Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano and Middletown City Councilman Dan Drew, candidates for the upcoming mayoral election, discussed the issues facing Middletown in a debate held in the Crowell Concert Hall last Thursday. Democrat Drew opposed Republican incumbent Giuliano in the debate that Independent candidate Christine Bourne was unable to attend. Drew emphasized the need to focus on tax relief and bring new business to Middletown, while Giuliano focused on the need for a stable tax base, public safety, and development of the city’s infrastructure.
The debate was co-sponsored by the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA), Wesleying, The Middletown Eye, the Center for Community Partnerships, WesDems, Wesleyan Republicans, Woodrow Wilson Debate Society, and Psi Epsilon.
“We had a lot of sponsors, both from Wesleyan and the Wesleyan community,” said Maeve Russell ’14, a member of the Organizational and External Affairs Committee (OEAC). “They all really helped a lot, just by donating.”
Members of the WSA on the Community Outreach Committee (COCo) and the OEAC worked together to plan the debate. Students organized the debate, while COCo member Aaron Veersuntharam ’14 helped with reaching out to candidates and ensuring fair debate conditions for both sides.
“You have to contact everyone on the same day, so they have an equal opportunity to prepare,” he said. “The candidates don’t get any of the questions ahead of time.”
The debate started with four-minute opening statements delivered by each candidate, which were followed by questions from moderator Peter Frank ’12 that alternated between candidates. Each candidate had the opportunity for a three-minute response, and a one-minute rebuttal. The first debate topic addressed the relationship between Wesleyan and the Middletown community. Drew focused on ways that more connections could be made between the school and the city to improve the economy.
“We need to create more collaboration so that all the resources available [at Wesleyan], and all the knowledge available here can come into the community, and the community can come and give back to the University as well,” Drew said. “The students play a critical role in keeping the local economy going, and that’s one of the reasons Middletown has done better in some areas.”
Giuliano discussed the changing relationship between the college and town. He felt the relationship had soured during the seventies, but that the partnership has improved in recent years.
“The relationship appears to be coming back,” Giuliano said. “No matter what is going on in Middletown that is worthwhile, you see a Wesleyan student or faculty member somehow involved in that process.”
The next question addressed ways of improving the financial health of Middletown. Giuliano addressed issues of funds available to the city, and emphasized a need to stabilize the tax rate.
“People who want to invest want to see stability,” Giuliano said. “They want to see solid, steady growth in the tax rates, and they want to see a plateau.”
Giuliano claimed that instability in tax rates was due to decisions the budget committee made. Drew contested this, instead bringing attention to the mayor’s actions.
“Out of six years in office, with the exception of this one, the mayor proposed a substantial tax increase,” Drew said. “We need to make the middle class more healthy, and if we take care of the middle class, the city’s finances will follow suit.”
The candidates proposed different ideas for economic development. Drew believed reducing taxes, creating job incentives, and targeting specific industries would bring jobs to Middletown and combat unemployment.
“Economic development is a very important element of growing the middle class,” he said. “We need to capitalize on our strengths and insulate ourselves by targeting specific growth industries—aerospace and aerospace technology is one, green technology is another, and biotech research is important.”
The mayor responded by citing the high unemployment rates that plague the country and Middletown.
“Connecticut’s business climate overall is not good,” he said. “We are blessed with a great location, the river, highways, and Wesleyan.”
The issue of public safety was also important to both candidates. Both agreed that finding a person to fill the position of Chief of Police was important, and that hiring more policemen and improving the fire department’s resources were an integral aspect of public safety.
“I think increasing the volume of officers we have will do a lot [for public safety],” Drew said.
“We need to build a fire house, and also improve emergency management,” Giuliano added.
The candidates then finished the debate portion with their closing statements. Giuliano also said he wanted to improve safety, while Drew stressed transparency in government, budgetary changes, and a need for increased communication.
“We need to make sure infrastructure is good, build a firehouse, improve safety, and prepare for weather events,” Giuliano closed.
“Education is important, but I also feel like this administration has messed up the budgets,” Drew said.
Prior to and throughout the debate, spectators submitted questions to the moderator. Audience members asked about transparency, education funding, and community gardens.
After just a few topics, the question and answer session was cut short.
“We really wanted the Q & A section to be a lot longer, and we were willing to sacrifice our time,” Russell said. “The moderator decided to end it early, which we greatly regret because there were a lot of really good questions that were not asked, and we apologize profusely for that.”
After the debate, Russell said she felt more supportive of Drew.
“He had a much stronger, and more concrete argument,” she said. “His rebuttals were much more to the point, and better at debasing Giuliano’s argument.”
London Perry ’15 is registered to vote in the election and attended the debate. Afterward she felt unsure which side she was leaning towards.
“It was actually really hard for me to lean towards one side or another, because both the candidates had similar viewpoints with little variations,” she said. “I would hear one talk, and be like ‘oh he’s so right,’ then hear another speak and think ‘well he has a good point too.’”
The election will take place November 8.