Five candidates running for Norwich mayoral seat
Norwich — Four familiar names and one newcomer form the field for the four-year mayoral position up for grabs on Nov. 7.
Newcomer Democrat Derell Wilson, Republican Peter Nystrom, Libertarian William Russell, and petitioning candidates Jon Oldfield and Joseph Radecki Jr. are listed in that ballot order.
The campaign has been lively, with a series of debates and forums that have highlighted similarities and differences among the candidates.
Nystrom touts the current Republican majority City Council’s track record on cutting taxes and spending, while Wilson calls for “a new generation of leadership” to change the direction of the city. Russell promises even bigger tax and spending cuts, while both Oldfield and Radecki promise shakeups both politically and financially in city government.
The city charter doesn't specify hours for the $45,000-salary mayoral position. The city manager runs city government. All but Nystrom pledged to devote full time hours to the mayor’s position, while Nystrom said he would devote the time needed as the city’s head of economic development.
Democrat Wilson, 25, a paraprofessional at the Integrated Day Charter School, grew up in Greeneville, part of a large family with a record of civic involvement. Wilson served as president of the Robertsine Duncan Norwich NAACP Youth Council for 10 years and served for 5½ years as president of the state NAACP Youth and College Division.
Republican Nystrom, 60, a driver for United Parcel Service for 24 years, has had a nearly 40-year political career in Norwich. He served five years on the City Council and then 18 years as the 46th District state representative. He was elected mayor in 2009, then lost a re-election bid in 2013 to current Democratic Mayor Deberey Hinchey. In 2015, Nystrom was elected to the council and was named council president pro tempore.
Libertarian Russell, 64, is a district manager for Superior Lamp Inc. and a retired U.S. Navy and National Guard veteran. Russell twice faced Nystrom in elections. Russell lost in 2000 in the 46th District race to Nystrom and both men lost to Hinchey in the 2013 mayoral race. Russell is chairman of the Libertarian Party in Norwich.
Oldfield, 59, is a retired correction officer in Connecticut and worked at several facilities from 1986 to 2006, and served as union vice president. Oldfield ran for mayor in 2005, losing to Democrat Benjamin Lathrop and ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2001. He currently is producer and host of the Comcast cable public access show “What’s Your Gripe,” which airs on Tuesdays.
Radecki, 57, has owned C&J Septic Service in Taftville for the past 43 years and now is semi-retired from the business. Radecki, a U.S. Navy veteran, ran twice for mayor, pulling off an upset Democratic primary win against endorsed incumbent Council President and retired police Chief Richard Abele in 2001 before losing to Republican Arthur Lathrop. He ran again as a petitioning Democrat in 2009, in the four-way race won by Nystrom.
Much of the race has focused on taxes, spending and economic development.
Nystrom has touted the current Republican governing majority’s success at cutting taxes and city spending. The overall budget showed a slight increase, but cuts reduced the tax rate by 0.7 mills by eliminating several city staff positions. Nystrom said without those actions, the tax rate would have risen by 3.2 mills and the budget by $5.1 million, or 5 percent. He pledged to do more of the same.
“Whether you’re well off, middle class or low-income,” Nystrom said, “taxes affect us all.”
Wilson said the Republican budget cutting lacked key elements, namely transparency and public input. Many cuts were made last minute and without public comment. Wilson repeatedly has said during the campaign that city leaders need to include families, youth, senior citizens and business leaders in deciding the future of the city.
“The budget should have goals everyone can reach,” Wilson said. “You don’t bring savings by just cutting spending. ... We can find savings, yes. But are we hurting our residents? Yes.”
Russell said all the Republican cutting didn’t go nearly deep enough to revitalize the city. Russell said he and the Libertarian ticket of six council candidates would start with a goal to cut the city budget by 10 percent or more, “a 25 percent tax break in the first year,” a campaign flier stated. Russell said he would go through each department budget, eliminate waste and redundancies — “get rid of it and give it back to the people,” he said.
“The city is being run very poorly right now,” Russell said. “It’s time for Libertarians to get in there and show how it’s done.”
Oldfield also pledged a radical change in city government. He has accused city officials of corruption and secret dealings. This week he accused the city of intentionally failing to hire lifeguards at Mohegan Park this past summer to promote a plan in the future to build a community swimming pool. Nystrom quickly debunked the claim at a debate. Oldfield also said he already has been active in trying to recruit new businesses to downtown, and it was his idea that the city should offer free bus trips to Ocean Beach in New London to city residents deprived of swimming in Mohegan Park.
“I’m going to give Norwich a full-time mayor,” Oldfield said. “I believe you should have a mayor full time. I want to be there when a developer comes and wants to see the industrial park.”
Radecki also pledged a shakeup in City Hall. Like the Libertarian view, Radecki said government sometimes gets in the way. He said road work gets done in places and then Norwich Public Utilities digs it up again. Downtown traffic studies change streets to one-way or two-way patterns repeatedly. He said the city bonds for “wasteful” projects, such as the recently approved new $800,000 water irrigation system for the Norwich Golf Course, to be paid for through golf course revenues. And he questioned the downtown revitalization program, saying businesses have taken the grants and matching loans, stayed a few years and then closed.
“I’m not against bonding, but wasteful bonding,” Radecki said. “... If we stopped wasting money in this city, our taxes would go down.”
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