NAUGATUCK — The thought of wanting to be mayor wasn’t one that crossed the mind of Democrat N. Warren “Pete” Hess III — until a couple of months ago.
After Mayor Robert Mezzo, a Democrat, announced he isn’t seeking re-election, a few people approached Hess in February to suggest that he run for the seat.
“My initially reaction was, I can’t do that. I’m too busy,” the 66-year-old attorney told the Democratic Town Committee last week. “But the more I thought about it, and the more I talked to people, I thought that I could make a difference, and that I do want to be involved with the development of downtown Naugatuck.”
Hess has served as a municipal attorney for more than three decades under multiple Democratic, Republican and Independent Party administrations.
Hess, who owns multiple properties in the borough, said he knows how taxpayers faced with high taxes feel.
“I pay a lot of money in taxes and I understand the issues in this town,” he said.
Hess said the only way to get tax relief is for the borough to grow.
“There’s only one way to really achieve significant tax relief and that is to grow,” he said. “We have to expand the grand list, reducing the mill rate, and grow. And when I say grow, I mean grow significantly.”
The borough is on the cusp of beginning redevelopment of downtown, three years after the Renaissance Place project faltered. The borough has development agreements in place for Parcel A, the General DataComm building, Parcel B, a vacant parking lot abutting the General DataComm property, and Parcel C, the vacant lot on the corner of Maple and Water streets.
Hess said those three parcels are just the “tip of the iceberg” for development in Naugatuck. He pointed to the former Uniroyal Chemical property along the Naugatuck River near Beacon Falls as a property that can help Naugatuck over time. He said he has a variety of ideas for the land to turn it into a usable property that generates tax revenue.
Hess continued that he will work towards acquiring a new industrial park in the borough. If someone wants to start a new industry in Naugatuck, he said, there’s no where for them to go.
“I think we need it. It would be great for the town,” Hess said.
Hess contended that the borough is also “missing the boat” in residential development.
“To a lot of people that’s a bad word, residential development,” he said.
Hess cited his own residence on Misty Wood Lane as an example of good residential development. The six homeowners on the street have to pay for trash pickup and snow removal, he said. With no more than one or two children having lived on the street, Hess said, the town makes a significant “profit” in taxes from the development.
“There’s no reason why streets of that nature shouldn’t be encouraged,” Hess said.
Every mayor has his or her “pet project,” Hess said. His would be a series of walking trails to connect the Naugatuck State Forest with the Larkin State Park bridle trail and eventually Hop Brook Park.
Hess said his decision to run for mayor is based on a belief that he is the most qualified candidate to help Naugatuck develop, grow, increase the grand list and decrease taxes.
“I’m for Naugatuck. … I’m an optimist. I love Naugatuck, and I would like to see it move forward,” Hess said.
M. Leonard Caine III, chairman of the town committee, described Hess’ presentation to the committee as “professorial.” Caine said Hess is very informed and proved that he knows his stuff.
With Mezzo not running again, the mayor’s race is wide open. Hess was the only Democrat to speak to the committee last week about running for mayor. Republicans Alexander Olbrys, a burgess, and Seth Bronko have already announced they are running for mayor.
Democrat burgesses Bob Burns, Laurie Taf Jackson, Patrick Scully and Rocky Vitale also addressed the Democratic Town Committee last week about running for re-election.
The Democratic and Republican town committees will endorse candidates in July.