Published March 09. 2014 4:00AM
He's a Waterford guy now.
Michael Buscetto III, the former two-term New London city councilor who lost in a bid to become the city's first modern mayor in a heated race more than two years ago, may still have political ambitions, but they're not necessarily in New London.
Several weeks ago, when Buscetto showed up for a meeting in the city of disgruntled downtown merchants, his appearance fuel ed speculation that he may be eyeing a return to New London politics.
"Not now," Buscetto said Monday, at his family's restaurant, Filomena's, on Boston Post Road in Waterford.
A year after losing both a Democratic primary and his write-in campaign for New London mayor to Daryl Justin Finizio, Buscetto sold his Pequot Avenue home and moved his family to Waterford.
"I saw the handwriting on the wall and put my house up for sale, and it's a good thing I did," he said. "Now, property values have dropped 40 percent in the city."
Long considered "a New London Guy" - a phrase used by and about diehard New Londoners - Buscetto's departure came as a shock to many. Throughout his campaign, he had painted himself as a native son who worked hard for and in the city. He was entrenched. His family had deep roots. He understood New London and its wants and needs, he said, better than a newcomer like Finizio could.
He deflects criticism about leaving New London, explaining that he still coaches two youth sports teams in the city, his family owns property there, and he has continued to host his annual Bash at the Beach, which in seven years has netted more than $330,000 for youth activities, libraries, sports and the arts, in recent years benefitting programs in both New London and Waterford.
Buscetto has even treated New London Youth Football championship teams to dinner at his Waterford restaurant.
"Yes, I moved out, but I did not walk away completely. I have hundreds of friends there, it's where I grew up," he said, explaining his continued interest in and criticism of leadership in the city.
In everyday conversation, on his Facebook page, and as an occasional guest on local talk radio, Buscetto has described both Finizio and Police Chief Margaret Ackley as dishonest, ineffective leaders.
Buscetto continues to maintain that the mayor and chief helped to defeat him by smearing his name with false accusations.
"It hurt that Margaret Ackley got away with what she did so I wouldn't be her boss," he said.
While Ackley declined to comment for this article, Finizio noted that despite Buscetto's repeated campaign proclamations about his devotion to New London, it's Buscetto who left the city.
"Three years ago, I engaged in several mayoral election debates with Mike Buscetto. In those debates, Mr. Buscetto stressed that he was 'New London born and bred,' that he 'bled green and gold,' and that I could not be trusted to be mayor because I was an 'outsider who would quit on New London when the going got tough.' Three years later, all I can say is, the going has gotten tough. All good things come with perseverance and hard work. I am here, in New London, working hard every day, giving all I have to the cause of moving our city forward. I am proud to be a New Londoner, I will always remain a New Londoner, and I wish Mr. Buscetto all the best for his business and home in Waterford."
Even from a distance, Buscetto will be backing Finizio's likely opponent when Finizio runs for a second term.
"I'm supporting Mike Passero right now. He's a great candidate. He's a stabilizing person," said Buscetto, of the incumbent Democratic councilor who will likely face off against Finizio in 2015.
As for his own future political ambitions, Buscetto is not ruling anything out.
He could move back to New London in the future, if Finizio was not the mayor and the situation was right, he said. And if Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward decided not to seek another four-year term in the future, a run at the seat might be an option for him.
"Absolutely, I'd consider it," he said. "But he has 18 months left, and I'm not saying I would run against him. I'm just saying that if the seat were open, I'd consider it."
In the meantime, he's content to operate his popular restaurant and hold court there, with customers who come from near and far for the cuisine and conversation.
Buscetto makes no apologies for his blunt, outspoken style.
"Why when I say something is it stirring the pot?" he asked. "Things are not that rosy, and I'm saying it. And when I stir, I stir from the front. I put my name and my face on whatever I say. I don't throw snowballs and run for cover."
He believes he would have been a better, more successful choice for mayor of New London and admits he was hurt that voters didn't elect him.
And he gets heated when it's mentioned that Finizio has blamed much of the city's troubles on past administrations.
"The city is how old?" he asked. "The city has always been able to pay its bills, and he gets in office and the city can't pay its bills. That's bull. The city's condition may not be his fault completely, but it's his responsibility to fix it.
"He was voted to be strong mayor. He was voted to take care of it," Buscetto said.
As much as politics in New London irks him, Buscetto said he's content now.
"Waterford is a different town than New London, very different," he said.
His business is thriving, his two youngest children are enrolled in Waterford schools, and Buscetto is serving on the town's Youth Service Bureau Advisory Committee.
"Life since leaving New London? It's been great," he said.