Longtime Danbury incumbent Mayor Mark Boughton and Democratic challenger Chris Setaro faced off in a debate last night. Boughton is seeking his 10th term in office. Setaro is an attorney who served as City Council President. The debate was held by the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce. a boisterous crowd clapped for their respective candidates throughout the debate. There were a few interruptions, especially when the candidates were asked about immigration.
The first couple of questions were about how to retain and grow business in the City. Boughton said the state doesn't make it easy and touted creation of the small business advocacy. Setaro says strategic planning is important. He says small businesses look at things like the schools, roads and quality of life when looking to located to a municipality. He says the City can be made stronger by focusing on these kitchen table issues. Setaro also called for assessment deferrals. Boughton says economic development is not a problem for Danbury, noting that tax breaks are given and the permitting system has been streamlined and put online.
The candidates were next asked about what they would do to help downtown thrive. Boughton says his administration is in the process of implementing a Transit Oriented Development plan, which includes $2 million from the state for sidewalks. He highlighted zoning changes that have been made in City Center and a grant to study how to revive the old Maybrook train line, connecting downtown to Southeast train station. Boughton also touted the learning corridor with Naugatuck Valley Community College. Setaro says the downtown should be a priority, because it looks the same as it did 18 years ago. He called for a revitalization of the dining and entertainment district to jump start things in City Center. Setaro says the city-owned Tuxedo Junction building should be put to use as a performing arts center.
When it comes to residential development, Setaro says Danbury has been overdeveloped with no plan for how to manage that growth. He says the area on the westside known as The Reserve should have been corporate development property. Boughton noted that Setaro voted for the sewer and water extension and knew it was going to be residential. He added that there was a real threat that The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation would have built a casino on that land. Boughton says they are taxpayers, support local businesses and there's also 200 acres of open space. As for overcrowding in the schools, Boughton says these are residents who should be demonized. Setaro fired back unbridled growth is different than running sewer and water over to the west side, there could have been commercial development. He also doesn't see a rush of casino entrepreneurs lining up in Danbury.
Setaro noted when it comes to education funding, there is currently a crisis with an unexpected jump in enrollment creating a $1.3 million budget shortfall. He called for a 20 year strategic plan so that Danbury is last in the state on per pupil spending. He says that's not a badge of honor and doesn't think Danbury needs a lobbyist to bring more dollars back to the City. Boughton says the education budget has increased every year he's been in office and never presented a budget that forced layoffs.
Crime and quality of life issues were also addressed by the candidates. Boughton says the Police and Fire Departments have new infrastructure and touted the centralized dispatch center. He noted that there are roving foot patrols in the summer and plans for more community policing. Setaro says Danbury has a police force and fire department to be proud of, but says the police department is understaffed. He wants to look at the privatized 911 system and called for a street crimes unit to address robbery and auto theft. Setaro also called on the Mayor to sign onto a letter that calls for universal background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases. Boughton says Danbury has enough officers, noting the crime is down 18 percent year over year.
On immigration, Setaro says Danbury needs a Mayor who views the City as a set of communities to bring together through inclusive politics. He says people want to be heard, and it's important to reach out to everyone. Boughton says he is proud that Danbury is a diverse city and has strived to make sure the workforce is representative of the people they serve. He noted a diversified police force and the large number of cultural and religious events held in the City. Setaro says a Mayor should respect diversity, adding that he wouldn't deputize police to pick up day laborers leading to an expensive civil rights violation lawsuit. Boughton says he didn't deputize the police, they did have a partnership with ICE to focus on criminal activities. Setaro responded that Danbury has a police department to address criminality.