Norwich - Just one vote separated Aldermen Charles Jaskiewicz and Deberey Hinchey at the July Democratic Town Committee caucus for the mayoral endorsement, but the two candidates have distanced themselves on several key issues in the ensuing primary campaign.
Jaskiewicz, 55, a regulatory manager at Pfizer Inc. in Groton, and Hinchey, 60, a clinical social worker at VNA-East in Mansfield, will face off for the party nomination at Tuesday's primary.
Polls will be open in Norwich from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the city's only primary race.
Jaskiewicz won the Democratic caucus endorsement 35-34 over Hinchey in July.
The two candidates have been campaigning mostly the old-fashioned way, visiting Norwich residents door-to-door through the city's urban neighborhoods and along long stretches of rural streets. While Jaskiewicz has placed several dozen signs on supporters' lawns and five larger ones in key spots, Hinchey said she is forgoing lawn signs in this round, saving them - she hopes - for the run up to the November election.
Hinchey said the top issue "by far" she has heard from residents is that taxes in Norwich are too high. She supported last-minute controversial budget cuts in June that resulted in a $116 million budget with a 2.6 percent tax increase, down from a proposed 5 percent tax increase.
Several cuts since have been restored in one way or another. The City Council agreed to bond $500,000 in school computer costs to free up budgeted money for operating expenses, and this week used $150,000 in school surplus money to restore two middle school resource police officers.
Next month, the council will consider adding back two Human Services positions after receiving a petition with more than 500 signatures lobbying to restore the jobs.
"Human Services are valuable," said Hinchey, who supported the budget cut in June. "That's why I think if we can get the department heads, the mayor and the city manager together three weeks before the budget is due, we can work on streamlining."
Jaskiewicz opposed the Human Services cuts in June, arguing against the plan that cut those positions while reserving funding in the budget for nine vacant positions for police that could not be filled this fiscal year anyway.
"We need to sit down with all the departments in the city and see what we can do," Jaskiewicz said. "We continue to cut personnel, and now it becomes counterproductive to services. We really need to sit down and analyze where we're going."
Jaskiewicz said he would retain his Pfizer position if he were elected but said that his employer had been generous in the past, allowing him to pursue his volunteer interests. Jaskiewicz said his extensive volunteer experience proves he can "get the job done," as his campaign fliers state.
Jaskiewicz, past chairman of the Board of Education, served as chairman of the Kelly Middle School Building Committee, which managed the $40 million combined renovation and expansion to the city's largest middle school.
He has volunteered for United Way campaigns, serves on the Norwich Harbor Management Commission and actively sponsors cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
In March 2011, Jaskiewicz was appointed to the State Board of Education.
The 2001 charter revision that created the mayor's position did not specify hours for the mayor but gave the mayor authority over economic development.
During an Aug. 28 debate, Jaskiewicz said he would support a charter revision that would bring Norwich its first strong mayor in more than 50 years, eliminating the city manager position.
Hinchey disagreed with such a move, saying a city the size of Norwich with a $116 million budget needs a professional manager to oversee everyday operations and staff.
Hinchey said she would use her full-time hours on economic development issues, promoting the city's assets, such as the city-owned Norwich Public Utilities, parks, recreation programs and even the Spirit of Broadway Theater.
In the long run, raising the tax base is the only way to reduce taxes, Hinchey said.
Jaskiewicz said the best way to reduce taxes is for various city departments to work together, come up with plans and implement them - something the city has lacked over the years.
He suggested proposing three plans within the urban center and three in outlying town areas, and determining timelines and deadlines for implementing them.
The two candidates also have differing opinions on what to do with the financially troubled Norwich Municipal Ice Rink.
The rink has lost money over much of its 18-year existence and owes the city more than $400,000 in budget subsidies and cash advances over the years. Mechanical failures and management problems have plagued the rink since June 2012.
Jaskiewicz said the city should consider privatizing the rink. But Hinchey called the facility a city asset and said she would rather allow the Ice Rink Authority - with several new members - to oversee its turnaround. The authority this week hired a new rink manager and is in the process of replacing the malfunctioning mechanical system.
"We had an obligation to explore all options (on) how best to run the ice rink," Jaskiewicz said, "whether internally or outsource it."
Hinchey countered that the rink attracts people to Norwich from throughout the region for hockey tournaments and figure skating events. She said it was ignored by the city over the years until financial officials brought it to the council's attention three years ago.
"That debt rose because nobody was paying attention," Hinchey said. "… Now there is a new board with accountability."