Sunday, October 14, 2007
October 2007 - Waterbury Mayoral Candidate Joe Zdonczyk Q&A
Guided By Values, Determined To Live His Faith
(Observer publisher John Murray sat down with Joe Zdonczyk at the candidate's kitchen table in Wolcott for a free wheeling conversation about Waterbury, faith, and the values missing in the political process. Zdonczyk said if he is elected he will move to Waterbury to govern the city. Zdonczyk is running as a candidate from The Concerned Citizen's Party. Photographs by Michael Asaro.)
Observer: Joe you live in Wolcott and you are running for the mayor of Waterbury. Can you explain that to me?
Zdonczyk: (big laugh) I knew that was the very first thing you were going to hit me with. Look, I make no apologies for my candidacy living in Wolcott and running in Waterbury. This is typical of The Concerned Citizens Party, we have been petitioning to get on the ballot for so many years and have had candidates for the highest office, including President.
O: You’ve run for governor.
Z: Yes, I’ve run for governor.
O: How many times did you run for governor?
Z: Two or three times, I don’t know, I lose track. I ran for congress, I ran for mayor of Wolcott…
O: You ran for mayor of Wolcott?
Z: Oh yeah, sure. I’ve run for many different positions. As a matter of fact when Howard Phillips was running for president with the United States Taxpayer’s Party I was a vice presidential candidate on the ballot in two states, Connecticut and Illinois. The reason he asked me to be on the ballot in Illinois is because Chicago is the second largest Polish city in the world, he thought my name would be good for a few votes. (big laugh)
O: I hear people talk…
Z: Let me get back to your first question about why I’m running for mayor of Waterbury while living in Wolcott. Critics try to make something wrong with my candidacy and there is nothing wrong with my candidacy. I have received a letter of approval from the secretary of the state. My petition was examined and approved. It’s legitimate.
O: But why Waterbury?
Z: I was born in Waterbury. I spent half my life in Waterbury. I went to school in Waterbury. I got my education in Waterbury. I enlisted in the army when I graduated from Leavenworth High School. After the army I came back to Waterbury and started a business. I paid my taxes, was a law abiding citizen. I lived in Waterbury for more than half my life and have always maintained an interest in Waterbury because it’s my hometown. I moved out to Wolcott but I am in Waterbury every day without fail. I attend mass at the Immaculate Conception church every day. I’ve been living in Wolcott but I have been watching what has been going on in Waterbury all these many years. It’s very depressing to see what the political process has wrought.
O: What is it that you see?
Z: I don’t think I need to go over the things that everybody is familiar with from Waterbury’s corrupt past, so let’s just look at the numbers that exist today. Waterbury has the highest unemployment numbers in the region, not for a month, but for six years running. Waterbury has the highest per capita bonded debt in the whole state. And Waterbury has the highest mil rate in the state making Waterbury citizens pay the highest taxes in Connecticut. You can’t expect Waterbury to pull itself up by it’s own initiatives, it can’t be done. Look at the politicians who have been running the city all these many years and they keep repeating the same rhetoric year, after year, after year.
In the early years of Waterbury it was alive, it was energetic, it was full of new ideas and people who willing to go out and develop their talent to the fullest. For the past thirty years the population has been stagnant, the city has not been growing.
O: One of the challenges is the massive unfunded $460 million pension debt. If you are elected mayor how would you deal with that?
Z: My first order of business would be getting the mil rate down. It is a complex situation and everything is linked together. You’ve got high unemployment, you’ve got a high mil rate and hopefully you’ve got an initiative to try and draw new businesses into Waterbury.
O: Do you think the mayor isn’t doing that?
Z: They’re trying, but this is what you have to do. We have a $360 million dollar city budget and we need to require each and every department head to voluntarily reduce expenditures in their department. The police budget just came in with an extra $900,000 left over from their budget last year, so there is room to cut these numbers up front. Across the board reductions in the budget.
O: You’d start off with a voluntary request?
Z: Yes, expecting a voluntary tightening of budgetary expenditures on all levels.
O: What if you don’t get that?
Z: If department heads don’t go along then we have to get the board of alderman to seriously dig into the budget and start making reductions in expenditures in all of the departments. There is no budget and no department in this country where there isn’t excess fat. If we can reduce expenditures that should translate into a lower mil rate. When you do that then you can justify reaching out to businesses to come look at Waterbury. The most important thing a business will look at when deciding to move into a new area is “How much am I going to pay in taxes?’ If I’m going to set up a business in Waterbury am I going to be eaten up alive? This is critical. We have to assure businesses moving into Waterbury that they aren’t going to get hammered. Any business looking at the tax rate right now would be discouraged and look elsewhere. That’s why we need to start by lowing the mil rate.
O: We are coming off a five year period where the state oversight board was in control of the budget process in Waterbury. We had a task force of experts doing battle with the union contracts. Many people thing they have already squeezed the fat out. What do you think about the job the oversight board did?
Z: You have to give the oversight board their due. What they did in effect was run a tight financial ship and they did their job. But now they are no longer there. I made mention a moment ago about the police contract coming in under budget, that speaks for itself. So yes there is still room to cut expenses. Now with the oversight board gone it is critical that we have a conscientious mayor and board of aldermen to closely watch the budget. They are the people that are going to be held accountable. As the mayor it would be my job to say we need to have a closer look at all expenditures in the city. The next mayor needs to act as the oversight board did. There has to be a sharing of the pain. The taxpayers need relief and they are the very first people we need to focus on.
O: So your very first move would be to cut taxes?
Z: Exactly. Now that the oversight board is gone the taxpayers themselves are a target. Where else are you going to get money? I know how to get money….
O: Where? How would Joe Zdonczyk get money into Waterbury without hitting up the taxpayers?
Z: My proposal is on the state level and I’ve received approval from Mayor Chatfield in Prospect, Mayor San Angelo in Naugatuck, Mayor Jarjura in Waterbury and Mayor Dunn in Wolcott to investigate my proposal. I said to them that we can’t fix our problems on the strength of our own resources. We’ve been hammered into the ground and now we have look for resources outside our local base. The state of Connecticut only gets 65 cents for every tax dollar it sends to Washington D.C. That comes out to approximately $8 billion a year we lose, or half the state budget. We have to insist that Connecticut get it’s fair share of tax dollars back from Washington. Other states get 120% back, 140% back depending on the clout of their senators and congressman. I received tentative support from the four mayors and I haven’t followed through on it yet.
O: Doesn’t it depend on need? Doesn’t Mississippi get more than Connecticut based on need?
Z: Maybe, but when you look at the amount of money Connecticut has paid and not gotten back, it is mind blowing, it is 100’s of billions of dollars, or at least multiple billions of dollars that have vanished into that sink hole in Washington. What is necessary, if the governor had any backbone, is for the governor and legislature to say that we are not willing to send taxpayers dollars to Washington to be distributed all over the world when we ourselves our lacking. And until we get a fair share we are going to stop payment of taxpayer dollars going to Washington. We’re not going to stop paying our taxes, we are simply going to put that taxpayer money into escrow.
O: How would you do that? If I’m paying my taxes to the federal government I don’t send my return through any state filter, it goes right to the IRS. How would your idea work?
Z: We would have to have legislation in the state of Connecticut and take a stand to challenge the federal government.
O: They’d pull the National Guard out of Iraq and send them to Hartford. (both laugh)
Z: This isn’t something off the wall, all four mayors said it was a good idea to pursue. Our problem is we don’t think, we just don’t think. Instead we come up with little ideas like Mr. Odle and his senior center. To him that’s a big idea, but where does the money come from? Oh that doesn’t matter. Are we breaking the law? That doesn’t matter. Look at Mr. De Pillo’s big idea to bottle water in the city. When you examine all these big ideas they don’t fly. They are not thought out, they are simply election year rhetoric to get the people all excited that they are going to get something for nothing. But you can’t con the seniors, they know you can’t get something for nothing.
O: It’s the seniors that go off to vote.
Z: I know. But seniors know you get nothing for nothing. One way or another you are going to pay for it. Mr. Odle’s proposal to give a slice of the electorate something for nothing is not logical, and is not honest.
O: Is is frustration at watching the Waterbury political process that brings you into battle?
Z: More than that. My past is a part of me. I am what I am. I am a Catholic, not a practicing Catholic, but an observant one. They are two different things. John Kerry is practicing Catholic, Chris Dodd is a practicing catholic, I wish they were more observant. What we have is people explaining their Catholic credentials and they can be seen as spokesmen for our faith when that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I maintain that the most dangerous people in the world today are misguided Catholics in positions of authority. They have had a grounding in the faith and they understand the difference between right and wrong based on that foundation. My response is that if they are serious Catholics, then live your faith. It’s simple, live your faith. Let’s bring that down to my own level and what’s going on in Waterbury, what are we talking about. We are talking about people who are Catholic. Mr. De Pillo is a Catholic, Mr. Jarjura is a Catholic, Mr. Theriault is a Catholic, and many members on the board of aldermen are Catholic. I’m not trying to degrade them, but I talk to them and appeal to them to live their faith. Don’t pay us lip service, live your faith. Don’t be intimidated by the secular views that dominate in our society today.
When it comes down to me I say that I am an observant Catholic and those things that are important to me are simply a reflection of what the Catholic Church teaches. We know all the issues confronting the Catholic Church. We hear their position of abortion, homosexual marriage, on stem cell research, privacy within the confessional, all these things that are a part of the Catholic Church are a part of me.
O: Some people reading this would say great for you, these are important national issues and you should be running for congress, or the senate. What do these issues have to do with running for the mayor of Waterbury? What does your Catholic faith have to do with the pension fund, paving roads and balancing budgets?
Z: Each and every elected official goes by some kind of standard, something within that person says this is the right thing to do, or this is not. Spending money on roads is the right thing to do, but, perhaps, spending money on schools is more important. Therefore I’ll have to make a decision about what I think is right is wrong. What is proper, what is more beneficial.
O: So you’d be more of a values driven mayor than an issues oriented mayor?
Z: They can’t be separated. People talk about the separation between church and state and that’s a fallacy. A person goes into elected office and he has values that he has acquired in his lifetime. These values are what determine what it is he does in office.
O: In the past 30 or 40 years whenever a candidate says what you are saying about faith and religion they become radioactive. The media censures the message and labels the candidate a holy roller. How would you respond to that?
Z: The whole idea that there is a separation between church and state is a myth, there is nothing in the constitution that even suggests that. The media uses that as a club to silence people who say, hey listen, examine your values. It doesn’t matter to me whether a person is a Hindu or a Buddhist, Muslim or Catholic, or whatever, it doesn’t matter to me, just live your faith. Values need to be stressed today. The moral issues should be dominant in our lives and we can’t simply dismiss them as being irrelevant.
O: Let me ask you some specifics about how you would run Waterbury. Do you have an under ticket?
Z: We have eight candidates running for the board of alderman.
O: What if you are elected mayor and none of your ticket gets elected, you are forced to work with entrenched Democrats, Independents and Republicans. Wouldn’t that create a stalemate for your ideas and proposals?
Z: You can’t underestimate the authority that is delegated to the mayor when he or she is elected to office. It is the people who place the mayor into office, he has the ultimate authority to guide the ship of state. Any elected official or activist who became an obstructionist would be risking their elected position in future elections. The mayor is expected to lay down his plan of action and the board of aldermen should give him some deference and support because he was elected by the people. Any mayor who encounters obstructionists should point them out to the people, and if those individuals persist, they will do so at their own peril. Some have called the Independents on the board obstructionists and given them the name of CAVE people, you know, Citizens Against Virtually Everything.
O: How are you getting your message out? Are you being invited to any of the debates?
O: You’re not being invited to the Chamber debate?
O:: How does that make sense? You were invited to a chamber debate when you ran for Congress, that’s crazy.
Z: I don’t understand it. Listen to this one. The National Congress of Black Women is having a debate and they are inviting me. They represent a total minority and they are turning around and excluding a candidate from a minority party. It’s puzzling to me.
O: Are you getting any attention?
Z: Very little outside the couple of articles that announced I was running for mayor of Waterbury while living in Wolcott. We are making history here, this has never been done before. We are breaking new ground. We have done the same thing in Danbury with a candidate running for mayor while living in Bethel.
O: You’re a real rabble rouser..
Z: You would expect there would be an acknowledgement of a minor party making history. And the make-up of our under ticket is very important. Twenty-five percent of Waterbury is made up of Latinos, yet there is not one Latino on the Republican ticket, there is not one Latino on the Independent Party ticket, and there is only one Latino, Sandra Rameriz, on the Democrat ticket. We have four Latinos running on our ticket. The major parties in Waterbury have marginalized and dismissed one quarter of the city’s population. We are acknowledging that 25% of the population is not being represented and we are challenging the political parties to address this issue.
O: So how can you get your message out? Are you using public access TV?
Z: I don’t have any money, so I take my sign and walk around downtown and talk to people.
O: What’s your sign say?
Z: Catholic, choose life candidate for mayor, Row D, and then I have a little thing on the bottom that says when my public access show plays on Friday. I’ve talked to hundreds, maybe even thousands of people on the Green, where ever. I was at the car show on Freight Street, the BeerFest in Library Park, where ever I can find a substantial number of people.
O: What do you say to them?
Z: My simple introduction is “ I’m Joe Zdonczyk and I’m the Catholic, pro-life, pro-family, constitutionally oriented, tax payer sensitive, supporter of the second amendment, want to get the government off our backs and out of our pockets, Concerned Citizens Party candidate for mayor. (big laugh) Then I ask them if they would register with the Concerned Citizens Party. That’s how I get the message out.
O: Having followed you for the past 15 years one of the most powerful aspects of your campaigns is speaking truth to power. You are an outsider and aren’t afraid to let it rip and challenge the political machinery. You live in Wolcott, nobody is giving you any attention, nobody thinks your going to win, so take a look at what’s going on in Waterbury and tell me what we’re doing wrong?
Z: You bring out the fact that I am an outsider, and there is no question that I am, but my roots are in Waterbury. I always bring out the point that Waterbury has had three mayor and a governor spending time in jail, so the politicians there are afraid that I might come in and spoil things.
People need to recognize that Waterbury is stagnant, growth is being stunted, new ideas have no way of taking root and the system itself is broken. That is the status quo we have in Waterbury. Change won’t come until you have an outsider who isn’t tainted, who doesn’t have his views corralled, is voted into office. If you have the idea that something can be improved, and you know it can be improved, you’re obliged to go ahead and try to get it done. I still have some hometown pride. There is a nightclub opening up in Waterbury called Sin City and there was some controversy about it and the Republican-American newspaper called up the mayoral candidates and asked them their views on the name of the club. The other three candidates were all quoted in the newspaper, but no one called me up and asked me my opinion. It goes to show you how exclusive the Waterbury newspaper is. Just out of courtesy they should call up and ask me my opinion. I have been unable to express my views this entire campaign in the daily newspaper.
O: How do you feel about that?
Z: I’ve come to accept it. Those people who would prevent a legitimate candidate from expressing his views, they do themselves more harm.
O: I think it does the city harm. When we first started the Observer 14 years ago the mayoral race was between Mike Bergin, Steve Somma, and Andy Michaud. The Republican-American and the chamber excluded Michaud like he didn’t exist. We sat down with him in a Q & A session and asked him the same questions we asked the Democrat and Republican. We gave him equal space in the Observer. Two years later we gave Jimmy Griffin equal space, and later Larry De Pillo, Jimmy Ayash and now Dennis Odle. It’s not up to the daily newspaper, the radio, or the chamber, to decide who the candidates are. It’s up to the people. It is our belief that you have to get the information out to the voters so people can make an informed decision. But in Waterbury there are always games being played, it’s favored candidacies, and people are being excluded from the process by the daily paper and the chamber, who play God with the information. Quite frankly I find it disgusting. That’s not democracy. It’s not quite the land of the free that we think it is.
Z: I couldn’t agree with you more. It should not be up to those little power centers to determine who it is that the people hear. That’s exactly what they are doing. They are acting as censures. The same thing happened on Channel 13 when they invited the mayoral candidates to a round table discussion. I called the producer, who I won’t name, and said I wanted to be a part of it, and he said no, you can’t do that, we’ve already made arrangements. The other forums have already made arrangements and probably said this guy is an outsider and doesn’t deserve to be heard.
O: When I interviewed Odle, D’Amelio and Jarjura they were all interested in whether I was going to interview you and when I said I was, they all seemed happy about it. They all said that was good.
Z: (big laugh) Oh brother. Last night I called a show that had Mrs. Odle on it because I wanted to ask Mrs. Odle a question. Laura Nesta’s husband answered the phone and then I was cut off. I called back and he told me they were kind of nervous because it was their first time on TV and they didn’t want to hear my rhetoric. I said I just wanted to ask a question. He asked me what the question was, and I said I wanted to ask Mrs. Odle whether her husband would support an abortion free zone in Waterbury. Mayor Jarjura has said he would support one if it passed through the Board of Aldermen, so I wanted to know how Mr. Odle feels about the issue. Well, Mr. Nesta said I couldn’t ask that question, and hung up on me. See. That one ounce of authority that is invested in Mr. Nesta had to be exercised to the fullest. Every one of these power centers is going to do their utmost to flex their authority to determine who might be elected.
O: What do you think about Mayor Jarjura’s real estate developments in Waterbury? Do you thinks that’s dangerous?
Z: No. Technically I don’t see it as a problem.
O: Some of the projects are going before a board for approval that he appointed people to that board.
Z: There might be a conflict there. Overall, you have to understand that a person doesn’t stop living when they are elected to an office. Mr. Jarjura is a business man and he has associates. I can’t make a judgement whether there is anything underhanded being done here, but he can’t stop what he has been doing simply because he is an elected official. If there are improprieties, if there is inside information being shared, or pressure being placed on boards and commissions, well that’s a serious matter.
O: The problem he has now is a project going before the Inland Wetlands Commission and the chairperson, Kathy McNamara was appointed by the mayor and also has a full-time job working for WDC. No one is saying the mayor has done anything illegal, it’s more of a perception problem he has. With Waterbury’s rich history of corruption it not might be be such a good idea for him to be mayor and real estate developer at this time in Waterbury’s healing process.
Z: You hit the word exactly. Perception is reality for many people. If people believe something unsavory is going on they react. Perhaps it’s above board, perhaps it’s not, we genuinely don’t know. We’ve had so many examples outside of Waterbury; the state rep in Bridgeport, the mayor of Bridgeport, the state treasurer, we’ve had so many proven examples where an office of power was being used inappropriately. So we need to be cautious. If what the mayor is doing is legal, they we have to respect that. Often times things are proclaimed and people are attacked and it’s simply out of some deep animosity one person has for another.
O: Like what?
Z: Okay, how about this sub-rosa suggestion that the mayor is anti-Italian. See, that’s the kid of thing that drives me crazy.
O: But he came out said that Tony D’Amelio was being supported by crooks and felons..
Z: All right, but that’s not generic.
O: But it does roll back into some of this stuff that there is a link between Joe Santopietro and Phil Giordano and the trouble we’ve had electing young Italian males from Town Plot. We have a history of ethnic voting, just like you were on the ballot in Chicago to capture the Polish vote, there is a mantra inside the Republican Party if there’s not a vowel on the end of your name the party doesn’t want to put you up for election. I spent a considerable amount of time with Tony during his interview letting him address the rumor and innuendo that swirls around this subject. So when the mayor throws that out he is kind of throwing a pig on the table. But it is a very real fear some people have in Waterbury. Jarjura was playing politics with his comments and he has backed off, but it’s a bombshell issue in Waterbury.
Z: It’s quite common for people to get caught off-guard during a campaign and make some comment that they regret.
O: Okay, let’s switch gears. Forty percent of students in Waterbury public school that enter 9th grade are not graduating four years later. How would you address that issue?
Z: You might think this is a bit of a stretch, but going back to my Catholic roots, I had an experience the other day in Walden Bookstore. I picked up this book about the most important activities of the past century and they had this section about names. They showed the ten most popular names in America and in the earlier century the name that was most popular was Mary. Then in the 50s and 60s Mary’s name dropped down. I would attribute that to the free radical movements of the 1960s, free love, marijuana, drug excess, anything goes and free sex. Names like John and Joseph were popular names a long time ago, they were biblically based. Now, all that has been swept away. Now let’s get down to our schools. Prayer has been taken out of our schools. There is not to be a mention of God in any of the classrooms. We’ve turned into a pagan, secular society. So what do we do? Our students are not going to school to seriously learn their subjects. They go into school and it’s play time. The moral standards have been declining for decades.
O: So how do you deal with that? We can’t name all the kids Mary, Joseph and John and hope that that’s going to keep these kids in school. So how as mayor can you deal with this issue in Waterbury?
Z: I would insist that we reinstate prayer in school in Waterbury. Prayer in school is essential because it provides an atmosphere, an aura, to the students and to the teachers, that we are here to do something serious. We’re not here to float airplanes through the air and later on during school take a pot break. We’re here to be serious students to learn the subjects we are supposed to be taught. The way to impart that aura is to offer prayer to guide the students and guide the teachers through that class day. I am certain that all the attendant problems, the truancy, the disrespect to the teachers, the pot smoking after school, all of those things would decline. That’s my view.
I would also promote abstinence only sex education. Pat Hayes (bd of ed president) brought in a beauty queen who advocated abstinence. After Pat Hayes was elected he went completely out of sight. That’s what I keep saying. Pat Hayes is a Catholic. Live your faith. If you are a Catholic you have to be living by one kind of standard, or are you going to be living by the secular standards and embrace that system that you see is destroying us on so many different levels. It’s destroying us on the student level, it’s destroying us on the adult level, destroying us with politics. The only way you can address the problems with students is to impress upon them the need for seriousness and we can do that be reinstating prayer in school.
If we continue down the path we’re going…God only know what lies ahead. But we can look back and see how things were, and make a valid comparison. We are lacking a focus on the human element.
O: You have one minute alone with every voter in Waterbury just before they enter the voting booth, what would you say to them to get them to support Joe Zdonczyk for mayor?
Z: Plain and simple. It’s what I say to people when I first meet them; My name is Joe Zdonczyk and I am a Catholic, pro-life, pro-family, constitutionally oriented, tax payer sensitive, protector of the Second Amendment right to bear arms and I want to be your mayor and get the government off your back and out of your pockets. That’s where I’m coming from. If you care to support me, great, I need your vote.