Two-term incumbent Derby Mayor Anita Dugatto will face challenger Rich Dziekan in the municipal election scheduled for Nov. 7.
It’s a rematch of the 2015 contest, which saw Dugatto best Dziekan by 112 votes.
Dugatto is running on the Democratic line. She earned her spot at the top of the ticket by defeating Carmen DiCenso by 30 votes in a Democratic primary last month.
Dugatto is a dentist with a practice on Elizabeth Street. She is a former member of the Derby Board of Apportionment and Taxation.
Dziekan is a retired Hamden police officer. He most recently worked as director of constituent services for Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti.
The Derby race is different this year in that there are hours of on-the-record conversations with the candidates available to the public.
Scroll down to the bottom of this post to listen to the 2015 and 2017 Valley Indy debates between the two candidates.
In addition, Dugatto and DiCenso squared off in a Valley Indy podcast debate earlier this season. It’s posted at the bottom of this post, too.
Finally, The Valley Indy featured Dziekan’s kickoff speech for mayor in a podcast earlier this year. Click here to listen.
The following is a summary of issues in the Derby race for mayor, along with statements from the candidates on each issue.
During the Oct. 24 debate at Derby High School, both candidates were asked to talk about specific economic development goals they plan to meet during their first 100 days after taking the oath of office.
Dugatto said her administration is ready to move forward with the “master plan” for the downtown redevelopment zone. The city has a $5 million grant to install a new street grid, utility infrastructure, sidewalks and “streetscaping” in the redevelopment zone on the south side of Main Street.
Dziekan said if elected his administration will come up with a plan to figure out how to lure businesses to the former Walmart/Adams grocery store at 656 New Haven Ave.
656 New Haven Avenue
Both Walmart and the Adams grocery store closed at 656 Derby Ave. last year, leaving a big retail hole in Derby.
During the debate, the mayor revealed for the first time publicly that Walmart wanted to expand its store in Derby, but could not agree on a new lease with the landlord.
Mayor Dugatto said she is in contact with a leasing company to get regular updates on potential tenants. She said rumors about the property run rampant (example: condos are coming). No zone changes are planned for the property, Dugatto said.
The mayor said she has tried to convince the leasing company to bring a grocery store to the plaza. Dugatto said she reached out to Stew Leonard Jr. to see if his company was interested in opening a Derby store.
Ultimately the decision is up to the leasing company — and Dugatto said at the debate a deal is close, but she did not reveal details. (Update: 11 days after the debate, The CT Post reported Big Y could be the tenant, though the mayor stuck to her statement in the debate).
Dziekan said he would be more aggressive in promoting the property to potential companies. He would do a better job communicating the positive aspects of the property, including its location, he said.
The city should have a specific presentation ready for the property, one that can be shopped around to trade shows and the like, Dziekan said.
Dugatto said Dziekan’s comments did not reflect reality, and that she is doing everything she can do to get the empty spaces filled.
Mayor Dugatto has been criticized by both DiCenso and Dziekan for a perceived lack of communication with her fellow elected officials.
Dugatto says she has an open door policy, and that anyone can stop by to talk to her during her Thursday evening “meet the mayor” sessions.
She has also noted the city finally has its own website and Facebook page, ways in which the public can get information.
In the Valley Indy podcast debate before the Sept. 12 Democratic Primary, DiCenso asked questions about a Derby City Hall worker in the mayor’s office who was paid from a legal services budget account.
DiCenso used the issue as an example of what he said was the mayor’s inability to communicate with the Board of Aldermen, of which DiCenso is the president.
He also said it was improper to pay the person from that account.
This issue has been raised several times since then, most recently by Derby Republican leader Sam Pollastro Jr. in the Valley Indy’s comment section.
Dugatto, in her podcast debate with DiCenso, said the city needed help researching a civil lawsuit connected to land near the BJ’s Wholesale property. The mayor said it was cheaper to use the worker at $10 per hour for research instead of a lawyer at at least $100 plus an hour.
Click here for DiCenso’s question and Dugatto’s complete answer during The Valley Indy Democratic Primary podcast.
At the Oct. 24 debate, Dziekan noted that the majority of Democrats on the Board of Aldermen did not support the mayor in the Democratic primary. Dziekan pointed out they’ve complained Dugatto keeps them out of the loop on things happening in Derby.
Dugatto said the Derby Democratic Primary results show the people of Derby support her, which is how she won the primary.
After a spate of violence over the summer in the Anson Street/downtown area, The Valley Indy asked Dugatto and Dziekan what they would do to make the streets safer. The question was asked during both debates this year organized by The Valley Indy.
During the debate the mayor said street lights are being replaced and added to Fifth, Sixth, Anson and Lafeyette streets in order to improve security. The tax board is also funding a police department initiative to improve relations in general between the Derby Police Department and the community at large.
In her debate with DiCenso, the mayor said two properties on the block are in flux — the housing authority’s “Barron block building,” and a second, unnamed property that it is foreclosure.
She said those properties need an influx of middle-class residents to improve the neighborhood and lure more investment.
Dziekan said pinpointing crime prevention efforts is challenging in Derby because the department is small.
He said the department should partner with other law enforcement agencies, such as the state police, to increase police presence in distressed neighborhoods.
Dziekan also said it is important to figure out a way to get officers out of their patrol cars and on the sidewalks.
Then the officers have to take steps to build a relationship with citizens in the neighborhoods, Dziekan said.
Economic Development Office
Economic development is usually the most talked about issue in Derby, and this election season is no different.
Dziekan has been critical of the mayor’s decision to hire a part-time chief of staff who also handles economic development director duties in the city.
Dziekan said economic development needs full-time attention. The candidate also questioned whether the person on the job is truly dedicated to Derby.
Dziekan has repeatedly said Ansonia has been pulling in more economic development grant money. Ansonia’s grant writer and economic development director is Sheila O’Malley, who held the same job previously in Derby under Mayor Anthony Staffieri.
Dziekan has said the Dugatto administration’s economic development outreach efforts have simply been too passive.
Dugatto said Leslie Creane, her chief of staff, is more than qualified for the job. She said economic development goes beyond one person. Instead, it’s a city-wide effort.
Dugatto defined economic development as “good schools, safe environment,” along with a clean environment and an accessible location.
Derby has those things, she said.
Regarding Creane specifically, the mayor said she has played a key role in “pre-submission” meetings with potential Derby investors and developers.
“She’s been a great addition to the land-use office,” Dugatto said.
Dziekan, during a press conference in early October, sounded the alarm on Derby’s finances, pointing to negative implications for the city’s bond rating.
The Dugatto administration noted the S&P warning was based at the time on the state’s stalled budget process, which had the potential to cut off millions of dollars in aid to the state’s smallest city.
However, Dziekan also pointed out the city’s fund balance was at just 2 percent of operating revenue, far below the 8 to 10 percent often cited as a best practice.
That’s proof Derby is heading in the wrong direction, the candidate said.
But Dugatto’s administration said the fund balance dipped because of a bipartisan decision to buy land in the long-stagnant redevelopment zone along the south side of Main Street. The mayor said the purchase shows the city’s efforts to breathe life into the zone go beyond rhetoric.
S&P Ratings Direct’s negative implications for Derby’s bond rating still stood as of Friday, Oct. 27, according to a bulletin from the company. A downgrade could or could not happen in the next few weeks, as S&P Ratings Direct monitors the state budget’s impact on Derby’s credit.
Derby’s grand list losing $32 million has been a top Republican talking point during this campaign.
It happened from 2014 to 2016.
Dziekan and the GOP note that while Derby’s property values have decreased, the Republicans next door in Ansonia have eked out a grand list increase.
Dziekan says the lack of grand list growth, especially when compared to Ansonia’s efforts, is proof that Derby needs a change in leadership.
A recent Dziekan campaign flyer said “Dugatto’s economic policies have crushed Derby’s working class.”
But Dugatto said the “Downtown Now” master plan for the redevelopment zone will increase the grand list because long-vacant land will be repurposed.
Dugatto also pointed out there was a state-mandated revaluation during her time in office, a process that happens every five years, during which fair market values for all properties in town are determined.
The mayor’s campaign literature notes 30 new businesses in town and a long-term plan for economic development in Derby to grow the grant list.
Marshall Lane Manor
Members of the Derby Planning and Zoning are reviewing a proposal to allow Marshall Lane Manor in east Derby to be converted into a dormitory for foreign-born high school students. The students will attend area private schools.
During the Oct. 24 mayoral debate, The Valley Indy asked where each candidate stood on the proposal.
Dugatto called the situation “complicated,” in part because the property is located within a residential zone.
She said the mayor’s job is to listen to the issues from everyone in town.
The public is connected to what’s happening and they’re weighing in on the proposal during public sessions at planning and zoning meetings, Dugatto said.
She noted single-family houses are allowed on the property as a right.
Regarding Marshall Lane Manor, Dziekan said at this point “there are too many unknowns” about the proposal. He is also connected to a lawsuit filed against the Derby P&Z’s decision to allow add “educational dormitory residence” as a special exception use within the city’s “R-3” residential zone.
Dziekan said the mayor should have put more effort into publicizing the proposal so neighbors knew what was happening.
While Dziekan has repeatedly criticized Dugatto for a failure to communicate with residents, Dugatto’s supporters have characterized Dziekan as having no real plans for Derby beyond campaign rhetoric designed to fit on campaign mailers.
Even Dziekan’s website lacks a platform, they’ve pointed out — and it’s his second time running for mayor.
At the Oct. 24 debate, Dugatto seemed to underline this point by continually holding up the “Downtown Now” studies connected to the city’s redevelopment zone.
Dugatto said the “Downtown Now” effort is why Derby was able to get a $5 million state grant that will be used in the redevelopment zone.
At the debate, two of the three questions Dugatto asked Dziekan were for more details on his plans for Derby, including what he would cut from the budget to bring down spending, and how he would make development happen “faster” in the redevelopment zone.
Dziekan deflected Dugatto’s question about budget cutting. Regarding Dugatto’s second question, Dziekan said Derby needs to move forward on the Route 34 project, which already has a plan that has been formulating for years.
Click here to watch the complete back-and-forth during the question and answer session between the two candidates from the Oct. 24 debate.
Redevelopment Zone/Route 34 Widening
The state, regional planning agencies, and the City of Derby have been working on a plan to widen Route 34 (Main Street) through downtown Derby for years. It’s supposed to improve traffic flow.
And the city has been trying to breathe life into the redevelopment zone on the south side of Main Street for years.
The public — or at least people leaving comments on the Valley Indy Facebook page — has grown deeply cynical because elected officials have been talking about both projects for so long.
While Derby and regional officials point out the redevelopment zone and the Route 34 project are not one and the same, there’s no denying they’re connected.
They’re literally next to each other.
Earlier this year and during the Oct. 24 mayoral debate, Dziekan criticized the mayor for tinkering with the design of the Route 34 widening plan at the last minute.
He was referring to a letter sent by the Dugatto administration asking for some changes to the plans for the state road. Those changes grew out of the “Downtown Now” public forum process organized by the Dugatto administration.
A consultant from a nationally known planning agency said the design for the road was too much like a highway, and would impede economic progress in the redevelopment zone next door.
Dziekan said the city needs to get the Route 34 project moving, because a plan was already in place. The candidate has said expanding Route 34 is the key to attracting investment and life to the redevelopment zone.
Dugatto has countered that former Mayor Anthony Staffieri’s GOP administration had years to make progress, but got nowhere.
Meanwhile, Dugatto pointed out the state Department of Transportation recently confirmed they’ll be taking down buildings the state purchased in order to make room for the expanded road.
And a developer purchased the former Lifetouch building on Main Street. That’s real progress, the mayor said.
Plus the city has a $5 million grant to put in utilities and a road (referred to as the “U street design”) for the redevelopment zone, the mayor pointed out.
Dziekan has said if elected he’ll take a look at the “U street design.”
In general, his supporters have said Mayor Dugatto’s administration has taken four years to study the redevelopment zone, using state-funded grants, to arrive at the same general conclusion people have known for years — Derby’s redevelopment zone needs a mixed-use development project.
Sterling Opera House
Finding grant money to restore the historic Sterling Opera House was a priority for the Staffieri Republican administration.
The Dugatto administration announced a $20,000 grant for the opera house in 2014, but not much has happened with the project.
However, Derby did get into hot water with the federal government regarding the way the city handled a federal grant meant to improve the building. The city eventually agreed to pay $110,000 back.
In comments on social media, Democrats and Republicans have blamed each other for the mishap, but the legal settlement reached with the federal government shows mistakes were made by the Staffieri and Dugatto administrations.
First, the Staffieri administration created a plan for the Sterling Opera House that didn’t comply with the regulations of the 2010 grant.
But the feds didn’t tell Derby that until after Staffieri was out of office.
After Dugatto was elected, Derby City Hall, instead of reaching out to discuss the problem with the feds, withdrew the grant money, according to the settlement agreement.
Dziekan, his campaign flyers, and the Derby GOP have hammered home the fact Derby saw a 10.2 percent tax increase in 2016.
The Dziekan campaign puts that tax hike at the mayor’s feet.
But the mill rate in Derby, as clearly spelled out in the Derby Charter, is set by the Derby Board of Apportionment and Taxation — and the majority of its members are members of the Derby Republican Party.
As previously reported, four Democrats joined five Republicans in the vote to approve the mill rate in 2016, including the chairman of the Derby Republican Town Committee (albeit holding his nose).
Republican Phyllis Sochrin abstained from voting on the mill rate.
Republicans have argued their hands were tied because they had to fund initiatives from the Board of Aldermen, such as purchasing property in the Derby Redevelopment Zone.
Pollastro and Dziekan have argued the mayor either suggests tax hikes or takes no position on how the city should spend taxpayer money.
The mayor has countered by saying the tax board in Derby works hard, and in a bipartisan manner.
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The 2017 Derby Mayoral Debate Is Posted Below:
The 2017 Derby Democratic Primary Debate Is Below:
The 2015 Derby Mayoral Debate Is Below: