.
Why do I want to be the mayor? I want to be the mayor because I believe that being the mayor has a multitude of tasks, but one of the most important tasks is to get everybody to join together and understand that we are a village. Not to steal Hilary Clinton’s line, but it does take a village. It takes the North End and the South End, not just the East End and West End. It takes all four corners of the city. What a lot of people don’t understand about PAL, because it’s not politically correct to talk about it, but I will, when you see the interaction between the white kids and the black kids and the Spanish kids and all the kids it’s amazing. Before PAL the Town Plot Neighborhood Association would play with East Mountain Sports Association and with Bunker Hill Neighborhood Association. You didn’t have strong representatives out of the South End and North End. PAL was designed to take the kids most at risk, which turns out to be mostly minority children. Now that PAL has become so successful our kids are competing not only athletically, but on an education level with kids all over the city. That’s one of the untold things that people don’t realize as the actual major success of PAL. We are throwing all these kids into the same environment on equal footing and they are having fun together. They are learning how to live with each other and learning each others cultures. They are learning that although our skin is different, our language is different, we still have brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. We can all play in the same sandbox.
Observer: So if you were to expand out you would look at the pockets in the city that are neglected like Brooklyn and the South End. Are you guys talking about that?
O’Leary: Oh yeah. We’ve been talking about that for awhile (laughs). That’s why I’m a supporter of the Loyola Project. I think Loyola is trying to recognize a need for growth in the South End. Right now we are on youth programs and youth prevention programs and putting this city together. It not only goes for youth programs, but also economic development programs, Brownfield redevelopment, all the things I feel we can be doing here that this city is right for.
When Mike Jarjura declared in 2007 that he would not seek re-election, Neil O’Leary committed himself to a 2009 campaign. When Jarjura reconsidered and decided to run for a 5th term, O’Leary didn’t back down, and a colossal showdown loomed. Democrat leaders intervened, and during a high level pow-wow, Jarjura promised that if O’Leary stepped aside and supported him, then Jarjura would support O’Leary in 2011. The image above is of Jarjura being sworn in by Congressman Chris Murphy on December 1st, 2009, with O’Leary watching intently. The aftermath of the pow-wow is that when Jarjura decided to run for a record sixth term in 2011, the leadership of the Democrat Party referred back to the meeting, and supported O’Leary. With no place to go inside his own party, Jarjura switched to the GOP, and is now the Republican candidate for 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 Mike Jarjura ?
O’Leary: Oh now you want me to go negative? (Big belly laugh). I was trying not to be.
Observer: You can give him a positive evaluation…
O’Leary: What I’d say to Mike Jarjura is spend more time on the city and less time on your private development. Less time on your business ventures. The people of the city of Waterbury elected you to be the mayor, not to be property developer. The people of the city of Waterbury elected you to bring businesses into the city, not to lure businesses out of the city for your own personal gain and profit. The people of Waterbury that are invested in this city; the doctors, lawyers, the people that own commercial real estate space – all the empty commercial real estate space – they expect their mayor to be the number one cheerleader for the growth of this city, not to be developing outside of this city and taking tax payer money outside of this city into your own personal complexes.
Observer: That’s the one in Middlebury?
O’Leary: Yes, and I have a problem with that. I really do. That is my biggest problem with Mike Jarjura. He has built a real estate empire both within the city and out. When Mike Jarjura was a state rep for ten years, he did a number of commercial development pieces here in the city. I didn’t have as much of an issue with that for two reasons. One, because he was improving the city, obviously. He was growing the grand list and bringing businesses into Waterbury, albeit they were his personal property, but he was still bringing it in, all while he was a state representative, which is a part time job. Being the mayor of the city of Waterbury is a full time job. 24/7. So for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, Mike Jarjura should be working for the tax payers and the residents of the city of Waterbury. Listen, for the record, I don’t have a personal dislike for Mike Jarjura, and I don’t think he does for me, as well. But we come from two different places on this very important issue. His management style is different than mine. The city of Waterbury, like every other city, is struggling with high taxes and high unemployment. But Mike Jarjura has been building outside of the city of Waterbury. More than a half a dozen land lords have complanied directly to me that Mike Jarjura has taken tenants out of this city into his own personal office complex outside of Waterbury. I have a problem with that, John.
Observer: When he’s confronted with that, and I’ve confronted him with that in the past, he is quick to say he has partners and he has no control over what they do. That they are doing it, it’s not him.
O’Leary: That’s bologna!
Observer: That’s what he says.
O’Leary: I know it is, but that’s bologna. He’s the mayor of the city of Waterbury. I don’t care who his partners are. You can blame your partners all you want. He is still the mayor and his job is to bring businesses into the city. If we were this thriving metropolis with low taxes there may be some sort of argument for some sort of capitalist venture if you will. We have A) extraordinarily high taxes and B) the highest unemployment rate in the state for the entire time that Mike has been the mayor. C. Our grand list, John. I like to use this because the first five years he was Mayor the Oversight board was running the town. He was a member of the Oversight board, he was on it, but don’t get me wrong. He was the Mayor. He was still responsible, but the Oversight board made a lot of tough decisions and they were allowed by statute to make those tough decisions. All good right? The report card for Mike Jarjura in my opinion starts in 2007 because from 2002-2006 the Oversight board was here. 2007 starts the report card. The grand list of the city of Waterbury from 2007 until now has grown less than one half of one percent. He is developing outside the city of Waterbury. He is taking tax revenue. Doctors. Lawyers. Other medical people. Hospital staff. Outside the city. Those people are paying taxes to the town of Middlebury. Unacceptable to me, John. Hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in tax revenue are going to the town of Middlebury instead of Waterbury. Unacceptable because he is the Mayor. The Mayor’s job is to take care of his city. The Mayor’s job is to bring business into Waterbury not out of Waterbury.
Observer: To look out for the city interest, not self interest?
O’Leary: Exactly, and here’s the thing. What kind of message do we send to anyone who is looking to come into this region to open up a doctor’s office, an MRI imaging complex, a health care complex. What kind of message does Mike Jarjura send to these people? And the first phone call by the way goes to the mayor’s office, or the Chamber. And what kind of message are we sending to these prospective people that are thinking about opening their business in Waterbury when the mayor of the city is taking businesses out to Middlebury? What kind of message does that send to the tax payers, residents and potential business owners? It sends the wrong message.
The Republican American wrote an editorial several years ago that said “developer or mayor, not both.” They were right. I believe very strongly that the people of Waterbury have no idea what the financial impacts have been on this city for Mike Jarjura taking businesses out of the Waterbury. He can blame it on whoever he wants to. He’s the Mayor.
Listen, I gave up my police chief job in Wolcott to run for mayor. I’m doing this not for the money, I’m doing it because I care about the city and I truly believe that we can make a positive impact on Waterbury. I will not take my pension while serving as mayor, which I’m perfectly entitled to. I will not because I want to show the people of Waterbury that I don’t think it’s right that I would collect a pension and a pay. That double dipping thing bothers me. So I’m not going to do that. I have a nice house, but I have a mortgage. I have kids, I have tuitions, I have a car payment, I’m not wealthy, I’m a middle class guy. I’m not doing this for a financial agenda except to move the city in the right direction. I truly believe that, John. I believe that if I can get the message out to the voters that the people of Waterbury will agree with me.
Observer: Mayor Jarjura has been blind to this point. The information about any new project or proposal will come across his desk before anyone else knows about it, and if he has partners interested in development, that immediately places the mayor in a compromised position whether he shares that insider information or not,
O’Leary: I am not suggesting that there is anything illegal going on, I am not. What I am saying is that you are the mayor. and I keep going back to it because it is so critical to my message – the mayor of the city should be working for Waterbury. How do you work for the city of Waterbury? What could be the most beneficial thing you could do for the city of Waterbury right now? Grow the grand list. Increase the tax revenue. Why? To take the burden of the residential home owner. That’s why.
Paul Vance (former mayoral candidate) used to say this all the time, and I have done nothing but door to door campaign over the last month. Paul Vance used to say “all my friends have moved away.” Okay? Let me tell you, all the people that I talked to in this town are on the verge of moving away. Why? Because they feel that the taxes are so high that they can’t afford it anymore, and the return on the investment is not there. They acknowledge that they have a safe city. Of course I’m the former police chief so maybe they are telling me what I want to hear, but that’s okay, because the statistics prove it. They feel that the public education system is not what it could be, and they feel that the taxes are so high that they feel there is no choice for them but to then to take their young families out of Waterbury and to go into communities where the taxes are lower, and the public school systems are performing better. That’s a heartbreaker, John. As you can tell the demographics of this city have changed. They’ve changed consistently and dramatically over the last ten years of Jarjura’s administration. We are not attracting the families that we once did. The neighborhoods have suffered. I’ve got five houses on my little street that are for sale. One was a foreclosure. Why? People can’t afford it anymore, John. The taxes went up here substantially.
Observer: There seems to be a lot finger pointing back and forth about how much the taxes have gone up under Mike Jarjura. Your campaign has issued press releases saying that number is 200%. Mayor Jarjura and his aide, Steve Gambini, are up in arms about this. From 2001 to 2011 taxes have gone up 200%, but a most of that is pinned on revaluation. It wouldn’t matter if Moses was the mayor, the taxes were going up.
O’Leary: You can pin it on revaluation, but you could still lower the mil rate (big laugh). This is where I’ve learned the most about politics, it’s the spin. So I’m going to make it real simple for everybody. I’m going to tell you to go back into your check books and to your files and look at what you paid in taxes when Jarjura became the mayor. In some cases it will be 200%, and some cases it will be 100%. Most cases it will be between 100%, which is double, and 200%, which is triple.
Observer: If you were elected Mayor in 2001 this tidal wave was coming your way and people would be pinning this on you. Your opponents would be saying “taxes went up while Neil O’Leary was the mayor.” That was because for 20 years there was no revaluation. There is a root cause for this massive tax increase and it’s not Mike Jarjura.
O’Leary: I’m not going to argue that, John. I’m not going to argue that there were systemic problems that led to some of these issues, but what I am going to argue with you is, and I don’t care how you cut the mustard, that’s what happened. The people of Waterbury have been burdened with these tax increases. The people of Waterbury are the heroes here, not Mike Jarjura and not the Oversight Board. I agree that the Oversight Board was a necessity so that we could drill down into these employment contracts and identify some abuse that needed to be corrected. I’m okay with that, and I’m perfectly okay with members of the Oversight Board that did a duty to make some hard decisions, but at the end of the day, it was the taxpayers of the city who stepped up to the plate and paid those huge tax increases to stabilize their city for the misdeeds of former mayors, and for the misdeeds of the current administration. When I say misdeeds could there have been more opportunity to cut, the Oversight Board did a good job cutting, I think we would all agree on that, but I will also say that from 2007, which is my report card for Mike, until now, there has been a significant increase in the city budget and there’s been a significant increase in the taxes.
I think the daily newspaper covered it pretty accurately. In an off year there’s a tax increase and in an election year there’s a decrease. I’ll tell you what I have heard from everybody I have knocked on their doors. The last one, the 2010 tax increase, was devastating and crippling. And I’m going to tell you why, it was a bad time, John, the economy was in the toilet. Everyone’s 401Ks was in the toilet. Everyone’s little retirement nest egg was in the toilet and the taxes went up 4.5% in this town. Let me tell you, but for the Board of Aldermen, and this is a very important point here, but for the Board of Aldermen, that tax increase would have doubled. The Mayor’s proposed budget for 2010 included a tax increase of almost 9%. The Board of Aldermen brought it down to 4.75%, the Board of Aldermen.
Observer: Instead of looking backwards, what do we do with this right now? How would you address this?
O’Leary: Whoever is elected mayor is going to be faced with some tough decisions. This is what I would argue is another difference between Mike Jarjura and Neil O’Leary. I would not, I will not raise taxes. There’s no way that the people of Waterbury could afford another tax increase. There’s just no way, John. What does that mean? It means that everyone has got to – and I hate to use this word – sacrifice. Everyone, whether it is the city employees or whether it’s the services residents are used to. We cannot raise the taxes because we can’t promote economic development and raise taxes. We just can’t do it, and that’s why I was so profoundly disappointed with the last tax increase.
How do you promote economic development with that tax increase? The mil rate back before the tax increase was 39 and change. Psychologically that’s a nice mil rate, it’s under 40. I was profoundly disappointed by the last tax increase, and by the way the Board of Alderman had a plan to continue to cut until the Mayor stepped in and said, “look I don’t want to reduce services anymore than you’ve already suggested.”
I will tell you that in fairness to the Board of Aldermen, and I’m talking about the Democrats, Republicans and Independents, they were willing to take those tough steps. They decided after consulting with the Mayor that a tax increase would be acceptable. I disagree, honestly. I thought that any tax increase would be unacceptable and I think that any future tax increase at least until we start to develop an economic development plan and get the grand list going in the right direction will be an unacceptable increase. I know those are big words, John. I know that. What’s that George Bush line? No new taxes. Right? They tell politicians not to promise anything. I’m not promising anything. I’m saying no one can afford it. We have over 800 foreclosures around town here. We can’t afford it, John. Fortunately, I believe that the economy is going to turn, I do. When that happens I think that the government and the private sector will understand that we are in a better state of mind. The economy is going to improve not just at the municipal level, but with the state and federal government, too. But if it doesn’t, John, we cannot increase taxes.
Observer: After a statement like that, what sacrifices are you talking about?
O’Leary: Across the board.
Observer: In every department?
O’Leary: Yes, you’d have to.
Observer: Take me through the process.
O’Leary: Look, you have a department head meeting. Find out if there is a deficit, which it would seem there probably would be. Hopefully it’s a small one, hopefully there isn’t one, hopefully the budget was a fair one and the revenue will come in as expected and the expenditures will remain low and it will be a balanced budget. The reality of that happening is pretty unlikely. I think most people realize that. You have to say to yourself, “what are we going to do?” If we aren’t going to raise taxes, there’s only one other thing to do – reduce expenditures. That goes for the education department, the police department, the fire department, the park department and the health department. How far do you cut? You have to have that safety net right? You have to run the city of Waterbury and you have to run it efficiently and you have to run it safe. Where I see a lot of wiggle room is in the education budget. Now, I’m not saying that the education budget is fat. I’m not suggesting that, but I’m saying that I believe there are areas in the education budget where there are savings.
Serving on the Board of Education has provided valuable insight to O’Leary in how he might address issues inside the DEpartment of Education.
Observer: And you’ve been studing the Education Department for two years as the head of the finance committee on the Board of Education.
O’Leary: Right. I believe that the national government is recognizing that our education system is in drastic need of reform, or transform. Desperate need of change. I believe that the federal government understands the burden on the education side in these urban municipalities is exorbitant. This past year the stimulus money bailed out the urban school districts in a big way, especially in Waterbury. That 6 million dollars balanced out our budget both this year, and last year. I believe that we are going to see some statistical relief whether it’s in dollars or efficiency. The No Child Left Behind Act sounds beautiful on paper. We want all of our kids to be proficient in reading, writing and math by 2015, it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing, but the government has not given the cities the resources to get the job done. Now, we can either change the bar, or we can look at the resources. There is a combination of things that have to be done. It’s a challenge for anyone that is going to be the next mayor.
Observer: You are talking about running the city efficiently and safely. Last week I went into the Chase Building looking for a neighborhood map and was shuffled around to three different departments. The first guy I ran into was sound asleep, the daily newspaper in his lap, unconscious. I woke him up and he was discombobulated and said the map didn’t exist. I insisted it did, and he refered me to a second department. I go to that department and a woman is sitting behind her desk 20 feet away and screams, “CAN I HELP YOU?”, I said, “yes, how about coming up to the counter and talking to me.” She sent me to a third department and nobody was there. I stood in that department for 15 minutes and could have ransacked the place. Nobody was home. It was a horrific experience….
O’Leary: Laissez faire management style. I’m reluctant to point the finger at the city workers because I would rather point the finger at the supervisors. The buck stops at the mayor’s office. The lack of communication between departments breeds a lack of accountability, which breeds inefficiency, and multiplies a culture of entitlement, instead of thinking it’s a privilege to work for the city of Waterbury. I’m reluctant to point at the employee, I’m more in support of holding the supervisors and department heads accountable for the inefficiencies in the city and the things you experienced. Now, let me just say this, with Mike Jarjura being the one to say that I’m the tough guy, what do you think would have happened if I was Mayor walking into that office and finding a guy sleeping? And what do you think would happen if Mike Jarjura was the mayor and found a guy sleeping? I’ll leave that to your imagination (laughs).
Observer: Okay, fair enough.
O’Leary: Better yet, if you want an answer, ask any Waterbury police officer.
Observer: Let’s talk about growing the grand list. It’s easy being the challenger and making bold statements. What are you going to do to grow the grand list?
O’Leary: Number one? Be the mayor full time. What I mean by that is utilize the resources that are out there and available. Waterbury is on an island under the Jarjura administration. I think you know me and everyone else knows me well enough that I’m not a guy that’s going to start pointing fingers and saying negative things. I have a real problem doing that. It doesn’t seem so hard for my opponents to do it, but I personally like to think of myself as a good guy, and an old school guy. I don’t like doing that kind of crap.
By being a full-time Mayor, I mean selling your city. I mean going to Hartford and meeting with the commissioner of economic development, meeting with the commissioner of environmental protection, meeting with the Governor, and having regular, meaningful meetings with your delegation, both house of representatives and your senators. I mean having regular meetings with your congressional delegation and U.S. Senators. We have to create a mood of collaboration. I am Neil O’Leary, I’m the mayor of the city of Waterbury. The people have elected me to help move their town forward. I am asking and demanding and counting on all of you to help me do that. It’s not the way it is today. I’m not talking about the negative relationship between the governor and the mayor. I’m talking about the national conference of mayors. I know Mike Jarjura doesn’t like to go to a lot of these conferences, but these things are vitally important. Where I’ve learned it is two fold. One, when Bergin was the mayor he used to attend a lot of these national conferences, and he used to come back and talk about contacts that he had made and ways to secure federal money like the environmental remediation for the old Scovill’s site.
Observer: Didn’t you just have a successful trip to Philadelphia?
O’Leary: That’s what I was getting to. I was asked to speak by the region one EPA out of Boston about our PAL project. Partnering private money up with public money and getting something accomplished together is really what the mood of the country is today. This works on every level of government and the key is finding corporate people that will invest in their cities and states for the right reasons. I’m good at that. I’m a good network guy. I’m a guy that can sit at a table with anybody and find a common ground for the good of the city. At the national brownfield conference in Philadelphia I met dozens and dozens of mayors from New England. I made it a point to meet them and it was really amazing to listen to them and have them talk about their accomplishments and what they have been able to do in their individual communities working with the EPA and other agencies and also getting help from their states on certain projects. This is an area that Waterbury has been lacking in because, again, it’s a style of management. Do you want an aggressive mayor that is going to go out there and bang on every door and knock on every opportunity available? I think that this is what it is going to take to take this city and turn it around. I know I have a reputation for that. That’s how I built the PAL program. That’s how I raised over a million dollars in private money to do the things that we did. We didn’t have to rely on tax payers dollars because guess what? There wasn’t any there.
If I was relying on tax dollars we would have never gotten our projects off the ground. We found alternative means to get these things done. That’s what I’m good at. I have an excellent relationship with Dick Blumenthal, an excellent relationship with Chris Murphy, and an excellent relationship with, even though he’s the most hated guy in the state right now, Dan Malloy. I have a good relationship with his staff. I don’t believe in a lot of the initiatives that the Governor has put into play since he has been Governor, especially the issues of taxation, I do believe that he has a vision for the state of Connecticut that can enhance Waterbury, and that’s what I’m looking for. I’m not so much worried about the rest of the state of Connecticut right now. I’m running for mayor of Waterbury and I’m interested in what this guy can do for our city. That’s important to this city. All you have to do is look back and see what Rowland did for Waterbury. Rowland was instrumental in a lot of the economic development in the city of Waterbury back when he was the Governor. You just have to look at the projects he put into place. He was the man sitting on the bonding commission.
During the past decade O’Leary has fostered strong relationships with political leaders across Connecticut. He has a great relationship with Governor Dannel Malloy and is pictured above marching with U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal during the Ponte Fest procession in July.
Observer: Tony D’Amellio challenged Jarjura in 2007. During the question and answer with him, he said as a State Rep he had watched over the previous 12 years how different delegations from cities would bring their chamber, their state reps and bring teams up to the state to lobby for different things. Even though he was eventually incarcerated, D’Amelio said Bridgeport mayor Joe Ganim was brilliant at bringing a whole group up to Hartford to bang on doors. D’Amelio said he never saw Mike Jarjura up in Hartford. Now they are both Republicans, so he won’t say that again, but when he was running against him he said that was a weakness in how Waterbury was representing itself to the decision makers up in Hartford. They were not knocking on the door, being aggressive or marketing their needs…
O’Leary: Laissez Faire management style. It’s not going to come here. We’ve got to go there. I’m aggressive, everybody knows that. I have a good reputation in the corporate community in Waterbury. I think most people would acknowledge that, even my enemies. All you have to do is look at the growth of PAL and see where the resources came from. I believe strongly that my role as mayor would be to go to Hartford all the time. I would be a pest, the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, the pain in the you know what. the guy that when I go to Hartford I would bring our delegation with us, the guy that can sit down with the Governor and the Speaker of the House and the people with all that authority to help out these urban environments. Waterbury under the Rell Administration was treated like the red-headed step child because of the distain between Governor Rell and Waterbury. Mostly because of John…Rowland. We were slighted in many many ways. Some would argue that we got too much when John was the Governor and that was the payback. I would argue that there was no communication between the Governor and Mike Jarjura to try and rehabilitate the relationship so that we weren’t treated with that distain. I would argue that Mike Jarjura should have been at the Governor’s doorstep every day until he felt some sort of accomplishment in that area. Instead of just staying here on the island and having nothing happen. I would argue we lost some valuable time there. I would argue that Jarjura’s style of management and leadership hurt Waterbury.
I’m an in your face kind of guy and I don’t think that’s a negative. I don’t think it’s a negative that when I announced that I was running for mayor thousands of people have gotten involved. I would say and suggest to the Mayor that this is what the people want. That people have witnessed the Jarjura management style and now they are ready for a more aggressive and proven leader.
Observer: You brought up John Rowland’s name. John is the economic coordinator working out of the Chamber of Commerce. Leo Frank heads up of the Waterbury Development Corporation. The Mayor has a few people, Kathy McNamara and Terri Calderone, doing a lot of his economic development and projects. There have been clashes over who is going to take over the remediation of the Chase complex on Thomaston Avenue, whether it is going to be WDC or the Mayor’s office. It seems like a lot of bad communication. You have addressed this before about people not playing well in the sandbox, but this might be the most devastating situation because it involves economic development. Take me through your thought process on dealing with WDC, John Rowland. and the mayor’s satff.
O’Leary: First of all, when I talk to you about those 9:00 meetings, let me tell you who is there. The Economic Development Director is there. Leo Frank in his capacity as CFO of WDC is there. Every other department head in the city is there, okay? There is no room for no one not to be there. The Economic Development Director in the City of Waterbury will not work out of the Chamber. He will work out of my office. He will have an office in my office. That is where the Economic Development Director will be. I don’t care who it is, that is where they are going to be. That is the most vital position in the city if we are going to get this grand list going in the right direction. We have to have someone who is going to be out there 24/7 attracting businesses to Waterbury. I personally like John Rowland. I personally like what he did for Waterbury. Listen, John Rowland has paid his price to society. I still like John Rowland, but I will say this, the Economic Director for the city of Waterbury in an O’Leary Administration is a full-time job. When I say full-time I don’t mean 8 hours a day. I mean 24/7. No other jobs.
Observer: No radio show?
O’Leary: No radio show. Do I agree with some of John Rowland’s points when he criticizes Governor Malloy on the radio? I might go so far to say that I can find some common ground of agreement, but how is it that the economic development director for the city of Waterbury can openly criticize the governor of the state of Connecticut and hope to bring economic development to the city of Waterbury? I’ve got an issue with that. That’s a big issue for Neil O’Leary. I’ve told this to John. To me you have to be all in. The Mayor has to be all in. The Economic Development Director has to be all in. The head of WDC has to be all in. These people have to be all in for the city. Forget their personalities, leave them at the door. They have to be able to work together and communicate with each other, but more importantly it’s the mayor’s job to set the tone. It’s the mayor’s job to create a vision. It’s the mayor’s job to say I want Downtown development, I want economic development, I want job creation. You people are in these jobs to help me and show us how together we are going to get this done. That’s not happening now, and it’s not a secret it’s not happening. I mean this is all going back to leadership styles. You can call it dictatorship, autocratic management style, you can call it whatever you want. I call it accountability. I call it earning respect. I have a way of getting the most out of people and I would like to think as mayor I will get the most out of people every day, all day, for the betterment of the city. That means economic development. That means lowering taxes or holding the line on taxes. That means growing the grand list, baby. That’s the only way you are going to do it. I know it sounds pie in the sky, but it’s not.
Observer: If you are elected Rowland is in your face for 8 months before his contract is up. He’d have to give up the radio show or he’s just gone?
O’Leary: I think that the relationship between Neil O’Leary and John Rowland is strong enough that we could have this conversation. We could have a powerful, productive conversation and try to figure out what John’s goals are for the rest of his career, and his life, and what the goals are that I would set forth for the city of Waterbury.
Observer: To see if they mesh?
O’Leary: Yes, to see if they mesh. John and I are close enough that if there was a difference of opinion that we would both know how to handle it, and we would do it the right way. This would not be a clash. This would be a collaborative effort to do the right thing for the city of Waterbury. And God knows, you can say what you want about John Rowland, but his heart is with the city of Waterbury.
Observer: Downtown Waterbury seems to be falling apart. Do you have a Downtown strategy?
O’Leary: Absolutely. First thing I’d do is put together a summit of all the stakeholders in Downtown. As a matter of fact, honestly, if I got elected November 8th, I’d like to do it the week after that. I’d like to invite Jim Smith, Waterbury Hospital, St.Mary’s Hospital, because now we’ve got that merge going on. I want LHP to be part of these discussions moving forward. I want all the property owners Phil Nargi, Hank Paine and Tom Gessler. I want all the significant stakeholders in a room. I’m not talking about for an hour. I’m asking them to come in for a day. We’re going to sit down and we are going to talk about Downtown Waterbury. I want all the business owners in there. People say you can’t deal with them. Bologna. You can deal with them. I’ve had a significant number of them sitting at my dining room table over the last year. I want to know what the needs of the retail people are. I want to know what the needs of the building owners are. I want to hear from them to alleviate the burden on them so that we can get Downtown Waterbury going in the right direction. I feel as though Downtown Waterbury is terribly, terribly, underdeveloped and has been forgotten about. I really believe it, and I’m not B.S.ing anybody. All you have to do is walk down South Main Street and look at the empty buildings. Look at Howland Hughes, look at Bank Street, look at Grand Street, look at Leavenworth Street, there are opportunities here.
I’m not an urban planner or developer, I’m not. But I do know one thing, there are plenty of agencies in this country that are. Look at Providence, RI, I know it’s different than Downtown Waterbury, but look at what they’ve done there. Look at other thriving urban environments similar to the size of Waterbury that have been able to do positive development in their downtowns. We have to get the right people in the room.
Observer: You are the facilitator?
O’Leary: I am the facilitator. I’m the collaborator. I’m the guy that is going to ask the stakeholders and property owners what their ideas are for Downtown Waterbury. More importantly John, I’m going to follow up on it. Not only am I going to put them in the room for the first time ever, but I’m going to follow up on it. They are going to come to the room. You know why? Because they respect me. They know that my heart is in doing the right thing for the city of Waterbury, which is beneficial to them. What are my visions? The daily newspaper doesn’t think so, but I don’t think that the Green should be the dumping station for the buses. I don’t know if I agree that the bus station should be moved down to Meadow Street. There may be alternative locations for that.
O’Leary: One of the areas that is under developed and underutilized is Commercial Street, there is plenty of room there. It’s right off of West Main Street between Sperry Street and Thomaston Avenue and it’s a big property back there. That was right off the top of my head. I believe what the people of Waterbury should be paying attention with Neil O’Leary is that I don’t have all the answers for development. We have a developer as the mayor and he hasn’t done a thing for Downtown Waterbury. That’s what they ought to be paying attention to. I want to put out an RFQ and RFP to work with the economic director, the WDC director and Carl Rosa at Main Street. Do you know of a more dedicated guy than Carl Rosa? I don’t. I don’t even know him, he’s not even a friend of mine but I know every time I talk to the guy he knows what he’s talking about. He gives me brochures and he has a vision. I like guys like that. I want to get those guys in a room and I want to talk to Jim Smith at Webster Bank and find out if there is any chance of a commitment from Webster to get this Downtown going. I’m hoping that there is. I think Jim Smith is a guy that is motivated to doing the right thing for Downtown Waterbury. I believe that you can tie in the Museum and the YMCA and all the churches and get your urban planner to make a traffic flow pattern that makes sense for the retail and the restaurants and the merchants. Maybe we make some streets that are one way. Maybe around the Green. Maybe we make Bank Street a pedestrian walk-way with sidewalks and fountains and a restaurant.
Observer: Outdoor dining?
O’Leary: Ahhhh. That could compliment the Palace Theater. When you talk to any restauranteur, when there is a show at the Palace, they are busting at the seams. All the way into Watertown and Naugatuck. Hello. We’ve got this beautiful magnificent theater that we are underutilizing. My thing is get the right people involved, but more importantly, it’s a psychological thing. Show the people of Waterbury and the Downtown stakeholders that you are willing to take a key role in providing leadership and hopefully some resources to get this thing done.
Observer: The Mayor will say that he has enaged Renaissance Downtown and he is paying attention.
O’Leary: I can only tell you what the Downtown developers and the property owners will tell you – Renaissance was a smoke and mirrors show. It’s all a bunch of bull. There was never any real opportunity for this. This group came in out of nowhere and has not provided any reasonable leadership to get these people motivated to agree on these plans. There was no real vetting process. They will say an RFP was put out and nobody responded. Well you know what, that’s not flying with me. If I put out an RFP and no one responds, then I’m going to get on the phone and find out why. Well because it’s tailored the wrong way or the right way or it doesn’t explain this or may not explain that. Who was part of putting that together? There are a lot of things we could go on about for the next two days. The fact is, not one ounce of real respectable leadership has been used in making an initiative in Downtown Waterbury.
Observer: When you talk about Downtown a huge issue is the public perception that it’s not safe. There are a lot of sensitive issues with homeless people, the group homes, and with the societal ills that seem to be drwan downtown. How would you deal with this?
O’Leary: There is a perception, real or not, that it’s not safe. I would argue that it is safe. I would also say though that there has been an uptick in panhandling and minor larceny. I shouldn’t classify a car break-in as a minor, but in the world of law enforcement, it is. There has been an uptick in car break-ins because people won’t put their GPSs away. I could break into your car in ten seconds, take your GPS and sell it at a pawn shop for ten bucks. Ten bucks for a homeless person is probably two days worth of food or booze. There is a huge problem with awareness that needs to be addressed by people who are leaving this stuff out. Whether it’s at the train station, Home Depot, Downtown, or in the ramp garages. By the way, it’s usually a small pocket of people that are related to car break-ins in a month period of time.
I would argue that Downtown is safe. However, I would argue that we need a little more visibility down there. By visibility I mean more bicycle police and more beat cops walking the beat. I’m an old school guy, I like the walking beat. I walked the beat myself in the early 80’s and I actually enjoyed it. I met every downtown business owner and I had a great time. It was a social 8 hours for me and I had a lot of fun doing it.
I’m not knocking the way the department is run today because I think it may be running better than it was when I was there (laughs). But I think that maybe because I’m Downtown now, and I’m on Grand Street, I see a little higher uptick in quality of life issues that I don’t particularly care for. Usually a higher visibility will not only make the customer and their store owner more comfortable, but it will also make the potential criminal less comfortable. Maybe Downtown Waterbury isn’t the right place for them to hang around anymore.
Observer: There is a psychological tipping point. I came out of a meeting last night in City Hall, it was 6:30 and I went walking down to Dreschers to have a beer. It was closed on Monday night. I walked around and there was nobody on the street. There was nobody on Grand Street or Bank Street, it was empty. This wasn’t midnight, it was 6:30 in Downtown Waterbury. The sun goes down and there’s nobody out doing anything good.
O’Leary: Well, there’s nothing to do. Really that’s the problem. You have to let me think now. You’ve got Dreschers, which is closed on Mondays. You’ve got The Turf, which is a nice little place. There really isn’t much else there. My vision is that we have more people living Downtown. You need people Downtown to bring Downtown back. People who are contributors.
Observer: It’s the chicken or egg thing. How do you get them down there?
O’Leary: You get the property owners excited that you have a vision, that you care, that you are a 24/7 mayor, that your whole life for the next two years is going to be getting done what you said you were going to get done. Confidence in leadership. These people – Hank Paine, Johnny Lombard and Phil Nargi will react if they are given incentives and given some degree of credibility that you mean what you say. That’s the difference between Laisezz Faire management style and Neil O’Leary. You can call my style anything you want, except for rude or disrespectful. I see a combination of Waterbury UConn busting at the seams and Post University bursting at its seams. I see an urban planner coming in and studying the city of Waterbury. A person you are going to pay some money for, but you are going to vet that person carefully. You are going to look at the cities he or she has come from. You are going to have all your stakeholders involved at the table. I can see plenty of opportunity for college-aged kids and residential facilities.
Observer: One of the difficulties with UConn is the way that it’s built. People drive in around the back, go into a ramp garage, go to their classes, go into a protected building, go back to their car and drive out of downtown. It’s a fortress that has it’s back turned to the whole community. UConn didn’t really want to move Downtown and there’s elements of fear in the way UConn and the Magnet Arts school are constructed. I talk to my 23-year-old daughter about downtown and she asks where the students are? Chelsea says she doesn’t feel their presence at all. There are no services built up around the students to lure them out of the fortress. How do we lure them out?
O’Leary: I don’t disagree with your assessment, but I would also say to you that there needs to be a real line of communication between the mayor and the President of UConn. Bill Pizzuto is probably as dyed-in-the wool Waterburian as anybody could hope for. The fact that he is the president is a miracle, a local boy that did well. Bill is a former Alderman and a guy who gets it. You have to engage these people. What does he think we should be doing on East Main Street? I understand that through an initiative by Senator Hartley that they are going to try and purchase the Rectory building. They are going to make that UConn. Joan has secured some money for the purchase of the building and then we have to find more money to remodel. What are we going to put in there? One thing is a Starbucks.
Observer: That will lure the students out.
O’Leary: Yes it will. This will be a collaborative effort between the school and the community. I still say that area is very safe. Don’t forget you have the UConn police department right there. We have to take a holistic approach. Who goes to Waterbury UConn? Kids who are going to day classes and night classes. Most of them are not from Waterbury. Most of them are going to UConn Waterbury because that’s all they can afford to do, and guess where else they are going? Work. So they are going to class, going to work, or going to work, coming to class and going to bed. I say you sit with the new UConn President, the president of the local branch, your urban planner, your stakeholders on the East Main Street corridor and you develop curriculum that is going to attract a different style of student. Maybe you make your night classes a little different than your day classes. Maybe you start to run more graduate programs in the evening so you and I going to graduate class in public administration are going to walk across the street and get a club sandwich and a beer over here. You have to say “Billy Pizzuto you tell me how we can make Downtown Waterbury friendlier and more accessible to your clientele.” Let’s talk about curriculum and get people that want to support our downtown community into these classes. Western Connecticut in Danbury has a lot of their businesses at night supported by their student population. That’s pretty cool. So, let’s study them and see how they did it.
Observer: Another issue in Downtown is this fairly controversial transportation center. Apparently we were going to be knocking down the former SNET building which kind of removes a psychological barrier there because a lot of crap is happening behind that building. What are your thoughts about that?
O’Leary: When they first came up with the intermodal transportation center I was police chief and I committed a precinct to it. High visibility police, staffed 24/7, like you see in Hartford and New Haven. Again, we are always fighting safety perception in that area. There isn’t violent crime in that neighborhood, but there is enough petty crime that no one parks there anymore. They go to Naugatuck, or wherever.
We have the rail line, John. The rail line to me is so key, especially now with gas at $4 a gallon. People are looking at alternative forms of transportation. There has got to be a study and this is where you bring the Republican-American paper in and make them stakeholders. They own the property down there. What do they see? Now, the paper has taken a stance that they don’t like the intermodal transportation center there. That was the original stance, but if you read today’s editorial it seems as though they are backing off on that a little bit. I’m not sure how the publisher feels about it exactly, but I know one thing, open up the lines of communication.
Observer: Get Bill Pape to the table?
O’Leary: No, this is Will Pape, his son. I don’t know Will Pape that well, but I did spend a few hours talking to him a year ago when I told him we were talking about Downtown development. He’s a huge stakeholder in Downtown Waterbury and he had so many different ideas with what can be done, but he’s frustrated. He has a big presence on the Chamber now, but he expressed some frustration to me that nobody listens. See, John? That’s the example. Whether you talk to Will Pape, Hank Paine, John Lombard, Phil Nargi, I don’t want to throw Jim Smith under the bus, so we won’t.
Observer – You just did.
O’Leary – I guess I did, but here isn’t a conduit for communication and god knows that Jim Smith is our biggest landlord downtown. People come in and out of Webster Bank all day long. Webster Bank is our hub, so let’s build off of that hub and give them some respect. Let’s sit down with them and talk with them and see what they believe they see for Downtown Waterbury. They won’t be shy about telling you. They’re not. I’ve had this conversation with Jim Smith on numerous occasions. This is going to be what I see as the difference between the leadership style of Mike Jarjura and Neil O’Leary.
Both O’Leary and Jarjura talk with political king-maker, Republican-American publisher, Bill Pape, during an event at PAL, on Division Street, in the North End of Waterbury. The daily newspaper in Waterbury has a national reputation for unfairly flexing its muscle for Republican candidates for local, state and federal office. O’Leary, once a target of the newspaper, has built a solid relationship with Pape, and the Republican-American has been a staunch supporter of PAL. When O’Leary announced in February that he was seeking the mayor’s office the Rep-Am’s coverage was positive. The tide shifted when Jarjura became a Republican, and now O’Leary, his supporters, and knowledgeable insiders await the next political trick from the Republican-American newspaper in a Waterbury municipal election.
Observer: There was a book written a couple years ago by Doris Goodwin Kearns called “Team of Rivals”. It is about Abraham Lincoln after he was elected in 1861. He immediately brought his chief rivals into his cabinet. He then took this highly contentious and partisan scene and brought them in and made them part of the solution. After the ballots are cast in Waterbury the losers are almost always vanquished along with any beneficial ideas they had for the city. Could you form a team of rivals?
O’Leary: I just recently got to know Larry De Pillo. I don’t know why, we just were never in the same circle where we ever had more than a minute long conversation. I went to lunch with Larry about six weeks ago. I found him fascinating. Truthfully. I really enjoyed his company. It was a one hour lunch that turned into a 3 hour sit down. I’ve watched his role on the Board of Aldermen and I think he is the ultimate checks and balances guy. The difference I think between Larry and me is vision. Larry is no, no, no. I’m not yes, yes, yes, I’m somewhere in the middle, but I also can see where I think Waterbury should be going. I don’t get that from Larry. Maybe I will over the next six week, but I don’t see the vision.
With Mike Jarjura I don’t see the vision at all. I just see the day to day managing. Mike Jarjura suggested on the radio that if I were to become Mayor that I would get rid of all the department heads. I was pretty infuriated. What Mike Jarjura has forgotten about is that I worked with these people and that I respect them. Joe Geary, director of operations, well, I don’t know of a harder working guy. I don’t know of a better guy with a great repoire with the constituents like Joseph Geary. I’ve known Joe since he was a worker in the Parks Department. Joe would be a vital part of my administration. Truthfully. Ophelia Mattos, the budget director, I learned more from Ophelia Mattos than probably any other person in finance while I was a police chief. How to craft a real budget and how to live within the budget. I admire Ophelia Mattos and she knows that. Mike LeBlanc, the finance guy, is a guy I had very little contact with because he was coming in as I was going out. I’ve heard nothing but enormous praise for him and his abilities. So, I see the team being very similar in that regard to what you have today. Obviously there are other positions that some people might stay, some people might go. Obviously any Mayor would want the people around him who he thinks share the vision that got him elected. I think those three people share the vision of what is best for the city of Waterbury. All the time. Every day. So, I really believe in those people. To covet the enemy like Mike has by hiring the reporter who was the biggest public critic of him and putting him on the payroll, that won’t be happening. What I will be doing is hire people I think that can bring ideas to further our vision and our agenda.
Observer: Larry De Pillo told me a very compelling story about water bottling and Michael Sendzimir. Larry had met with Sendzimir, who was known throughout the world, and Sendzimir had promised to help the city land a water bottling facility. It sounded like there was a real possibility there. When Jarjura was elected, he said he would listen to everyone’s ideas. He went and met with Larry for coffee in Prospect. Larry said he wanted to help and move this idea forward, but Jarjura was not inclined to pursue the idea because it would politically empower De Pillo. How would you deal with your opponents and their ideas?
O’Leary: I process it this way. What can that person bring to the table? If that person can bring a bottling company. I’ll give them a job right in my office. Larry De Pillo or Joe Blow. If Larry can bring a bottling processing company to the city of Waterbury he can have my desk (laughter). All I want is what is best for the city of Waterbury. This is another good thing for the voters of the city to decide on, I am not a career politician. I am not ten years in the legislature, ten years in the mayor’s office. I am not that guy and I won’t be that guy. I will not be in political life that long.
I am doing this for one reason and one reason only. I have been approached by a group of people, including the Mayor some time ago, to run for office because they thought I had what it took to be an effective leader. I started to process it and think it. I started to see the successes I had as the police chief and in the department. I started to think, holy cow if I was the mayor, wow man, I could make this whole town a better place. That’s it for me. I’m not going to be a career mayor. I want to get my job done. I’m a big believer in passing the wand. I’m not a big power guy.
Listen, if I was interested in power and ego I’d still be the police chief of Waterbury. Doesn’t mean a thing to me. I think because I grew up in it to some degree, it doesn’t mean a lot to me. What means a lot to me is affecting change and making a difference.
My father said to me the day I got sworn into the police department that I was going to be in a position to make a difference in many different ways. Make a difference. That’s what your job is. It’s not to go out and arrest all the bad guys and change the world. Make a difference in people’s lives. I think we did that in the police department at many different levels.
I can also tell you that’s what has gotten me thinking that with the right people from all walks of life we can have a positive impact on Waterbury. If Larry De Pillo wants to bring in a company here, he can sit right at my desk as long as you want, just bring the company in.
That’s why I was so successful at PAL. I have a lot of friends and a lot of supporters but people I had no relationship with wanted to support PAL because they saw we were making a difference. That’s what I really think is going to happen to Waterbury. I think people are going to say we have an opportunity to move the city forward, and this is what I think we need to do. I’m getting too long winded, huh?
Observer: No, not yet. These are important issues. If you were elected mayor would you impanel a charter revision commission, and if so, what would be your top priority?
O’Leary: (Big laugh) Oh that’s a good one. Well, what are the burning questions for Charter Revision? Aldermen by District, taking the school superintendent of school position out of civil service, and making the mayor’s term four years, instead of two. Let me just say this, I go back and forth about Aldermenn by District because I believe that there are neighborhoods in the city of Waterbury that are under-represented. I do. I’m not sure I know what the answer to that is. As far as the school superintendent search out of civil service, let me tell you, I was all for taking it out because we are the only ones in the country that do it. Under Peter Abare-Brown it has potential. Under his leadership, this search went pretty well.
Lastly, the two year to four year thing is a big issue. The only problem having a mayor run every other year makes it hard on the mayor to make hard decisions. If you have a mayor that is thinking nothing but getting elected all the time it’s not good for the city. It’s not. He is going to make decisions that are going to get him elected instead of decisions that are harder and could possibly cost him the election. In a perfect world I think the mayor’s position in this city should be four years. We have talked about this and the voters have been clear – they want it to be a two -year term. I’m not sure that that is the right thing though.
Observer: I don’t think ideas that emerge from charter revision are well explained to the public. The public is not informed, or misinformed. Even with Aldermen by District it boils down to a lot of rhetoric and race baiting and stupidity.
O’Leary: I agree. I think the Mayor bares some of that responsibility. The Mayor has never got out in front of a Charter Revision question. Why? Because it’s not politically correct to do that. I think the Mayor could have had some impact on some of the charter revision issues that have gone down over the years. If the people of Waterbury feel that we need charter revision in the first two years of my term I’m all for it. If they have ideas that can help make government move forward in Waterbury, I’m all for it.
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?
O’Leary: I have a huge position on building a senior center. I’m for it.
Observer: One big one?
O’Leary: They have the one that is slated to be built on the old Mattatuck site. I think it’s a great start. I don’t think it’s big enough and it may only appeal to the people on the East side of town. A lot of the seniors are meeting in different locations around the city and they are splintered and not together. One of the things I enjoyed the most when I was the Wolcott Police Chief was that their senior center was right next door. Everyday that center was a beehive of activity. I enjoyed it over there. Oh, and by the way, a large percentage of those people were Waterbury people.
You go out there tomorrow at breakfast and I bet you a third of those people are from Waterbury, because, of course, we don’t have that. I believe that senior citizens have been severely under represented in Waterbury, especially under Mike Jarjura’s administration. Mike Jarjura has talked about things for the seniors and has followed through on very little. That’s a big thing for me. I’m a big senior guy, always was as a cop, always will be. When I hear the horror stories of people selling furniture to get prescription medication for their wife, whichIi just heard last week, I have a big issues with that. We do not do right by the seniors who made us what we are today. These are the people that worked the twelve hour shifts at Scovills and Chase and we are letting them go by the wayside.
Observer: How can you help?
O’Leary: Again, it’s style of leadership. It’s taking control. It’s identifying and meeting with the constituencies from the senior community whether it’s on the East End or West End or Town Plot.
Observer: So you’ll use the same model with every issue?
O’Leary: You have to open up lines of communication. More importantly, you have to let them know that you care, and you have to show up. Jarjura shows up at all the senior buildings and he brings pizza and that’s all good. But that’s just a bandaid approach to the real issues that are impacting the seniors in the city. They are on fixed incomes. They are struggling to survive. Their healthcare coverage is inadequate. These are things that you have to learn about to make a difference. You have to learn through our federal legislatures and state legislatures and what our city can do. We have to take care of the people that took care of us. I want to see exactly how the senior center on the East End is going to work. I want communication between all the senior places. A network and transportation, I want to give the seniors the absolute total feeling that we care.
Observer: Your personal life has been plastered across the front page of the Republican-American newspaper these past few weeks. You remarried your first wife the day before you retired as police chief in June 2009, which entitles her to collect your pension benefits if you should die before her. Most people understand that Neil O’Leary was taking care of his family. What raised eyebrows is that very few people knew about the remarriage, including your sister, who was your wife’s direct supervisor at Regan School. As a member of the Board of Education for the past two years did you realize you had placed your sister in a compromising situation? What were you thinking?
O’Leary: Anybody who knows me knows I would never put my sister in that position. I think the hardest thing for me over this issue, which I’ll readily admit could have been handled differently, was that I did put my sister in this position. Anyone that knows my sister knows that she is a firm principal that goes by the rules. I was embarrassed by the fact that I didn’t know about the nepotism policy. Some would argue that I should have known about it. You know what? The buck stops here. I’m not a finger pointing guy. Should I have known about it? You know when you get placed on the Board of Education they give you a big packet and tell you to read it. And, I’ll show it to you, there is nothing in this notebook about a nepotism policy. I have come to find out that although the administrators union agreed to the city’s nepotism policy in 2006, it didn’t go on the Board of Ed until 2009. The Teacher’s Union in 2006 did not agree on the nepotism policy, taking it to a grievance. The Teachers Union, that’s who my wife, Kathy, falls under. The principals fall under the Administrators Union which is a separate union. So, unfortunately I had no idea about the nepotism policy, nor did Kathy.
Observer: When did you go on the Board of Education?
O’Leary: June of 2009.
Observer: Right after you retired?
O’Leary: Yeah. So what happened is at my retirement party they swore me in. What happened is that when the Teacher’s Union contract was arbitrated and settled in July 2010, part of the union settlement agreement included the nepotism policy, but unfortunately, the school administrators and I guess the WTA didn’t put it out. The nepotism policy was only distributed last week when this whole issue came to light.
Was I embarrassed about it? Of course I was. You know, John, I’m standing here, I’m a good guy, and nothing is more important to me than my family. Now my personal private life is on the front page of the newspaper. I don’t think people have any problem understanding that if I die I believe my children should be entitled to the spousal pension that was available at the time of my retirement. I truly believe that. People don’t have a problem with that. I put 30 years in with the city. I would argue I worked as hard as anyone, right? I think that’s fair. But to put my sister in that position was shocking.
When Noreen interviewed for the position at Regan I wasn’t on the school board. That was in April of 2009. She was appointed to the position in May 2009. Then she started as a principal at Regan school. I was sworn onto the Board in June of 2009, and got married the day or two before. Kathy didn’t know she was supposed to notify Noreen that we were married, and I certainly didn’t know it, and Noreen didn’t know it. So, Noreen doesn’t know we are married, she’s my sister, why?
Well, I have a big family. Noreen is as close to me as any of my brothers and sisters. People are probably thinking they are a big family and don’t talk to each other. Not true. As a matter of fact, we talk to each other frequently. Noreen has three children that I am very close to, and one of her youngest is like a sister to my daughter, Maggie. who, at that time, was just seven years old. Maggie, like every child, would love to see their Mommy and Daddy back together. Explaining the remarriage to Maggie was going to be confusing, I was marrying Maggie’s brother’s mother (laugh). That’s complicated.
Time went on and we didn’t share this information with Noreen and I haven’t said this to anyone else, but I’m telling you, as close as my daughter Maggie is to Noreen’s daughter, Claire, we just didn’t want Maggie to find out that I was married through a niece or nephew. We figured when Maggie got a little bit older that we would explain it to her. In the meantime, Maggie is over my sister Noreen’s house all the time, they vacation together, things like that. So, we didn’t address the issue.
Other than what I just explained there was no reason not to tell Noreen. After I found out about the nepotism policy, I felt awful, because had I known about it, I never would have done it. I was shocked. Listen, I wrote family policy in the town of Wolcott. It’s not like I don’t get it. I’m the one that passed policy where husbands and wives and sisters and brothers can’t be in the same chain of command. It’s not like I’m some kind of hypocrite here. I believe in it. I wish we had handled it differently. It brought some embarrassment to me, which I can get over. To Kathy, anybody knows Kathy O’Leary loves her. She is just a nice easy going person, beautiful inside and out. Noreen is a leader. She is tough. Noreen and I have a bit of resemblance in our personalities. Our friends and family, most people support us. I have been quick to say both in the newspaper and radio that if I had known about it I certainly wouldn’t have kept it from her. Looking back on it, I think we could have handled it differently.
Observer: Do you think this is a fair subject for the media to be plumbing around?
O’Leary: I’m a little disappointed and I’ll tell you why. If it wasn’t political, if it wasn’t politically driven, I’ve got no problem explaining my life to people. But it was politically driven. All the people down in City Hall will deny that, but hey knew I was married. They knew I was married in June 2009. Jarjura knew that. They sat on it like I was doing something wrong and I think it backfired on them to some degree. If it wasn’t for the nepotism policy it would have backfired completely on them because I think people understand that I worked very hard for this city, and that my children are entitled to a benefit if I die.
Observer: They still work together now?
O’Leary: Right. Kathy is a phenomenal teacher. Noreen is a phenomenal teacher as well. They are both highly regarded educators in the system. Whether the central office staff would have separated them or not, I don’t know. If they had wanted Kathy to go to another school she would have.
Observer: Snead was quick to point out the politics in the whole thing.
O’Leary: Because he knew there was politics involved.
Observer: Because he was victimized by politics himself.
O’Leary: He was and Dr.Snead knew clearly that this was politically driven. That bothers me because I know a lot of things, John Murray, about a lot of personal things. I am not that kind of guy and I will never be that kind of guy. The story was politically driven, there’s no question. They know it was politically driven and that does bother me. You know what? That’s part of the game.
Observer: Both you and Mike know a lot about each other because you guys were on the same team for so long. A lot of people are cringing in Waterbury at what is going to come next. You had your problems aired out in the paper and on the same day Mayor Jarjura had his issue aired out about his East Main Street property and the brothel he was renting it out to. You were very involved in that as the police chief, so take me through this issue from your perspective.
O’Leary: The massage parlor thing?
O’Leary: When Mike Jarjura got so vocal about the zone changes about the strip clubs earlier this year I thought that was kind of a dog and pony show. I was just surprised that the Mayor was so engaged on that issue. Why did he choose that issue? He went to the paper to oppose this change, the 750 feet door to door boundary to boundary. Look he’s the Mayor. That was his issue. Did I oppose his opinion on the issue? Absolutely not. Personally, I don’t go to strip clubs, but the good news in Waterbury is they don’t seem to be generating any crime, which is a good thing for me. They are located kind of out of the way. We all know we live in a city and in an urban city you are going to have a certain amount of that stuff. It’s called the constitution and freedom of speech. So, Mike got involved in that.
Then after his quote in the paper that he wasn’t going to allow that filth in the city, we got some calls in my campaign headquarters. They were simple and they were saying “I don’t understand what this guy is doing because he owned a massage parlor.”
When my people said that people were calling and saying that, I said no he didn’t own a massage parlor. I said he used to own a building that contained a massage parlor, but he sold it. They said they were just telling me what people were saying. I said I’m telling you they are wrong. There is a perception out there that is inaccurate.
Then a couple more people called and said no he sold the building, but he owns the building and held the paper on the building. I said, “Jeez, I remember having a conversation about this and the mayor told me he sold the building.” He didn’t tell me he held the paper on it, but my position on it was, look, I still don’t know how to feel about it, John.
If I thought that Mike Jarjura had a firm knowledge of what was going on inside that building, I would be angry. I would be. We found out in 2005 and 2006 that these were nothing more than houses of prostitution. What made it even more horrific was that they were houses of prostitution for Korean women who were being trafficked for that illegal activity. In other words, in my mind, if someone is willing to engage in prostitution as a willing participant that is different than if you are importing people from another country against their will to perform sex to protect their families in Korea, or families here, or to tax them for a supposed better life. I got a big issue with that.
Now, Mike Jarjura’s position is that he had no idea what was going on in there and that the cops should have known. In 2002, when there was this Hawaiian Acupuncture place in there we didn’t know what it was. I honestly thought it was one of those nail salons or something. But when the rumors started to circulate that there was this type of activity in there, and the rumors circulated that Mike Jarjura owned that building, I asked him if he owned it. He said no, that he had sold it.
I didn’t tell him what was going on because we had a high intelligence investigation going on and we knocked off all those places successfully and we won a conviction for human trafficking, which was one of the high points of my career. After reading the sordid details of what these kids went through it was really sickening. The Mayor says he didn’t know what was going on in there. Some people dispute that. He has stated his position and I don’t have any direct knowledge that he knew other wise. It is what it is. I feel that this campaign has asked him to explain his position, and he explained it to the public, which is what the Mayor should do. Unless there is any information that there is anything different, I think his explanation stands at this particular point in time.
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?
Observer: Paint a picture.
O’Leary: First of all, I will be 77. Will I still be here? (laughs). Oh God. Well there is not a lot of longevity in these O’Leary genes, which was part of the benefits issue. What I would love to see in the city of Waterbury in 25 years is what any mayor would love to see – a thriving metropolis. I love this city for the diversity. I love it for the Albanian population, the Honduran population and the Indian population. I’d like to see it still as a melting pot for all ethnicities and walks of life. I’d like it to be a healthy financially.
I’m a firm believer that manufacturing isn’t dead. I’m a firm believer that the people that are shipping all these things over seas will realize in 25 years that the quality of work isn’t what it could be, and should be. In 25 years all of our overseas competitors will have unions and it will be just as cheap to keep it here. I think we are on the cusp of a little rebirth of manufacturing in the city.
Observer: The city is looking for an identity. We are trying to figure out who we are. In 25 years there could be something that comes that we are looking for. What do you see?
O’Leary: Biomedical technology. I believe we have the ability to support that. We have a workforce that is educucatable. We have a work ethic. We certainly have water, it is our biggest asset. What i would love to see is Larry De Pillo, or anyone, be able to attract businesses into this city utilizing our water. I see those three, thirty-six inch pipes up in Morris that are feeding the city, and the surrounding towns, and we don’t even use 20% of what our capacity is on a daily basis. I feel water is our future.
We can be the water capital. WATERbury. Every time I go up to Morris and Warren I dream of what we can do with it. So, I would pray that whether it’s biomedical or computer software manufacturing, which takes a lot of cooling, I’d like to think that we could attract businesses to use our water. We are one of the water richest communities in the country.
With water and desire, anything is possible.