EAST HAVEN – The town’s three mayoral candidates may differ on approaches to local policing and education, but they all agree on one thing – opposing the proposed expansion of Tweed New Haven Airport.
In separate talks with CT Examiner, Democratic incumbent Joseph Carfora, Republican Samantha Parlato and unaffiliated challenger Anthony Camposano shared their disapproval of the expansion plan and pitched ideas that they hope to implement if elected.
When the expansion was announced in 2021 and pitched as a financial benefit to both East Haven and New Haven, Carfora initially supported the plan. He has since withdrawn that support and has been vocal in questioning the lack of benefits for East Haven, as well as the environmental costs.
Carfora, state legislators and environmentalists have also called for further study into the possible effects on the surrounding community after an environmental assessment released in March by the Federal Aviation Administration predicted little impact.
If elected to a third mayoral term this fall, Carfora said he will continue to fight for the town.
“East Haven has to stand up for itself, and I will continue to do so throughout this whole process,” he told CT Examiner.
The mayor said he has hired counsel – Pullman & Comley, LLC and Daniel S. Reimer LLC – to help review the environmental study. Additionally, he said his administration has been working with experts in traffic, ecology and public safety to better understand the consequences of the expansion.
As a member of the Town Council, Parlato told CT Examiner that she has also personally backed opposition efforts by approving funds for the counsel, and said she would continue to protect East Haven from such unfair burdens as mayor.
“I feel like New Haven just wants to throw it on us and say, ‘It’s out of our neighborhood,’” Parlato said of the expansion. “There’s been no conversation for us, that I am aware of, that would benefit us.”
While she said she is opposed to the expansion at present, Parlato said she is still awaiting more information from the FAA to form a final judgment.
According to the National Environmental Policy Act, federal agencies can respond to environmental assessments in one of three ways – by approving it, rejecting it, or requiring a more detailed impact statement. Parlato said that, similar to Carfora, she’d like to see a further study.
“I’d like to really see what the environmental impact study brings back to us so that we can look at it and kind of dissect it and say, ‘OK, could this potentially be a great plan or not?’” she explained. “But right now, I think there’s too many unknowns.”
But Camposano said he is “100 percent” against the expansion, whether or not the FAA decides to study the project further. Living just over a mile from the airport, the unaffiliated candidate said he already knows how the expansion would impact the community.
“I don’t care what the FAA says, what the EPA says,” Camposano said. “I know they’re going to come back with an [environmental impact statement]. There’s no way possible they won’t.”
Camposano said he originally had no desire to run for mayor, but the looming expansion pushed him to take action. If elected, he said he would look to strengthen the town’s role on the Tweed Airport Authority Board of Directors.
By law, eight of the members on the airport’s decision-making body are appointed by the mayor of New Haven, five by East Haven and two by the surrounding suburbs under the South Central Regional Council of Governments. Campsano said the current East Haven representatives who attend the Tweed meetings are “OK,” but that some often do not show up. As mayor, he said he would appoint members who stand up for the entire town, not just the current administration.
But Carfora, who recently appointed local engineer Mark Scussel to the board, said his ultimate goal is simply to improve the town. He said he prioritizes board candidates who share that same vision.
“We want the betterment of East Haven. We want them to look for the betterment of East Haven,” Carfora said.
One of Carfora’s first requests when he was elected mayor in 2019 was to expand East Haven representation on the Tweed board by giving the town two additional seat, and by requiring a supermajority vote to pass agenda items. At last month’s board meeting, town residents also requested extra members.
According to Matthew Hoey, the vice chairman of the board, any change in membership needs to be made at the state level. Asked if he planned to take further action on expanding the board, Carfora said he will “never stop” working on the issue.
“I work intimately, every day with our aviation attorneys,” Carfora said. “I want the average person to understand the magnitude of impact on this town, and I want them to understand how hard I’m working for them.”
Parlato said she wholeheartedly supports expanding the board. Given the proposed airport expansion into East Haven, she said the town’s role on the board should be “equal parts, if not more” than New Haven’s.
She added that her ideal Tweed board appointees would be highly involved residents with experience in environmental, legal and aviation issues.
“In any of your boards, you want to have people that have experience, and you also want to have people that are really invested in the area,” Parlato said.
Reevaluate policing or leave as-is?
Though the three candidates were united in opposition to Tweed’s expansion, they clashed over issues like local policing and education.
Parlato, in particular, said she’d like to see changes to East Haven’s policing efforts.
This year, the town made statewide headlines for a number of incidents, including a stabbing outside of Tuttle Elementary School which resulted in the death of a 15-year-old, drive-by shootings into residences and attempted home invasions. Parlato acknowledged Carfora’s efforts to strengthen police presence around Tuttle Elementary after the shooting, but said the next mayor needs to reevaluate and create a town-wide plan.
Along with crafting new recruitment incentives for first responders and adding more control centers around town, Parlato said East Haven needs to do a better job communicating with the neighboring municipalities.
“If we don’t have that communication, then we don’t know what’s happening,” she said. “We have trends in our town, but if New Haven has a trend that’s bordering on us, it might be nice to get the heads up so that we can [prevent] it from coming into our community.”
But Carfora and Camposano both backed East Haven’s current policing structure, offering no specific changes.
“I’ve always went above and beyond with both my police and fire,” Carfora said. I was the only mayor in 40 years to increase both the fire personnel and the police personnel.”
In addition to staffing increases, Carfora said he has provided the police department with upgraded technology via police vehicles, body cameras and public safety radios; increased traffic patrols; and assigned two school resource officers to the public schools.
Carfora said he meets with the police and fire chiefs at least three or four times a week, and will continue to listen to the needs of first responders if elected again.
Camposano said he thinks East Haven police officers are doing a “great job,” and that crimes spilling over from nearby municipalities is not their fault. He said Carfora has done a fine job supporting the police, but cautioned against hiring additional officers.
“That’s money. The town doesn’t have money,” Camposano said. “Nobody can afford a tax increase. We can’t afford more resources going to the police.”
Camposano said increases in police personnel would mean higher taxes which, in turn, would accelerate existing socioeconomic disparities in town and increase crime. Instead, he said the town needs to put additional funding toward supporting East Haven teenagers and provide counseling for at-risk children.
Improving the schools
Camposano said the town can also support its children by improving and expanding the public school system. Rather than “throwing money at the problem” in the school board budget, he said the next mayor should acknowledge districtwide issues and advocate for finance- and trade-oriented courses to expand the curriculum.
“The schools here suck. Everyone knows it,” Camposano said. “Everyone wants to beat around the bush.”
According to state data from the 2022-23 school year, the East Haven school district is behind the state average performance index by about 8 percent in English language arts, about 10 percent in math and about 11 percent in science. But Camposano said the nation puts too much stock in test scores, and suggests that East Haven take a different approach.
“They want test-takers. Go to college, get a good job – the whole spiel,” he said. “Now we’re adults. People get out of college with a college degree, and they don’t hire you. They want experience.”
Camposano said expanding East Haven’s course offerings beyond the typical curriculum could put the district ahead of other municipalities and provide alternatives for students.
But Parlato said that, as a former school board member, she sees the district underperforming, and wants to work with the superintendent, teachers, families and students to find a “magic combination” of funding and services.
Parlato said teachers are doing their best, need the town’s support.
“I think just having that conversation – what can we do? What are we doing differently? What can we do differently to make sure that our scores are jumping?” Parlato said.
She said the school district already offers “phenomenal” programs like health-based centers and special education services, but said that East Haven should help determine how local issues like food insecurity impact education.
“It’s really up to the head down to make sure that we’re meeting the students where their needs are,” Parlato said.
Carfora said there is room for improvement in the school district, but said his administration has been working to address longer-running issues. He said the town added a new manufacturing program for students and almost $1 million to the schools budget this year to help with staff retention.
Before adding those extra funds, Carfora said East Haven was having trouble retaining teachers because the local teacher’s union was unhappy with staff pay proposed in the 2023-26 contract, compared to the salaries offered in surrounding districts.
“We all recognized that teacher’s pay has to correspond to the surrounding community because the [teachers] were up and leaving, and nobody wants to compromise the future of our kids,” Carfora said.