Pero making mayoral bid official

New London - Rob Pero said he never set out to be mayor of his hometown.

He does, however, admit to advocating to change the form of government that he believes stifles long-term planning and keeps the city from moving forward.

Now the veteran politician, a Republican, who has been elected to the council eight times and who has routinely been the highest vote-getter in this largely Democratic city, wants to be the city's first elected full-time mayor in nine decades.

Pero, 42, will announce his candidacy at 6 tonight at the Gallery at Firehouse Square, 239 Bank St.

"We were taught, you give back,'' said Pero, who grew up with his five brothers and sisters on Dell Avenue. His dad managed Ocean Beach Park for 45 years. A brother is a New London police officer. Another brother worked for the city for 15 years before his death in 2007.

"It's not about getting a paycheck, it's about a commitment to the community,'' said Pero, who lives with his wife and three children on Harbor Lane.

"I want people to come and live here,'' he said. "I want them to know we won't overtax you. We'll have recreation for your kids, we have entertainment."

In November, after three unsuccessful attempts, voters approved a charter change that replaced the city manager form of government with an elected mayor.

Pero, who just completed a year as the ceremonial mayor, is the second person to announce an interest in the new position. Political newcomer Daryl Finizio, a Democrat, is also running. The election will take place in November.

As mayor, Pero says he plans to push forward with policies he's focused on during his 15 years on the council - zero budget increases, keeping taxes down, advocating for owner-occupied housing programs and collaboration among business groups and government.

He will continue with a transparency policy at City Hall, he says, from posting the entire city budget online to conducting nearly all municipal business at public meetings. He says he's proud that the council only on rare occasions went into executive session during his tenure as mayor in 2010. And although he was criticized for letting his meetings go long, he said he was always comfortable allowing the public to speak directly to the council.

He said he will analyze programs and departments for maximum performance and push for new bond packages as the city's debt service goes down. He will use the bond money to continue to improve the city's infrastructure, parks and schools.

Pero, who is an investigator for the state Department of Consumer Protection, said he will also try to keep residents informed through longer office hours, a weekly show on public access television, radio and blogging.

While Pero is in favor of selling a portion of Riverside Park to the Coast Guard Academy - a decision that is not popular throughout the city - and in the past voted in favor of using eminent domain in Fort Trumbull, he said he stands by his decisions.

"I've said in the past, we've made mistakes. But there were a lot circumstances at the time,'' he said referring to the council decision to pass its powers of eminent domain to the New London Development Corp. to redevelop Fort Trumbull. The state funded nearly the entire $70 million redevelopment project and was orchestrating the project through the NLDC, he said.

"We were hamstrung by direction from Hartford,'' he said.

He added that every two years residents have had the opportunity not to vote for him. But they have returned him to office since 1995.

"I was in the arena,'' he said. "I didn't walk out, I stayed even when it was difficult."

The economic future of the city will be driven by tourism, with partnerships between government and the private sector, he said.

The new mayor, he said, will answer directly to voters.

"We're going to have the vision of one person, and that person will have to sell it collectively,'' he said. "Collaboration will be a big part of the job."

The St. Bernard graduate, who has a bachelor's degree from Eastern Connecticut State University, said if he is elected, he will quit his state job, where he makes about $70,000, and focus on the city.

"I'm willing to be here 24/7,'' he said.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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