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An exciting new voice to be heard in New London

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published November 08. 2013 4:00AM

It is interesting that two former congressmen from the Second District went out of their way to endorse municipal candidates in eastern Connecticut races this year.

Democrat Sam Gejdenson gave money to and attended a fundraiser for Erica Richardson, a former aide who impressively won a seat on the New London City Council in her first campaign for office, finishing fifth out of a crowded field of 16.

Republican Rob Simmons, who defeated Gejdenson for the Second District seat, before being turned out by Joe Courtney, gave money and a lot of public hurrahs this year to Glee McAnanly, who was running for first selectman in his home town of Stonington.

McAnanly narrowly lost the race, despite a Republican-fanned scandal in which her opponent was exposed as having had an online consensual sexual relationship with a married woman.

One lesson of this election season is that it seems you can't necessarily win only on endorsements from former congressmen.

I caught up with Richardson Thursday because I was interested in learning more about how New London voters seemed to turn a corner this election, voting down some of the old guard and its crime-scare tactics, fueled by the police union, instead electing a minority-dominated council with fresh new ideas.

"They are pushing the (crime) fear factor at the expense of the rest of the city," she said.

After spending only a short time with Richardson, a single black mother of an autistic 6-year-old, a career-oriented mom, I came away a lot more optimistic about New London.

Her intelligence, energy, enthusiasm and intolerance for the backstabbing traditions of the city politics of old gave me a glimpse of what so many voters must have seen when Richardson knocked on their doors.

She told me a group of some of the "new" Democrats running for council and the Board of Education did a lot of their door-to-door campaigning together. Efrain Dominguez, who was the second highest vote-getter for the council, helped translate for Spanish speakers.

Richardson said they hit neighborhoods in their travels where people told them no candidate had ever visited before.

One thing that impressed me most about Richardson is that she seems fearless.

People had warned her about the personal attacks she would face if she ran. And indeed, she did, especially after she was charged in a domestic case involving the father of her son. She told me the charge, which was dismissed when she went to court, stemmed from an incident that resulted from her trying to involve her ex in his son's life.

It became part of a whisper campaign in the city against her, one she faced head on.

Richardson said she rejects the campaign that the city is unsafe. She said the city needs all the good press it can get, and too often the bickering gets in the way of promoting city interests.

She was also surprised to hear candidates complain during the election about the proposed National Coast Guard Museum, which she calls a "done deal" that everyone needs to support as the new anchor for downtown.

Richardson said she was not endorsed by the police union. She was startled by a question at the end of the endorsement interview about whether she would support a state law that would allow the arrest of citizens who bring complaints against police officers who are eventually exonerated.

She said she answered no. But it makes you wonder how other candidates answered.

Richardson, whose parents live on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, having moved her back and forth as a child, says she is a product of West Indian culture, which emphasizes education.

She has a bachelor of science degree from Roger Williams University and worked for Pfizer before changing jobs as part of the Pfizer downsizing here. She now works for a New London startup that works in Internet job placement.

She is president-elect of the Kiwanis Club of New London.

She says she hopes to eliminate the perception that many minorities in the city are not educated, career-oriented middle class citizens.

"I am not the exception," she said.

She hopes to see the council work more closely with the school board and the administration. She also hopes to work closely with state and federal elected officials, to help bring more money to the city.

She said she hopes to represent everyone, not just the people who voted for her. She said she won't reject an idea because it comes from someone she doesn't like.

"We have to stop fighting each other on everything," she said. "We have a great city, but we can make it better. A lot of damage has been done."

New London voters can be proud of this pick.

It makes you wonder what other candidates former Rep. Gejdenson has waiting in the wings.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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