Bob was born in Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury on May 5, 1971, to Dennis and Sande Mezzo. For the first
twenty-five years of his life Bob made his home on May Street in the Borough of Naugatuck. Some of his earliest memories are set in downtown Naugatuck around the lunch counter at Donovan’s Pharmacy, behind which his Grandma “Gussie” served tuna fish sandwiches and the best milkshakes in Naugatuck. Bob remembers that town hall workers, firefighters, police officers, business owners and employees frequented Donovan’s for a quick lunch and the “daily word on the street”. Bob recalls fondly that loud whistles in the afternoon were soon followed by hordes of workers pouring into the downtown which was anchored by such establishments as Breen’s, Rubin’s, the Salem Theater and his favorite – Murphy’s Five & Dime. Bob came to love the borough of Naugatuck, particularly the bustle of the downtown.
Bob’s formal education began at Central Avenue Elementary School, however, equally important was an informal education that he received from his family. After his parents separated, Bob often spent evenings at his grandmother’s house while his mother worked the second shift. Evenings at his grandmothers’ house were spent watching and reading the news together. Interested in learning more about the world around him, Bob listened intently as the adults in his life discussed local events. In addition to his interest in local politics, Bob became fascinated by historical political leaders. While other children were watching cartoons and sitcoms, Bob preferred to watch biographies of historical leaders. To keep his intellectual curiosity satiated, Bob’s mother carted him to and from the Whittemore Library so he could read historical biographies.
His interest in local issues started him on a lifelong love of politics. His earliest memorable election was when he was five. Four years later, his mother returned from work to find that Bob had created a simulated election complete with slogans, platforms and ballots. Bob insisted upon staying up that night to listen to the numbers come in.
Rivaling his love of political science was a genuine love of sports. A Red Sox fan like his parents and grandparents before him, it was an easy transition to the Patriots, Celtics and Whalers as the seasons changed and the sports calendar progressed. Proud of his allegiances to all teams New England, he had no idea the history of heartbreak that came along with such commitments.
Bob continued to attend public school in Naugatuck until grade eight. Shortly after his eighth grade year, he accepted a full scholarship to The Taft School in Watertown. After three weeks at Taft, Bob informed his mother that he longed to attend school in the Borough that he loved. Bob returned to Naugy where he played tennis and football at Naugy all four years, winning an NVL Football title with the Greyhounds his senior year in 1988. Like so many others before him, Bob was proud of and grateful for the education he received in Naugatuck Public Schools.
After high school he started college at Central Connecticut State University, and transferred to the University of Connecticut, graduating with a double major in political science and history. His first exposure to politics came at UConn, as he became involved with College Democrats during the 1992 campaign season.
During his first year at UConn Law School Bob obtained the Democratic nomination to run for state representative of the seventieth (70th) district. Despite losing to the incumbent Republican, he campaigned with all the energy of an idealistic twenty-two year old and met so many Naugatuck residents on their doorsteps. It would not be his last campaign.
While in law school, Bob interned at City Hill Middle School where I worked as a special education teacher. I met Bob in the spring of 1995. We began dating in the summer and the following year we were engaged to be married.
The next year was a busy one for Bob. Raised Protestant at the Congregational Church, he became a Roman Catholic in March, at my childhood church of Holy Rosary Parish in Ansonia. In May he graduated from UConn Law School, started a job as a Director of Government Affairs at the Greater Waterbury Chamber of Commerce. In July, he took the bar exam. Two weeks later he and I were married. He was sworn-in as a Connecticut attorney in November.
At Bob’s prompting, we settled in a home in Naugatuck. Bob was adamant about staying in Naugatuck as he wanted to give back to a community that had given him so much. While we intended to enjoy our marriage by traveling some, I was expecting in January.
In October, our daughter Alexandra Ryan, or Ally as we call her, was born.
Two weeks after Ally’s birth, Bob left the Chamber and began his legal career as an associate for Attorney Franklin G. Pilicy in Watertown. He had much to learn about being an attorney, but he still longed for greater involvement in public service. In 1999 he was elected to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses, finishing second out of twelve major party candidates.
He focused his attentions on creating economic development opportunities, improving our commitment to education and protecting the interests of taxpayers. His first two years on the Borough Board he helped to pass budgets that contained no tax increase, the last time this has happened since.
In 2000, he represented Naugatuck in the successful Naugatuck River Valley application to be named an All America City in Louisville, KY. In addition, he opened the doors to his own law practice in downtown Naugatuck, where he practice until being elected mayor in May, 2009.
In 2001 he was re-elected to the Borough board as the Deputy Mayor, receiving the highest number of votes amongst all Burgess candidates. During his tenure as Deputy Mayor, he helped to pass a Senior Citizen Tax Cut in preparation for the upcoming revaluation, worked to complete the Mt. Auburn Associates economic development study and create the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation, and fought to protect education in the face of drastic proposals to cut teachers and programs. Implementation of Naugatuck’s first revaluation in over two decades made these years difficult for all of us. Bob made many difficult decisions during these two years all while demonstrating respect for the people of Naugatuck, even those with whom he disagreed.
Sandwiched in the middle of his two years as Deputy Mayor, we welcomed the birth of our son John Connor, “Jay” on April 5, 2002.
After careful deliberation, Bob decided to seek the office of Mayor in 2003. During those first five months of 2003 he would receive the Democratic nomination, defeat an opponent in the Democratic primary, but eventually lose the general election to Ron San Angelo. Defeat is never easy, especially after pouring one’s heart and soul into a campaign.
Public service takes many forms. Bob continued coaching in the Naugatuck Basketball Association and added stints in Naugatuck Youth Soccer, Union City Little League and Little Pal Basketball to his “coaching resume”. In addition, he had the honor to serve on the boards of Griffin Hospital, the newly-formed Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation, and the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce, and as President of the Parent School Council. He was also able to film future opponents for the Naugatuck High School football team. While he no longer marched in the front of the Memorial Day Parade, he had the pleasure to join so many of you in the back.
More importantly, however, he spent many nights home with Ally and Jay as I assumed new responsibilities as an administrator at Naugatuck High School. In 2005, our family adopted a retired greyhound, Casey Stengal.
Although Bob was no longer on the Board of Mayor and Burgess, his interest in Naugatuck and its local government remained strong. Dissatisfied with the state of affairs in the Borough and inspired by the election of President Barack Obama, Bob decided to announce his candidacy for mayor. The campaign began with close friends huddled around our dining room table pondering how the campaign could be successful against a strong field of candidates and little money. As expected, the field quickly became crowded and the campaign began.
Bob challenged the Democratic Party leadership by committing to primary his friend and former State Representative and Deputy Mayor Kevin Knowles. After obtaining the necessary signatures by canvassing door-to-door in cold, winter weather, the campaign caught momentum one volunteer at a time. Bi-weekly literature drops became a part of our supporters lives. Our family was truely blessed by so many friends from all walks of life who were united in their desire to work for a better Naugatuck.
After strong performances in debates and an issue-oriented, respectful campaign, Bob won the primary with approximately sixty percent of the vote. Despite the victory, there was little time for celebration as the general election was only two short months away. Bob’s next opponent was the incumbent Mayor Mike Bronko, who won the Republican primary over former Mayor Ron San Angelo.
While primaries often divide parties, “Team Mezzo” was able to unite Democrats to build coalitions with voters across the political spectrum. Despite an infusion of much needed finances after the primary, the grassroots campaign remained faithful to its origins and continued the literature drops on a much larger scale. As Team Mezzo grew, it continued to welcome all supporters and volunteers in an open manner. Our tiny headquarters on Church Street was filled most nights with friends making phone calls and children playing in the back room.
Nerves were tested on election day as everyone worked right through 8:00 PM. Even as the results became apparent, Bob paced back and forth awaiting the final numbers from the larger polling places. When the final returns were tallied, every Democrat on the ballot was elected. During a loud and jubulant victory party, Bob told everyone that we were now part of Team Naugatuck.
On May 18, 2009, at a family-oriented ceremony on the Green that included everything from clowns and hot dogs, to face painters and air horns, Bob was sworn-in as the thirty ninth chief executive of Naugatuck. While Bob addressed the crowd on that chilly night, he could see the location of the old Donovan’s Pharmacy where he had gotten his first flavor of public life in Naugatuck as a child.
The first eighteen months of Bob’s term as mayor have been interesting to say the least. Challenged by an educational budget crisis and the worst economic recession of our lifetime, Bob remained focused on bringing much needed change to Naugatuck. In a short period of time, Bob worked tirelessly to resolve the board of education deficit, make structural changes to Borough government and communicate with residents at an unprecedented level. Despite long days and the sad loss of our beloved greyhound Casey last December, Bob has maintained his high level of energy and perseverance toward his long-term vision for Naugatuck. His willingness to respectfully discuss ideas and issues in a non-partisan manner and consider different opinions has earned Bob the respect of people from all political persuasions. While I know Bob holds a deep commitment to his faith and his family, his love of Naugatuck and dream for a better future for this community remains a lifelong passion.
For this reason, Bob decided to seek a second term as mayor. On May 2, 2011, Bob was re-elected as an unopposed candidate for mayor of the Borough. At the end of the school year, our family adopted another greyhound, Awesy, and is currently awaiting the blessing our our third child this December.
While Bob continues to deliver on his original campaign promise of “focused leadership for real change”, he knows very well that much work remains. His blog provides a forum to provide real time information to residents and detailed information on Bob’s position on local issues. You can communicate with Bob through this blog or by emailing him at email@example.com. We look forward to working with all of you as we continue this journey to realize the full potential of our wonderful community.