Nystrom is a strong candidate in Norwich mayoral field

Four years ago, Mayor Peter Nystrom won this newspaper’s endorsement in his bid for re-election. Voters chose another path, electing Democratic challenger Deberey Hinchey.

In the next two years Norwich saw substantial tax increases, including a 6 percent jump in Hinchey’s second year as mayor heading a Democratic-controlled City Council, with the citywide property tax rate hitting 40.9 mills.

In the 2015 election, Nystrom led a slate of Republican council candidates who ran on a platform of holding the line on taxes. Tax-weary voters responded by giving the GOP 5-2 control of the council, a rare political occurrence in this traditionally Democratic city. With Nystrom serving as council president, the Republicans have been true to their pledge, with the mill rate dropping to 40.5 mills in the most recent budget.

Nystrom, 60, is again seeking election as mayor. Based on his governmental experience, his ability to deliver on the promises made in the 2015 election, and because a healthy dose of pragmatism guides his decision making, he is the best choice in this election.

With Hinchey not seeking re-election, Nystrom's main challenger is Derell Wilson, 25, a para-professional at the Integrated Day Charter School in Norwich who has been active in the NAACP since his teenage years. In this campaign, Wilson has stressed the importance of setting goals for those he and the council would work with, then measuring their ability to meet those goals and making adjustments as necessary. He has been less clear in explaining what goals he would prioritize.

Wilson has the makings of a future leader, but he does not have the experience to handle this position in the here and now. Nystrom is the far stronger candidate.

Petitioning candidates John Oldfield and Joseph Radecki Jr. say they would like to see a big rollback in taxes, but they offer no realistic path to that destination. Running once again is Libertarian Bill Russell, whose vision of minimal governance is an odd fit for this urban community with many costly social needs.

Nystrom is well familiar with the workings of government from the local to state level, serving five years on the council, nine terms as the 46th District representative, then winning election as mayor in 2009.

Limited by charter, mayor is a challenging position in Norwich. Elected by citywide vote, the mayor gets much of the focus when it comes to the hopes and aspirations of the voters. Yet the charter defines it as a part-time position with a $45,000 salary. Executive authority rests with a professional city manager. Hired by the council, the manager has appointment authority for department heads.

The mayor and six aldermen elected at-large constitute the seven-member council, each with a single vote. Despite the job’s limitations, the charter gives the mayor primary responsibility for leading economic development.

The bottom line is that a Norwich mayor has to use the prestige of the title and the power of persuasion to drive policy. That is where Nystrom’s experience could serve the city well.

While a fiscal conservative, Nystrom knows government has a role in meeting challenges. He backed the $3.4 million bonding program to provide incentives to attract businesses to the downtown and is willing to seek additional bonding to continue revitalization efforts. He sees a need to invest in the cleanup and redevelopment of the city’s industrial brownfields.

If elected, we caution him to temper his drive to hold down taxes with the realization that if cuts go too deep for public education it will drive more families from the city and become self-defeating. And whoever wins, the next mayor and council need to confront the excessive added taxation property owners in the downtown and adjoining neighborhoods pay on top of the city’s tax rate — an extra 8.2 mills — to fund the paid Norwich Fire Department serving that district.

The Day’s endorsement in the race for Norwich mayor goes to Peter Nystrom.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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