Rob Pero, from the beach to City Hall
Rob Pero is a candidate steeped deeply in New London tradition as he aims to become the city's first powerful mayor.
He is the youngest of Anthony Pero's six children.
And anyone who has been around the city a long time remembers when Anthony Pero, now 90, was the keeper of the flame for many New London natives, the longtime manager of Ocean Beach Park, at a time when the beach seemed to many to be the spiritual heart of the city.
As a kid, Rob Pero used to go to work with his dad, back when a Pero presided over New London's treasure, the sandy beachfront kingdom that was the envy of many Connecticut shoreline communities. The elder Pero started work there as a young man, lifeguarding.
When he was 25, Rob Pero ran for the City Council for the first time. His platform? In part, preserving Ocean Beach.
Now that he's running for mayor, at the age of 42, with three children of his own, Pero has evolved from being an advocate for Ocean Beach, which now seems safe from those who once wanted to sell or develop it, to supporting downtown development.
Pero the candidate, when I met with him last week to talk about his plans for the city, had a lot to say about developing the downtown as a thriving arts and entertainment destination.
He wants the city to support and underwrite more events on the new Parade plaza. He wants the city to get behind the idea of establishing the Coast Guard Museum at Union Station.
And he'd like to see Main Street redirect its focus to better support the retention of downtown businesses.
These are maybe not really big ideas. But they are about the closest I've heard any of the mayoral candidates come to expressing some kind of interesting and specific vision for improving the city, both physically and culturally, an exciting goal with new development they'd like to pursue.
On the other hand, Pero also seems the most focused on the nitty-gritty of city government, ready to talk about building budgets and contract negotiations.
"I am a policy wonk," he concedes.
As a longtime veteran of the council, Pero does indeed have a lot of experience with city government and can easily rattle off statistics and details about a wide range of budget and policy issues past and present.
You get the sense he might know exactly which filing cabinet to reach into to find a particular document.
He says he helped bring TV cameras to council meetings, for better transparency. He says he also helped streamline the way the city prepares it annual budget, to better identify savings.
He is a longtime state employee and union member - he's an investigator with the Department of Consumer Protection, assigned to investigating home improvement fraud - and his wife is a schoolteacher.
That leaves him, as a city councilor and mayoral candidate, kind of straddling what has become a battle line around the country over pay and benefits for public employees.
Pero assured me that, as mayor, he is prepared to be tough when it comes to union negotiations with city employees, safeguarding city resources. As a state employee, he said he expects Gov. Dannel Malloy's budget initiatives will lead to wage and benefit concessions for him and others.
When it comes to union negotiations in the city, he says he is well qualified to make the other side understand the budget realities that might have to be accommodated.
He talked about his interest in negotiating for higher medical co-pays for city workers and discussions involving work changes, like eliminating redundant, or "shotgun," drivers in city trucks.
In terms of public safety, he said he supports crime mapping to better direct resources to problem areas. He would like to see more police foot patrols.
He declined to take a no-new-tax pledge, but said the city should be "fiscally efficient" under his administration.
"I firmly believe I can make sure we are not dramatically increasing our taxes," he said.
Pero said he became a Republican years ago in part because a friend of the Pero family was a respected city Republican leader and former mayor, the late Willie Nahas.
He chose the affiliation, he says, despite discouraging voter-registration numbers that have Democrats outnumbering Republicans something like four to one.
Despite being a Republican, Pero has often been the top vote-getter in City Council elections.
"Citizens have rewarded me every other November with their votes, sometimes in an overwhelming fashion," he said.
If he is elected the city's first full-time mayor in generations, he will upend city politics, putting a Republican securely in charge of a city that has been dominated for decades by Democrats.
In that sense, Pero is the candidate hardly steeped in tradition.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
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