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  • Hartford Courant

    State’s longest serving mayor has a lot to uphold. It’s work being ‘Best Small Town In Connecticut’

    By Pamela McLoughlin, Hartford Courant,

    26 days ago
    Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield “Mayor Bob” in front of the Prospect Town Hall. Mayor Bob has won 24 terms and is the longest serving elected official in Connecticut. Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant/Hartford Courant/TNS

    It’s not the Connecticut town’s motto but it could be: When you find something you like, stick with it.

    Under Republican Mayor Robert J. Chatfield the tiny town of Prospect has gone from about 4,000 residents to 9,800 and from about 1,700 homes to 3,400.

    It didn’t happen overnight, but then again neither has Chatfield’s tenure.

    Chatfield, known to most in town as “Mayor Bob,” is in his 24th term as mayor making him the longest serving mayor and chief elected official in Connecticut.

    Nationally, Chatfield is listed as the seventh longest serving mayor, but he puts himself a rung higher because the official number six had a break in service. So he considers himself the sixth longest continually serving mayor in the United States.

    There’s been a lot of progress in modernizing the town that transitioned from a farming to a bedroom community since Chatfield took office in November 1977.

    But people say Prospect still has a feel of of Mayberry RFD, and proudly carries its actual slogan, “The Best Small Town In Connecticut.”

    Chatfield, who coined the slogan, continues to set the tone.

    “It still has a small town atmosphere,” Chatfield said. “People aren’t afraid to say, ‘Hello, How are you? Have a good day.'”

    Mayor wears many hats

    Chatfield, who will turn 81 in August, wears many hats in town.

    Per town charter, in addition to serving as mayor, he is director of public works and emergency operations director. In the public works role he has an assistant director who runs the day-to-day operations and the latter is more hands-on.

    On his own volition, Chatfield’s been a member of the volunteer fire department since 1965, serving as both chief and assistant chief at times through the decades.

    As member of the state’s first graduating class of EMTs way back, he was an EMT with the department for many years, but has stopped that because he doesn’t have the time to keep with training.

    But Chatfield still answers fire calls during the day and is often the first one there.

    Chatfield also visits the elementary and middle schools several times a week, walking into classrooms holding a dollar bill to go to the first student who can answer answer the question,What are you learning today?” or tell him a fact about Prospect or talk about a current event.

    Chatfield, who grew up in Prospect, is also a justice of the peace with many weddings to officiate this time of year.

    He is known for stories about Prospect.

    He’s also known for his acts of kindness, like the time he showed up in a fire truck with Christmas gifts for a young widow and her children, one person in town said.

    Nazih Noujaim, recent former chairman of the Republican Town Committee said Chatfield simply loves Prospect and it’s people.

    “He loves the people as his own family,” Noujaim said. “He cares for them like they’re his own family.”

    Noujaim, also a member of Region 16 Board, said Chatfield is “personable” and campaigning or driving with him is like a history lesson because he can tell stories about events that happened on every corner.

    “He has so much history,” Noujaim said. “He’ll give you the answers because he’s seen it or done it.”

    Noujaim recalls campaigning door-to-door one year and a resident said, “Bob saved my life (through the fire service), of course I’m going to vote for him.”

    The stories of Chatfield saving lives through the fire service or helping to chance life circumstances for the better seem endless.

    “It’s really great to hear from people all the difference he’s made in their life,” Noujaim said.

    Noujaim said Chatfield’s car is always facing out to the road, never blocked in, and his boots are facing out so he can jump into them quickly.

    He’s always the first to get to a call, so there was at one time a rumor that he had been given special walkie talkie that notified him first.

    “We just laughed at that,” Noujaim said.

    He campaigns like an underdog

    Politically, the town Democrats have tried to unseat Chatfield through the decades, but he’s so well-liked that the Republicans have prevailed by a large margin. In the closest election Chatfield won 63 percent of the vote versus 37 percent.

    Sometimes Chatfield has run unopposed, as he did in the last election in 2023 and one year the Democrats even endorsed Chatfield.

    Several attempts to reach Democratic Town Chairman Larry Fitzgerald were unsuccessful.

    Chatfield said even when running unopposed, “I always run like I’m trailing. I run very hard.”

    “I don’t want people to think I’ve taken anything for granted,” Chatfield said.

    Chatfield, who will go into his 48th year as mayor come November, said he can’t say yet if he’ll run again until he discusses it with his wife, Ginny. They have been married for 52 years and have a daughter, Leslie, who lives in town with her husband and two children.

    Chatfield said he supports Donald Trump for president because, “He says what needs to be said,” and he’s not afraid of China, Russia or any other country.

    The way Chatfield does the job amounts to lots of hours, beginning with leaving the house at about 5 a.m. and into the night during budget time and on Town Council meeting nights.

    Community togetherness

    Chatfield said he believes part of the appeal of Prospect are their community activities – a huge annual car show with bands and a D.J., an over the top Halloween event complete with a parade and pumpkin decorating contest (every student gets a pumpkin) and their Spring Fling. They all happen on the Green near the Civil War monument and he attends them all.

    “That’s why I think people like to move here,” he said, adding the events bring the community together.

    Chatfield grew up in Prospect, graduated from W.F. Kaynor Technical High School in 1961 and soon enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, spending three years in Germany.

    When he left, Chatfield was extremely shy, he said, but the time in Germany fixed that.

    “I came out of my shell,” he said.

    While he was in Germany, his mom sent local newspaper clippings of all the happenings in Prospect.

    “I knew what was going on,” he said.

    He held a number of jobs before and after the service, including as a carpenter, hardware store clerk, painter of aircraft at Sikorsky, school bus driver and manage and soda jerk.

    Interested in Prospect’s future, he ran for mayor at age 32 and took office the day he was elected, Nov. 7, 1977. In those days candidates took office immediately, he said.

    That first year running he knocked on every door in town to campaign.

    Chatfield’s “secretary,” Anne Fortier has been with him since months after he was elected, 46 1/2 years. She’s also in charge of town beautification.

    “She knows me inside and out,” he said.

    Prospect has changed

    During Chatfield’s tenure the town has made lots of improvements, including bringing in city water, allowing for a robust but small town feeling commercial corridor on Waterbury Road, a new library, an upgraded public works with diesel trucks, active road reconstruction and top of the line drainage. More is planned.

    Unlike many municipalities in Connecticut and the nation, even their police department is fully staffed and in good fiscal shape with no overtime, only extra duty work paid for from outside.

    He said in addition to a resident state trooper the department has 20 part-time officers, mostly retirees from other departments.

    Chatfield considers the Prospect Town Hall to have a “homey” atmosphere.

    In his office he has a wall each dedicated to photos and memorabilia of the U.S. Air Force, family, the fire department and Prospect.

    He has an “open door policy” and encourages residents drop in with any concerns.

    Fun fact from Chatfield: He said because of its higher elevation in places, Prospect is known as “the town with an extended view.”

    Before the trees grew, one could see the sailboats of Long Island Sound from the Green, he said.

    He also said every municipality in the state has a Prospect Street or avenue as a nod to Prospect having the most men per capita from Connecticut who fought in the Civil War.

    Republican Town Chairman Roger Sherman said he and his wife moved to Prospect from Waterbury three years ago for the low crime rate, lower taxes and a great school system that would increase property values. The tax rate in Prospect is 31.95 mills compared to 60.21 mills in Waterbury.

    Sherman said the first time he became involved with the election cycle in Prospect, “every person I talked to had a story about Bob.”

    “I’ve heard people say, ‘Not everybody loves Bob, but I’ve never met them,” Sherman said.

    Sherman said he liked that the Republicans in Prospect campaigned as hard as he did as a Republican in heavily Democratic Waterbury.

    “It’s refreshing because they’re not resting in their laurels,” Sherman said. ” I think that when he’s ready to step down as mayor, it’s going to be really difficult to fill his shoes.”

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