Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Broken Promise

Four-Term Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura Faces Internal Party Challenges As He Seeks Re-election In 2009
Story By John Murray

Photographs By John Murray and Michael Asaro

(Photograph of Mayor Michael Jarjura)

In the world of politics broken promises are like weather changes in New England –predictably frequent. Americans have come to accept broken promises as part of our raucous political discourse. In order to secure our votes most candidates will tell us what we want to hear, and then after the election, they largely do whatever is in their own best interest.

Welcome to democracy in America.

Although broken promises litter the political landscape like cornstalks across Nebraska, two broken vows has triggered a political showdown between three democratic leaders in Waterbury. The story began to unfold in July 2005 when Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura approached Waterbury Police Chief Neil O’Leary at a funeral. Jarjura was plowing ahead with his campaign for a third term in office, and if successful, he had stated it would be his last.

O’Leary recalled the conversation. “The mayor told me he wasn’t running for another term and told me directly that I would be a good leader for the city. The mayor encouraged me in July 2005 to consider taking the next step into public office in 2007.”

(Photograph of Neil O'Leary)

One month later Jarjura’s hopes for a third term were upended when Karen Mulcahy scored a stunning upset in the democratic primary, and it appeared Jarjura’s political career was toast. Devastated, Jarjura reached out to O’Leary and other influential democrats for support in an unprecedented write-in campaign that challenged Mulcahy and three other candidates in the November general election. O’Leary was instrumental in convincing political strategist Fran Sullivan to come down from Cape Cod and run Jarjura’s long shot campaign.

Two months later Jarjura made national news when he became just the fifth candidate in American history to win a major political election on a write-in ballot. After Jarjura’s victory he again re-iterated to O’Leary that he was serving his last term in office. Jarjura also met with aldermanic president J. Paul Vance Jr. and promised him that this was his last term as mayor.

Based on the direct word of Mike Jarjura, both Vance and O’Leary began to contemplate campaigns for an open mayor’s seat in the autumn of 2007. But in the spring of 2007 Jarjura changed his mind and decided to seek re-election to a fourth term.

“The mayor told me he wanted another term so he could prove that the write-in campaign wasn’t a fluke,” O’Leary said. “I promised to support him and he pointedly told me this was going to be it for him. One more term and he was out.”

Vance didn’t appreciate the mayor’s waffling around and decided to plow ahead with his own plans and primary Jarjura in September 2007.

Wanting to avoid a costly and divisive political showdown, Jarjura went to Vance’s kitchen table and assured him that a fourth term would unequivocally be his last. If Vance waited two more years, the coast would be clear.

“I did sit with Paul and his wife at their kitchen table,” Jarjura confirmed. “Paul told me he had been waiting in the wings and wanted to challenge me in a primary. I told him that I would hate to see that happen. I asked him to hold off and he could run in two years, I just wanted one more term.”

(Photograph of J. Paul Vance Jr.)

Vance and O’Leary holstered their ambitions and in November 2007 they both supported Jarjura as the mayor swept to a convincing fourth term in office. With Jarjura promising that this was his last term there was now an opportunity for any political aspirants to move forward with their own plans, and both Vance and O’Leary eyed mayoral campaigns in 2009.

Vance made the first move by filing papers in late May, just six months after the last municipal election, and 18 months before the electorate would decide Waterbury’s next leader. No one could recall a mayoral candidate declaring their intentions so early in the process, and the response from Mike Jarjura was shocking. During an interview with the Observer in early June, Mayor Jarjura announced he was strongly leaning towards seeking a fifth term in office, and that if he didn’t run, he thought Police Chief O’Leary would be an excellent choice to replace him.

Let the political sumo wrestling begin.

Vance no longer cared what Jarjura was or wasn’t going to do, and made his intentions official on July 11th, on his 34th birthday. “I’m in,” Vance said. “Several people have approached me and said I should just wait until Mike decides he’s through. Mike’s friends are concerned that he doesn’t have anything lined up, and he is unsure what he’d do afterwards. But really, what does that matter? Politics is not a career. Do a short time and get out.”

Vance admits he is frustrated by Jarjura’s broken promises. “I’ve been a hothead and said the wrong things before,” Vance said, “ but I’m not going to break my word. Mike has done that two times now. It doesn’t matter what he says anymore. I’d appreciate his support, but if I don’t get it, we’ll let the voters decide what they want.”

Despite Vance’s seven years of aldermanic experience, some political pundits believe O’Leary presents a more dangerous internal threat to a fifth Jarjura term. O’Leary is a forceful man who has modernized the police department, created one of the most successful PAL programs in the country, and has overseen a drop in the city’s crime rate for six straight years.

“Ever since the mayor approached me at the funeral in July 2005,” O’Leary told the Observer, “I have had an interest in running for mayor.”

(Photograph of Neil O'Leary and Mayor Jarjura)

As O’Leary considers his options he is acutely aware of the Hatch Act, a federal law that prohibits local police officers from seeking “partisan” elected office. If O’Leary announced he was running for mayor - while still serving as Waterbury’s top cop - he would be in violation of the Hatch Act, could be fired by Mayor Jarjura, and find himself a target of a federal investigation.

“I have to be very careful what I say,” O’Leary said, “ but I will tell you that a significant number of people have approached me and asked me to run for mayor. I am flattered that so me people think I might do a good job as mayor, but because of the federal law I’m going to take my time and mull over my options until early January and make my decision then.”

If O’Leary were to run for mayor he would have to step down as police chief. It is his understanding that he could resign and announce his candidacy in the same breath. But during a telephone interview on December 9th he clearly stated he hadn’t made up his mind yet, and will continue to gather input from the community as to whether he should mount a challenge to a Jarjura fifth term.

“Everybody should do what’s in their hearts to do,” Mayor Jarjura said. “Who knows? Maybe they can win.”

But is Jarjura really going to run? During a Fox-61 interview in November the mayor said he would be announcing after the holidays and that it was premature to think about the next election. “People want to enjoy Christmas and the New Year,” he said. “But I have every intention to continue my responsibilities here. I think I’ve earned it.”

But while he was publicly proclaiming that to Fox 61 news, Jarjura had privately agreed to a power meeting with O’Leary in January that would bring the party leadership together to hash things out. Jarjura and O’Leary agreed to hold off on any political announcements until after the meeting.

Many big name players in the local Democratic Party are treading lightly around the subject of a Jarjura-O’Leary match-up because it has the potential to splinter a united party. Vance has a legion of supporters as well, but not among the leadership and deep pocket donors.

“There would be a lot of strained relationships if Neil ran,” Jarjura said. “But with the Independents and Republicans weakened, we could survive a three way splinter.”

When the Observer sat down with Mayor Jarjura in his office on December 4th he unexpectedly announced that “I’m 100% running for mayor and I’m going to win.”

(Photograph of John Murray interviewing Mayor Jarjura)

When asked about a power meeting in January the mayor confirmed it was going to happen. “Unless someone can convince me why Mayor Jarjura shouldn’t seek re-election, I’m running,” he said. “I can’t think of any reason not to run other than to step aside to promote the political aspirations of other candidates.”

Is the mayor trying to have it both ways? He promises not to run, and then he runs. He openly calls on all candidates to follow their hearts and run if they want to, and then he and his minions indirectly threaten people supporting other candidates with lost board appointments and lost job opportunities. Several people have confirmed that Vance supporters and O’Leary supporters have received threats via the grapevine that they are in harms way if their candidate challenges Jarjura.

“There’s a lot of passive-aggressive stuff going on in Waterbury right now,” Vance said. “And I don’t like it.”

But to many insiders that’s just old school politics and the way the game is played in Waterbury.

Vance bristles at that notion. “We can be better than that,” he said. “Look at President-elect Obama and his team of rivals. Look at how Obama handled the nasty campaigning that came his way. When it got ugly he didn’t respond with the same tone. I won’t get personal with Mike Jarjura. I’ve run with him four times. I respect him, but I don’t like the game he is playing right now.”

Jarjura doesn’t believe he is playing any political games. He said he is too busy governing to be focused on others’ ambitions.

“The city is at an important juncture in its history and we need to have a steady hand on the wheel,” Jarjura said. “Continuity is very important and we need to be more progressive right now. We’ve been focused on reorganizing and I now want to focus on infrastructure and programs. Another term will give me the opportunity to do that.”

Vance said the mayor has a right to change his mind, but this is the right time for Paul Vance to step into the ring. He and his wife Michelle are expecting their first child in the spring and they’ve bought a house in Town Plot. “Most of our friends have moved out of Waterbury into the suburbs,” Vance said. “I don’t like where the city is right now. I see the big picture and believe being mayor is about more than flag raising ceremonies.”

Vance said he’s running “not because of Mike or Neil, I’m running because I think I can do a good job, and if the voters agree, they’ll hire me. If not, I’ll continue to practice law.”

So what’s going to happen? Vance and Jarjura are running, and O’Leary is pondering his future like a cougar eyeing his prey. After several years of relative calm in the city’s Democratic Party, expect all hell to break loose in 2009, and don’t be surprised if Democratic Party Chairman Ned Cullinan develops an ulcer.

(Photograph of Ned Cullinan while he's still smiling)

As Jarjura puts it, both Vance and O’Leary would take considerable risk in challenging a popular four-term mayor.

“Paul is risking his political future at a very young age and Neil would be losing his job as police chief,” Jarjura said.

Jarjura said he has no problem working with O’Leary and Vance in their official capacities as they try to move the city forward. “There won’t be anything that strains my friendship with Neil,” Jarjura said, “and I’ll try to be professional with Paul.”

Asked if he would try to broker a deal and promise Vance and O’Leary that this would be his last term in exchange for their support, the mayor rolled his eyes and said, “Oh no, I’m not saying that again. That keeps getting me in trouble. But I will say that I have ended up serving longer than I anticipated – by necessity - not by design.”


Anonymous said...

Fair and balanced. A good read even if you are not into the political scene. I would love to hear the three subjects comment on this piece of journalism.

All three seem to care about the city and its people. Their problems may lie in their hearts more than their personal desire to be the top dog.

It is my hope that any (crazy) negative (political) fallout to allies of one the candidates or another, though part of collateral damage, should be contained. In other words, the City as a whole should escape the old corruption. God knows this city doesn't need that again. To the credit of all three men. Hats off to them and the honest reporting of the subject.
With all your faults, Waterbury, your city has the potential few cities have. Despite the appearance of old politics it is the future visions of each of these men that count. After the gladiators leave the field of battle I hope they turn their swords into plow shears and pull together. But it sure will make the the ticket to the smackdown Ultimate Fighting fun to watch. Well worth buying a front row seat to the Observer. You can't beat the price of admission.

Keep on informing us.

Anonymous said...

As nice as Mike Jarjura is as a man, he really has cast a boring light on Waterbury politics for his last four terms. To be honest, seeing Chief O'Leary's picture and reading that he may be intending to run for mayor adds a certain energy that Waterbury has not seen for a long time. A division in the Democratic party during the Presidential election this year added an element that had never been seen in electoral history. People were riled up about politics and actually cared to see what was going on. I foresee the same thing taking place once there is a splintered party and primary between these three big cheeses in Waterbury.
All three really do have good yet vastly different views about what is best for the city. But Jarjura's broken promises are starting to piss me off. He did a good job for awhile, but it's time for some new exciting blood like Neil O'Leary to come in and shake the city up.
Here comes a showdown and The Observer is the only place that all three candidates are comfortable speaking the truth because it's a place that actually prints the truth. I'm excited to see John Murray get involved in the political scene again and passionately report what is going on in Waterbury politics. It's about time things got heated in Waterbury again and I can't wait to see what ends up happening in the end.

Anonymous said...

O'Leary 2009!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Mayor Jarjura seems like a good man but he has not had a plan for Waterbury in four terms. The oversight board did all of his work for him and now he is only a caretaker. The police chief also seems like a good man, but brings his long political history to the table. Vance is the only candidate who not a part of the 'old guard' in Waterbury. Vance '09!!

Anonymous said...

I've known Paul Vance since we were kids and I always remembered his love for Waterbury! A true passion that very few still have today. I'm totally impressed that Paul would come back to his hometown after law school when he could have gone anywhere. He's going to be raising a family here and building a home. Not sure where the other two stand on family values. But, I wish them all the luck!! VOTE VANCE!!!

Anonymous said...

Democrats will have a choice of three very different men for the top of their mayoral ticket.

• Jarjura is a decent and honest man with no vision and no leadership skills. He faces a serious internal threat and his best bet is to step down gracefully and get back to his private business projects, which seemed to have pre-occupied him for the past few years anyway. Thanks for the steady hand on the wheel, now get out of the way.

• O'Leary is a strong leader with a tilt towards old school bare knuckled politics. He has been involved in several controversies, and despite his wonderful work with PAL, he has a dark side to him. He is a force of nature and will make things happen, I'm just not sure it will all be positive. If O'Leary can stay focused and be on the up and up (as in be honest) - he could be a mayor with impact and the muscle to get things done.

• Vance is smart and ambitious, maybe too ambitious. He has largely been perceived by political insiders as selfish and not a team player. His stint on the board of aldermen has been mostly about him since the get-go. He has run individual campaigns for alderman (a no-no) and is widely suspected of conducting bullet campaigns where he encourages his supporters to vote just for him, and not anybody else on the slate, thus given him inflated numbers and appearing to be the most popular politician in town - which he is not. He might have a future if he matures and is less focused on himself. But if he insists on plowing ahead in 2009 Vance will be brushed out of Waterbury politics and end his political career. He has no chance.

In the end this battle is all about Jarjura and O'Leary. Will Mike stay in? Probably not...

When the dust settles it will be a Democrat elected mayor in 2009, and it will be Neil O'Leary. Afterwards, we need to cross our fingers and hope O'Leary listens to the better angels of his nature, and not to the voices that have steeped this city in greed and corruption. The real battle for this city's future will be between Neil O'Leary's ears.

It will be fascinating to watch.

Anonymous said...

Jarjura obvioulsy is another politician who can't keep his word.

O'leary isn't in the running yet.

Vance has been in politics and is well educated and can do wonders with Waterbury. We need to inject youth and change into Waterbury.

Vote Vance.

Anonymous said...

I have heard that the political insiders don't want Vance. Maybe because he tells the truth and would not be handing out jobs and contracts to the hacks that have controlled Waterbury.

Vance has been the President of the Board of Aldermen FOUR times, elected by his peers on the Board-- so it looks like he has support there.

Hmmmmm, lets see:

Jarjura- developer, multi-millionare, single.

O'Leary- Single, Divorced twice, two children. Very politically experienced and connected with Bergin, Rowland and others. He was appointed police chief by Jarjura. (Loyalty?)

Vance- married, educated, good family and no political 'baggage'.

Anonymous said...


Jarjura and O'Leary are educated as well. And O'Leary is a great family man. Jarjura appointed O'Leary because he knew he would be the best choice for the job. And we all know what O'Leary has done for Waterbury. He's been loyal to Jarjura. He was loyal to him in '05 and '07, and didn't run against him then. Vance has run for mayor how many times now? He's too young and too inexperienced to lead this city. And it's time for Jarjura to go. He's disengaged, and he's not as popular as he thinks he is.

On there's a 07/01/2007 story, "The Chief", explaining why Neil O'Leary is the most influential man in Waterbury. It's one of my favorite Observer pieces.

Neil O'Leary is what Waterbury needs.

Anonymous said...

Waterbury needs to avoid the politics of the past.

Anonymous said...

This election should not be a debate about age and who is the most mature candidate for mayor! It should be about who can be the most dependable candidate to LEAD the City of Waterbury for the next two years, and beyond, and my vote goes to Paul Vance. Paul has the qualifications, character, and strong work ethic to advance this city forward. The city is at an important juncture right now particularly with the economic downturn, high unemployment, and millions of dollars in state aid that could potentially be withheld. Furthermore, plans to improve the I-84 and RT-8 highways will dramatically alter certain sections of Waterbury -- hopefully for the better! In these challenging times we need a mayor who is more than just ceremonial. Paul Vance will bring forward a progressive plan that among other things will include stemming the loss of the middle class to the suburbs, protecting and enhancing the quality of life for taxpayers and merchants, and looking for ways to reduce the high unemployment rate that continues to plague Waterbury. Unfortunately, Jarjura, who in the 21st century does not use a computer has become too complacent and out of touch to advance Waterbury forward!

Anonymous said...

Paul Vance has a strong work ethic? Most of his peers describe him as "lazy".

Anonymous said...

Yet four times they voted for Vance for Board President. Wow, the entire Board of Aldermen must be daft!

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that Waterbury has to choose from these three exceptionally qualified candidates in one election, when there has been such a dearth of quality mayoral candidates in the past. Wouldn't it have been great to have been able to choose Vance instead of Santopietro, O'Leary instead of Bergin, and Jarjura (or anybody else on the planet) instead of Giordano? It is an unfortunate quirk of fate that they are all up for consideration at once. What would the city be like if all three of them could have served five terms each over the past thirty years? It will be a colossal waste to have to lose two of the three of them this year.

It is also completely unfair that O'Leary, the best Police Chief ths city has seen in at least 100 years, has to resign his job in order to run. Can Jarjura and Vance honestly claim that they are not in a position to influence the expenditure of Federal Funds? The city spends tens of millions of federal dollars on projects that these gentlemen have almost complete control over, so why aren't they "Hatched" just like O'Leary? NOT FAIR!!

J.R.Orellana said...

Well, well, well, it looks like Mike Jarjura just cannot help himself. I have met Mayor jarjura a few times, mostly at area restaurants. He seems like a nice man but we are finding out that he is a liar. He is not keeping his words to his fellow Democrats who would like to have an opportunity to serve and improve Waterbury. Jarjura's time is over, it is time for a change. Jarjura is behaving like a politician that believes that elective office is a career. He has no new ideas, he has no energy to improve our city...if you do not believe me, take a drive through Hillside Avenue, Bishopp Street, Irion Street, Walnut Street, Willow Street, East Farms Street, and even North, South, East and West Main Streets. They are decaying day by day, month by month and are getting worse with every term that Jarjura has been at the helm of our city. The taxes continue to choke the businesses in the city, the morale of the city workers is low and the school system continues deteriorate. There is a sharp increase of uninsured, unregistered and unlicensed drivers (not to mention an avalanche of illegal workers who are now making their home in Waterbury fleeing the stricter laws from Danbury)who have become a burden to our citizens. No, Mike Jarjura needs to go. It is time for a change. We need to hear the proposals from both O'Leary and Vance to decide who should be our next Mayor.

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