MERIDEN — Republican mayoral candidate Manny Santos on Thursday accused Democratic incumbent Michael S. Rohde of misusing public resources by staging a series of groundbreaking ceremonies touting city projects in the midst of his re-election campaign.
“Unfortunately, Mayor Rohde believes all the city resources are at his disposal,” Santos said during a City Hall press conference. “In the last three months, he has held three announcements on location, five groundbreaking ceremonies and another one scheduled for tomorrow. Two or three would be reasonable, I would think, but at least nine events coordinated to coincide with his re-election campaign is a blatant misuse of city resources. What’s even more astonishing to me is how cooperative city departments have been, and shame on the Democrat-controlled City Council for not putting a stop to this.”
Santos pointed out that in two cases equipment used during the ceremonies had not moved since the events.
“Why have the machines not moved after the ceremonies,” he said referring to the planned demolition of TD Bank on the site of the former Meriden Hub and the former Church & Morse hardware store, 33 Colony St. Supporters in the crowd nodded their heads and said they wanted to know the answer.
Rohde said in a phone interview Thursday that many of the projects Santos talked about were in the making for years, including the Hub project, the renovation of the city’s two high schools and improvements to City Park. He said when talking to the public he discovered many residents weren’t aware of the status of the projects so it was important to inform them.
“Everything started to come together at the same time,” Rohde said.
TD Bank and Church & Morse are going through abatement, Rohde said. The bank would have been knocked down by now, but Connecticut Light & Power ran into some delays, Rohde said. Improvements at City Park should be done by the winter and work at the high schools is underway, he said.
“All these projects are funded,” Rohde said. “Contracts have been awarded and construction is underway.”
Santos said the groundbreaking ceremonies were designed to create the impression of economic activity when in fact the projects are publicly funded.
“Not one of these groundbreakings are the result of private investors,” he said. “Don’t be fooled by all this tax-funded activity. There are no businesses knocking at Meriden’s door just waiting for all this to occur. Businesses won’t locate in Meriden because city leaders don’t understand them.”
Santos criticized the city’s recent bid on the vacant former hospital building on Cook Avenue during a foreclosure auction. The city was the only bidder and may take ownership of the building.
“These staged events coincide with the final week of the election,” Santos said after his speech. “It’s important to get the message out and that people see the other side.”
Rohde said it’s not unusual for state and federal dollars to be used on infrastructure projects.
“We’re laying the groundwork for private development,” he said.
The projects were also approved with broad support from Republican, Democratic and We the People city councilors, Rohde said.
Rohde said he was proud of the projects and glad they all finally came to fruition.
As for private investors looking into the city, Rohde said a new C-Town grocery store would be opening downtown in January.
“The bottom line is that he’s a desperate candidate,” Rohde said about Santos. “He’s got nothing to show for himself leadership wise. He’s never spent a day in public office.”
In response, Santos said he spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a non-commissioned officer, which included combat service during Desert Storm.
“That’s leadership,” Santos said. “What he’s doing is being a politician.”
As far as never holding a seat in public office, Santos said there was time when Rohde wasn’t in public office either.