BRISTOL — At the first candidates’ forum of the election season, Mayor Ken Cockayne and challenger Ellen Zoppo-Sassu gave very different views of the city’s condition.
Cockayne declared that “the future of downtown is now” and cited a list of accomplishments during his tenure.
Zoppo-Sassu, however, said most homeowners are paying higher taxes on properties that have lost value in recent years.
Similar to the arguments they made in their 2015 race, Cockayne portrayed the city as progressing well under his administration, while Zoppo-Sassu suggested Bristol could do better with a change in leadership.
About 70 residents showed up for the NAACP’s forum, where 11 of the 12 council candidates appeared along with the top-of-the-ticket contenders.
Even though social media has been filled with bitter and personal attacks on numerous candidates this year, the tone of the forum was civil and most questions and replies focused on policies.
Cockayne said the Republican team deserves to win because of its experience, noting that his council slate includes a lawyer, a former teacher and the finance board chairwoman among others.
“Unemployment has been cut nearly in half, 700 jobs have been brought in, crime is at an all-time low in 15 years,” he said, adding that the city will start building a road Tuesday morning to launch redevelopment of the long-dormant Bristol Centre Mall property.
Zoppo said strong leadership in the city can unite various health and community service agencies to combat the opioid crisis; she said the campaign against addiction simply isn’t coordinated now.
Bristol should reconsider adopting a city manager form of government, she said, and needs to do more to consolidate services and work toward region cooperation with other communities.
“Keeping taxes down is in direct proportion to raising property values. Most of you are paying more taxes on less value,” she said. “It’s not about raising taxes, it’s about raising property values.”
Cockayne said he’s proud that the city had no tax increase this year and has added more than $60 million to the grand list during his terms.
“We’re breaking ground on an empty lot. We’re going to have 400 to 500 people downtown every day - doctors nurses, patients,” when Bristol Hospital builds a medical office complex there, he said. “We’re talking to another developer, and we’re being contacted by out-of-state investors.”
In response to a question about the city’s aid for minority-owned businesses, Zoppo-Sassu said Bristol should do more to help existing businesses stay solvent and grow.
“We have an amazing number of minority-owned and immigrant-owned businesses in Bristol,” she said. “What are we doing to help them?” She cited the Monterrey restaurant on Riverside Avenue, saying the city should provide “a little entrepreneurial counseling” to help it eventually locate to a higher-profile location. Many storefronts in the city are vacant and available, she added.
“We can tout all of the ribbon cuttings we want, but what are we doing for the businesses that are here,” she said.