Two-term incumbent Ansonia David Cassetti will face challenger Tarek Raslan in the municipal election Nov. 7.
Cassetti is a Republican. Prior to his election in 2013, he owned a construction business on Riverside Drive. He has also served as an Alderman and member of the Board of Police Commissioners.
Raslan is a Democrat. He moved to Ansonia two years ago and runs a real estate business. Before that, he worked as an analyst at Citibank in the UK and for a real estate business run by his family.
Cassetti stormed to office in 2013 by defeating seven-term Democratic incumbent James Della Volpe 2,456 votes to 1,741, winning roughly 60 percent of the ballots cast in the race.
Two years later, he was re-elected by defeating Edward Adamowski, an Alderman who is now the city’s fire chief, in a landslide, 3,095 votes to 803, taking nearly 80 percent of the vote.
From the beginning of his challenge Raslan has styled himself as a heavy underdog. But he’s also led a more energetic campaign than either Della Volpe or Adamowski, especially when it comes to getting his message out on social media.
This year Ansonia voters have the ability to learn much more about Cassetti and Raslan than candidates for mayor in previous elections.
Each candidate sat down with the Valley Indy for lengthy podcast interviews about their backgrounds.
In addition, the candidates faced off in a one-on-one debate at the Valley Indy office Oct. 9 which was live-streamed on Facebook.
Roughly 50 percent of respondents to a nonscientific Valley Indy poll pushed heavily on social media by both campaigns said Raslan won the debate, while about 47 percent said Cassetti did.
A couple weeks after the debate, both of them participated in a “Meet the Candidates” forum at the high school during which they fielded questions from students.
Scroll down to the bottom of this post to listen to the podcasts and watch the debate, as well as the “Meet the Candidates” forum.
The following is a summary of issues in which the candidates for mayor have differed most, with links detailing the candidates’ stances.
You can also click here to read every story and letter to the editor published by the Valley Indy on this year’s election in Ansonia.
Rainy Day Fund
One of the chief issues Raslan has challenged Cassetti on this year has been the status of Ansonia’s fund balance — commonly known as the “rainy day fund.”
Fund balances (sometimes informally called “reserves”) are examined by bond rating agencies as an indicator of economic health.
Those agencies decide how much interest to charge on municipal borrowing. An extremely small fund balance is interpreted as if the town’s living paycheck to paycheck and not putting any money away.
Extremely low fund balances, combined with other factors, such as constant borrowing, means higher interest payments on projects.
Since taking office, Cassetti has taken a total of $8.5 million from the city’s fund balance to pay for modest tax decreases:
- 2014-2015: $550,000
- 2015-2016: $2 million
- 2016-2017: $2.5 million
- 2017-2018: $3.49 million
Raslan says Cassetti is draining the reserve fund, leaving the city vulnerable if it’s exposed suddenly to a big-ticket expense.
The criticism was even echoed by Thomas Thompson, Cassetti’s own budget consultant, in June as Aldermen finalized this year’s budget. “That’s very dangerous. You’re getting way too low,” Thompson warned, resulting in Aldermen decreasing the amount taken from the fund balance this year by about $500,000.
Cassetti says residents had been overtaxed for years, so it was only right to return their money to them in the form of cutting property taxes.
“Excess tax dollars are best spent by the people, not the government,” he said at his annual “State of the City” speech Nov. 1.
And though the latest audit with fund balance figures has not yet been released, the mayor says it’s still among the highest in the state.
Team Cassetti also points to the fact that ratings agencies have warned that bond ratings could be downgraded due to the state budget problems. Ansonia was never mentioned while other communities — Derby, Oxford and Shelton — were.
The mayor also points to a recent bond rating upgrade as evidence the city’s financial footing is “rock solid.”
The fund balance issue was also the chief complaint raised by Cassetti’s challenger during the 2015 campaign — and Cassetti eased to an overwhelming victory.
The mill rate when Cassetti took office was 39.34. It’s now 37.32, a drop of 2.02 mills, or about 5.13 percent.
That means a person with a house assessed at $150,000 has seen taxes decrease from $5,901 to $5,598, or about 300 bucks in four years.
Cassetti has trumpeted the lower mill rate as his one of his chief achievements since taking office, and says that he’ll continue to make it a top priority if re-elected.
Raslan counters that Cassetti’s tax cuts wouldn’t be possible without the prior Democratic administration building up the rainy day fund.
He says the city is on the road to ruin if Cassetti’s administration keeps diminishing it.
At the same time, Raslan has walked a fine line on the tax question.
At a public forum last year he said he wouldn’t mind personally paying more taxes if it meant funding city services better.
Asked directly during the Valley Indy debate if he would raise taxes citywide, he said he couldn’t answer yes or no.
He said the city should get more “creative” with tax policy by “shielding” more vulnerable segments of the population from increases.
The next big issue this campaign season has been how to attract new businesses and economic activity to the city.
It’s been another hallmark success of Cassetti’s administration.
The mayor has spearheaded an “Ansonia Recharged” campaign with maps of new economic activity and a professionally produced video which debuted at the “State of the City” event Nov. 1.
A string of new restaurants have appeared downtown. Shelton’s “Better Packages” has moved to Ansonia.
The city kept the Farrel Corp. from moving out, leading the company to build a new headquarters in the Fountain Lake industrial park.
A new rug pad manufacturer is moving into some of the space Farrel once used.
Cassetti says that has resulted in grand list growth of roughly $8 million since he took office. He’s predicted that figure will jump to roughly $17 million next year due to a citywide revaluation of real estate.
Raslan said all that is great, but says the city’s grand list hasn’t grown enough to sustain spending increases since the mayor has taken office.
He points to his background in finance and real estate as evidence of his expertise in the area.
Raslan says sustainable growth will only come from everyone’s property rising, which means making more investments in things like parks, education, recreation, and job training.
He said the city would need to have achieved $28 million in growth in the grand list to offset its increases in spending.
Education, Library Funding
Raslan has charged that Cassetti has “underfunded” education by roughly $4.6 million since taking office by comparing the initial funding requests made by the Board of Education to the number allotted to the school district in each year’s budget.
He’s also taken the mayor to task for proposing a drastic funding cut to the library in his initial budget proposal to Aldermen for 2017-2018 while at the same time spending “exorbitantly” on legal matters.
The mayor is choosing “lawyers over libraries,” Raslan says.
Cassetti said the library isn’t utilized as much as other necessary city services.
Raslan disagreed, saying he goes to the library frequently, and so do many other residents and their children.
The mayor has also pointed out that the Board of Aldermen has the ultimate decision on where to set the budget, and that he recommended a $1.1 million increase this year for the school district that was eventually trimmed to $800,000.
Cassetti said since he took office the school budget has increased an average of 3.5 percent annually. His supporters have said Raslan is ignoring the city’s budget process by saying the city “underfunds” education. If every department walked in and got every dollar requested, taxes in Ansonia would go through the roof.
Cassetti pointed out that more outside-the-box ideas for more school funding — like including a flyer with tax bills seeking voluntary contributions from residents — were met with stiff resistance from the Board of Education.
New Police Station, Ansonia Copper & Brass
The police department’s current headquarters is at 2 Elm St., a 19th-century building that was formerly used as a school.
It’s not an ideal facility.
Cassetti has been banging the drum for a new police facility since his first campaign for mayor.
Months after he took office, he unveiled a plan to build a new public safety facility incorporating a police and fire headquarters as part of the redevelopment of Olson Drive.
During the runup to a 2016 referendum asking voters to approve spending $12 million on a new police station, the mayor’s subordinates said the administration had made an agreement with federal housing officials who agreed to a less dense development of housing at the site, but only if a public safety facility were built there.
Raslan said the city should instead look to relocate the police department to 75 Liberty St., part of the former Ansonia Copper & Brass company property that constitutes dozens of acres of eyesore in the city’s north end.
The city ignored that recommendation for the Copper & Brass site, where they had instead looked to forge ahead with an agreement calling for demolition there in exchange for forgiveness of the company’s massive tax debt.
That deal was eventually declared dead earlier this year, with the city now exploring its options to remediate the site.
The mayor’s plans for the new police station changed this year as well — he now wants to move the police department to 65 Main St., an office building formerly used by the Farrel Corp.
In April city officials unveiled plans to spend up to $3 million to buy the property, which also includes a parking lot and a section of the building known as 501 E. Main St.
The mayor said the police department could be in the new building by the end of the year. Aldermen approved the plans in May.
But after months of negotiations the Aldermen voted to explore taking the property by eminent domain instead because the city and the owner of the building couldn’t agree on the details.
Raslan said the city showed its cards too soon, and that the city should move the police department to 75 Liberty St.
He criticized the presentation of the plan as one of many “done deals” that didn’t come to fruition since the mayor took office.
Cassetti says he still wants to go ahead with the deal for 65 Main St., but that the property’s owner was trying to strongarm the city into forgiving a blight lien on the decaying former Farrel Corp. “process lab” as part of the negotiations.
The mayor says the city is working on moving forward with the deal to see the police station moved to 65 Main St.
The 2017 Ansonia debate at The Valley Indy is posted below:
The “meet the candidates” forum organized by the teachers’ union in Ansonia is posted below:
Get to know Raslan by listening to this podcast:
Get to know Cassetti by listening to this podcast: