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East Lyme's Formica sounding like a state Senate candidate

By Paul Choiniere

Publication: The Day

Published February 16. 2014 4:00AM

East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica told me last week he didn't think he would be running for Congress again in 2014, but may target another elected position - state senator. If Republicans come up with strong, moderate candidates and organize, they would have a shot at capturing the Senate, he said.

While that's a tall order, the timing for a Formica run, and a Republican push, may be right. Republicans would need to tap into unease among moderates and unaffiliated voters about one-party dominance, with Democrats controlling the Senate, House and governor's seat. The Democrats' Senate majority is 22-14.

"State Senate is appealing," said Formica when pressed in his meeting with the Editorial Board. "Republicans could bring a little more sense to the Senate."

"It's nice to be considered in the conversation,'' added Formica about the speculation surrounding his possible candidacy.

Now serving his fourth term as the top elected officer in East Lyme, Formica was not about to use an Editorial Board meeting to make an official campaign announcement, but his interest was apparent. As I stated in a recent column, there is speculation that state Sen. Andrea Stillman will not seek re-election to a sixth Senate term in the 20th District. Last week she did nothing to quelch it.

"It's a little early," Stillman said when I asked if she would run again. Her decision, she said, will come toward the end of the legislative session, scheduled for early May.

Whether running against Stillman or some other Democrat, Formica would be a formidable candidate. East Lyme has done well under his stewardship. Given his popularity, no one bothered challenging him for first selectman last November. Unlike his 2012 run for Congress against popular 2nd District Democratic incumbent Rep. Joe Courtney, Formica would have a serious chance of winning a state Senate seat.

He was instrumental in pursuing the project that will soon have water flowing between East Lyme and New London's reservoir, bringing an end to the perennial summer water use restrictions in East Lyme.

"Our plan is to end the water shortages this year," Formica said.

The first selectman dealt deftly with concerns raised by residents after work began last summer on installing a 35-acre solar field along Grassy Hill and Walnut Hill roads. The project will provide renewable energy and boost town tax revenues. Formica worked with state lawmakers to block an attempt by the developer to win tax-exempt status.

"We went through a fairly difficult process of construction with the neighbors. I think once we asked the developer and the neighbors to come to Town Hall for an informational sharing meeting, a lot of those situations got resolved," he said. "It was just a shock for a lot of those people who were living there so long with all that forestry behind them to enjoy and then see these machines come in and clear it."

Wading into the dispute about instituting a uniform teacher evaluation process in public schools and imposing common core educational standards - initiatives the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is now slowing in the face of strong teacher and administrative opposition - Formica questioned the logic of the plan.

"We've got to find those districts that are in need of improvement and we need to improve them. But the districts such as East Lyme that are blue ribbon schools - we had the middle school of the year last year - I'm not sure that this type of evaluation is necessary," he said.

Formica expressed concern with pushing ahead with education reform theories when "the jury is out as to whether those have really been effective" in states where they have been tried.

He stopped short, however, of pushing for the resignation of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, as called for by Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a candidate for the Republican nomination to challenge Malloy.

"I don't know that anyone should lose their job, but often what is more sinful than making a mistake is not standing back and looking back and finding ways to rectify the mistake," Formica said. "This policy has had a two-fold effect. One, the teachers don't like it based on the impact on their classrooms and, two, the cost to municipalities is excessive at a time when budgets haven't recovered."

That sure sounds like a candidate. Oh, by the way, Sen. Stillman chairs the Education Committee.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.

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