O’Brien launches run for mayor

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Ka­t­rina Ko­ert­ing

NEW MIL­FORD — Tom O’Brien dis­agrees with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s spend­ing decisions and wants a chance to change the town’s pri­or­i­ties by run­ning for mayor.

“I’m trou­bled by the di­rec­tion our cur­rent lead­er­ship is tak­ing the town,” said the Demo­crat, a car­pen­ter and writer who ran for state rep­re­sen­ta­tive last year. “I have a dif­fer­ent vi­sion for the town.”

O’Brien, 59, kicked off his

may­oral cam­paign at a fundraiser on Sun­day af­ter­noon.

That of­fice is held by Repub­li­can Pete Bass, who won his first term in 2017 re­plac­ing Demo­crat David Gron­bach. Bass has not yet an­nounced his in­ten­tion to run for re-elec­tion.

O’Brien said he plans to fo­cus on long-term in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing in­creas­ing fund­ing for the schools and build­ing recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties in town, such as the trail sys­tem and side­walks to help at­tract more res­i­dents and busi­nesses. He also hopes to in­crease the af­ford­able hous­ing op­tions, es­pe­cially down­town. He said be­cause Repub­li­cans on the Town Coun­cil have con­tin­u­ally cut the school board’s bud­get re­quests, the schools need to be bet­ter funded.

“It’s death by 100 cuts,” O’Brien said.

The schools were one of the main draws for his fam­ily when he moved to town 20 years ago and he said other fam­i­lies look at the schools first when de­cid­ing where to move. A real es­tate agent told him fam­i­lies are liv­ing in towns near New Mil­ford so they can use its ameni­ties but not send their chil­dren to its schools.

He said he has seen some of the tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional pro­grams dis­ap­pear over the years and wor­ries that was a re­sult of bud­get cuts. He has made a liv­ing as a car­pen­ter and said the town needs to in­vest more in the trades at the schools.

O’Brien was drawn to the town for its scenery, in­clud­ing the Housatonic River, the green and Can­dle­wood Lake, which he said he plans to pro­mote through in­creased recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties, such as the river trail.

Tak­ing the lead on the trail was his first foray into lo­cal civic ser­vice. He had heard about a trail plan in the late 1990s, but noth­ing hap­pened. He saw Sega Mead­ows as a way to re­vi­tal­ize the ef­fort about a decade later. He now chairs the bike and trails com­mit­tee and the New Mil­ford River Trail As­so­ci­a­tion.

“I had to do it my­self and I don’t give up eas­ily,” he said.

He has served on the Zon­ing Com­mis­sion where he worked to have side­walks in­stalled along Route

7. He said not in­stalling side­walks when the road was ex­panded is one of the town’s big­gest mis­takes. There is now a dis­cus­sion to use a fed­eral grant to add side­walks, but the $400,000 lo­cal match has caused hes­i­ta­tion.

“It’s as­tound­ing to me that our Town Coun­cil is still waf­fling on the $1.8 mil­lion grant for side­walks,” he said, adding it’s a mea­sure that will save lives.

O’Brien last year ran for state rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the

67th District, which en­com­passes New Mil­ford, but lost to Repub­li­can Bill Buck­bee who won his sec­ond term.

“The last thing I ever planned to be was a politi­cian, but some­times you have to step up,” O’Brien said.

While cam­paign­ing, he heard from res­i­dents about the num­ber of peo­ple who com­mute to the city and how to im­prove mass tran­sit to make it eas­ier, such as a com­muter shut­tle to the train sta­tions or a bet­ter side­walk or trail sys­tem for peo­ple to get places with­out need­ing a car.

He said not hav­ing to rely on a car could help make it more af­ford­able to live in town be­cause a car wouldn’t be needed. Adding af­ford­able hous­ing in town would also make it eas­ier to live in town.

These, cou­pled with bet­ter school in­vest­ments would en­cour­age more res­i­dents and small busi­nesses to come to town, he said.

He said hhe hopes to make govern­ment more ef­fi­cient by shar­ing de­part­ments be­tween the town and schools, such as in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and stream­lin­ing the dif­fer­ent meth­ods for ve­hi­cle main­te­nance be­tween var­i­ous de­part­ments.

“I’m a lib­eral Demo­crat but I come from the back­ground that you get things done or you get some­one else to do it,” O’Brien said. “That’s how govern­ment should run.”

Con­trib­uted photo

Tom O’Brien is the Demo­cratic can­di­date for mayor in New Mil­ford.

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