Republican Dean Esposito is running for Mayor of Danbury, a seat left open for the first time in decades with the retirement of Mark Boughton, after he served ten consecutive terms. In 2019, Boughton won re-election with 8,598 votes to his Democratic opponent’s 7,372.
Esposito serves as chief of staff to the Mayor of Danbury, and previously served five terms as a Danbury City Councilman.
He will face off against Democrat Roberto Alves, a technical sales engineer and Danbury City Councilman.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Esposito about his campaign and policy priorities if elected.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What inspired you to run for Mayor of Danbury?
That’s an easy one. I’ve been involved in city government for 30 years, and was honored when Mayor Mark Boughton asked me to become his chief of staff, so I’m basically second in command here in the office. When Mayor Mark moved to a state position, the opportunity to represent the people of the city of Danbury was there, and I talked with my wife and decided to take it on full speed ahead. I was born and raised here, and have lived here most of my life, so taking the opportunity to serve Danbury is an easy choice.
In an interview with us, your opponent mentioned that you haven’t been living in Danbury of late. Are you concerned that not living in Danbury could be a problem for your campaign?
I saw that my opponent made a comment about that. I made it perfectly clear when I made my announcement to run for Mayor of Danbury, that for the last few years my wife and children and I have lived in Brookfield. I’ve worked in Danbury the whole time, and have now taken residence in Danbury again.
I’ve lived here over 45 years of my life — and I’m 61 — so I say I’m “Danbury Dean” with pure confidence.
You worked closely with Mayor Boughton for years, and I’m curious if there have been any decisions he made that you would have handled differently.
We had one of the most outstanding mayors for almost 20 years, and being his chief of staff, I was able to sit in on almost every decision he made with regards to the city. As a result, we’re one of the shining stars of this state: we’re a safe city with low taxes and many other accolades. But Mayor Boughton was Mayor Boughton, and I’m going to be Mayor Esposito. I don’t think anyone could be a second Mark Boughton, because he was outstanding, but I’m going to move forward on issues and address them day by day. We have some different ideas on different things, and I’m going to move forward with those ideas.
What are some of those different ideas?
The best part of being chief of staff is that I have a solid working relationship with all of the department heads. Mark Boughton is a solid, straightforward, very intelligent guy, but there were opportunities I would look into a little bit differently as far as direct communication with residents. Mark was solid with numbers and evaluating, but with my experience working as chief of staff and in the other positions I’ve had, I have a good working relationship with the community, so I want to be more of a ‘hands-on’ mayor.
Mayor Boughton has faced criticism for some of his immigration policies, including the decision to partner with ICE to enforce federal immigration law in Connecticut. If you were elected mayor, would undocumented immigrants be welcome in Danbury?
Mr. Alves brings that up to try to pander to his community that he’s trying to focus on. Working here with Mayor Boughton and Mayor Cabo, we have an outstanding relationship with all of the communities in our city, which is one of the most diverse cities in the state or country.
I think that specific decision was 20 years ago, and was a decision made at that time when they were looking to secure Danbury when we were getting a big influx of people from all over the world. I think Mayor Boughton’s concern was to make sure that Danbury residents were safe from people coming into the city that may not have been legalized yet or had really bad criminal records. I think the goal was to find out who had a bad criminal record and maybe not keep them around.
My administration will not be looking to go out and capture undocumented people. If they live within the Danbury border they are Danbury residents, undocumented or not, and we’re going to support them. My administration will be about helping people move to the next level to become citizens, not about putting people in jail.
You’ve mentioned Danbury being a real success story, but what are some of the challenges you see the city facing?
One obvious one is education. Danbury is such a shining star and doing so well that it’s bringing so many people and businesses in, so what we’re facing right now is a huge influx of people and students into our school system. We need to get more space to fit those new students, and we’ve been working on that and I will stay focused on that.
We have our battles with the state because this influx of new students means a higher cost for us that the state hasn’t provided more money to help subsidize. We have outstanding teachers and great schools, we just need more help from the state to fund the education side. As mayor, I’ll try to work much more closely with the state and our state legislators here in Danbury, who are a fine group of people who, in my opinion, just have to get a little more motivated.
Would you raise local taxes to combat that underfunding of the education system?
I would absolutely not raise taxes, because we never underfunded the school system here in Danbury. We’ve provided everything that the school system needs. The reality is that we all need to come to the table and negotiate to figure out what exactly they need so that they can provide quality services. We’ve never undercut education in the city of Danbury, it’s gone up in every budget every year. We may not have always filled their initial request for funding, but the budgets have not been cut.
As chief of staff, I get to see behind the scenes, and it’s upsetting to me to think that some people think we cut the budget. We never cut the budget, and when I’m mayor, we never will.
What sets you apart from your opponent?
Experience is the key here. I’ve met Mr. Alves a few times in his capacity as a city councilman. When I was elected to be a city councilman, I saw it as my job to be the eyes and ears and voice of the people I represented. Mr. Alves sits on the council now, and I haven’t heard him say five words in 20 months, so to me, he’s lacking serious experience and confidence to speak. He’s supposed to be the voice of the people, and I don’t see him doing that now.