Paula Smith, Republican mayoral candidate, and other party members gathered outside Eli's Tavern Saturday morning with balloons and information for what Smith called an attempt to "fast track" approval for an outdoor patio at Eli’s.

Eli’s has become an election issue, pitting Smith against incumbent Democratic Mayor Ben Blake. Smith has said the current administration’s stand in denying an outdoor patio lease has made the city look anti-business, while Blake has maintained that Eli’s owner Richard Ciardiello has to get neighboring businesses on board before a lease can be discussed: Blake says a number of neighbors oppose the patio.

The Republicans, including City Clerk Joanne Rohrig, on Saturday asked residents' opinions and urged them to support pushing the appeal through.

In September the Board of Aldermen voted down a lease agreement for a patio by a vote of 9-6. The vote was along party lines, with Democrats voting against the lease and Republicans voting for it.

Ciardiello bought the property from Richard Conine in 2012 and said city department heads led him to believe that he wouldn’t have any trouble securing a lease agreement like the one Conine had before him for an outdoor patio.

In a press release issued this weekend, Smith said she and Rohrig and the Republican aldermen are calling on Blake and the city attorney’s office to “do right by Eli’s Tavern on Daniel Street.”

Smith said Milford is competing for an ever-shrinking inventory of commercial and industrial business opportunities “thanks to the anti-business policies of Mayor Blake’s BFF, Governor Malloy. To make matters worse, while Mayor Blake and his economic development office are trotting out ever-changing statistics-in-a vacuum from the Malloy administration, our city leaders are conducting a public and utterly embarrassing harassment of Eli’s Tavern on Daniel Street.”

Smith said Ciardiello and the Eli’s team revitalized a building that hasn’t seen any true success since the days of Putnam Furniture. Ciardiello’s $2.5 million plus investment in downtown Milford means jobs for contractors and suppliers, new jobs in downtown Milford from a very successful Connecticut-based restaurant chain, a new downtown Milford customer for Connecticut food and beverage suppliers – and tax revenue, Smith said.

“We have a moral and ethical obligation to our shareholders to create an environment for success,” the GOP press release state. “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Eli’s is a shareholder. We owe Eli’s their outdoor dining patio in exchange for their multi-million dollar commitment to revitalizing downtown Milford, creating jobs and providing long-term tax revenue for Milford and Connecticut. We owe it to Eli’s to help them succeed.”

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Rich Smith shot back with criticisms of the GOP tactics, arguing that Blake has brought new business to the city in record numbers.

“Paula Smith and her Republicans have embarrassed themselves on this issue,” Rich Smith said. “First, they should know that Republicans and Democrats, in a non-partisan vote on the Planning and Zoning Board, rejected leasing a city park to a local tavern so they should begin their concern within their own party.

“Why she thinks leasing a city park to a bar is the measure of pro-business is quite odd,” Rich Smith continued. “Had Miss Smith spent any time doing due diligence on this issue instead of waving bright balloons and screaming at passing cars as she and her ticket-mates did this past weekend, she would have learned that the applicant had left the city of Hamden with not only a $3,000 unpaid water bill but also a year’s rent on a property they leased from the city. Not a good reference.”

Rich Smith accused Paula Smith and the GOP of “carnival barking and waving campaign signs at startled folks” and failing to see that Blake ushered in the “broadest three-year economic expansion of businesses in all of Milford’s history.”

“According to records filed with the Secretary of State’s office, Milford filed thousands of notices of new business start-ups during Mayor Blake’s term,” Rich Smith said. “This list includes everything from small LLCs to large manufacturing and retail businesses; but hardly the profile of a ‘bad for business’ mayor.”