Norwich Mayor-elect Nystrom ready to return to former seat

Norwich — Fresh off his election victory Tuesday night, Republican Mayor-elect Peter Nystrom said he is ready to start taking on the role of economic development with a learning curve that’s a lot shorter than it was in 2009, when he first was elected mayor.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Nystrom, the current council president pro tempore, said Wednesday. “I have a lot of calls to make between now and Monday. This isn’t starting out like it was eight years ago, looking for an identity. I’m already focused, because of the previous experience and the past two years.”

Nystrom, the three incumbent council Republicans and three new Democrats elected to the City Council on Tuesday will be sworn in on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

Nystrom, 60, actually has a 40-year track record of political involvement in Norwich as an alderman, state representative, chairman of the Republican Town Committee, mayor and alderman again. He was elected mayor in 2009 and served one four-year term before losing to current Democratic Mayor Deberey Hinchey in 2013. Hinchey did not seek re-election this year, and Nystrom topped a field of five mayoral candidates Tuesday.

With Nystrom having a vote on the seven-member council, Republicans will have a 4-3 majority to work on their agenda of continuing to reduce taxes, trim the city budget and attract economic development. By charter, the mayor is in charge of economic development.

During Nystrom’s first term, he won voter support for a $3.38 million bond used to provide matching grants for structure improvements and lease rebates to businesses that move into downtown buildings. It was slow to catch on, but currently, several buildings are undergoing renovations using the program, which is managed by the Norwich Community Development Corp. As mayor, Nystrom will sit on the NCDC board.

Nystrom said he will ask for a detailed analysis of the downtown bond program, what worked and what didn’t, with an eye toward possibly repeating the program for depressed areas such as Greeneville and Thamesville.

Nystrom also wants to focus on the Norwich waterfront and how Norwich can prepare for the planned development at the former Norwich Hospital in Preston, where Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment plans a major recreational, sports, entertainment and housing project.

“Norwich has to identify and determine who she really is,” Nystrom said. “Part of that should be complementing all that development that’s going to be potentially happening at Preston Riverwalk.”

As for the city budget, Nystrom declined to identify specific areas he and fellow Republicans might target for cuts. He will meet with City Manager John Salomone to review the city budget in detail, as the current Republican majority council did this past spring, and find areas. He hinted at possible department consolidations.

Newly elected Democrats Samuel Browning, Joseph DeLucia and Stephanie Burnham will join incumbent Republicans William Nash, Joanne Philbrick and Stacy Gould. Democrats gained one seat from the current 5-2 majority, and the party fell 105 votes short of taking majority control of the council.

“We have an additional vote,” Browning said of the council makeup. “We’re not there just because of minority party representation. We have public support. Realistically, I don’t think any one party has a lock on good ideas."

Browning said most economic development will happen one parcel at a time, with private developers buying privately held property. He thinks the city’s effort should concentrate on the Laurel Hill area closest to the proposed Preston development, especially the former Norwich Hospital property in Norwich, owned by Thames River Landing LLC. The company owes back taxes to the city and “it looks like nothing is being done" there.

“Our message got out,” Burnham said. “I think that speaks that the citizenry really did want a constructive balance debate, to have a constructive conversation with multiple different perspectives. ... That’s what we bring to the table. I hope that we do have a voice. We have strong voices, those of us who got elected.”

DeLucia said with the campaign over, it’s time for the two parties to work together on the budget and city issues. DeLucia said Democrats campaigned with a platform of more transparency and inclusivity with residents on budget issues, and plan to make good on that pledge.

“It’s time to start working with the mayor and the majority party to get this done,” DeLucia said. “We want the City Council to work with the Board of Ed, work with the city manager, streamline the city, and work with NCDC to streamline economic development.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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