DANBURY — Democratic Mayor Roberto Alves and former Republican Mayor Dean Esposito have seemingly buried the hatchet following a bitter race for the city’s top spot.
During this year’s run for mayor, Alves was often critical of Esposito, who was mayor for two years, claiming he wasn’t transparent or accessible. Alves, who served on the City Council from 2019 to 2021, made honesty and integrity the cornerstone of his campaign.
The candidates traded public barbs on everything from the costs of school projects to claims by Esposito that Alves wanted to defund the police.
The hostilities spilled over into election night when Espostio, who lost to Alves by 463 votes, said, “It’s hard to believe I lost to that guy. I am a lifelong Danburian. I congratulate my opponent, but he made statements about me that weren’t true. … We have to keep him in check.”
But Alves, who was sworn in as mayor on Thursday, told CT Examiner that he had a private productive conversation with Esposito at City Hall this week.
Alves, who is the city’s first Democratic mayor in 22 years, said Esposito reached out to him during his final week as mayor.
“We hashed out the campaign, the rigors of it, the narratives and how certain things happened,” Alves said. “It was a great conversation. I asked him if I could call him if I ever had a question and he offered as well. It was just a needed conversation.”
He said the two “will remain cordial” moving forward.
Unlike some municipalities that have their top officials sworn in on New Year’s Day, Danbury has its mayor and other city officials sworn in on Dec. 1. The City Council, which had a 14-7 Republican majority will now have a 17-4 Democratic majority.
Alves conceded that the Dec. 1 swearing-in of city officials did not leave a lot of time to put together a team, but said he worked hard to make the transition as easy as possible.
Alves’ transition team was led by former Danbury State Reps. David Arconti, a Democrat, and David Cappiello, a Republican.
“It was important for me to show the public that you represent everybody, and I wanted to have a Democrat and a Republican; both are very strong Danbury community folks,” said Alves, who moved to the city when he was 5 years old.
Arconti, Cappiello, city attorney Dan Casagrande and others on the transition team met with, among others, department heads prior to the swearing in.
Those gatherings included getting information on various ongoing projects at City Hall, Alves said.
As part of his pledge to have an open and accessible government, Alves said, “We are going to create briefing books for every department … and we are going to make this available to the public.”
Alves said he will be forming a community advisory board with numerous city stakeholders where he can “talk about our vision and where we want to see the city; we are going to want their input.”
The public, Alves said, will be encouraged to attend periodic town halls’ to offer their ideas on how to make the government run more efficiently. Those meetings will be held at different locations throughout the city and will begin sometime in late January or early February, he said.
Alves said his priorities include conducting an infrastructure study of city and school buildings, and working to have a police academy for the region based in Danbury.
“We want to do a comprehensive study on the buildings from top to bottom,” he said, which would examine the age and stability of the roofs, walls and everything in between. “We want to be honest with the residents and say ‘This is the health of your buildings.’ And just because we are doing that, doesn’t mean we are going to be able to fix every problem, but we got to be honest with them.”
Alves said city and school leaders would then work together to prioritize which buildings need to be repaired first.
Regarding the police academy idea, Alves said, ”There is a cost to building a police academy, and what we want to do is see the feasibility of that and the impact that it would have on our economy.”
He said other towns sending their police officers to a Danbury-based police academy “can be a revenue source as well.”
A police academy could address operational and cost efficiencies, but conversations on such an initiative “are down the road,” he said.
Alves also said he met Thursday with Schools Superintendent Kevin Walston, reiterating his hopes that the ratio between school guidance counselors and students could be narrowed.
“It’s just such an important necessity for our kids,” Alves said. “And it’s such a critical part of their lives to have somebody they can really work with.”
Danbury has 18 schools, including the largest public high school in the state. But even though the state Department of Education has approved a charter school for the city, Danbury’s state delegation — composed primarily of Democrats — has opposed the idea. No charter school has opened in the state since 2015.
Alves said a charter school can be considered at a later date, and that the priority should be on current city schools.
“My focus is on the schools we have,” Alves said, noting the Henry Abbott Technical High School is a gem that gets overlooked.
The school, which offers students classes in areas like carpentry, plumbing, HVAC and hairdressing, has a 300-student waiting list, he said, and “if we can get seven to 10 more classrooms, you will see 250 [more] students right away.”
On other issues, Alves said he enjoys a close relationship with the city’s legislative delegation, many of whom are personal friends.
When the delegation reconvenes in February, Alves said he’d like to see them find a way to expedite getting educational cost sharing money to towns.
Alves also said he’d like to revive a study of the city’s underground infrastructure, specifically relating to the sewer capacity downtown.
“I would really like to see this [go forward] on day one.” Alves said.
Such a study, he said, would help determine how much storm runoff the downtown can handle and better understand the impact of more development in the area.
Editor’s note: Former Danbury State Rep. David Arconti, a Democrat, was a leader of Alves’ transition team, not David Conte. This story has been updated.