In Turbulent Election Cycle, 12 Candidates Seek Bristol Council Seats

Regardless of the unusual controversies in the race for mayor, Republicans and Democrats are locked in a traditional struggle for control of the council.

The council has a 3-3 split currently, with Republican Mayor Ken Cockayne giving the GOP a fourth vote. But both parties are looking to win a majority Nov. 7.

Republicans are mostly pressing a pro-business, low taxes agenda, and say the city is moving in the right direction. Democrats contend the city is losing ground under its GOP administration and needs new leadership to reverse the decline in property values.

In District 1, the GOP is fielding Anthony D’Amato and Eric Carlson against Democrats Josh Medeiros and Greg Hahn.

D’Amato, part of the family that runs D’Amato Construction and D’Amato Realty, is completing his first term. He wants city hall to be more receptive to businesses looking to relocate to Bristol, saying that growing the grand list is essential to protecting homeowners against financial fallout from the state budget crisis.

Carlson, who served two terms before losing in 2015, says his own experience showed him that Bristol needs an ombudsman to help small business owners get the various permits necessary to build or expand.

Hahn, a first-time candidate, wants the city to focus more on reconfiguring the former Memorial Boulevard Middle School as a local arts center.

He says Cockayne’s administration “fell asleep at the wheel” when Ultimate Wireforms considered relocating. The company announced last month it will leave for Plymouth next year, taking along more than 70 manufacturing jobs.

Medeiros, another first-time candidate, wants the city to have specific objectives and strategies for downtown redevelopment.

In District 2, Democrats Richard Preleski and Peter Kelley are up against Republicans Jodi Zils-Gagne and Andrew Howe.

Preleski, an attorney and former banker, is finishing his first term on the council. He has worked with the Bristol Development Authority on incentive programs for new businesses, and says the city needs to have aid available to keep existing businesses as well.

Kelley, who works at First Bristol Credit Union, agrees with Carlson that the council should press the state to keep Bristol Technical Education Center open.

“In the past four years your taxes have gone up twice — conveniently in nonelection years,” Kelley said at a candidates forum this week.

The city is starting downtown redevelopment, Howe says, after years of the former Bristol Centre Mall site sitting vacant under a Democratic administration.

“We’ve brought business in, the city has put money into the Memorial Boulevard school, our Southeast business park has grown tremendously,” said Howe.

Zils-Gagne, a local lawyer who is in a politically divisive and high-profile dispute with Cockayne, is finishing her first term in office.

She wants Bristol to focus on downtown development that will serve residents.

The District 3 race pits Republicans Cheryl Thibeault and David Mills against Democrats Brittany Barney and Mary Fortier.

Thibeault chairs the finance board, and says Bristol needs to stay on course.

“We’re one of the few cities in the country with a fully funded pension” with a healthy rainy day fund and a AAA bond rating, she says. “Fiscal responsibility is a gold standard in Bristol.”

Mills, retired after more than 30 years as a local teacher and 26 as varsity football coach, has served on the council for three terms with a break between 2013 and 2015.

Mills wants the Bristol Development Authority to have enough staff to assign an ombudsman to help new business owners. He says the schools need more staff to keep up with increasing demands.

Barney, a first-time candidate, says city government could streamline its business-application system by transacting more business online. She supports consolidating services and considering regionalization, and says Bristol should convene a focus group of existing businesses to determine how it can best help them.

Fortier, running for a third term, says the city can’t lose time lamenting the decline of manufacturing.

“We have to work with the businesses that are here and educate people for the jobs we have,” she says.

She is a critic of Cockayne’s administration, saying “Unfortunately the value of homes is not going up the way it should be — a change in leadership at the top will make a difference.”

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