Danbury mayor launches business advocacy office, eyes run for governor

By Kevin Zimmerman

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Danbury Mayor Mark D. Boughton, like many politicos and business people in Connecticut, isn’t happy about the state’s economy. Unlike most, however, he’s taking action on both fronts: creating a new business advocacy group in the city and mulling over a third run for governor.

“We’re definitely looking at the ’18 race,” Boughton said from his office at Danbury’s City Hall.

The city’s eight-term Republican mayor — first elected in 2001 and running unopposed in the most recent election in 2015 — has renewed the domain name teamboughton.com and said he expects to make a decision on running for governor in the fall.

Other potential GOP candidates seeking to unseat Gov. Dannel Malloy, who presumably will run for a third term in 2018, include Thomas C. Foley, the Republican standard-bearer in 2012 and 2008; former state Sen. John P. McKinney, who ran in 2014; and even Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC talk-show host and former U.S. representative from Florida, who lives in New Canaan. Scarborough’s contract with the cable network expires in 2018.

As for Boughton, the son of former Danbury Mayor Don Boughton, he stood as the Republicans’ lieutenant governor candidate in 2010 after ending his own bid for the top spot, and ran again in 2014 before eventually dropping out to back Foley.

“Everybody’s thinking about it,” Boughton said of the 2018 race. “Obviously with the state of Connecticut such a disaster, we need someone with the right skills set to get the state back on its feet.”

Clearly Boughton believes he has those skills. In December he announced “Clean Start,” a joint initiative with Jericho Partnership, an altruistic ministry that rewards homeless people who spend the day collecting litter with gift cards for food and services. The program formally started in late May.

“This is all about inspiring people and pulling together as a community to impact others,” Boughton said in making the announcement. “It only takes one person, or one nonprofit, or one company to raise a hand and say they want to do something amazing and touch lives in a meaningful way. That creates critical mass — and Jericho is leading the way.”

Designed to be more far-reaching is the city’s newly created Office of Business Advocacy, headed by Boughton’s former assistant Roger Palanzo.

“Everyone has an office of economic development, but the idea that you’re going to go out and lasso a huge corporation to move to Connecticut that way is not really practical,” Boughton said.

The new department, he added, exists “to support and assist the small- to mid-sized businesses that are looking to hire more employees or open new locations. It’s a concierge approach to permitting and tax programs, providing the expertise that they need.”

“We’re designed to be a more hands-on office” than the Office of Economic Development, Palanzo said. “We’re here to help businesses move procedurally through the city, to get in touch with the right people to get their issues addressed. We want them to feel they have someone on their side.”

Boughton said the creation of the business advocacy office will free him up to personally speak to larger businesses.

“A corporate CEO who wants to talk to Danbury wants to talk to the mayor, not the economic division director. This provides the opportunity for everyone else to accomplish what they want and need,” Boughton said. “If you want to open a pizza restaurant, that’s nice and everything, but if you’re spending all your time with that then you may not be available to a corporate CEO.”

Palanzo, who had served with the mayor since 2012, has since 2005 owned Vivré LLC, a professional business management consulting service at 45 Briarwood Drive in Danbury.

“Roger has run his own business and has vast experience in working with small- and mid-sized businesses,” Boughton said. “He knows Danbury and City Hall and is sensitive to both our needs and those of businesses. He’s the right fit.”

Palanzo said he and the mayor began discussing the business advocacy office in January. “I was born and raised here and have a unique affection for Danbury,” he said. “I’ve seen what it was, know what it is and what it wants to be.”

Vivré, he said, will be “taking quite a hit” in terms of his attention for now, “but that’s going to be my problem.”

“It’s a very, very busy office,” Palanzo said of the city’s new initiative. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of inquiries since the announcement was made. The mayor’s office has been tremendous and the business community has been very welcoming.”

A particular focus for the business advocate is the revitalization of Main Street, recently highlighted by the $80 million development of luxury apartments at the long-vacant 9.5-acre site now known as 1 Kennedy Flats.

For the foreseeable future, the office will remain a one-man operation. Palanzo said he has had all his phone lines rerouted to his cell phone to maximize efficiency.

“We hope to have the ability to add staff,” he said, “but that’s something for the future.”

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