Candidates cover broad range

Republican Tamath Rossi and Democrat N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess debate Tuesday night at the Whittemore Library in Naugatuck. -REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Republican Tamath Rossi and Democrat N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess debate Tuesday night at the Whittemore Library in Naugatuck. -REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — One touts his defense of Naugatuck citizens in several court battles. The other says she has fought for senior citizens and for changes to a law that will ultimately benefit people who use ambulance services, and has worked to improve the lives of local children.

That is how Democrat N. Warren “Pete” Hess and Republican Tamath Rossi summed up their greatest contributions to the community in an hour-long debate Tuesday night at the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library. In front of more than 180 people in a standing-room-only crowd, the candidates answered questions ranging from taxes and economic development to the last book they read and what they would do if they were somehow given control over the state legislature.

The debate, which was sponsored by the library and the Republican-American, was also viewed by more than 50 people live online.

Hess, a 66-year-old attorney, touted his record of preserving Naugatuck citizens’ right to vote on budgets in court battles in the mid-1990s, when he was a borough attorney, and winning a court case against the Naugatuck Board of Education to make the mayor a voting member of the school board. He says that decision, which was also fought by all boards of education in the state, has ultimately led to a stronger working relationship between municipal leaders and the Naugatuck Board of Education.

Rossi, a 49-year-old longtime former self-employed paralegal and now the borough’s deputy mayor, said she helped rebuild the senior center during her first term as deputy mayor between 2003 and 2005 after a tumultuous time at the facility that included the firing of a former senior center director. She also said she fought at the State Capitol over the past two years to change state law that regulates ambulance associations, essentially giving municipalities new tools to replace ambulance companies that are not providing adequate service.

“That was an incredible effort to fight a 40-year-old (bill) that nobody will notice when they get into an ambulance,” she said, adding that it was nevertheless important.

Finally, Rossi said she loves working with the Juvenile Review Board to give students a second chance and with a program that teaches life skills and healthy lifestyles to middle school girls called “Girls on the Run.”

In an effort to improve the quality of life for Naugatuck residents, Hess said he would look to restore the former Salem Theater on Church Street. It is owned by a group of local businessmen, many of whom are supporting Hess. Hess said he is also speaking with a private developer to build an indoor sports facility, and is looking to expand the recreational trails network by connecting the Larkin State Bridle Trail with the Naugatuck State Forest. He also wants to build a dog park.

Rossi accused Hess of stealing some of her ideas and the dog park plan from Burgess Rocky Vitale. She also said a restored theater is a great idea but questioned why Hess has to be mayor in order for him to make that happen. Finally, she said the sports facility only serves a select group of children and lamented that they would need to pay to participate.

When asked what word best describes Hess and what word best describes herself, Rossi said Hess was “out-of-touch” and that she was “experienced.”

Hess quipped that Rossi’s response might have made him change his own answer, but ultimately, it appeared he did not.

“I would say Mrs. Rossi is tireless; nobody can take that away from her,” he said. “I would say I’m resilient, but I would point out that resilient includes being tireless, it includes determination … so resilient is better than tireless.”

See individual video clips to each question asked at the Naugatuck mayoral debate at http://bit.ly/ranaugydebate.