By John Murray

Larry Rifkin and WATR radio provided a tremendous community service by hosting a two-hour live debate between the three mayoral candidates in Waterbury. Coming just six days before the November 8th election the debate was thoughtful, probing, substantive, and during commercial breaks – hilarious.

Five-term incumbent Mike Jarjura, now a Republican, said it was imperative that the new hospital formed between St. Mary’s and Waterbury Hospital be built in Waterbury. Jarjura said talks have been ongoing and amicable between the hospitals and the city. Both Democrat Neil O’Leary and Independent Party candidate Larry De Pillo agreed with Jarjura’s position, and said it was critical that the new hospital be built in the downtown commercial district.

Neil O’Leary listened to Mike Jarjura explain why high taxes in Waterbury were the result of the corruption that preceded the Jarjura administration. Jarjura said previous administrations had failed to implement revaluation, a critical factor that led to the state takeover and Waterbury’s high mil rate. Seconds after this image was taken, O’Leary shook his head and countered that as a state representative in the 1990s Mike Jarjura had voted to delay revaluation three times. In his rebuttal Jarjura said the state delegation did what was asked of them by then mayor Phil Giorodano, and that none of the delegation was aware of the voodoo economics Giordano was using to conceal financial information from the public, and from elected officials. O’Leary countered that Jarjura had failed to stand up and stop revaluation delays and was complicit in creating the factors that have resulted in high taxes in Waterbury.

Larry De Pillo said the high taxes in Waterbury are the result of city officials failing to retain Waterbury’s industrial and commercial base, and a failure to recruit new businesses to build the grand list. De Pillo said there has been too much attention by recent mayors to concentrate on personal economic development and not enough on the economic development that will build the grand list and lighten the tax load on city residents.

WATR’s Larry Rifkin asked the candidates what the biggest missed opportunity in Waterbury was during the past 30 years. Jarjura said it was allowing ESPN to end up in Bristol, instead of Waterbury. O’Leary said the biggest missed opportunity has been the lack of vision by Mike Jarjura in the past five years, and De Pillo criticized the self-interest of city officials for repeatedly blowing great development projects in Waterbury.

Jarjura, left, and O’Leary, right, have waged bruising campaigns in 2011. For the past ten years they have been political allies, but this year O’Leary wrested control of the Democrat Party from the five-term incumbent, forcing Jarjura to switch to the Republican Party. The political jousting has been likened to a bitter divorce, which will be decided on November 8th.

During commercial breaks Rifkin turned down the volume on the broadcast inside the booth so the candidates didn’t have to listen to the harsh commercials their campaigns had produced attacking one another. Instead of venom, the commercial breaks were a chance for the candidates to release some of the tension that has been building for the past ten months. When asked who their political hero was, De Pillo said Teddy Roosevelt, O’Leary said John Kennedy, and Jarjura said Abraham Lincoln. 

De Pillo, not known for his jovial personality, has become a foil to the two major party candidates. He has stayed out of the contentious jousting between O’Leary and Jarjura, and seemed to enjoy this campaign more than his previous five attempts to win the mayor’s seat in Waterbury.

WATR host Larry Rifkin asked probing questions and then gently guided the debate forward, sometimes holding up a finger or pencil when a candidate was hogging too much air time.

For the past five days the bizarre Halloween nor’easter has shoved the municipal election into the shadows. Now, with just five days before the election, the three candidates have to re-energize their supporters. Whoever gets the vote out on Tuesday, will win.