Democratic challenger for mayor pledges to ‘preserve the things we love about living’ in Wallingford

Democratic challenger for mayor pledges to ‘preserve the things we love about living’ in Wallingford


WALLINGFORD — Democratic mayoral candidate Jared Liu wants to preserve the things he grew up loving about Wallingford.

He was raised on Grandview Avenue before moving away for 16 years for college and several jobs. When Liu returned in 2011 with his wife, Kristin, to start a family, he “started looking around and saying, ‘Gosh, ya know, things have really changed.”

Many downtown businesses were gone. Community Pool had deteriorated. The town no longer produced its own electricity.

“This is a great place to live in, that’s the starting point for me at least. But things have changed,” said Liu, 40. “Soon after I moved back, friends and neighbors were encouraging me to run for mayor.”

He is challenging Republican incumbent William W. Dickinson Jr., who took office in 1984 and has won the last three elections by an average of 3,000 votes.

Liu said he resisted running for many years while working jobs at Choate Rosemary Hall and Yale University.

“Selfishly, that was never something that I was looking to do because I was very comfortable, and it’s easy to get comfortable,” he said.

Liu returned to Wallingford after being hired at Choate Rosemary Hall as an associate director of admissions and financial aid. In 2015, he was hired as a senior associate director of admissions at Yale’s School of Management, where he currently works. If elected, Liu said it will be hard to leave his job at Yale, which he called a “privilege,” but said he and his family decided “this as the most important thing that we can be doing at this moment.”

Liu grew up in Wallingford with his four other siblings in a house that his parents still live in today. He went to Pond Hill Elementary and Dag Hammarskjold Middle School before attending Hopkins School in New Haven. Liu graduated from to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he met his wife.

He worked jobs as a financial analyst and risk assessor from 2000 to 2003 before working for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign as the national deputy director for budgeting and compliance. From 2005 to 2010, he worked as the director of programming for the Alliance for Community Trees, a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. focused on “improving the livability of their towns and cities through planting and caring for trees,” its website states.

After moving back, Liu said several things eventually compelled him to run for mayor.

In 2013, Liu, who has a background in urban forestry, was part of a group of residents who approached the town with an alternative to the town’s plan to remove downtown trees. The town rejected the alternative plan.

“They said essentially, ‘We know what we want to do, no thank you.’ And it was really bizarre, they just kept on cutting down the trees,” Liu said.

An unexpected catalyst came when Liu introduced himself to a new neighbor near his home on Curtis Avenue. The neighbor told Liu no one else had introduced themselves to her yet, which Liu thought was “such a shame.”

“I thought, ‘When I was a kid, every neighborhood had a block party.’ That was the way we connected with people who would move in. I don’t see that happening anymore,” Liu said.

If he’s elected Liu plans to work with the Police Department’s Traffic Division to make sure “anyone who wants to throw a block partly can do it.”

“That kind of thing is exactly what the town should be working on promoting,” Liu said. “We should have Town Hall getting out in front of it to help people throw block parties, help neighbors connect with one another.”

While he respects Dickinson’s years of service, Liu argues Wallingford has become stagnant.

“I think he has been an honest and principled man for his tenure, and I respect many of the things that he’s done. But I think we’ve stopped caring for the future of this town,” Liu said.

If elected, Liu said he will begin an 8-year plan, “Plan 2025,” that he said “invests in Wallingford’s future.”

“From talking with many of you, you see that Wallingford is still a great community, but let’s not slip further behind,” Liu’s campaign website states.

Liu said the 8-year plan includes initiatives to promote economic development and attract young families, among other goals.

“In some cases, I’ll be totally transparent, it will require spending,” Liu said. “The idea is that if we plan for the changes that we want, we will get the future we want.”

To attract younger families, Liu proposed the school system allow reputable vendors to use school facilities for low-cost before and after school programs. Liu said he knows a similar program started in Guilford.

“We are down about 20 percent in terms of young family demographic in Wallingford, and we’re up about 20 percent in terms of the senior demographic. About 20 years from now, that’s going to decimate Wallingford’s tax base,” Liu said.

To promote economic development downtown, Liu thinks the town first needs to determine what it wants to attract.

“We don’t have a plan. The plan is essentially, ‘Let people come.’ I think we should go after the types of business we want and then work to retain them,” Liu said. “If you want entrepreneurs in town, create shared office space or the kind of things entrepreneurs would want.”

Liu also said there’s opportunities for the town to generate revenue. If the town took better care of its athletic fields, it could rent them to travel sports teams.

“We’ve got a number of fields and if we maintain them and if we put in lights selectively in places where the residents of those communities are willing to have them, and we allow online scheduling, and we do these things that invest in the future, there are so many leagues – travel baseball, travel soccer – that are looking for spaces to rent,” he said. “These are tough financial times. Obviously the state has a very difficult fiscal situation ahead of it. And we are turning away opportunities where the town could be generating revenue.”

Liu also proposed revenue generated by the Electric Division should be used to invest in renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines.

If elected, Liu said he would try to work with department heads to invest in projects that he believes will benefit the town in the long run.

“That’s a lot of what I see as the role of the mayor, as a collaborator with Dr. Menzo and the school board to ask those questions,” Liu said.

Liu criticized Dickinson for being reluctant provide departments funding for different projects.

“I think the mayor sees himself as a fiscal conservative. And I think the fear if you’re (any town department head), is that anything new is going to get redlined,” Liu said. “And I think it’s important for the voters to understand there’s a big difference between being fiscally conservative and fiscally paralyzed. You’ve got to be able to ask the questions of, ‘What’s this investment worth? What are we going to get back from it? What are we measuring to show that it’s been successful?”

Asked how he would handle a possible cut to the town’s state funding in the legislature’s budget, something Dickinson has expressed concern over, Liu said “nothing’s settled.”

“The problem at the moment is that they haven’t passed a budget, and we’re projecting pretty far out, so it’s not necessarily that there’s even a shortfall,” Liu said. “It’s that we haven’t even passed a budget that tells us there is a shortfall.”

Liu added that he thinks the town is “very fortunate” to have legislators like Mary Mushinsky and Len Fasano to advocate for the town in Hartford.

“If they’re doing their jobs, I have to believe that the cuts being proposed to Wallingford will not actually be as deep as” proposed, Liu said. “So we’ll see, when they do finally pass a budget, what happens.”

Liu encouraged the public to learn more about his ideas at
Twitter: @MatthewZabierek

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