17 candidates vie for six slots on Norwich City Council
Norwich — No matter which six of the 17 candidates are elected to the City Council on Nov. 7, the council will have at least three new faces for the next two years.
The council ballot has six Democrats, five Republicans and six Libertarians, in that ballot order. Because the four-year mayor has a seat and vote on the council, if any of the three party-affiliated mayoral candidates win, he will be part of the calculation that no more than five members of one party can sit on the council.
Republican incumbents Stacy Gould, Joanne Philbrick and William Nash are seeking re-election, while council President Pro-Tempore Peter Nystrom is running for mayor. Other Republican candidates are two-time state representative candidate Rob Dempsky and current school board member Margaret Becotte.
Democratic mayoral candidate Derell Wilson leads the ticket of six newcomer council candidates. Only first-term school board member Kevin Saythany has held elected office. Others are: Samuel Browning, Stephanie Burnham, Joseph DeLucia, Zato Kadambaya and Robert Phoenix.
Libertarian mayoral candidate William Russell is joined by council candidates Nicholas Casiano, Stacylynn Cottle, James Fear Sr., Justin Massaro, Janice Loomis and Richard Bright, all political newcomers.
Republican Alderwoman Philbrick, 74, a retired bank loan originator, moved from Martha’s Vineyard to a historic house on the Norwichtown Green. Prior to her 2015 election, Philbrick was a regular at council meetings, questioning everything from spending to council members’ mannerisms. She admitted it’s more difficult sitting at the head table, but pledged to continue being a critic when she sees the need for it.
Philbrick staunchly defended Republican budget cutting, rejecting claims that the last-minute cuts lacked transparency. Republicans boast they made $5.1 million in cuts to the $123.7 million 2017-18 budget.
“When you have a $5 million reduction in the budget,” Philbrick said, “it’s not a lot, but it’s not an increase and it’s not a flatline budget.”
Democrat Burnham, 35, who measures program quality for the state Office of the Health Care Advocate, questioned Republicans’ claims of the 5 percent budget cut. She said the overall budget this year went up by $1.4 million over last year. But she argued that cutting is not a governing strategy. The City Council needs to “engage people” for their thoughts on spending and how to invest in city services.
She said city department heads have ideas on where there are redundancies in the budget but “they were never approached,” she said.
“Engage the department heads to do the jobs they were paid to do,” she said at one debate.
Libertarian Fear, 52, a school bus driver for First Student in Norwich, said all city departments need to be cut. But Fear, who is raising two adopted foster children, said he also wants those savings to be applied to items often cut, such as after-school and recreation programs for youth and services for senior citizens.
Fear also objected to Norwich Public Utilities expanding utility lines into adjacent rural towns, such as Bozrah and Franklin. Fear said those towns have much lower tax rates and if they get NPU services, there would be no incentive for businesses to come to Norwich.
“We have a fantastic industrial park,” Fear said. “We’re also shipping half the amenities to Bozrah. We need to lower our mill rate and keep businesses here.”
Democrat Kadambaya, 51, a teacher and former engineer, is science coordinator at New London High School. Previously, Kadambaya was head of the math department at Norwich Free Academy. He also serves on the Norwich Personnel and Pension Board.
Kadambaya has spoken passionately about support for city schools. He said he has met families at NFA who moved to other NFA district towns, not because they had lower taxes, but because they have better schools.
He, too, challenged the Republicans’ claims of saving $5 million in the current budget, while shifting $3.2 million to buy firetrucks and $5 million for roadwork into referendum bonds.
“Why did you put it in a referendum?” Kadambaya said. “It should be on the budget.”
Republican Nash, chairman of the council Public Safety Committee, had an answer. Nash said Democratically-controlled past councils kept deferring firetruck purchases to the point where a bond is needed. Nash said he continuously hears from taxpayers complaining about the city’s high taxes.
Nash, 55, a retired Norwich police officer, currently working as a security and training officer, soccer and football coach, is seeking his fifth term on the council. This year, Nash was pleased that his call for building consolidation came to fruition with the closure of the former Human Services building in September, with offices moving to City Hall and to the city Recreation Department. On Oct. 20, the city received two development bids for the property.
Libertarian Casiano, 34, an engineer at AECOM, Groton, an infrastructure construction company, and a six-year Navy veteran, also is a political newcomer. Casiano has expressed basic Libertarian philosophies during the campaign, saying he would ask all city departments to share in cuts to reduce spending and taxes.
“Norwich has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” Casiano said. “I’m looking to make cuts. Everybody has to play a part in this.”
First-term Republican Stacy Gould, 54, vice president of Treat’s Pools & Spas in Uncasville, is a firefighter for East Great Plain Volunteer Fire Department. In her first term, she served on the Redevelopment Agency, the Norwich Community Development Corp. board and the Board of Review of Dangerous Buildings.
Gould said the Republicans’ strategy to reduce taxes is working to bring new businesses to Norwich, including to the heavier-taxed central city paid fire district. She rattled off the successes: These Guys Brewing is thriving; a Bronx developer is renovating three lower Broadway buildings and long-vacant buildings are being looked at for possible development.
“When we keep lowering the taxes, more businesses will want to move here,” Gould said.
Democrat Browning, 50, is a real estate and business lawyer and volunteers with the Norwich Police Department.
Browning said the city needs to recognize development patterns, such as the trend that commercial West Main Street-Route 82 is becoming a “health care corridor” — with urgent care centers, the William W. Backus outpatient care center and others.
“Take advantage of it,” Browning said.
He said Norwich should recruit a private college to downtown, require that it make an equitable payment in lieu of taxes and ensure it doesn't compete with Three Rivers Community College.
Newcomer Libertarian Janice Loomis, 65, described herself as “an artist by vocation and inclination." She has held many different jobs to support her passion and now works at the book table at BJ's in Waterford. Loomis said she has been a Libertarian since her 20s, but never ran for office. She would like to pursue creating a sales-tax-free district for artists in downtown Norwich, as Westerly has done.
“It would be neat if Norwich could do that,” Loomis said. “We have so many artists in Norwich. I think it would enhance the city and help the artists to sell their work.”
Becotte, 60, retired from the design and engineering department at Electric Boat, is a real estate agent at General Brokers of Quaker Hill. She is in her first term on the Norwich school board.
Becotte said the Republicans’ plan to “keep cutting taxes” is the only way families will be able to afford to stay in Norwich. The fourth-oldest of 12 children in her family, Becotte said making Norwich more affordable is a top priority.
Saythany, 25, a table games dealer at Mohegan Sun Casino, started in public service with a seat on the Youth and Family Services Advisory Board before being elected to the school board in 2015.
“I believe strongly our city should strengthen city schools,” Saythany said. He said Norwich schools should produce future scientists, engineers and other professionals.
“I want to be the leading voice to start the conversation for youth,” Saythany said.
Libertarian Cottle, 40, a homemaker raising three boys, one 10 and two 8-year-olds, is past chairwoman of Norwich Plays, a group promoting healthy, active play for youth. Cottle said her top priority is reducing taxes that are “so high” to make Norwich more attractive to the thousands of new employees EB is hiring.
Cottle said there’s a lot she doesn’t agree with in Norwich city government. “I figured if I’m going to complain about it, I might as well run for office,” she said.
Democrat DeLucia, 53, a former Norwich police officer, now teaches math at Bacon Academy in Colchester. He is a former Red Cross instructor and former Norwich Little League coach. DeLucia uses the slate’s platform that calls for more strategic planning, more interaction with both residents and city employees to talk about his goals for economic development, budgeting and improving the city.
He would start with city schools: “Strengthen the city schools to use that as a kick-starter,” he said, calling city schools the “vanguard” to making the city more attractive to residents and businesses.
Republican Dempsky, 43, a poker dealer at Mohegan Sun, twice ran unsuccessfully for the 46th District state House seat against incumbent Democrat Emmett Riley. The district covers the urban and southern sections of Norwich.
Dempsky said the current council Republican majority has done “a remarkable job reining in” spending. He said this year's 5 percent budget cut was essential to prevent even bigger future cuts.
Dempsky said budget and tax cuts are not about attracting newcomers, but retaining current residents and businesses before high taxes force them out.
Democrat Phoenix, 66, served in U.S. Coast Guard during the Vietnam War, and has lived in Connecticut three times over the years. He was a fire inspector for the state Department of Disability Services and is a retired building and code enforcement official.
Phoenix said the council shouldn't act alone on spending and taxes. Council members should hear from city departments to justify their budget requests. More importantly, he said, the council must talk to residents. He said Democrats pledge to take the budget “on the road” to meet with residents on their priorities.
“It’s vitally important that in any budget talks, we include input from residents," Phoenix said.
Libertarian Richard Bright, 48, is retired from his job of working on airplane engines in Florida. Bright agreed with other Libertarian candidates that taxes are too high and need to be lowered to attract new businesses and families to buy homes in the city. He said he would assure residents they have someone on their side.
“Politics is so corrupt right now, we need someone in there to make sure they are doing the right thing for the people,” Bright said.
Libertarian candidate Justin Massaro did not attend council debates and did not return phone calls to discuss his campaign.
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