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Family fight over property moves into political arena

By Deborah Straszheim

Publication: The Day

Published April 23. 2014 4:00AM
Rep. Wright faces challenge from sister's stepson

Groton — Geoffrey Jones, who is fighting Democratic state Rep. Elissa Wright in court over a deteriorating family home in Essex, said Tuesday he will seek the Republican nomination to run against her for the 41st House District seat.

Jones, 51, captain of the schooner Mystic of Stonington, said he's long considered public office but has never run before. He said he decided to run partly after his dispute with Wright, 68, who is in her fourth term in the General Assembly. The house is prominently situated in the village of Essex and has peeling paint, rotting wood and a sagging roof.

"If she can't look after her own property and her own family business, how can she possibly look after the public good?" Jones said.

Wright, reached by email, declined to comment. "I have no comment at this time, until the session is over," she wrote.

Wright inherited a house at 2 Prospect St. in Essex along with her sister when their mother died about five years ago. Jones was given one-half interest in the house by his stepmother, who is Wright's sister. In February, he filed suit in New London Superior Court seeking court-ordered sale of the property, according to court documents.

Wright, a lawyer, disputes that he has ownership rights and said the transfer was "fraudulent" and Jones accepted it "maliciously," court papers said.

Now their dispute has entered the political realm.

Wright also faces a third challenger in Aundré Bumgardner, a 19-year-old Republican from Groton who announced in March he wants the Republican nomination. Bumgardner started in politics by volunteering for former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons in 2010, worked as an intern during Tom Foley's campaign for governor and later became field director for Paul Formica's 2012 congressional bid.

Bumgardner has said he's running because he believes the state's future depends on revitalizing cities. He said towns also need more independence and policies should support more job creation.

Bumgardner said Jones may be community-minded, but he's also involved in a fight over a blighted house and has a fractured relationship with Wright.

"We're almost getting into a Hatfield-McCoy situation, and I don't think the voters deserve that," Bumgardner said. He said he expects to win the nomination but would primary if he lost.

The Republican Convention for the 41st District will be held at 7 p.m. May 14 at the City of Groton Municipal Building.

Depending on who wins the nomination, the other candidate could drop out, run as a third-party candidate or force a Republican primary.

Jones said he hasn't decided what he would do. But he said he believes Wright is vulnerable. "There's no point in putting a lot of effort into a campaign you can't win," he said.

Jones attended Groton Public Schools, graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and worked as a mariner and sea captain, working for 20 different companies and traveling around the world.

In 1989, he bought an old fishing boat that had been converted to a passenger boat and led it from West Mystic to points north and south, until 1998. He then sold the boat and now serves as captain of The Mystic, a ship that's for sale and owned by a nonprofit entity. Jones ran The Mystic last year but is no longer running it.

Jones and his father also co-own commercial property in downtown Mystic, a boat yard on the Groton side of Mystic and the building that houses Noank Community Market.

He believes government has become disconnected from regular people, and he can improve this.

"One, I'm from here," Jones said. "I went through the school system, I even taught in it, I've run businesses here since the late '80s so I understand economics, and I've traveled a good amount. So I've seen how other towns do things."

Wright serves as assistant majority leader and a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

In Groton, she previously served on the Town Council, Board of Education, and Representative Town Meeting.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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