MERIDEN — Both City Council candidates in Area 3 chose to run because they want a hand in Meriden’s future. But Democrat Krystle Blake and Republican Joe Vollano have different views on where the city is headed.
Vollano has been an outspoken critic of the City Council at meetings over the years, contending Meriden needs a change in leadership to address economic development downtown and what he feels is a lack of accountability and transparency at City Hall.
“The city has a lot of promise, it’s just in the hands of the wrong leaders,” he said.
Blake describes herself as a positive, upbeat candidate.
“If I wasn't happy (with the city’s direction), I shouldn’t really be running,” Blake said, I’m not going to go in and (cause an uproar), but I want to see how I can help.”
Blake and Vollano are competing to fill a seat held since 2007 by Democrat Brian Daniels, who isn’t seeking a fourth term. Daniels, who served as majority caucus leader from 2011 to 2017, has played a lead role in a number of influential projects over the last 12 years, including the high school renovations and the demolition of the Mills housing complex.
“I know I have big shoes to fill,” said the 35-year-old Blake.
In 2015, Vollano ran for the council for the first time and narrowly lost to Daniels by about 70 votes. Another close race against state Rep. Cathy Abercrombie in 2017 encouraged Vollano to continue running on a message of fiscal responsibility, accountability, and transparency.
“I think my message resonates with people, it’s just a matter of getting it out to them,” Vollano said.
Vollano, 42, owns and operates FillerUp, an app-based, on-demand fuel supplier based in Meriden. Originally from East Haven, he has lived in Meriden for 12 years.
Vollano’s focus would be controlling city spending and attracting businesses. He feels there are “plenty” of ways the city could trim its operating budget, including reducing salaries and staff at the public library, creating technology efficiencies at City Hall, and no longer paying for the Health Department to run a public clinic, which he argues is not government’s responsibility.
He would also like to see the city stop funding annual celebrations, like the Memorial Day parade, and allow volunteers and businesses to fund and run them instead. Vollano pointed to the annual Meriden Green summer concert series as an example of a volunteer-run effort that has grown and thrived without city funding.
“The more your community is involved, the better your city is going to be,” he said. “Residents should have some skin in the game.”
Blake, a city native who graduated from Maloney High School in 2002, has a background in mental health and substance abuse treatment and is the prevention & wellness program manager at Rushford behavioral health clinic in Meriden. Blake has been involved in various local efforts aimed at helping youths dealing with mental illness and substance abuse. She is president of the Meriden Boys and Girls Club Alumni Association, president of Meriden’s Project Graduation, and the founder and chairwoman of the Meriden Healthy Youth Coalition.
“Running for City Council was just another one of those ‘check it off my list and try it out’ things,” she said. “If I can help Meriden out in any way, that's my goal.”
Blake decided to run after years of encouragement from party members.
“After sitting down and getting some information, I realized the worst that can happen is I don’t win,” she said. “... I said, ‘If I can make Meriden a better place for everybody, why not give it a shot?’”
In her role at Rushford, Blake collaborates with the city’s police and health departments. As a councilor she hopes to apply her background by helping address the opioid crisis locally and creating a “network” of social service organizations that would facilitate collaboration and reduce redundancy of services.
“Instead of everyone competing, let’s work together,” she said.
Blake believes residents are not just concerned about how much they’re taxed but how their money is spent. She says each project should be weighed to decide how funds can be best used to benefit the most residents possible.
Blake, a Midstate Chamber of Commerce board member, wants to promote development on the east side by taking advantage of progress made along East Main Street in recent years with new businesses like Taino Steakhouse Prime and Ion Bank. Area 3 generally covers the city’s southeast quadrant.
Attracting more restaurants and places to eat in the city will help attract and retain young people and families, Blake said.
Vollano contends the city has had a difficult time attracting businesses to open up in prime downtown spaces, such as 24 Colony St., due to the high concentration of low-income housing downtown.
“You’re not going to bring businesses into places where people can’t spend money,” he said.
Vollano feels the city will be forced to offer tax incentives to attract businesses downtown.
“We are where we are,” Vollano said about development downtown. “We can’t relive the past.”