Mayoral contenders spar

Democrat N. Warren “Pete” Hess, left, and Republican Tamath K. Rossi, candidates for mayor of Naugatuck, debate Wednesday night at Naugatuck High School. -REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Democrat N. Warren “Pete” Hess, left, and Republican Tamath K. Rossi, candidates for mayor of Naugatuck, debate Wednesday night at Naugatuck High School. -REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — The gloves are still on, but the two candidates for mayor have entered the ring and started to fight.

Republican Tamath Rossi and Democrat N. Warren “Pete” Hess slipped a couple jabs at each other during the first public mayoral debate Wednesday night in the Naugatuck High School cafeteria.

In front of more than 150 people, Hess attempted to paint Rossi as a planner who attends several meetings but doesn’t get much accomplished. Hess, on the other hand, portrayed himself as the opposite — a doer who works behind the scenes and makes things happen.

Rossi described Hess as a sort of Johnny-come-lately who shows up out the blue with grandiose ideas. Meanwhile, she said she has been in the trenches working for Naugatuck over the past 12 years as deputy mayor.

Many in the audience said they could not pick a clear winner Wednesday night. Still, one thing was obvious: There are some stark contrasts between the candidates that should make for interesting dialogue and debate between now and Nov. 3.

Hess, an attorney and downtown business owner who deals in municipal and school government issues, focused his discussion Wednesday on long-term plans, such as growing the grand list by building Naugatuck with smart growth.

Hess said not only does he want downtown business growth, which all candidates talk about, but he is seeking growth of the New Haven Road business corridor. He also wants to develop smaller neighborhoods, where private contractors plow roads at homeowners’ expense and people are generally older, therefore they do not send children to the school system at taxpayers’ expense.

Rossi, who owned a now-defunct paralegal staffing company and former yarn shop downtown, wants to focus on short-term goals, such as transforming the former Armory building on Rubber Avenue into a multi-use community center and bringing free Wi-Fi to the downtown area, a plan she discussed several times and said she is working on currently.

While Rossi said voters know from her platform online exactly what she plans to do in her first three months in office if elected, she said they know little about what Hess plans to do in that time.

“If you look at his plan, he’s talking about bridges and swaths of land that quite frankly, we’ve been talking about (for several) years,” she said. “What will he do in his first 90 days?”

Hess said he will immediately work on a tax incentive ordinance that will be better than the one currently in place, which he said does not work.

“It took a long time for Naugatuck to get in the mess it’s in,” he said. “No one can fix it in the first 90 days or whatever time period Mrs. Rossi is talking about. … We have a plan; we’re going to follow it; it’s not going to take 90 days; it’s going to take years. … We need a plan for sustained growth or no one is going to invest in Naugatuck.”