The two candidates for mayor in Ansonia answered questions from students during a “Meet the Candidates” event at the high school Wednesday.
The students posed questions to Democratic nominee Tarek Raslan and two-term Republican incumbent David Cassetti during the event, which was sponsored by the Ansonia Federation of Teachers.
In the run-up to the forum, Cassetti had not been expected to attend due to a scheduling conflict.
Tuesday’s candidate forum had originally been planned as a mayoral debate.
The two candidates had been scheduled to debate at the high school Oct. 26, but those plans unraveled after the candidates couldn’t agree on a time to rearrange the event because it conflicted with a football game.
Before Wednesday’s forum, Cassetti was at the Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Gold Seal Awards banquet at the Villa Bianca Inn in Seymour, which ran from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The night’s highest honor, the Platinum Award, went to Ansonia resident Diane Stroman for her years of community service to the Valley.
The mayor left the banquet about halfway through to go to the candidates’ forum.
He said he made the decision to avoid snubbing the students who participated in the event.
“I was thinking of the children, of the kids,” Cassetti said. “They had some real interesting questions and I wanted to be there to answer their questions.”
Mathew Hough, a teacher who organized the event, said he was glad Cassetti came — but that he would have liked to have had some advance notice.
“The Mayor did show, albeit after Mr. Raslan had started his introduction,” Hough said in an email. “While I am certainly pleased that the mayor decided to attend, I would have appreciated being given a heads up that he would be attending. I made several attempts to contact his team leading up to the event with zero response.”
Hough said he figured the mayor would show up when he saw Sheila O’Malley, the city’s economic development director and grants writer, in the audience.
Cassetti said he decided last week to attend the forum but his advisers were non-committal publicly in case he ended up being busy.
Hough said he thinks Cassetti kept his attendance close to the vest for other reasons.
“I believe they wanted to limit the attendance at the event and then he came in at the last minute in order to look like he was extremely busy, but took time out of his schedule for the benefit of the students,” he said.
In an email, Raslan said he was glad the mayor decided to attend.
“After saying for two weeks that he was too busy to debate, I’m glad Cassetti decided to show up, it lets the students know that their candidates are listening and respecting their concerns,” he said.
At the same time, he said the mayor’s last-minute entrance “let a lot of his supporters down.”
“I know people in town that support Cassetti and wanted him to participate, and for them to attend a live debate, but showing up without notice meant that a lot of them stayed home and missed the opportunity, which they’re not happy about,” Raslan said.
Political and policy disagreements aside, one thing everyone who participated agreed on — the students who participated did a good job.
“I think they asked some very good questions. It was a mixture of city business and education. Very informative,” Cassetti said.
Raslan said the students “did an excellent job in preparing their questions and delivering them.”
Hough said he was extremely proud of the students.
“They showed that they took their task seriously and came up with great questions for the candidates,” he said. “We have great students and we need to find more opportunities to allow them to shine.”
About 100 people attended the forum, according to a story from the New Haven Register.
During the discussion, Raslan said the city needs to attract more economic growth than it has been to stay on pace with spending increases.
Cassetti pointed to new businesses that have moved to the city and it successful retention of the Farrel Corp., which relocated to a new headquarters in the Fountain Lake development.
The candidates also answered questions from students about education.
Cassetti stressed the importance of regionalization, according to the Register.
Raslan said teachers’ salaries should be increased to attract be more competitive, a point with which the mayor agreed.
Candidates from both the Republican and Democratic under-tickets also introduced themselves to voters during the event.
Click the play button below to listen to a debate between the two candidates conducted in The Valley Indy office in Ansonia earlier this month:
Click the play button below to listen to an audio interview with Mayor Cassetti:
Click the play button below to listen to an audio interview with Tarek Raslan: