Democrat Roberto Alves is running for Mayor of Danbury, a seat left open for the first time in decades with the retirement of Republican Mark Boughton, who served ten consecutive terms.
In 2019, Boughton won reelection with 8,598 votes to his Democratic opponent’s 7,372. Alves, a technical sales engineer and Danbury City Councilman, will face off against Republican Dean Esposito, who serves as chief of staff to the Mayor of Danbury.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Alves about his campaign and policy priorities if elected.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What inspired you to run for mayor of Danbury?
My parents came here when I was five years old, and today, I see a different Danbury than the one I grew up in. We are one of the most diverse communities in the state, and our values are not represented in its local government. The previous administration was anti-immigrant, and the city wanted to partner with ICE and have our police deputized by ICE.
My kids go to Danbury Public Schools, and my wife and I both work here and own our home here. Unlike my opponent, I didn’t have to change my voter registration a few weeks before announcing my campaign to reflect that I live in Danbury. He’s been living in the town over for the last decade or so. Jury is still out on where he’s residing now. I decided to run for mayor because Danbury has been stagnant for the last 10 years, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that the city has had the same Republican leadership for the last 20 years. It’s time for a change.
Why do you think Republicans have been able to retain control of Danbury for so long?
Danbury is a Democratic city on paper, and they vote that way in presidential and congressional elections, but in local elections, there is such a steep drop in voter turnout. There was a year that Democrats did not put up a challenger, but we’ve always had good folks step up to the plate, and we have been chipping away at their stranglehold on the local level.
In 2019, I was elected to City Council, and while we were not successful at the top of the ticket, we picked up a lot of seats, so it’s 10 Democrats to 11 Republicans. We also had a majority on the Board of Education and Zoning. Now we have an open seat at the top, and the best chance we’ve ever had to flip the city back blue.
I’ve knocked on over 12,000 doors, and people have been very receptive to that. The community sees now more than ever that it’s time for something new in Danbury.
Why do you think Danbury voters are looking for change?
The chickens are coming home to roost with how underfunded our school system is. Danbury has the lowest per-pupil expenditure out of every city and town in Connecticut. We are ranked 169 out of 169.
During COVID, our kids in Danbury never went back to school full time because we didn’t have the space. This year, we’re using space in one of our neighboring communities for kindergarten classes. It’s almost comical – my opponent has said that Danbury has done a great job staying ahead of school growth when we’re having to use space in other towns. The previous administration has done nothing but blame the state and say that the state does not do enough, but the City of Danbury just hasn’t been doing its part.
In the late 90s, over 55 percent of every tax dollar was going to education, and now, it’s under 51 percent. A generation of kids has been shortchanged. We have overcrowded classrooms, and don’t have enough paraprofessionals or tutors, or funding for recreational activities, after-school care, or summer camps.
To what extent are these challenges just a manifestation of growing pains as Danbury’s population increases?
A growing population is not unique to Danbury, and past leadership wanted to make it seem that way. It was a narrative spin about Danbury exceptionalism, when in reality, this is a broader Fairfield County thing. Stamford’s population grew by 10 percent, and we grew by seven. Our neighbors in Bethel grew by nine percent. It’s just about growing responsibly.
There is spin that Danbury is only such a great place to live because of this Republican leadership, or that our taxes are low but because of this leadership, but taxes in Danbury have always been low, and we’ve always been voted one of the best places to live. It’s not unique to a political party.
Would you raise taxes to increase funds for education, or cut funding from other parts of municipal government?
Nobody wants taxes to go up, especially with people hurting and looking for work, so the focus is on re-adjusting funding. We want to strategically plan out how to use the windfall of federal money from the American Rescue Plan. That’s seed money we can use to get the ball rolling and increase education funding while keeping taxes down. We’re not looking to kick the can down the road like the administration has done for the past 20 years.
If we’re not investing in our children, what are we investing in? With better schools, the other thing we get is better jobs, because Danbury could then do a better job of attracting more large-scale employers. When organizations are looking to expand or relocate, they look at the local school system, because they’ll be bringing their employees and families into that system. Based on what they see online, they’re probably not going to want to come to Danbury. I think our schools are good, but they need help and funding.
How are you working to increase voter turnout this fall?
Operationally, I’ve never seen a mayoral campaign like this one. I said we’ve knocked on 12,000 doors, but I think that number is actually closer to 13,000. We started early, and have made thousands of phone calls, had hundreds and hundreds of volunteer shifts with dozens of people out there campaigning for us. This campaign is special, and has an energy and ground game that’s really going to turn people out. I’m not taking any vote or specific group for granted, but I do also believe that as the Latino population has grown in Danbury, it’s helpful that I can speak to some voters in my native tongues of Portuguese and Spanish.
In general, it’s just so important that voters come out, because we really want to increase turnout. I was not born here, so voting is a privilege I take very seriously. No matter who they choose to vote for, I want to encourage people to vote – preferably for me, though.