Editor’s Note: For the fall election season, CT Examiner will follow local candidates as they campaign door to door. This week, CT Examiner accompanied Waterbury Democratic mayoral candidate Paul Pernerewski Jr. Next week, we will accompany his Republican challenger, Dawn Maiorano.
WATERBURY – Crime, safe spaces for children and downtown revitalization were hot-button topics for North End residents who spoke to Democratic mayoral candidate Paul Pernerewski Jr. during a door-knocking campaign on Friday.
Pernerewski, the city’s Board of Aldermen president, was accompanied by Alderman Victor Lopez Jr. and campaign manager Nick Guillermo during the recent visit to homes on Santa Maria Drive.
Pernerewski will face off against Republican Dawn Maiorano, the owner-operator of a family-owned funeral home, and two petition candidates in the November general election. Current Democratic Mayor Neil O’Leary decided not to seek reelection after serving for 12 years.
CT Examiner went along door-knocking with Pernerewski, who got an earful from residents on the issue of crime, specifically nuisance crimes like people riding ATVs. Each of the five residents Pernerewski spoke to said they feel safe in their neighborhood, but are concerned about the safety of children.
Felicia Harris-Arline, who has an 11-year-old daughter, expressed frustration over people driving ATVs and motorcycles loudly throughout the neighborhood.
“They make a lot of noise when they are driving and flying up and down with their motorcycles. It’s quite a bit too much, and I can’t have my kids [daughter and grandchildren] in the front yard. It’s a problem.”
Harris-Arline said she avoids taking her daughter to parts of nearby Lakewood Park because people allegedly drink, smoke, play loud music and, in some cases, use drugs in the parking lot.
“I do not like what I see so I keep on moving,” she said.
Pernerewski, who said he was not aware of the severity of the problem, said he would “look at cleaning it up,” possibly by banning smoking in parts of the park and assigning more police to patrol the area.
Neighbors Ralph Curbelo and Jose Colon were talking at Colon’s home when Pernerewski stopped by. He handed both men his campaign literature and asked them what issues were important to them.
Both touched on crime, and Colon, a Republican, said it was vital to “keep them [young people] busy and occupied and off the streets.”
Colon, who said he’d consider voting for Pernerewski, told him there needed to be more outlets in the city like the Police Athletic League.
Colon, 55, said he’s raising his two nephews. Both children are in PAL and participate in sports like baseball, basketball, karate and boxing.
“PAL is great, but we also need other [entities] and ways for kids to be busy,” he said.
Colon said he was also disheartened that Regan Elementary School on nearby North Main Street does not have a gymnasium for students, although there is a playscape outside.
“After all of these years, they can’t build a gymnasium?” he asked.
Pernerewski, who retired as general counsel of the Connecticut Airport Authority, told Colon the city is currently looking at how K-5 schools are utilized and that building a gymnasium is a possibility.
Curbelo said “crime is a big issue” for him, and has liked Pernerewski’s thoughts on the topic.
Pernerewski, 61, reiterated the importance of strengthening existing laws so when suspects are arrested, they are not back on the streets right away.
“They need to be locked up or held longer,” instead of being released back out into the public, he said.
Pernerewski also noted motor vehicle thefts are a concern of many residents he’s spoken to during the campaign.
Pedro Velez, a 60-year-old manager at a Watertown-based manufacturing company, said his concern is crime and taxes.
“If they steal a car, they can do the time and be held accountable,” Velez said. “You need to hold kids accountable.”
Velez said he supports having a juvenile diversion program and that Pernerewski has his vote.
“I vote for the person, not the political party,” he said.
Velez also expressed dismay at recent tax increases he attributes to New Yorkers moving into Waterbury. The city’s mill rate is the second highest in the state at 54.19. The city’s $440.8 million budget for the 2024 fiscal year, adopted in June, included a tax increase for most residents.
Pernerewski said there is some truth to Velez’s claims.
“The influx of New Yorkers has driven up housing prices,” he said. “They are willing to spend more money here. A house that now goes for $300,000 to $350,000 previously went for $150,000 to $200,000. It is an issue.”
Resident Chuck Pagano, a retired chief technology officer with ESPN, also said he’d vote for Pernerewski.
“He has great leadership skills and has fresh blood,” Pagano said.
Pagano acknowledged crime is a problem, but that economic development, specifically related to downtown Waterbury, is his top issue.
“I’d like to see the rebuilding of the city’s economic engines,” he said. “I am very unhappy about the mall downtown; it would have been good for commerce and other uses. The mall sucks.”
“We are now seeing more investors coming into downtown,” Pernerewski said, such as Kurt Mariolis, who is in the process of developing the old Broadcast Building on South Main Street and Old Tony’s Men’s Shop on Bank Street.