There's an open race for Danbury Mayor for the first time in two decades. Democratic City Councilman Roberto Alves and Republican Mayoral Chief of Staff Dean Esposito met in a virtual debate last night.
Top priorities for managing the pandemic were addressed by each candidate. Esposito says the City's Health Department has done a good job of establishing testing and vaccine sites. He says it should be addressed on many fronts including economic and education. Alves says there's been an impact on residents not only financially, but emotionally. He also touted the job done by the Health Department. Alves says allocating ARPA funds will be a way to manage the pandemic going forward.
Downtown Danbury and its future were also addressed. Alves says the same ideas haven't been working to enhance CityCenter. He says the perception of safety downtown needs to be addressed. He's advocating for more community policing to get people more comfortable visiting the area. Esposito touted the new sidewalks, lighting and beautification of downtown. He's also advocating for enhancing the rail system to move people between Danbury and New York City. Esposito says a facade grant program will help business owners to spruce up CityCenter. He claims Alves voted against the sidewalk package. Alves rebutted that his vote against the $62 million bond was due to a lack of details over which roads would be paved.
The candidates addressed the trend of Danbury being the fastest growing City in the state, and how to address responsible residential development. Esposito says workforce housing is key in the downtown area as a way to bring in more residents, without overburdening the school system. Alves says Danbury doesn't have a problem encouraging developers to build housing, rather a problem keeping up with emergency services facilities and schools. He says housing is here, but the City needs to give people something to do once they move to or live in Danbury.
Each were asked about how they would promote commercial development growth. Alves says at the end of the day it's about facilitating jobs and creating a task force of current businesses to figure out how to incentivize others to locate to Danbury. Esposito says he would build on the work already under way.
Education funding has been a hot button issue in the City. Esposito says giving a budget, within reason, to meet the needs of students is important, but the state needs to step up. He says the educators are providing excellent services, but keeping a level budget each year is key. Esposito again touted the idea of a public Charter School coming to the City. Alves agreed that the state needs to do more, but acknowledged that Danbury is now getting $2.5 million more in PILOT funding, Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, because Danbury is an Alliance District. Esposito noted that there is a surplus that was returned to the City, but Alves contended that it was because the students weren't in the buildings full time due to the pandemic.
Low crime rates and quality of life issues were discussed. Alves says car thefts are up and there have been a few homicides and shootings that need to be addressed. He wants more investment in after school programs and more resources for the police department. Alves says FBI statistics show Danbury should have dozens of more officers. He noted that an increase in the force would help them better address the proliferation of dirt bikes and ATVs, speeding issues and noise complaints. Esposito says the Police Chief has indicated that the police force is adequate.
Each was asked about what they hear from constituents about priorities for infrastructure investment. Alves says there's the pothole issue, but also aging water mains. He also wants to push the state to expedite the I-84 widening project. Esposito says Danbury has taken great strides, including bridge repair. He says each road needs to be evaluated to decide which should be paved each year. Esosito agreed that the City needs to work with the state on I-84.
They took part in a lighting round and agreed on sports teams, Yankees and Jets, and that their favorite meal is any meal with family. As for asked favorite drink, Alves likes sparkling water while Esposito said he likes water, but a Bud is good after a long day. On pizza toppings, Alves said pepperoni and Esposito chose buffalo chicken. Favorite vacation spot for Alves was the Cape while Esposito visits his son, who lives in St. Thomas. Their favorite streaming shows were also different. Esposito likes Law & Order and Alves said he's addicted to Ted Lasso.