Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, the Republican incumbent in this November’s mayoral election, has held two two-year terms as mayor since his election in 2005. He now faces Democratic challenger Dan Drew in his bid for re-election this year. A Middletown native, Giuliano attended St. Sebastian School, which now houses the Green Street Art Center on Main Street, and practiced law for 27 years.
Argus: What are your top initiatives for Middletown right now?
Mayor Sebastian Giuliano: First off, the financial stability of the city. If we count too much on sources of money that we have no control over, we could find an unstable position. I want to stabilize that and rely more on ourselves than always having to look to the state.
Second, public safety. We need to beef up the police department. We have a lot of area to cover, and we don’t have the personnel to do that and watch Main Street. Our police staff isn’t even at full capacity. Overtime costs us fifty-percent more than it should, and you’re not getting the best hours out of those officers. So if we can, come up with a plan to get the police department where it needs to be.
Third, and this is a recurring one, is the sewage treatment plant here in Middletown. It is out of date. It should have been renovated years ago, but we have a constant back and forth between them and us. We need to push that off the dime—that’s really the key to the riverfront. As long as the old sewage treatment plant is there, it’s going to hamper our ability to bring back the riverfront.
A: What have been the most important issue(s) that you have had to face this term?
SG: Mainly labor issues. Everyone in the school system who isn’t employed by the state is a city employee. People are having problems with the union contract, so they come complain to me and to our department. We tend to side with the workers opposed to the administration and the Board of Education. The administration, which is overseen by the board of education, tends to do things their own way over there. They don’t want to pay overtime, so they go hire outside contractors to do the overtime work. This is a pot that’s been simmering a lot this last term. It will probably boil over before long.
Argus: Can you give a brief outline of your political history?
SG: I grew up as a Democrat and later became a Republican. I came from a family that was very active. As a little kid, I was in third grade at St. Sebastian School, which was located where Green Street is now. Every day, I would get out of school and I would race to the campaign office to stuff envelopes for John Kennedy.
By profession I went to law school and was a practicing attorney for 27 years, but this is the first elected office I have held. I ran for council here in Middletown and missed getting elected by a little over 100 votes. In 2003, I ran for Mayor against Domenique Thornton and lost, but in 2005 I ran against her again, and I won. I’ve held this office since then.
A: If re-elected, what do you see as the biggest obstacle of this new term?
SG: One big issue is the relationship between the city of Middletown and the Board of Education. They focus on education and we provide the support services. Recognizing what our task base is and stabilizing it is important.
Another issue—If you’re living in the same house your grandparents owned, the house they bought last century for 5,000 dollars, and now it’s 300,000 and you don’t have a job, you owe the tax anyway. There has to be some relief for that situation.
We also need to knock down the city debt. Right now, 15 million dollars a year goes back to debt services. 4.2 million is the principal payment for the high school bond that we pay every year.
A: Given nation-wide budget constraints, what are your plans regarding the growth and development of Middletown over the course of the next few years if re-elected?
SG: What you want to do is preserve open space as much as you can. It’s a good investment. One program that has worked out is buying development rights. This works well for farmland. It can stay a farm now and be saved for future development.
Also, we need a way to incentivize the maturation of developed business. We don’t want to rezone. The zones in Middletown were laid out in 1941. It was a pretty good plan then, and we don’t want to mess with it too much.
A: How do programs promoting the arts, like Green Street, fit into your vision of Middletown?
SG: I think the arts is a big driver in Middletown. Look at performing arts at our two high schools. It’s something that’s in the culture here already. When Wesleyan wanted to work with Green Street it was a great idea. The thing that holds that back is the neighborhood still has kind of a reputation about it. That’s kind of off-putting to some. We also have things like Art Farm, Oddfellows Playhouse, all of the musical performers in town.
Argus: How would you characterize the current state of Wesleyan-Middletown relations?
SG: Improving. We don’t have many problems that are out of the ordinary for university-city relations. We have the same bumps in the road—a party that goes too long, not that serious. For the most part, Middletown is a better place because the University is here. Middletown has culturally and historically influenced Wesleyan in its way and vice-versa. It’s a good fit. The fact that Wesleyan was two blocks away from our central core is what got us through a period that began in the 1950s during redevelopment. The idea that downtown was for business and people live on the outskirts was spreading, and Wesleyan kind of kept a big residential component in proximity to downtown.
A: What is your ideal of Wesleyan’s role in Middletown?
SG:.There was a time, when Wesleyan was a men’s school, when students would forge a connection with local families. If you didn’t want University food, you could go eat with families. Back then we didn’t have communication ability like we do now. It wasn’t easy to be in touch with family every day, so you almost had an alternate family here in town. I don’t know if we’ll see that again, but maybe something close.
Wesleyan is a huge resource. Wesleyan has a compository of technical ability, knowledge that they could definitely help us with. Wesleyan students are also very active in our school system. You can’t buy that.