The gloves come off in second debate between Herbst and Jankovic-Mark
The gloves were off Tuesday night as First Selectman Timothy Herbst and Democratic challenger Martha Jankovic-Mark faced off for the second debate. The two clashed on topics like sewers, spending and public safety while criticizing one another’s records, with Jankovic-Mark saying Herbst has “an inability to work with others” and Herbst telling his opponent she is “out of touch.”
The debate, hosted by the League of Women Voters and the Trumbull PTSA, was moderated by Gloria Francesconi, who had to remind the audience of more than 100 people to keep quiet, as supporters on both sides took turns cheering on their candidate or laughing at a political dig.
Jankovic-Mark, a longtime Town Council member and attorney, criticized Herbst for what she called a “spending spree” on the town side and not placing proper priorities on education. She said she would implement zero-based budgeting, aside from contractual obligations and pensions.
“You’ve increased town spending 17% and Board of Education 13%,” Jankovic-Mark said. “I have different priorities than you.”
Herbst countered that Jankovic-Mark switched to the Democratic ticket two years ago because she didn’t think Herbst was spending enough. He argued he has kept a stable tax rate with an average increase of 1.88%, while addressing pensions and supporting implementation of full-day kindergarten.
“Being lectured by you about fiscal responsibility is like Anthony Soprano lecturing me on how to obey the law,” Herbst said.
As far as improvements in education, Herbst said the schools need better and more updated technology. He said he would like to see technology in the operating budget, similar to a community like New Canaan, which leases equipment. He’d also like to work toward creating an annual capital improvement plan.
Jankovic-Mark agreed with a long-term bonding plan and said she didn’t like that the town bonded school technology purchases this fiscal year.
When it came to the topic of the sewers, Jankovic-Mark criticized the WPCA, appointed by Herbst, and the lack of headway in a regional sewer solution.
“Your lack of transparency, your executive sessions and your inability to work with others,” she said.
“I make no apologies for cleaning house on the WPCA; there was no proper oversight or controls,” Herbst countered.
On the topic of public safety, Herbst said one of his main priorities is to see Trumbull have a regionalized dispatch.
“We absolutely need combined dispatch,” Herbst said. “We learned after Dec. 14 that seconds do matter.”
The Town Council approved a study of centralized dispatch, upon urging from the first selectman and public safety officials. Herbst criticized Jankovic-Mark for abstaining from a vote in a committee meeting on the topic before it went to full council. She later voted in favor of the study when it was before the entire council.
Jankovic-Mark argued she did so because she wanted to do her due diligence and meet with all the people who would serve on the study committee.
Jankovic-Mark discussed her plan to consider moving the senior center to the current Trumbull Nature and Arts Center property on Route 25. TNAC is looking to relocate to Old Mine Park, through private fund raising. Mark said she would look form a committee to explore moving the senior center there, as well as selling the current senior center property.
Herbst agreed the current senior center was not meeting the needs of seniors but said he thought a centralized location in town was a better idea and he would look into a feasibility study on a new center.
Herbst said he was proud of his senior tax relief, passed with bipartisan support. He said the senior center needed to be addressed but he was pleased that residents of Stern Village were using their community room and working with the senior center.
Jankovic-Mark said she wanted to be sure senior tax relief was given to those who needed it most. Also on the topic of seniors, she criticized Herbst’s handling of the Trumbull Housing Authority by appointing new members, and the replacement of executive director Harry Wise with Harriet Polansky.
“I don’t think you should talk about that as something you are proud of,” she said of Stern Village.
Herbst said his changes to the Housing Authority were an effort to stand up for residents of Stern Village, who were left to fend for themselves in the middle of a Hurricane Sandy, when he was unable to get in touch of the former executive director.
Herbst motioned to Stern Village residents in the audience, saying they are happy under the new leadership and encouraged Jankovic-Mark to go door-to-door in Stern Village and ask if residents are happy.
“It shows how out of touch you are,” Herbst said.
“Your rents are going to triple,” Jankovic-Mark warned residents. “Not yet, but probably after the election.”
Jankovic-Mark said that despite Herbst’s promises that Trumbull is moving forward, Connecticut Magazine ranked Trumbull second to last among other towns with similar housing prices. The ranking was based on crime, culture/leisure, community engagement, education, and economy.
Herbst noted Coldwell Banker voting Trumbull its “No. 1 booming suburb.”
“My opponent is running a campaign tearing the town of Trumbull down, and I’m running one building it up,” Herbst said.
Jankovic-Mark said she loves her town, but believes management of it needs to change.
“I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t have a reason,” she said.
The full debate will be aired on Trumbull Community Television, Channel 17/99.
The final first selectman debate is Thursday, Oct. 31, at 8 a.m. at the Trumbull Library, 33 Quality Street. The Trumbull Chamber of Commerce, an affiliate of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, is sponsoring the debate. It is set to run until 9:30 a.m. There is no cost and it is open to the public. Visit brbc.org for more information.