Those wacky candidates

When I first learned that longtime Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon was being challenged by a Mashantucket Pequot, I decided that the challenge might represent one of the craziest local candidacies this election season.

After all, the town of Preston and the Mashantucket Pequots have been waging a low-simmer war ever since the tribe built Foxwoods Resort Casino, an institutional standoff that has taken both sides in and out of all kinds of courthouses.

It wasn't that long ago when almost everyone in town had a lawn sign protesting Pequot plans to expand their reservation and, essentially, shrink the size of the town.

"Not One Acre" signs appeared all over the region.

For the people of Preston to elect a Pequot tribal member as first selectman might even seem a little like the three little pigs inviting the wolf in for dinner.

Still, there are other crazy candidacies this year around here.

In Montville, for instance, Thomas McNally, who has waged two lawsuits over his dismissals, one from his post as assistant chief of the Chesterfield Fire Company and one from his job as assistant supervisor of the town's Water Pollution Control Authority, is running for Town Council.

When I caught up with McNally last week, I found him cheery and glad to talk about the 2009 lawsuit over the fire department dismissal, a suit he said eventually went nowhere.

McNally, who was dismissed over allegedly helping underage volunteers consume liquor at a department banquet at the Polish Club, said, essentially, that there was a lot of politics to the story.

Indeed, a large number of volunteers resigned from the department in sympathy when McNally was dismissed.

McNally also blamed politics in his lawsuit over his dismissal from the water pollution authority, although a New London law firm that was hired to investigate the dismissal found McNally "incapable of performing the essential functions of the position."

McNally was awarded $135,000 in compensation. Both he and his lawyer said the settlement of the case precludes them from commenting, except to say he denies failing to perform his duty.

It could be that McNally was caught up in warring factions of the volunteer fire department and that he also rightfully claimed a financial settlement for a wrongful firing by the town.

Still, it's an odd resume for someone running for office, in a town that he just finished suing.

In New London, there is another contender for craziest candidacy.

Marie Friess-McSparran, incumbent city councilor, not only worked to move the original St. Patrick's Day parade out of New London, but she more recently participated in a New London police union campaign warning people about visiting the city.

She actually called the city's crime rate a "crisis" in a letter to the editor.

After the Democrats refused to endorse her for a new term, she got an endorsement from Republicans, keeping her Democrat affiliation. If this were not wacky enough, she recently made a NIMBY council committee vote to keep a new community center for the city out of her neighborhood.

I was ready to award craziest candidacy to Vincent Eleazer, the Mashantucket Pequot running for office in Preston, even before I found that his name has appeared in the newspaper's police logs a lot over the years.

Most of the charges were motor vehicle related, including a DUI, driving with a suspended license and failure to drive right. The most serious charges were third-degree assault and risk of injury to a minor.

I might say I am sorry Republican First Selectman Congdon, who should get most of the blame for letting the state hang the dirty Norwich Hospital site around the town's neck, doesn't have a more serious challenger than Eleazer, who got onto the ballot as an independent with a petition with only 16 signatures. There is no Democrat running.

And yet I must report that I found Eleazer, who says he works in economic development for the tribe, charming and cordial as he responded directly and honestly to my questions about his history of arrests.

They stemmed from a painful period in his life, he said, when he was getting divorced. The assault charge, he added, was brought by his daughter, who involved police after he disciplined her. He said he never lost custody during months of family therapy.

"We worked through it with love and patience and determination," Eleazer wrote me in an email that he said was meant to provide answers, not excuses.

"And now my daughter is a successful young woman and our family is stronger and closer than ever."

In the end, I decided, if town voters invite the wolf in, they will find a cordial and interesting guest.

Stranger things have happened.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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