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With the exception of a promise to work full-time in the job, Democratic challenger and current City Council Alderwoman Deberey Hinchey has failed to define how her administration and policy priorities would differ from those of Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom, the incumbent Republican seeking a second four-year term.
The voting records of the two candidates are largely the same on major policy issues. Though directly elected by the voters, Mayor Nystrom has the same voting power on the seven-person council as Alderwoman Hinchey - one vote. The Norwich Charter places the focus of the mayor's office on economic development, but it otherwise remains a politically weak position, with chief executive authority still resting with a city manager appointed by the council.
If there is a case to be made that Mayor Nystrom is falling short in his economic development responsibility, Alderwoman Hinchey is not making it. Both agree that the Norwich Community Development Corp. should continue to play a vital role in driving economic development. They appear to be united in their assessment that the $3.4 million downtown revitalization incentive program got off to a slow start - voters approved the spending in 2010 - but has improved and holds out great promise to drive revitalization.
This circles back to the challenger's contention that her ability to be in the office full-time during the day, available to those interested in doing business, would make her a better mayor. She has not offered any examples, however, in which Mayor Nystrom's decision to carry out the job as described by charter - part-time - has cost the city development opportunities.
In essence she asks voters to penalize Mayor Nystrom because he cannot support a family on the $45,000 salary the city provides, but must keep his job as a UPS driver. Alderwoman Hinchey's philosophy would rule out as mayor anyone without the financial security to get by on its part-time salary.
Add in all the meetings, the appearances at various functions, and the homework and Mayor Nystrom is working full-time for Norwich citizens, or close to it. He, however, does have to work around his other full-time job.
Should Norwich have a strong, full-time mayor? That is perhaps a debate for another day, but it is not the issue in this election.
Mayor Nystrom is doing a credible job in difficult circumstances. When he was elected in November 2009, the nation was only just beginning to move out of the Great Recession. It has been a slow recovery in Connecticut, slower still in this region. Compounding the challenge for Norwich has been the downsizing at the two tribal casinos, which had a disproportionate impact on the city because many casino employees (and ex-employees) live there.
Despite this, under Mayor Nystrom's leadership the city has maintained a healthy tax base and seen some modest business growth. Downtown will remain a major challenge no matter who wins.
Though fiscally conservative, Mayor Nystrom is no ideologue. His moderate approach is why, as a Republican, he has managed to win elections in this Democratic city - as a council alderman, state representative and mayor.
He recognizes the importance of education and the diminishing returns that result from balancing budgets by sacrificing school quality. Mayor Nystrom is a proponent of community policing and, in cooperation with the council, has worked within budget constraints to maintain a human services safety net.
Mayor Nystrom has shown strong leadership of late in challenging state Department of Correction policies that have led to the housing, in Norwich neighborhoods, of ex-convicts with histories of sexual assaults, after their discharge from a transitional release program in Montville.
Also in the race is Libertarian William Russell. Mr. Russell is politically inexperienced, not well informed on the nuances of governing, and his libertarian ethos is a poor fit for this urban center.
The Day endorses Peter Nystrom for re-election as mayor of Norwich.