By Mark Zaretsky, New Haven Register
WEST HAVEN >> Democratic mayoral challenger Nancy Rossi stunned Mayor Ed O’Brien and the Democratic Town Committee Tuesday with a narrow victory — and a split City Council — in a primary election that suggested voters are discontent with the current state of the city.
As of late Tuesday it appeared Rossi defeated O’Brien 2,383 to 2,247.
Rossi, a certified public accountant and former City Council Finance Committee chairwoman, will face Republic City Councilman David Riccio in the General Election Nov. 7.
“I’m in shock, I’ve got to tell you,” Rossi said outside her headquarters in the Savin Rock Parkade shopping center on Captain Thomas Boulevard even as campaign workers continued to crunch numbers in a room in the rear. “I’m in disbelief. I still can’t believe it. I’m, like, numb.”
Asked why she thought she won, Rossi said, “I think that people are very disturbed about the financial condition of the city. ... I believe that people are disturbed that they live by budgets and they don’t see the budget in the city balancing, and we’re going further and further in the hole.
“That’s one of the first things on my agenda, is a balanced budget,” said Rossi.
Minutes earlier, O’Brien had come by to congratulate her.
“Everything was very nicely done,” Rossi said. “He said he would help me in any way, we are all Westies and we will work together — and I thanked him for that because I think that that’s the way a transition should be.
“I’ve still got to win November, though, so we don’t want to get ahead of that,” she said.
Rossi, who was joined in her headquarters after the initial celebration by former Mayor John Picard, said she believes she is the first woman to be West Haven’s Democratic candidate for mayor. (Democrat Dorinda Borer, now a state representative, previously ran, but on the “A Better Future” ticket.)
“I’m very humbled about everyone who came out and voted for me today and everyone who helped in this,” Rossi said. “It definitely wasn’t all me. It was everybody. I had a great team.”
O’Brien emerged from an upstairs room of his Campbell Avenue headquarters where the numbers were being crunched at about 8:40 p.m. and announced to supporters that the result was mixed but he had lost.
“I want to thank you all for all your support and all your hard work throughout all these years. It was a pleasure,” O’Brien said. “I thoroughly enjoyed being the mayor, but I’m one of those people. I will move on. We will be OK.
“We will get past this — and we still have a race in November,” he said.
Several council races were extremely close and likely to go to recounts, but Democratic Town Chairman Jim Morrissey, who supported O’Brien, said he believed the endorsed slate may have won races in the 2nd, 3rd, 8th, 9th and 10th Districts, plus at least one of the two at-large seats.
That would give Rossi’s slate the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Districts and possibly one of the at-large seats. Most but not all of those numbers agreed with those coming from the Rossi camp — although Rossi cautioned later that numbers were still in flux, as the official count was not yet finished.
O’Brien’s slate appeared to have won two of three Board of Education seats while candidates running with Rossi appeared to have won the City Treasurer and Tax Collector races.
“I just want to thank everybody for working so hard,” said Morrissey, who also is the Board of Education chairman and appeared to have retained his seat. “The voters have spoken. We ran a positive campaign. A lot of great things happened in this town. You’re going to see a lot of great things happening in the next several months. The mayor worked really hard to get these projects moving forward.”
In the coming months, “you’re going see The Haven project move forwards, the Atwood project, Yale New Haven over on Route 34 right there,” Morrissey said. “This town is busting with progress. Unfortunately, we came a little short tonight. That’s the way the game is. You know, you win some and you lose some.”
But “the most important thing for us is to move our city forward,” he said. “I congratulate Nancy Rossi on winning the election, and I hope she does a great job as a Democrat and leads our city the next couple of years.
“It’s been my pleasure and honor to work with Eddie the last four years,” Morrissey said. “He did a wonderful, wonderful job. He’s a wonderful man, he’s a wonderful father. He will go on.”
Throughout the campaign, O’Brien stood on his record — and particularly some of his accomplishments to move the city forward through economic development, saying he had finally gotten West Haven to move in the right direction.
Rossi, meanwhile, said O’Brien had his chance and fell short.
Rossi touted her financial experience — although O’Brien repeatedly said that as a City Council member until two years ago, Rossi held up progress by voting against a deficit bailout plan.
O’Brien said “economic development is the cornerstone to fixing everything in West Haven” — and said that West Haven has seen more economic development during his tenure than it has in years.
He cited as accomplishments The Haven upscale outlet mall, ground recently being broken for a new West Haven High School, the recently-completed Atwood mixed-use development, which is leasing in Allingtown — with two more buildings on the way — new development along Sawmill Road and the just-sold former Acorn/Sursum Corda site off Route 34.
The Route 34 site recently was sold to become a regional distribution center for Yale New Haven Health.
O’Brien also pointed to expansions in the works at MacDermid Enthone, Watson Inc. and AAIS as examples that West Haven’s economic development does not rest its hopes just on one or two big projects.
He also said crime has been reduced since he took office and he has reversed a longtime city practice of deferred maintenance, replacing a number of police cars and city snowplows that were falling apart, and upgrading several city parks, including Painter Park, Morse Park and Veterans Memorial Field.
Rossi, who has been a thorn in the side of the O’Brien administration throughout O’Brien’s four years in office, said she ran because “I believe that most of West Haven’s problems, the majority of them, have to do with financial problems — failure to balance a budget, etc.”
She criticized O’Brien for essentially doubling the city’s cumulative deficit, which she said was about $7.8 million when former Mayor John Picard left office and is close to $16 million now — something that resulted in Moody’s Investors Service downgrading the city’s bond rating last year. O’Brien has accused Rossi of “playing with numbers.”
Rossi said her administration would take steps to stabilize West Haven’s fiscal ship right out of the gate.
Original article: http://www.nhregister.com/west-haven/article/Rossi-bests-incumbent-Mayor-O-Brien-in-West-12193323.php#photo-14100546