MERIDEN — The race for the Area 1 council seat is being run by two distinctively different candidates campaigning for changes in the city’s downtown.
In recent days, the race has heated up with allegations regarding vandalism of Republican challenger Beth Bryan’s campaign signs and an unregistered SUV covered in Bryan signs parked in front of Democratic incumbent Miguel Castro’s home.
Bryan was a leader of the Westside Neighborhood Association, which covers Hanover Street, Linsley Avenue, Bradley Avenue and West Main Street. She stepped down after announcing her candidacy. Bryan said she supports ending tax incentives to large developers and strongly supports market-rate housing. She wants to support local businesses with common sense spending and incentives, she said.
“We need to become more business friendly and eliminate the influx of low income housing,” Bryan said at a candidate forum Monday night. She also called for a small business liaison at City Hall, a basketball court in Area 1, and the replacement of a skate park that was razed during the Platt High School renovation.
Bryan is also a strong supporter of emergency responders and hopes to get police and fire officials the best equipment and training, she said.
Castro is running for his third term representing the city’s downtown, which has a large Latino population. Castro has been a champion for the city’s diversity, promoting Puerto Rico relief efforts and pushing to keep law-abiding undocumented residents in their city homes.
He also strongly supports downtown plans for mixed-income housing and commercial development in the city’s Transit-Oriented Development District to attract more private investment. He supports job creation, neighborhood safety, a thriving downtown, arts and culture. Castro owns a construction business and has been visible at public events.
Castro is also a fiscal moderate. As chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, he worked with the city manager and members of both parties to hammer out the city’s budget.
“I’ve helped change the dynamics of the finance committee by engaging the committee,” Castro said. “It’s a strong indication that the committee was committed to good stewardship following our financial policies and actively building and preserving the financial resources necessary to support the accomplishments of the committee’s mission for both short and long term.”
The race has heated up in recent weeks, most recently when someone parked an unregistered motor vehicle loaded with Bryan’s campaign signs in front of Castro’s Bradley Avenue home on Saturday. Police were called to the area, ran the license plate numbers and learned the car was owned by a 72-year-old woman named Carol Bryan in Branford.
While police were waiting for a tow truck, Beth Bryan, who said she was campaigning on the street, appeared and told officers the car belonged to her mother, who lives in Florida and lets her use it. Police said the car has not been registered since 2013 and confiscated the plates. Bryan was not cited in the incident but paid to have it towed to her Linsley Avenue home.
Bryan called the registration lapse a “clerical error” that would be taken care of this week.
Castro said he had seen the silver Toyota SUV parked on his street for five days last week. While door-knocking on Linsley Avenue last week, he saw the vehicle parked in Bryan’s driveway. When it appeared on Saturday morning with more signs and in front of his home, he reported a suspicious vehicle to city police.
Castro said parking a car loaded with his opponent’s campaign signs in front of his home was an attempt to intimidate him and his family. The fact that it was unregistered was even more revealing, he said.
“It’s not only concerning, but very telling of someone who is running for office,” Castro said. “All of those areas are troubling areas of concern. This is someone who doesn’t play by the rules.”
Bryan said her mother lets her and her son use the car because Bryan’s was stolen in Branford. She said she was unaware the car was not registered. She added she couldn’t understand why Castro would call the police on her.
“Miguel Castro is very angry and upset that he hasn’t done more as a city councilor,” Bryan said. “He’s really grasping at straws, he’s a very angry individual. He isn’t very confident in his record if this is the best he can do.”
Recent vandalism of two signs featuring Beth Bryan’s face also contributed to tensions between the candidates.
Bryan said the signs cost about $100 each and that she filed a police report over the incident.
“Hopefully we can narrow it down to the person who did this,” she said. “If they just come forward...I wouldn’t be as upset. People make mistakes. Maybe this person doesn’t know me. Maybe they’ll say, I’m gonna think twice before I do something like that again.”
Bryan’s campaign manager and former city councilor, Steven Iovanna, tweeted a photo of the vandalized signs Sunday afternoon with a caption that stated “Unfortunate #LittleMiguel @CouncilorCastro has done NOTHING for #Meriden so his team has to resort to #DirtyTricks #Cheater”
Castro said he was baffled by the accusations and said the tweet was “extremely disrespectful” and “out of character.”
Castro said his signs have been vandalized before, and added it’s concerning to see vandalism to signs.
“If your signs are vandalized, whoever is responsible, should be prosecuted,” Castro said.
Responding to Iovanna’s tweet, Castro joked that he was probably too short to reach the signs, and said Iovanna was taking a play out of President Donald Trump’s playbook with the “Little Miguel” reference. Trump referred to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio as “Little Marco” during the 2016 presidential primary debates.
Iovanna took to Twitter again Monday after the unregistered vehicle incident appeared on social media, and tweeted at Castro by stating “Little Miguel” needs to “man up.”
Castro addressed Iovanna and Bryan in his response.
“I am not going to lower myself, and I am focused on a continued effort to move Meriden forward in a positive way,” he said.