New energy and fresh, creative ideas is what Michele Bialek thinks is needed in Shelton.
“There’s such potential for this city,” said Bialek, 41, a Democrat who is running for mayor.
Bialek has formed a campaign committee and is her party’s presumptive nominee this fall against Republican Mayor Mark Lauretti, who is seeking a 13th term.
She said the city of Shelton has been operating a long time without a fresh perspective. “We can do so much more with what we have,” she said.
Bialek said she’s running because she loves the city where she was born and raised, attended school, owns a business, met her husband Fred, and is raising their six children with him.
It was the time Bialek spent in the American Southwest and Europe after graduating from Shelton High in 1991 that reinforced just how much her hometown means to her.
“I realized how much I loved it here,” she said. “The word ‘home’ took on a new meaning. I wanted to stay here.”
Bialek noted her children have attended the same school, Sunnyside, where she and her mother went. She lives in the same downtown neighborhood, Coram Gardens, where she grew up.
Business, political, community roles
Michele and Fred Bialek are perhaps best known as owners of Liquid Lunch, the informal eatery with locations in Shelton and Milford.
They now are working to open a farm-to-table restaurant in their downtown site, closed since the massive January 2014 fire.
She ran unsuccessfully for aldermen two years ago, and her political involvement — especially when it comes to education and downtown redevelopment — has increased since then.
She’s also been involved in the community. She and her husband started the Soupstock music and arts festival to raise money for children’s art activities through a nonprofit organization named after her grandmother.
Bialek said her husband is fully supportive of her decision to run for mayor. “The day I filed the paperwork, Fred was smiling from ear to ear,” she said. “We’ve always done everything together.”
Having a voice
Bialek realizes it won’t be easy to defeat Lauretti, who won re-election two years ago with 77% of the vote.
“There’s a chance to win,” she said. “It depends on whether my message resonates with enough people. My goal is for everyone to listen to my ideas and to have a voice. And I want a lot of people to come out and vote.”
Bialek said the Shelton Democratic Party is being re-energized by “a new generation of people” with passion for the city’s future.
David Gioiello, Shelton Democratic Town Committee chairman, said he’s excited about having Bialek lead the party ticket.
“She’s passionate about the city,” Gioiello said. “She’s particularly fired up about doing things downtown, where she lives and has a business. She has a vested interest in the education system.”
Gioiello, who was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for mayor in 2013, also said Bialek has strong local roots. Her family is well known here, and that matters to voters, he said.
During an interview, Bialek didn’t directly criticize Lauretti but said it’s time for new leadership with new ideas. “The mayor’s done a beautiful job getting us where we are now, but it’s time for a new energy,” she said.
“It’s time to shift things,” Bialek said of the city’s priorities, insisting this can be done without raising taxes.
She said there are many people in Shelton who want to get more involved but have felt left out of the process. “It gets frustrating when other voices are not heard, especially those that care for the city,” she said.
Lauretti said he will be ready for campaign season. Both parties will nominate their candidates in July. “I’ve always had an opponent so it’s status quo for me,” Lauretti said.
Education, economic development
On education, Bialek said there seems to be a lack of communication early in the budget process between city and school officials.
“Communication is the best way to start,” she said. “The more information the better.”
Bialek said city officials also need to better understand all that is involved in offering a good, modern education system. “Everything has changed so much,” she said.
But she stressed this shouldn’t be confused with wanting to give the school district a blank check.
With economic development, Bialek wants to help neighborhood commercial centers such as Huntington, White Hills, downtown and the lower Route 110 corridor.
She said this will boost small businesses, which should be encouraged to reuse existing spaces and buildings.
A destination for arts, food
Bialek also wants to make Shelton more of a tourist destination, using the riverfront and working more closely with Derby to attract day-trippers.
Artistry and craftsmanship can help bring people downtown, and “we can keep them here with thriving restaurants and shops,” she said.
Bialek said her campaign will “honor and respect” the city’s history, especially its industrial heritage. “We need to celebrate where we’re from,” while embracing innovation for the future, she said.