Middletown Candidates for Mayor Pitch Ideas for Housing, Policing, Education and Development

Middletown City Halls (Credit Google Map Data, 2023)


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MIDDLETOWN — Former Common Councilman Ed Ford Jr. recently gained enough signatures to primary current mayor Ben Florsheim for the Democratic Party line on the ballot for mayor in November. 

Ford, a 25-year-old student at Yale Divinity School who works as a performance improvement coordinator, told CT Examiner that as a lifelong Middletown resident, he wanted to be a voice for people throughout the city. Florsheim, a 31-year-old graduate of Wesleyan University and former staffer for Sen. Chris Murphy, said he wanted to see through projects that he’d begun in his first term. 

Ford told CT Examiner that one of the most common things he’d heard from residents was the lack of opportunities for young people. He said that he wants to bring back the mayoral youth jobs program, which created spaces for young people to work in city hall and in downtown businesses. 

“When you don’t have those opportunities it’s discouraging, and a lot of parents look elsewhere. They look outside of town and say, ‘Well, there’s nothing in Middletown, so I’ve got to take my kid outside of town.’ And so we have to do better,” said Ford. 

He also floated the idea of converting a building in town — possibly the former Remington Rand building — into a youth entrepreneurial center that could offer programs like financial literacy classes. 

Florshiem, for his part, said the biggest concern he’d heard from residents was about the cost of living.

Florsheim said it’s the responsibility of the mayor’s office’s to pass responsible budgets. 

“I’m … really proud of the budgets that we’ve passed over the past four years – not because they were really exciting or fun budgets necessarily, but because they, I think, met the moment that we were in,” he said. “All of them have either kept the mill rate where it is or reduced it, because we’ve also enjoyed really strong economic growth, and continued to maintain our AAA bond rating.” 

But he said that there were also things that needed to happen at the state level to create better tax policy. Florshiem said he’d been part of a coalition of city leaders asking for the state to invest more in the PILOT program, which provides municipalities reimbursement for tax-exempt property owners. The program has been underfunded for years. 

Ford and Florsheim both also mentioned the need to draw more people and businesses into town. 

“We need to continue to try to bring in more growth, commercial growth, bring in more tax revenue by growing our grand list and working our mill rate down year after year as much as we can to make sure that residents do not have these ridiculously high tax bills,” said Ford. 

Economic development and the waterfront

Both candidates said that securing more parking space was critical for the downtown area. 

“[People] want to go downtown, but then they can’t find a parking spot and then it deters them. So they just say, ‘You know what, forget it.’ And they may not come and spend their money downtown — which we want them to [do.]” said Ford. 

Florsheim said the developers for the former Arcadia building had just completed an environmental assessment, and that he hoped they could start construction on the site next spring to create a parking garage for the downtown. He said another developer was transforming a vacant storefront on Main Street into 12 apartments and a retail or restaurant space on the first floor. 

“I’ve heard, since long before I was involved in politics, complaints about vacant storefronts on Main Street. Our Main Street is such a wonderful asset,” Florsheim said. 

Ford also said he wanted to make sure that the city is home to a wide variety of restaurants, including a soul food restaurant and a place where people could go to eat and dance and meet people — two types of restaurants Ford said are in demand.

“We’ve lost several restaurants — restaurants that I loved. And we need to do a better job of inviting and creating a space where they can come back and they can thrive. We don’t want to lose that reputation for having a robust dinner selection or lunch selection. Just cuisine in general,” said Ford. 

Both candidates also pledge to continue support for the riverfront redevelopment. Florsheim touted the $12 million his administration had garnered for the remediation of the former Jackson Corrugated building and the riverfront master plan development. He said the next steps were to finish the renovations at Harbor Park this fall and to find a partner to develop the Jackson Corrugated site. He also said they wanted to create a concert facility at the former Peterson Oil site. 

“The number one thing that the community members put in their responses to what they would like to see at the riverfront was some kind of amphitheater and performing arts venue,” said Florshiem. He said they were working on a collaboration with an operator who already worked in several other music venues in Connecticut, and was interested in outdoor concerts.

Ford said he wanted to focus on building a “family-friendly” area at the riverfront, including parks and restaurants. He said he wanted to look at making the riverfront flood proof, and making sure that there was a safe way for residents to cross Route 9 to the riverfront, such as a pedestrian bridge.  

“The vision has been set out by Middletown residents for years. These are plans that go back to the early two thousands. These aren’t new ideas. These are ideas that we’ve yet to act upon or that we’re acting upon slowly,” said Ford. “These are things that I want to go to, the plans that Middletown residents have already presented, and bring them back around full circle.” 


Florsheim said he felt that the city was making “good progress” outlining a plan for a Civilian Review Board. But he also called the board a reactive rather than proactive approach. He said that one of his goals would be to implement more preventative measures, such as increased training for officers. 

“A civilian review board is a good way to involve the community. But it comes after the fact,” said Florshiem. “It comes after an incident has taken place that should have happened differently — and that safeguard is important, but … the goal of that would be to recommend policies, recommend practices that prevent those things from happening in the first place.” 

Florsheim also said he wanted to build up a network of support services and mental health clinicians that the police could refer people to. He noted that the city had partnered with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to bring social workers to work with the police department, and that they were expanding those services to cover 24-hour shifts. 

Ford agreed with Florsheim about the need for mental health and social workers to work with the police department. 

“When you have crisis intervention workers, they can respond to certain calls. They can come to the scene and try to de-escalate and diffuse situations that may not necessarily warrant police intervention,” said Ford. 

He also said he wanted to make sure the police department had enough officers to support a city the size of Middletown — he noted that the department has been historically understaffed. 

Ford also voiced his support for a Civilian Review Board. 

“I love how the police department is trying to integrate more into the community. I want to see more of that and support that more. But also, at the same time, supporting community voices, supporting residents, having a voice when it comes to solving resident complaints making sure that they’re … handled in a timely fashion,” said Ford. “A Civilian Review Board is an idea that I do support because I believe it gives the residents that voice.”


Florsheim acknowledged that the city schools have faced a variety of challenges during his first term in office, including an investigation into four high-level administrators, and he said he hoped the city and the Board of Education could work more collaboratively in the future. 

Florsheim also said that he was working with the Middletown Youth Services Bureau to create a “citywide comprehensive strategy” to deal with student behavioral issues and mental health needs. He said they were partnering with the Yale School of Public Health to survey young people and the people who work with them, and creating an “inventory” of available support systems and organizations.

“A lot of what we hear is that there aren’t things to do after school, and that’s where some of the bad behavior in after school environments can come from. But we also have to make sure that the schools themselves are treated as places for learning, and are respected as such,” said Florshiem. “There’s a generation of kids who have been traumatized by the experiences of the last few years. There is a generation of teachers who have been traumatized in their own right … there’s a lot of work to be done, I think, to rebuild the fabric of the social contract in a lot of ways.” 

He said the city was dealing with changing demographics in the schools — an increase in student enrollment, and students learning English as a second language. He said the schools needed to make sure there was “cultural competency” and resources for non-English speakers.

Ford said he wanted to invest in mentorship programs and counselors to help with students’ social-emotional needs. He said this could help reduce the fighting in the middle and high schools. He also noted the need to give teachers adequate compensation 

“There’s a lot of people who are walking away from the profession, and I think that we have to make sure that they’re paid fairly, make sure that they’re paid well, make sure that they’re taken care of with benefits and their needs as teachers,” said Ford. 

Ford and Florsheim both expressed hesitation with the charter school proposed in Middletown. The school was granted an initial certification by the state Board of Education, but did not receive funding in the state budget.

Florsheim said that while he had a “skepticism” of the charter school movement, he was also aware of success stories. 

“We just want to make sure that Middletown public schools are not adversely impacted, uh, when it comes to funding and when it comes to the sort of recruitment and retention practices that charter school is going to be practicing,” said Florshiem. 

Ford said that he felt the public schools needed to be top of mind. 

“I think that when it comes to the charter school, I do think that that’s an option that we should explore,” Ford said. “Hopefully, we can find a solution that works for all parties involved, but at the end of the day our public schools are the priority.” 


Florsheim told CT Examiner that the town was working with developers on several projects, including a 400-unit complex on Newfield Street and renovations of old buildings on Main Street where apartments will be created on the upper floors. 

“There’s also just a huge demand for more apartments, especially rental apartments and especially near the downtown,” said Florshiem. “These are not homes where people are being displaced. These are renovations of vacant properties with a goal towards making downtown feel like more of a neighborhood for people who want to live there and for people who already live there.”   

He said they had also changed the zoning code to allow for Accessory Dwelling Units and that the Middletown Housing Authority was expanding senior housing at Marino Manor. 

Ford said that when the city secured agreements with developers for apartment buildings, the mayor’s office needed to insist on including a certain amount of affordable housing units for residents. 

“When we ask developers to come in, [when] we ask developers to give us their estimates and what they want to … build, we need to make sure that there’s also enough room for affordable housing in their development,” he said. “You have to be willing to stand up and say to developers, ‘I need X amount of units that are affordable units, market rate, whatever the case may be.’”

Repairing the city’s main roads was also a priority for Ford, while Florsheim said he was focused on water and sewer upgrades. 

Ford criticized Florsheim’s administration, charging that the incumbent mayor did a poor job of communicating with the public. Florsheim said he felt there were changes that could still be made, but that they were “leaps and bounds” from where they’d begun, after having created a city newsletter and implementing text alerts for city residents. 

Ford said he wanted to hire a communications director for the mayor’s office and that he wanted to be more present in the community.   

“I will literally set up a table in a neighborhood. I will be there, my staff will be there, and we will be there just for a couple of hours, two or three hours, ready to talk to residents and provide information from the city,” said Ford.

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.