A new mayoral candidacy in the offing

My first thoughts, in chatting Friday with Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh about her possible candidacy for mayor of New London, were how encouraging it is to see the city's mayoral race drawing some fresh new faces to politics.

Indeed, Hopkins-Cavanagh mentioned in our conversation the apparent lack of diversity in official city government. There are no women or minorities on the Planning & Zoning Commission, and no women anymore on the City Council.

I was also impressed by Hopkins-Cavanagh's enthusiasm, her obvious love of the city and her interest in putting some new ideas into the mix for developing New London and its future.

After all, part of the thinking in changing the city charter to elect an administrative mayor was to attract new ideas and even new people to the process.

Hopkins-Cavanagh's possible candidacy seems to be a sign that is working.

"The same people have been running the city for the last 40 or 50 years," she told me.

Alas, I learned after our interview Friday that she may have eligibility problems in running.

Hopkins-Cavanagh, who grew up in New London and has her business, ShoreViews Real Estate here, told me that she has been living part of the time in Waterford since her 2008 marriage to someone who lives there.

She said they are renting where they live now in Waterford and would return to her house on Ocean Avenue in New London, which has been for sale and is being remodeled, if she decides to run for mayor.

When I pointed out to her later in the day that the city charter says "any elector ... who has been a resident for at least one year prior to his or her election, shall be eligible for any elective office," she noted that it doesn't say anything about the year being consecutive.

That strikes me as a thin legal argument, but Hopkins-Cavanagh said she plans to consult with legal counsel about the residency issue.

And, of course, she is in no way representing herself as a candidate yet and has announced only her intention to form an exploratory committee.

She told me Friday she wants to consult with political leaders. But more important is that she wants to talk more to her family about the likely rigors of running for mayor. As for the job, she says her business is doing well, and she would prefer to do without it.

Hopkins-Cavanagh is a member of the New London Republican Town Committee but says she would not run for mayor as either a Democrat or Republican. She said she has had conversations with members of the Green Party in the city about running as a Green candidate for mayor.

If she announces, she said, it will be on July 1.

At that time, she said, she will be ready to unveil a 10-part plan for the city, one that she suggested might upset the status quo and reinvent the way things traditionally have been done in New London.

She was willing to talk about a few of the things that are on her agenda, such as moving the police department to a new venue and remodeling the current police station into a visitors center.

The building is perfectly sited to welcome tourists and woefully inadequate for police, who don't even have a place to park cruisers outside, she said.

Other issues Hopkins-Cavanagh suggested she would put on the front burner for discussion are safety and reducing crime and city zoning, which she said now encourages too many out-of-town investors to buy multifamily houses in city neighborhoods.

As a real estate agent, she said she regularly visits parts of the city, "the trenches," that other mayoral candidates never see.

"I just introduce myself to the drug dealers," she said about her visits as a Realtor to some neighborhoods.

Hopkins-Cavanagh has a long history of being involved and volunteering in the city. She says she was a founding board member of New London Main Street and has served on numerous other boards and for agencies, including the New London Maritime Society, the YWCA, the New London Historical Society, Better Business Bureau and the Children's Museum of Southeastern Connecticut.

Hopkins-Cavanagh talks a lot about the old New London, much of which was torn down over the years. Her great-grandparents, immigrants from Italy, lived in Fort Trumbull, but she can't drive her children through the neighborhood now because it's gone.

She is against the current proposal to build apartments in Fort Trumbull and said New London already has all the multifamily housing and absentee landlords it needs. She would rather see a mixed-used village at Fort Trumbull with a mix of commercial and owner-occupied residential properties.

She said the real estate market is ripe for the development of single-family houses near the water in a historic village setting like Fort Trumbull.

"I could sell them all," she said.

Indeed, it seems like she would be good at selling the city in general, which would be one of the principal jobs of a new mayor in New London.

I hope Hopkins-Cavanagh works out the legal basis for her residency, especially since she seems to be a classic New Londoner, no matter where her head may have hit the pillow in recent months.

That may turn out to be a tough legal battle, though. Just ask Rahm Emanuel, who had to prove residency before he could finish his race for mayor of Chicago. He won.

Hopkins-Cavanagh would also make an interesting addition to the race, and I'd like to hear the 10 points of her plan, especially the parts that would upset the status quo.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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