Thirteen candidates vie for six Norwich city council seats
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Fri., Oct. 25, 2013
A total of 13 candidates are jockeying for six open slots on the Norwich City Council this Nov. 5. The slate includes five candidates for the Libertarian Party of Connecticut. “This is the first time we’ve run a full slate in an individual city,” said state party chairman Carolyn McMahon. “We’ve made some major inroads in southeastern Connecticut and decided to capitalize on it.” All five of the party’s city council candidates are new to politics.
Libertarian city council candidate Cyndia Shook said she threw her hat into the ring at the request of Libertarian mayoral candidate William Russell. A licensed clinical social worker, she moved from Pawcatuck after buying a house in Norwich in 2007. Becoming a homeowner made her more aware of property taxes, which she said “seemed disproportionately high in Norwich. Lisbon is half of what Norwich is.” Shook said she would eliminate the city manager position, which she called “wasteful,” and offer a tax credit for businesses to take over foreclosed or blighted properties in the city.
Candidate Michael Holman, a recent college graduate with a degree in political science and Spanish, is an immigration law paralegal. His stated goals as a council member include reducing property taxes to balance the budget, reforming the city charter, completion of the Chelsea Gardens project at Mohegan Park, and the development of youth organizations, trade education and manufacturing in the city.
Chandler Alfred, Jr., of the Libertarian Party has lived in Norwich since 1983, graduated from Norwich Free Academy and works at Earthwise Sprayfoam. He said that he “wants to help Norwich become the city he remembers from the '80s and '90s” when it “was a friendly and welcoming place for all.” He hopes to reduce taxes to revive local business and said he plans to “make local government work for all.”
Libertarian candidate Julia Gorham works for The Greener Cleaner, a housekeeping service that uses pet-safe, eco-friendly cleaning products.
No information was available about Axel Ramires, the fifth Libertarian city council candidate.
None of the Libertarian Party candidates attended the city council candidate debate at NFA Oct. 16, sponsored by the Norwich Bully Busters and the NFA Young Voters Society. Debate organizers said the third-party candidates had been invited, and name cards were set up at the table for them. But both McMahon and mayoral candidate William Russell said they only found out about the event after the fact.
The Democrats are fielding two incumbents: Pete Desaulniers, the council president pro tem who is seeking his fourth term, and Mark Bettencourt, who is serving his third term. Newcomers to the Democratic slate are Terell Wilson and Bill Eyberse.
Desaulniers, who is on the board of directors for the Norwich Community Development Council, said that he sees the city working to “take advantage of our history, finally” by working in partnership with owners of historic structures. He said that by beefing up public works, cleaning up parks and revitalizing the harbor, Norwich could have more success in luring small industry back to the city.
Bettencourt said he hoped to promote economic development in the city by taxing land value instead of improvements to blighted properties, as well as by rebating some property tax increases on projects in the city to encourage commercial development. He called the city charter’s “archaic” language “an impediment to revitalization.” Charter revision could include changes to the council’s role in zoning and a $100 monthly stipend to city council members in an effort to encourage “a better quality of candidate.”
Wilson, a 21-year-old Norwich native and student at American International College in Springfield, Mass., said that people in his age bracket “are not looking at Norwich anymore” as a place to settle and raise a family. He said he would encourage community engagement and “make sure the people of Norwich know and understand the budget.”
Eyberse, a therapist who runs a small business, said that Norwich “feels like we’re stuck in second gear. We need a more organic, holistic approach” He said he would proceed cautiously with proposed charter revisions, since Norwich is “too big a town for budget referenda – it would just clog the motors.” He said the government needs to be more accountable and efficient with its budget, along with expanding the tax base.
Among the four Republican candidates are incumbent Sofee Noblick and former alderman William Nash, along with newcomers James Paulsen and Jerry Martin.
Nash, who served two terms on city council prior to his unsuccessful 2010 bid for the state assembly, is a retired Norwich police officer and military veteran. He said his number one priority is holding down taxpayer costs and working with the board of education to streamline education costs. At the same time, he said, the city needs to move forward on improving its aging infrastructure and enhancing public safety. "Improving the standard of living is vital to the success of Norwich and will attract businesses and residents seeking a better place to live," he said. "We need to continue to provide strong educational system, along with increased police presence, while maintaining fire departments with the latest firefighting technology and equipment, punctuated by a well maintained roadway system and bridge infrastructure. Norwich will succeed."
Noblick is running for a third two-year term on the council. She said that while taxes need to be kept low because of the city’s economy, the focus should not be on cutting positions in city agencies. She said she favored a four-year term for city council seats, staggered with the mayor’s four-year term, as part of potential city charter revisions. She also said she would favor placing the proposed new police station in the area of the city’s highest crime rate.
Paulsen, a Navy veteran who retired from a career at Electric Boat, said that he considered running for office his civic duty. He said that each of the city’s precincts needs its own council member so that economic development can spread equitably throughout the city, not just in downtown. Social services need increased staffing, he said, but not funded out of the city’s contingency reserves.
Martin, a city resident since 2000, has been a business owner and a Pratt & Whitney employee. He said that in a city with little disposable income, “small business is what’s going to rebuild the city.” He proposed better marketing of the city’s attractions, a tax-free period for new business to help them get established, and working with city employees to identify waste in the city budget rather than resorting to staff cutbacks.