Photographs By John Murray
Waterbury mayor Mike Jarjura laughed at a point being made by Democrat challenger Neil O’Leary during a spirited debate sponsored by the Greater Waterbury Chapter of the National Congress of Black Women last night in the NOW auditorium, on North Main Street, in Waterbury. In an evening filled with political theater, the three candidates vying for mayor verbally jousted for nearly two hours. At one point during the debate Mayor Jarjura blamed O’Leary, who is a school board commissioner, for the fact that 21 schools in Waterbury have failed to meet state and federal standards. O’Leary, in the photograph above, reminded Jarjura that he is also a member of the board of education, and as the mayor, Jarjura should accept ultimate responsibility for the conditions in the schools.
Independent Party candidate Larry De Pillo was at the top of his game last night. He spoke forcibly about bringing manufacturing jobs back to Waterbury and the need for better leadership in the city.
Most of the inter-personal jousting was between Mayor Jarjura, left, and Neil O’Leary, right. The most contentious moment between the two occurred during an exchange over the recent search for superintendent of schools. Jarjura said he had supported Dr. Portia Bonner, a black woman from Waterbury, and said that it was a tragedy she hadn’t been hired. Seconds later O’Leary told the audience he was troubled by Jarjura’s statement because the mayor had accepted Dr. Kathleen Ouellette’s $205,000 salary, which was $5000 more than had been authorized. O’Leary said the mayor could have rejected Ouellete’s demand and hired Dr. Bonner. The audience gasped and groaned at the charge, which Jarjura called a lie. O’Leary rebutted that anyone who wanted to know the truth just had to ask Karen Harvey, a black member of the school board, who was in the executive sessions during the contract negotiations.
The auditorium in the NOW buidling on North Main Street was a standing room only mix of political candidates and members of Waterbury’s minority community.
The audience paid rapt attention to the question and answers, and several times erupted in applause.
Minutes before the debate started, Mayor Jarjura sat calmly by himself and studied his opening and closing remarks. O’Leary is in the background waving to a supporter.
Mayor Jarjura touted the diversity on the Republican ticket and said it might have the most female representation of any ticket in city history. Three GOP slate members, Lynnette Piombo, left, Lysa Margiotta and JoAnne D’Amelio confer before the debate. In the background State Rep. Tony D’Amelio chats with Larry De Pillo and Democrat alderman Tony Piccochi.
Mayor Jarjura vigorously defended his ten-year record of balancing city budgets, reforming financial practices in municipal government, and restoring trust in leadership. At times Jarjura found himself being harshly criticized by both De Pillo and O’Leary, and during one rebuttal he said, “I’m not sure what city Larry De Pillo lives in, but it’s not the same one I live in.” When it was O’Leary’s turn he said he lived in the same city as Larry.
O’Leary continued to pound on the themes he has espoused on WATR, in the Q&A in the Observer and on public access television. O’Leary said it’s time for the citizens to hire a mayor who will treat the position as a full-time job.
Not known for his comedic wit, Larry De Pillo unleashed his inner Jerry Seinfeld last night and provided the debate with surprising moments of humor and levity. If the debate were judged on crowd response, De Pillo was the clear winner of the debate.
Mayor Jarjura gave a blistering response to an allegation by O’Leary that his administration had not been inclusive and had no minority representation in the Mayor’s Office. Jarjura said he is an Arab-American and had experienced discrimination himself. Jarjura said he was a uniter, not a divider.
The panel asked a probing question about the Waterbury Development Corporation and how the candidates would ensure that WDC focused some its energy and finances on the North End and South End of the city. De Pillo said he had no confidence in WDC’s work in the minority neighborhoods, or in the city at large. If elected, De Pillo seeks to reform WDC. Mayor Jarjura touted the work WDC has performed and said there has been substantial focus on the minority neighborhoods under his administration. O’Leary was careful not to blame WDC, but blasted the mayor’s leadership style that allowed fiefdoms to form in city government. O’Leary said certain people in influential positions in government do not speak to one another because of spates and personality differences. O’Leary said if he is elected mayor he would not tolerate that behavior.
O’Leary stated he was upset about an incident the preceding week where he lost the only Hispanic representative from his ticket. He vowed if he were elected he would have minority representation inside the mayor’s office – an African-American, an Hispanic, an Albanian. When it was De Pillo’s turn to speak he said the Independent Party had the most diverse ticket in Waterbury – three Hispanics and three black candidates. The Republican ticket has no Hispanics, one black, and six women.
The three candidates have aggressively placed their ideas before the electorate. They have done several special interviews on WATR, and will have a debate on the radio as well. The candidates have debated at the WOW Community Center, at a downtown business forum, at a senior center (Village at East Farms), inside the pages of the Waterbury Observer, on public access television, and in the Republican-American newspaper. The three men have laid out their views and it comes down to stay the course, or change. The voters will decide on November 8th.
Larry De Pillo was unusually animated during last night’s event. He has placed his name before the Waterbury electorate 14 years in a row, and this will be his sixth time running for mayor. De Pillo lost to Phil Giordano in a squeaker in 1999, and lost to Mike Jarjura in 2001 by 14 votes. This might be De Pillo’s last campaign and he is clearly enjoying the experience.
Neil O’Leary spent his working life in law enforcement and rose to the rank of Chief of Police in Waterbury. He has stated that his greatest accomplishment has been the re-emergence of the PAL program in the city. When O’Leary took over the helm inside police headquarters PAL had 80 students involved. Now there are more than 3500 students in PAL, and O’Leary is pursuing plans to expand the program in the Brooklyn and South End neighborhoods. The central theme to O’Leary’s campaign is leadership style, and the need to hold city employees accountable.
Mike Jarjura has had an astonishing political life in Waterbury. He was elected State Representative of the 74th District five times, and has tied the record of consecutive terms in office (five) with former mayor Mike Bergin. The highlight – so far – of Jarjura’s career was his stunning write-in victory in 2005. Jarjura lost a primary to Karen Mulcahy and was unable to get his name on the ballot. Jarjura then convinced Waterbury voters to use a #2 pencil to scribble the name “Jarjura” as a write in candidate. With the victory he became the 5th person in American history to win a major political office in a write-in campaign.
The last question posed to the candidates asked, “What one person in history would you consult for guidance, and why?”. Mayor Jarjura said he would consult Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy. O’Leary said he would consult John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan. De Pillo was the only one who answered the question with a single answer, he said he would consult with Teddy Roosevelt. De Pillo said Roosevelt had started the FDA, the National Park Service, and when politics got rough he launched his own political party, The Bull Moose Party. De Pillo said, like Roosevelt, he never gives up, a line that drew a huge response from the audience. As the crowd erupted, De Pillo burst into laughter. A nice moment for a man who has dedicated three decades to community service in Waterbury.