Though he does not disagree with many of the current efforts to improve the city of Meriden, specifically in downtown, Republican mayoral candidate Manny Santos has strong feelings about what more could be done and should have been done to improve the city’s economic climate.
Santos met with the Record-Journal editorial board last week to discuss his platform for the mayoral race and his first venture into politics. A city resident for 17 years, Santos joined the Republican Town Committee about four years ago after wanting to have more of a say in what was going on in the city.
“I no longer wanted to sit or stand on the sidelines,” Santos said.
Santos, 45, grew up in Hartford after coming to the United States from Portugal with his parents. He said his parents worked as janitors and struggled to make ends meet. Though he grew up poor, Santos said it was a happy childhood. He learned the value of hard work and strong morals, he said.
For four years, Santos served in active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, including during Desert Storm. He now works as a mechanical engineer for Ultra Electronics in Wallingford, designing products used by the government and for military applications. Before that, he did the same at Capewell Components in Cromwell for nearly six years.
During his time in Meriden, Santos said he has been most bothered by the city’s efforts to improve the downtown area. Though he likes the idea of correcting flooding and creating a park at the Hub site, he said new private development is nowhere to be found.
“It’s a huge undertaking for any city and the fact that it’s finally about to break ground, that’s wonderful,” Santos said. “I don’t believe there has been any significant effort in improving economic development ... I think there needs to be a focus on how to attract businesses, especially downtown and in the immediate surrounding areas.”
Santos went on to criticize the 20-plus years it has taken to get flood control underway at the Hub. Through much of that time, city officials have reasoned that it is difficult to attract businesses to an area prone to significant flooding.
“I don’t think (flood control is) a reason to delay any economic development or attracting private investors,” he said. “To delay all other focus on economic development and only now accomplish what was started 20 years ago, that’s bad planning in my mind.”
Mayor Michael S. Rohde, who is looking to be elected for a third full term, had served as a city councilor since the early 1990s. Rohde took exception to Santos’ views on the lack of effort in reshaping downtown with private development.
“We are in the greatest recession since the Great Depression and we have been trying to fight our way back from a very bad economic situation,” Rohde said. “We have been bringing businesses in.”
Rohde added that the city has had to clear space to increase economic development. By creating flood storage space on the Hub, part of the downtown parcel is removed from the flood plain, paving the way for economic development, Rohde said.
Santos said he was disappointed in the condition of the city’s roads and sidewalks, which he said erodes civic pride among residents. Santos said he was comfortable with the current tax rate in Meriden, but said more money should be allocated to fixing roads and sidewalks in the city. That can be accomplished by shifting some government spending and ultimately by attracting private development to increase the city’s tax base.
Santos did not give a firm answer as to how funds might be reallocated in the short term, but said he would not cut funding for education or public safety. He also noted that he would work to limit the growth of social services.
“I have only been in the running for two months, so I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know that the maintenance of the city has not been maintained or fully up kept,” he said.
Santos said he fully supported the current renovation and reconstruction of the city’s two high schools as designed, but he objected to the use of a project labor agreement giving preference to union workers. Santos said he would have preferred a level playing field for contractors seeking work on the project.
Santos said as mayor he would try to foster a more constructive discourse and would want to see a City Council that works better together. While he admits the council has approved bipartisan budgets in recent years, he said the politics are often “too combative” and “too divisive.” Santos said he would work to create an atmosphere of mutual respect among councilors and between the council and mayor because the combativeness Santos said he sees “prevents people from reaching a consensus.”
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