OP-ED | Economic Fears, State Budget Woes on the Minds of Municipal Election Candidates
I’ve been looking through candidate profiles on CTNewsJunkie’s local election site, Vote.CTNewsJunkie.com, and it’s been a window into the hopes, fears, worries, and priorities of the people in our towns.
Vote.CTNewsJunkie.com was set up last year to be an online repository of candidate information for races across the state. Candidates were sent surveys with several questions, and their responses go onto the site along with their name, their party, their town, and the office they’re running for. It’s not a complete database yet, but in the coming years it will be.
As of November 3, there were 107 candidates who had responded to the survey. Of those, 67 percent of them were Democrats, 30 percent Republicans, and the remaining 3 percent were from minor parties. The respondents tended to skew white, male, and middle-aged, which is sadly an accurate description of our political class, but they had a great diversity of ideas, views, and backgrounds.
There were plenty of reasons why each decided to run; most were a variation on wanting to serve, loving their town, or being frustrated about the way things are. But what really got me were the teachers who were running for the Board of Education. Annie Parker, a New Britain Democrat, says that she’s running as “... an extension to my life long commitment to education in New Britain.” Middletown Democrat Lisa Loomis said she thinks “people making education policy decisions should know what it is like to be in the classroom.” It’s surprising to me how few candidates for boards of education actually have experience in the classroom. That may explain a few things.
Many candidates pointed to the state’s fiscal woes as a major problem. Tolland Democrat Sam Adlerstein cautioned against being “driven by fears into extremes,” when it comes to cutting spending. Incumbent First Selectman Richard Ives of Brooklyn identified “the decline of state revenue” as the most pressing problem, and urged regionalization of services.
Frustration was palpable. Many candidates in eastern Connecticut mentioned crumbling foundations, a problem that the state has done little to address. Republican Mark Gunderson of Manchester illustrated his frustration with backward priorities by telling a story about his grandson being allowed to wear earphones in class, and asked, “Is it any wonder our scores are so low?” before condemning an approved idea to install a slide in the lobby of an elementary school “... while they eliminated the snack budget for children that can’t afford snacks.” I’d be mad too.
Many candidates were in favor of regionalizing services in one form or another. Lynn Young, a Stonington Republican, wrote that she hoped the state’s ongoing problems would soften Groton’s attitude against working with her town. “I support regionalizing education,” New Britain mayoral candidate Merrill Gay wrote, adding that, “Our current system with its 145 small school districts perpetuates segregation by race and income.” Stonington Democrat Candace Anderson lamented that “... residents within and across town borders tend to have an “us” against “them” mentality,” which blocked cooperation.
Some towns, though, were more interested in preserving what they already had. Democrat Melissa Kane, running for First Selectman in Westport, said “preserving our town’s character and values” was an important issue, while Democrat Kim Pereira of Avon was interested in “preserving our property values.” Ah.
Some candidates had a realism that approached fatalism. In a lengthy, well-thought-out response, Republican Tim Ryan of New London warned against trying to find a “silver bullet” to solve all problems (New London has a history of just that, sadly). Manchester’s Mark Gunderson asked, “What town would want to regionalize with a town that’s one of the poorest performing in the state?” Lyme Democrat John Kiker wrote, “I don’t believe there are new local tax sources to be found in Lyme,” and Republican Rashid Haynes of Norwich observed that, “In the short term, it’s difficult to manage a budget heavily dependent on revenue from the state.” So it is, and yet, how do towns do without that?
Some candidates are retired, some are homemakers, some financial analysts, and a few are even students or recent college graduates. Merrill Gay wrote that he rode across the country in a velomobile in 2011. Sam Norman of Coventry built a house that won a CT Clean Energy award. Jason Indomenico of Avon wrote, “I love being a lawyer, but would love to be a chef.” Who wouldn’t?
And then there was Norwich Libertarian William Russell, who, when asked what one thing was people didn’t know about him, replied “None of your business.”
That sums up Connecticut’s local elections, in all their glory, pretty well. Remember to vote on November 7.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.