STAMFORD – The 2013 mayoral election is wide open following Republican Mayor Michael Pavia’s decision not to seek reelection after one term, and there’s no shortage of issues for the six candidates to build their platforms on.
The South End is in the midst of a $3.5 billion redevelopment, the fire department is undergoing a contentious consolidation, rising enrollment is straining the school system and public employee benefits are choking a city budget that will likely total more than $500 million for the first time next fiscal year. In November, Stamford residents will choose the mayor who will lead the city through the next four critical years.
Six contenders – three Democrats, two Republicans and one unaffiliated candidate – are competing for Stamford’s top office.
The election will reach its first major milestone this week, when the Republican and Democratic political committees vote to nominate their candidates. The endorsements will give the two chosen contenders a prime spot on the ballot and elevate their campaigns’ exposure. Non-nominated candidates who do not wish to leave the race will have until Aug. 7 to gather signatures to force a Sept. 10 primary election.
The three Democrats and two Republicans vying for their party nominations are similar in many ways. They are all men, they all love Stamford, they all raised their families here and they have all held positions in government. As politicians in the early stages of their campaigns they often espouse similar messages: Improve city schools, foster job growth, keep taxes low, help senior citizens afford to stay in their homes. Together they have raised unprecedented amounts of campaign funds, totaling $741,535 as of June 30.
After the political parties have made their endorsements the election will be turned over to the public, who can vet, challenge and judge the candidates through public debates, primary elections and at the November polls. But it’s the Democratic and Republican establishments that have the first vote this week.
Here’s a look at five candidates they’re considering:
The Democratic City Committee will hold a roll-call vote at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Sheraton Hotel on East Main Street. A candidate must receive 21 votes – a majority of the committee’s 40-person membership – in order to clinch the nomination, said DCC Chairman John Mallozzi. In the event of a 20-20 tie, Mallozzi will cast the tie-breaking vote.
Address: West Broad Street on the West Side
Family: Married to Melvina, two adult sons and two grandchildren. Callion’s daughter, Melanie, died in 2011 at age 42.
Stamford history: A Chicago native, Callion lived in Washington D.C., Cleveland and Detroit before moving to Stamford in 1979 after securing a job with IBM. “I liked it because it was a world-class city even then,” he said. “It was embracing diversity and giving everybody an opportunity.” Callion, if elected, would be Stamford’s first black mayor.
Occupation: Retired after 30 years with IBM
Government Experience: Stamford’s director of public safety, health and welfare from 2003 to 2009 under former Mayor Dannel P. Malloy. Served as chairman of the Board of Finance in the 1990s, sat on the city Economic Development Commission, Fire Commission and chaired a committee for the 1995 Charter Revision Commission.
Mayoral war chest:* $22,526
One thing that sets him apart: Promised to revive the “Mayor’s Night In” monthly program started by Malloy, which allows residents to meet one-on-one with the mayor to voice their concerns and complaints. Callion, who is wearing a pedometer to track his footsteps on the campaign trial, said interacting with the community would be a major focus for his administration. “The voices of all people in this city are once again going to be very important in this city,” Callion said. “Being out there, talking to them, listening to them, trying to make sure that we do things that they want us to do is going to be very important to me.”
Favorite walking spot: Mill River Park and downtown Stamford
Biggest asset: He’s the only mayoral candidate with experience on the 10th floor of Government Center, having served in former mayor Malloy’s cabinet for six years.
Biggest challenge: With William Tong and David Martin considered the front runners for the Democratic City Committee’s nomination, Callion will likely have to primary for a spot on the ballot.
Address: Long Ridge Road in North Stamford
Family: Married to Judy, two adult daughters
Stamford history: A Missouri native, Martin met his wife while they were both living and working in Philadelphia. The couple moved to Connecticut in 1981 after finding jobs in the area. “We picked Stamford because we thought it was a wonderful community and a great place to raise a family,” he said.
Occupation: Senior partner and CFO at Michael Allen Company, a growth strategy consulting firm.
Mayoral war chest:* $127,832
Government experience: Represented District 19 on the Board of Representatives for 26 years, the last eight of which as the board’s president. Elected to the Board of Finance in 2011 and chairs the board’s Financial Policy committee.
One thing that sets him apart: Opposition to South End developer Building & Land Technology’s proposal to build a 6-acre boatyard on Magee Avenue. BLT razed Stamford’s last working boatyard on a 14-acre parcel in the South End without zoning approval in 2011 and is seeking to build a 850,000-square-foot building for hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. The developer has reached a deal with the city to build a replacement boatyard at the Magee Avenue site, but the controversial proposal is subject to public hearings and Zoning Board approval. Martin said he supports bringing Bridgewater Associates to Stamford but finds the Magee Avenue parcel inadequate for a boatyard. “Either you have to find an acceptable spot for the boatyard or you have to find an alternate spot for Bridgewater,” he said. “You can’t give Bridgewater the best spot and the boatyard the worst. There has to be some more compromise here.”
Stamford pizza joint: Nick’s Pizza in Glenbrook
Biggest asset: Supporters describe him as an independent politician who won’t be beholden to anyone.
Biggest challenge: He already ran for mayor, unsuccessfully, against Pavia in 2009. Have the voters already spoken?
Address: Chestnut Hill Road in North Stamford
Family: Wife, Liz, and three young children
Stamford history: A West Hartford native, Tong grew up in Glastonbury and met his wife in law school at the University of Chicago. The couple moved to Stamford in 2000. “There’s just so much to this town, and that’s why we decided to put our roots down here,” he said.
Occupation: Corporate attorney with the Stamford firm Finn Dixon & Herling
Mayoral war chest:* $197,161
Government experience: Served on Stamford’s Personnel Commission before winning election to the state General Assembly representing District 147 in 2006. Launched a brief run for U.S. Senate last year before dropping out and endorsing the race’s eventual victor, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy.
One thing that sets him apart: Pledged to visit every neighborhood within 100 days of taking office and meet with students, teachers and administrators of every school within 20 months as part of his mission to make Stamford “one of the best cities in America for families by the year 2020.” Tong estimates it will take seven years to reshape the city, indicating his vision extends beyond one term. His strategy encompasses five main objectives: rebuilding infrastructure, improving schools, bolstering public safety, supporting small businesses and making Stamford a more affordable place to live. If elected, he plans to appoint a resident & community affairs director, a cabinet-level position charged with tackling issues such as affordable housing and school improvements. “I’ve put forward a very clear, straight-forward vision,” he said.
Favorite weekend hangout with the kids: Cove Island Park
Biggest asset: He’s not afraid of a fight. Tong cites his parents’ experience immigrating to the United States from China as his inspiration for entering into politics. His 2006 victory in the heavily Republican 147th District was unexpected and made him Connecticut’s first Asian-American state legislator. He would be the first Asian mayor of Stamford if elected in November.
Biggest challenge: Republicans criticize Tong as being too close to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Stamford’s former mayor who appointed Tong to the Personnel Commission and helped launch his political career.
The Republican Town Committee will vote on its two candidates at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Knights of Columbus hall on Shippan Avenue. A candidate must receive 21 votes – a majority of the committee’s 40-person membership – in order to clinch the nomination, said RTC Chairman Dennis Mahoney. In the event of a 20-20 tie, Mahoney will cast the tie-breaking vote.
Address: Huckleberry Hollow in North Stamford
Family: Married to Carol, three adult children and three grandchildren
Stamford history: A Minturno, Italy, native, Fedele was 3-years-old when his parents immigrated to Stamford. He has lived in the city ever since and founded his business on the West Side, where it is still headquartered. “Stamford is where I’ve been fortunate enough to live the American dream,” Fedele said.
Occupation: Founder and Chairman of Pinnacle Group, an information technology company.
Government experience: Represented District 13 on the Board of Representatives from 1987-1991 before moving to the state General Assembly, where he served as the District 147 state representative from 1993 to 2002. Fedele gave up that seat to run for state Senate, but lost to Democrat Andrew McDonald. Served as lieutenant governor of Connecticut under former Gov. M. Jodi Rell from 2007 to 2011.
Mayoral war chest:* $176,286
One thing that sets him apart: Pledged to hold town hall teleconferences, where citizens would call in at a prearranged time to listen and relay their questions or concerns. An operator would field the questions, read them aloud and Fedele would answer. His cabinet and the police and fire chiefs would also be on the line. “This gives more accessibility, more action and the ability to address the issues particularly of individuals who can’t make it to the Government Center because of their schedule or other limitations,” Fedele said. “Two parents working – how do you get them to participate? Seniors may not be able to drive anymore but still have a question and want input from the mayor.”
Restaurant he wishes was still open: Open Door on the West Side
Biggest asset: He’s the only mayoral candidate who has served at all levels of Connecticut government – locally on the Board of Representatives, statewide in the General Assembly and executively as lieutenant governor.
Biggest challenge: Democrats criticize Fedele as being indistinguishable from outgoing Republican Mayor Michael Pavia, who has endorsed Fedele’s candidacy.
Address: Blackwood Lane in North Stamford
Family: Married to Teddi, four adult children between them, seven grandchildren
Stamford history: Pia traces his Stamford roots back to the 1630s, when his mother’s family immigrated to the United States from England. He went through Stamford public schools and said he has never thought of living anywhere else. “I love being in Stamford and I love being so involved,” Pia said. “It’s in my soul.”
Occupation: Executive Director of Activities for Kids at the Glenbrook Community Center
Government experience: Served on the Board of Education, three times as its president, from 1980 to 1998. Elected again to the board in 2009 and now serves as its Fiscal Committee chairman. Represented District 7 on the Board of Representatives for eight years. Served as chairman of the Republican Town Committee from 2011-12.
Mayoral war chest:* $15,991
One thing that sets him apart: Supports ending the Board of Representatives “leadership committee” meetings. Recent Freedom of Information complaints lodged by city Rep. Sal Gabriele, R-16, and former Board of Finance Chairman Joe Tarzia revealed Stamford’s mayor regularly meets in private with the Board of Representatives’ eight-member leadership. The group claims the meetings are for scheduling purposes and not substantive in nature, but emails show the elected officials have discussed the reorganization of the city’s fire services, mayoral appointees and clerk of the works contracts. Pia sharply criticized the private meetings in a June 28 letter to The Advocate and pledged to end the practice if elected mayor. “I would not need to wait for any ruling from the (Freedom of Information Commission) to let the public in, nor would I spend a nickel of taxpayer money defending the administration’s ability to shut the public out,” Pia wrote.
Stamford ice cream cone: The Scoop Café on East Main Street (his brother owns it)
Biggest asset: A longtime community activist, Pia has earned the reputation of a man “of the people,” especially in his native Glenbrook.
Biggest challenge: Can his grassroots campaign overcome fellow Stamford native and Republican candidate Mike Fedele’s powerful fundraising?
Unaffiliated voter John Zito collected enough signatures to petition his way onto the November ballot. He is not seeking the Republican or Democratic Party’s endorsement this week.
Address: Houston Terrace in the Cove, where he lives with his sister
Family: One adult daughter.
Stamford history: A city native, Zito grew up in Southfield Village on the West Side and graduated from Westhill High School in 1983. He recently moved back to town after living in Trumbull for several years. “I’m born and raised here,” he said. “This is my neighborhood. I’m mostly here for the people.”
Occupation: Owner, J. Zito Services LLC, a heating and chimney services company.
Government experience: None.
Mayoral war chest:* $2,761
One thing that sets him apart: Zito has proposed soliciting corporate donations to fund activities for Stamford seniors. “I see the elderly are boxed in,” he said. “They need some more activities. Day trips to the museum, social events. I’d look for corporate funding because the taxpayers pay enough as it is and not enough is being shown for it.”
Stamford cup of coffee: Stillwater Sandwich Shoppe
Biggest asset: As a foreigner to Stamford government, he doesn’t have any political skeletons in his closet.
Biggest challenge: Getting his message out. A third-party candidate has not won the mayor’s office since the city’s consolidation in 1949.
*Balance on hand as of July 10, as reported on the candidates’ itemized campaign finance disclosure statements.