Naugatuck mayoral candidate Jim O’Sullivan moved to the Borough 13 years ago after spending most of his life on Long Island.
A former police officer who was injured on the job after 10 years of service, O’Sullivan became head of security for the Free Village School District before deciding to attend law school. While studying at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, he learned of Naugatuck from a friend on the Port Jefferson Ferry.
O’Sullivan says he and his family were looking to move primarily because of high taxes on Long Island, where they lived in a three-bedroom townhouse. Now, O’Sullivan, a newcomer to politics who practices law on Church Street, finds himself as the endorsed Republican candidate running for mayor against a polished two-term incumbent Democrat, Bob Mezzo, also an attorney by trade.
O’Sullivan, a 58-year-old married father and grandfather who has three grown children and three grandchildren, has had some setbacks since announcing his candidacy for mayor in September. A couple of debates that O’Sullivan had agreed to fell through, so he wasn’t able to get his message out in the way the public may have wanted. He also said he had problems with his website, so he couldn’t the message out that way. When he did put his platform out, it was filled with general Republican talking points that come from the state House Republican office and included nothing specific to Naugatuck - Democrats and Republicans, alike, criticized him for that.
O’Sullivan did go door-to-door, but had to put that on hold after his biggest setback, a heart problem that sidelined him from active campaigning for the past few weeks. He says he is working with his doctor to become healthier.
Over this past weekend, things took an unexpected turn for the O’Sullivan campaign when the Republican-American of Waterbury, which over the course of its more than 100-year history has typically lent support to conservative candidates, instead endorsed Mezzo in Naugatuck.
Still, O’Sullivan says he believes Naugatuck needs new blood and fresh ideas in the mayor’s office. He told the Naugatuck Republican Town Committee last week that he was ready to make a final push in the last few days of the election. He hopes voters will give him a chance at the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Why he got involved
O’Sullivan, who lives in a 1,560-square-foot house on the borough’s west side, says that he’s seeing taxes creep as high or higher than they were on Long Island. He believes that the local government can improve the way it functions to give residents and business owners tax relief.
He says the first thing he would do in an attempt to scale back government is to examine each department closely.
“One of the things that frustrates the heck out of me is that when you go into one of these departments, the head of the department is sitting there acting as a clerk,” he said. “I don’t think that works; that’s really not your job. There are other things you should be doing.
“You have to look department-by-department. We have to see what’s being done, and we have to see what can be improved,” he said. “These are things we’ve been hearing for years. We’re heard these from Bob (Mezzo) for four years. I think Bob freely admits that he’s been doing this for 15 years, and he tells us it’s hard. ‘It’s hard; we haven’t been able to accomplish it.’ Read his blog. Read his articles. You (to reporter) write the articles. If you haven’t been able to accomplish it for 15 years, it’s time to move on. It’s time for somebody else to take the reins.”
O’Sullivan says that one of the ways the borough can save money is by consolidating its purchasing, not just by individual departments, but by working with other municipalities nearby to get better rates.
O’Sullivan says he likes that Mezzo has “tried to take the lead in some contract negotiations” and has gotten unions to agree to bring new hires in without pensions and instead give them 403-B plans, which are similar to 401-K plans where the employee and employer both give money toward the employee’s retirement accounts.
“The problem is that nobody (other municipalities) is following the lead,” O’Sullivan said. “We get hurt by the fact that there are other towns out there that are still fully funding their pensions. Some of them are still fully funding (municipal employee) insurance. …The better plan would have been to sit down with the leaders in at least the surrounding towns and say look, here’s what we want to do. Is it viable for you? Because if it’s viable for them, and it’s viable for us, then when you take the lead, the ducks start to fall into place.
“But we’re not seeing that happen. And I think that it’s wonderful that 20-to-25 years down the road we’re going to start seeing some savings, but that’s not helping you; that’s not helping me or the guy down the street. And what’s happening is that people are moving out. We’re going to have to start bringing people back in.”
Should Naugatuck Privatize Some Services?
The borough is taking a close look at some of the services it subsidizes – particularly social services - to see if there are ways in which they can be more cost effective to the taxpayer.
“Is privatization the answer, I don’t know,” O’Sullivan said. “I think only those agencies (such as VNA and Youth and Family Services) can answer that. I don’t think the government should be in the social services business. But the fact of the matter is, we have them here. We have them now and for the most part, they are doing a good job. The problem is they are costing us money, and they are serving a very small portion of the population. …I don’t have a problem with being in the social services business if it weren’t costing us money. If they could become revenue neutral, then why would anyone have a problem with it.”
He said he feels the same way about Hop Brook Golf Course, which has been a bone of contention at Board of Finance meetings because it is not generating revenue. O’Sullivan said he believes something needs to be done to make it “revenue neutral.”
“Should we think about selling it? No I don’t think we should be thinking of selling it,” he said. “Should we privatize it? Here is my worry with privatizing: if you privatize it, someone will come in and say, well I’m not making any money on it, let’s dig it up and develop it.”
“I think it can work if they worked to increase their membership – and do more things to bring in revenue, perhaps by restructuring,” he said. “You have to think outside the box. I firmly believe that if you take time to sit down and analyze things, you an come up with a solution. I don’t accept it when someone tells me that just won’t work. Well, OK, maybe that won’t but maybe this will.”
If you were elected, what would you do in your first month in office?
O’Sullivan’s Answer Follows:
“My first month in office is going to be getting to know the employees over there (at Town Hall),” he said. “There are a couple of signs I’d like to see taken down – there is someone over there who has a sign that says, ‘enter at your own risk.’ That just doesn’t strike me as appropriate.”
“I’m going to spend time with heads of departments. And the heads of the departments are going to have to understand that we’ve got to change the way we’re doing business here. I’m going to give them a heads up. We’re not waiting until budget season starts. We need to work now to figure out where we can save money, where we can incorporate, where we can consolidate, what we can do for each other.”
If we start with that, that is where we need to be. We need to sit down and take a serious look. And it’s not at the Board of Finance and it’s not going to be at the mayor and burgesses. It’s not going to be at the Board of Ed. It’s going to be these people (department heads). They are the leaders in this town. These are the people we employ to do what is best for the town."
“They are going to have to come to me and say, ‘Well I can’t do this, but maybe I can do that.’ Am I picking an arbitrary number? No. I’m not going to say come in here with a 10 percent cut or don’t talk to me. All we are going to do is to sit down and ask them, what are you doing? And how are we going to save?
“Is it going to be micromanaging? No… The people here in town are capable of doing the work. I really believe that. We hire people that are capable of doing the job. And maybe some of them are going to have to step up a little more than they have been, but I have faith in them. Some people might say I’m naïve, but I’m very happy being naïve if that’s the case.”