MERIDEN — Mayoral and City Council candidates fielded questions Monday on topics including economic development and housing.
About 75 people attended the forum at Washington Middle School, hosted by the Midstate Chamber of Commerce. Rich Hanley, an assistant professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University, served as moderator.
Mayoral candidates were asked about the role of the mayor. Incumbent Mayor Kevin Scarpati said the job is more than a ceremonial position. He meets often with the city manager and addresses the council on concerns of city residents.
“Knowing I give (citizens) a voice is what gets me out of bed every day,” said Scarpati, who is running as an unaffiliated candidate endorsed by the Democrats. “The mayor is the face of the city. I can talk to the city manager and approach the City Council and work to fix problems.
“My office was open to everyone,” said Republican mayoral challenger Irene Masse, who recently retired after 24 years as city clerk. Masse supports keeping the mayoral role more ceremonial, but also said she would work with the city manager.
Ernestine Holloway, a petitioning candidate, said she would support more spending to help Puerto Rican refugees expected to arrive.
“I hope we are prepared to receive them,” Holloway said, adding that she knows many city residents that have immediate family living in Puerto Rico.
Masse and Scarpati agreed.
“The United States was founded on helping others,and Meriden is no different,” Scarpati said. “We may have to be creative. ”
Masse said she loves the Meriden Green and has seen progress downtown, but feels more needs to be done.
“Meriden has moved along but I see a lot of empty storefronts,” Masse said. “We need to see more ownership. Citizens pay taxes. Let’s be careful who we put in there.”
Democratic council candidates spoke out on continuing to revitalize downtown and other economic development. Councilors were asked if they would support incentives for businesses.
“There is no question that we didn’t get where we are overnight as a city,” said Democrat David Lowell, chairman of the Economic, Housing and Zoning Committee. “We have a responsibility for public-private partnerships. Dowtown, yes, south, north, and west are in considerations for economic development.”
Republican Majority Leader Dan Brunet said the city needs to re-purpose some of its vacant buildings for new commercial development.
Republican incumbent Len Rich criticized the practice of giving incentives for low-income housing, saying Meriden needs to start providing enticements for businesses to come and grow in the city.
The format Monday had Democrats seated at one table, and Republicans and We the People candidates at another table. The Republicans have endorsed the We the People candidates and vice-versa.
Every Republican and We the People candidate wanted to see a reduction in the numbers of low-income housing currently being built downtown and an increase in market-rate housing.
Republican Beth Bryan said downtown needed more residents with disposable income who can shop in boutiques and dine in local restaurants. She supports a small business liaison.
Lowell countered that the low-income housing numbers were part of a plan to replace apartments at the now-shuttered Mills Memorial Apartments public housing complex, and were interspersed with affordable- and market-rate units in different locations. The redevelopment would encourage more commercial and market-rate housing in areas such as the Meriden Green, 116 Cook Ave. and the former Meriden-Wallingford Hospital.
Democrat Darius Riddle, a candidate in Area 4, said he’s running to improve life for his children. When asked about improving race relations in the city, he said he knows he’s treated differently because of his skin color.
Democrat incumbent Larue Graham said racism is a learned behavior and it’s why he volunteers more than 500 hours in youth sports, and wishes more people would do the same.
Republican Josh Broekstra, who is challenging Graham, said race should never be an issue in any city, adding councilors should listen to everyone.
Rich told the audience he was running because he sees a chance for Republicans to regain control of council committees.
“We don’t have a chairmanship of any committees,” Rich said. “We do have a chance with the slate we have here to accomplish that.”
Democrat candidate Michael Reynolds, who is running in Area 3 against Brunet, told the audience the Republican and We the People candidates all stated they liked the progress made by the Democratic-led council.
“I’m glad to see our opponents support so many of our initiatives,” Reynolds said. “They say you can do it cheaper. You can’t shrink your way to greatness, you can only do it less well.”
The forum was co-sponsored by Meriden Children’s First Initiative and the Record-Journal