New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Who’s who in town’s Democratic mayoral primary
HAMDEN — For the first time in the town’s history, voters will choose from three mayoral hopefuls in a Democratic primary.
Lauren Garrett, a former Legislative Council member and business owner who unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Mayor Curt Balzano Leng in a 2019 primary, won the Democratic Town Committee’s endorsement this time around.
Leng bypassed the endorsement process, petitioning his way onto the ballot with his own slate of candidates for townwide office. He is seeking his fourth full term in office.
And Peter Cyr, a newcomer to the Hamden political scene who has a background in statewide political organizing, became the wildcard this season when he announced his run and successfully petitioned for a spot on the ballot.
We asked all three candidates about their priorities, what strategies they would use to address the challenges facing Hamden and why they are the best fit to lead the town.
Here’s what they said. (Each candidate provided their answers as written responses.)
Garrett served as a Hamden councilwoman from 2017 until 2019, when she made her first run for mayor.
She holds a engineering degree and manages finances for her family’s real estate business. The latter experience, she contends, gives her important know-how to bring to the mayor’s office
“As a small business owner, I have paid off debt, grown my business, and negotiated good deals — all things we can do in Hamden with careful planning and a sound financial strategy,” she said.
Hamden’s financial issues drove her to seek office, she said, adding that she sees a need for increased fiscal transparency and long-term financial planning.
Asked what makes her a good fit to lead the town, she said she “considers ethics to be at the heart of any good leadership style” and “strongly (believes) in collaboration and (places) a high value on teams.” She also indicated she prioritizes the town’s most vulnerable residents in her approaches to problem solving.
“I have a skilled and hard-working team in place to get to work on day one,” she said. “You can trust that I will work with other small businesses to guide them through the process of realizing their dream while at the same time growing our grandlist.”
1. Town finances — “at the forefront of our issues, specifically taxes and town deb.t”
2. Public safety — everyone “has the right to feel safe in their own community.”
3. Climate change & sustainability — “we are all experiencing the effects of climate change firsthand.”
Strategies to address town issues:
1. Strengthen finances by pursuing a five-year financial plan and competitive bidding.
2. Address “root causes” of crime such as “employment, safe housing, food security, and family support,” explore unarmed response options for nonviolent incidents and “support hiring practices that
produce a police department that reflects the community it serves.”
3. Shift to electric vehicles, modernize infrastructure, plant trees and convert to “green” forms of energy.
Curt Balzano Leng (incumbent)
Leng, 47, first got involved in local politics around the age of 20, when he ran for Legislative Council. He served as Hamden’s chief administrative officer from 2009 to 2015 under former Mayor Scott Jackson, who tapped Leng as his successor when he left for a job with the state in 2015.
Asked why he decided to run for office, Leng cited a “feeling of responsibility to serve and help our residents.” He said he wants to strengthen the town’s finances “to ensure services our residents count on and deserve.”
“Good judgment, strength and all-in commitment in times of crisis or challenge” make him a good leader, he said, adding that his experience and professional team will “protect and build upon the services our town provides and what we can provide and
achieve in the years ahead.”
Thanks to hard work, Leng contended, “Hamden is in a financial position that’s stronger than over a decade.”
In the week before the primary, Leng issued a release saying the last fiscal year showed a preliminary surplus of $10 million that increased the fund balance to $7 million.
The town closed its latest fiscal year with a surplus and recent financial reports show reasons for optimism, including better budgeting practices, a growing fund balance and a slightly better outlook. But reports also show the town faces towering debt, little wiggle room in spending and a history of unbalanced budgeting practices.
1. Helping residents in times of need — protect “residents and neighborhoods with focused community & prevention based police services and added presence to deter crime.”
2. Financial stability — “lower our too high mill rate.”
3. Keep Church Street and Shepherd Glen elementary schools open (the
Board of Education previously voted to close those schools but has since rethought the decision).
Strategies to address town issues:
1. “Implement a full time mental health and social worker support system to compliment (our) police and fire response system.”
2. “Continue fully funding (our) Town Pension” — As required by the state, last year’s budget funded Hamden’s full actuarially required contribution for the first time in years.
3. Expand social services and youth programming.
Cyr jumped into the mayoral race after working as a lead organizer for #FightBackCT, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy’s field campaign. He previously worked as an organizer for state Democrats, a legislative aide in Massachusetts, and a field organizer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, he said.
Cyr graduated Hamden High School in 2012 and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California at Berkeley.
He is running for mayor to bring “new ideas and new leadership” to town.
“I'm not tied to past administrations which can bring the clear perspective to budgeting that this town needs,” he said. “We need a new narrative for our town, one that is more positive and focused on the issues.”
What makes him a good fit for the job?
“Being an organizer I am always focused on finding low cost solutions to big problems. Hamden needs a drama free, issues oriented mayor to help reduce taxes, reduce gun violence, and slow down traffic,” he said. “We offer a realistic, and attainable platform that the town can get behind.”
1. Taxes — the increased “burden on our middle class community.”
2. Gun violence — and “the trauma it is having on our citizens.”
3. “Dilapidated infrastructure” and traffic safety issues.
Strategies to address town issues:
1. Audit every department “to make them less administratively top heavy,” implement a systematic approach to base department expansion on specific metrics and lobby the state for additional aid.
2. Model Oakland’s project Ceasefire, which Cyr described as a “community based approach to reducing gun violence, associated with a 50% reduction in gun violence in Oakland from 2012-2018.”
3. Implement a program based on Portland, Ore.’s “Vision Zero” initiative to identify the most dangerous roads and design safer infrastructure.