Opportunity knocks for Groton Democrats

Newly elected Democratic Mayor Rita Schmidt attends a Groton Town Police promotion ceremony last week.
Buy Photo Sean D. Elliot/The Day Newly elected Democratic Mayor Rita Schmidt attends a Groton Town Police promotion ceremony last week.

Groton Sometimes it just helps to have a fresh set of eyes on a problem, according to Groton Town Mayor Rita Schmidt.

Schmidt, the town's first Democratic mayor in 30 years, said she hopes the new council, also the first with a Democratic majority in three decades, can provide that.

"I do think people look forward to having a much more conservative approach to the budget," she said, although she said the previous council also tried to control spending. "Times are so difficult for so many people and they're looking for solutions for their own families. And they're looking for us to respect that."

Democrats won a majority on the council Nov. 5, and last week unanimously elected Schmidt as mayor. Democrats Genevieve Cerf, Bob Frink, Rich Moravsik and Joe de la Cruz are new to the council. Schmidt and Republicans Heather Bond Somers, Harry Watson, Deborah Peruzzotti and Bruce Flax were re-elected.

De la Cruz said he didn't realize how long Republicans had dominated until after results were announced on election night.

"I think it was a little bit of shock that night in the (Democratic) headquarters," he said. "I think jaws were dropped."

Cerf said she believes Democrats prevailed partly because candidates ran on the issue of controlling the budget and taxes. She also believes it left a bad taste in people's mouths when the previous council backed a $9.9 million extension of utilities along Flanders Road.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected the project.

"I think people are saying they don't want to spend this kind of money anymore," Cerf said.

Schmidt, who has served two consecutive terms and always been in the minority, said local politics tend not to be partisan. But she said Republicans held two caucuses to discuss the city police and highway budgets last year.

"When there's a caucus, you feel like you're completely left out of everything," she said. Schmidt said her intention is to avoid this and be inclusive.

Moravsik said he wants to look at the rules for conducting business and whether subcommittees should be used. The council has eight subcommittees that typically don't meet, because the Committee of the Whole discusses the same issues.

Moravsik said he believes small committees might be able accomplish more. For example, he said the public safety committee could have tried to intervene in the battle between the firefighters' union and Poquonnock Bridge Fire District Board. The district closed one of its two stations due to a financial crisis.

"Right now everybody looks at each other and says, 'Well, it's not our problem,'" Moravsik said. "But it is. It's everybody's problem."

De la Cruz said he wants to ask direct questions about businesses.

"I'm concerned that we don't have a Home Depot in Groton," he said, adding that "all of these businesses choose to go around us for some reason. I just want to get to the bottom of this."

d.straszheim@theday.com

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