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Stonington - About 150 people packed the Stonington Community Center Thursday night for a debate sponsored by The Day between the candidates for first selectman and Board of Selectmen.
The hour-long debate included Democratic incumbent First Selectman Ed Haberek and his Republican challenger Selectwoman Glee McAnanly, as well as incumbent Democratic Selectman George Crouse and his Republican opponent Bill Brown.
Development, chickens, private parts
In a unique format in which the Democrats and Republicans answered questions as teams, the candidates discussed a wide range of issues. Among them were economic development and filling vacant Town Hall positions, a zoning proposal that would allow chickens in residential zones, and Tracy Swain's lawsuit against Haberek and the town over his alleged sending of a sexually graphic photo of himself to her using his town-issued BlackBerry. The crowd was the largest here for a debate in many years.
During the debate, Haberek repeatedly touted the zero increase in the town government budget over his six-year tenure while continuing to provide services, making improvements such as those to athletic fields and roads, and completing projects that were unfinished when he took office and in danger of losing funding.
But McAnanly called his budget number disingenuous. She said Haberek also tried to include additional funding for ambulance services, libraries and other items, and the Board of Finance should be credited for also keeping his budget low.
The two also showed differences when it came to their approach to economic development.
McAnanly said that while Haberek travels outside the town to find new businesses, she would work within the area, talking to residents who might have businesses in other places as well as to members of chambers of commerce and owners of existing businesses.
She said that one of the owners of the town's seventh-largest taxpayer, Olde Mistick Village, told her that Haberek has never come to talk to her in his six years in office. Haberek said he sees the woman's partner at monthly meetings of a business group they are both members of.
Haberek mentioned Zachry Nuclear, Tractor Supply and Lawrence + Memorial Physicians as businesses that he has brought to town, but McAnanly said that was in his previous term, not the current one.
Haberek said he meets with two businesses in town a month and works with regional economic development organizations.
As for the Swain lawsuit, Haberek said he would not talk about pending litigation but said he has vehemently denied the allegations and does not know why the town is involved.
McAnanly said the reason the town is involved is because Haberek had the town labor attorney intervene in a suit in which Swain was trying to obtain Haberek's phone records. If not for that, she said the town would not have been a defendant.
Haberek said the issue is "completely irrelevant."
"I've consistently produced results over six years," he said.
Brown, a former selectman and first selectman in town, said that as he campaigns door to door, people tell him there is a need to restore respect to the first selectman's office.
Brown said some mentioned Haberek sitting at the bar at the Handlebar Cafe in "Bar Rescue" episode this summer.
Haberek shot back that Brown once accepted a campaign donation from a developer involved in a project in town and said he does not judge people for being at a bar.
"If there's an event at a yacht club or a local establishment, I go," he said.