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Stonington - In the second of two debates among those running for first selectman and Board of Selectmen Wednesday night, the four candidates discussed issues such as hiring a planning director, economic development, the future of West Broad Street School and Tracy Swain's lawsuit.
The fast-moving, one-hour debate among three-term Democratic incumbent First Selectman Ed Haberek, his Republican challenger Glee McAnanly, incumbent Democratic selectman George Crouse and former Republican selectman and first selectman William Brown took place before a standing room only crowd of about 75 people at the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center. The debate was moderated by Westerly Sun Managing Editor Dave Tranchida.
About halfway through the debate while prefacing a question, Tranchida said "the 8,000-pound gorilla in the room" was Swain's lawsuit against the town and Haberek, who she alleges sent her a sexually graphic photo of himself using his town-issued BlackBerry. The question came the same day The Day published a story with details of Haberek and Swain's sworn depositions in the case.
Tranchida asked Haberek if he is worried the issue could cost him the election and asked McAnanly if she thought it affected the day-to-day operation of the town.
Haberek again vehemently denied the allegations but said he could not say more because he did not want to jeopardize a countersuit against Swain, something his attorney has said will be filed when the case is over.
Haberek thanked his friends and relatives for supporting him through this "three-year nightmare" and said there continue to be lies in the stories about the scandal.
During those three years, he said the town has accomplished much in terms of infrastructure and the budget "without missing a beat."
McAnanly said she had stated early in the campaign she would not talk about the Swain case and that she believes in "forgiveness, restoration and grace." But she added the only reason the town is involved in the case is because Haberek had the town labor attorney try to block Swain's attempt to obtain his cellphone records. Haberek again said that was not true.
"The town should never have been affected. I don't know why it's affected," he said.
Crouse came to Haberek's defense, saying he has seen Haberek's work over the past four years he has been on the board.
"He's 24 hours a day. His energy is boundless. It's never affected him. Look around you, new roads, new fields. It's all because of Ed," he said.
McAnanly said she would spend more time in Town Hall than Haberek, who said his style is to be out in the community. McAnanly reiterated her desire to work with residents to create a long-term plan for the town, fill vacancies on town boards and commissions and create a community Facebook page.
"My opponent talks about plans. I'd like to know what that plan is," said Haberek. "We have a plan and accomplishments in a most difficult economic time that everyone is struggling with."
Brown, who served 20 years on the board and three as first selectman, said he decided to return to politics and run with McAnanly because he felt it was important to make a change in Town Hall.
While Haberek criticized Brown's administration for leaving him unfinished projects he then completed, Brown said his administration did a fine job.
"We didn't have the problems this administration has," he said.