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Salem fields more than 40 candidates for municipal office

Salem -- From the Board of Selectmen to library trustees, there are contested races here on Nov. 2. 

Running for the last two spots on the Board of Selectmen are two Democrats, John Houchin and T.J. Butcher, and two Republicans, Pamela Munro and William “Skip” Dickson. Current First Selectman Kevin Lyden is running unopposed to be on the board.

Lyden, who is unaffiliated but is on the Republican Party line, and has been endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats in recent elections, named development and affordable housing, or lack thereof, and taking care of the town’s seniors as the top issues in town. 

“There’s some new people from both parties running. I’m unaffiliated, so I encourage people to vote for the person, especially in a small town, who’s going to do the right thing for Salem, and not look just at the party,” Lyden said. 

Butcher has lived in Salem since 1988 and has chaired the Board of Finance and Democratic Town Committee for four years. He said the defining issue separating Republicans and Democrats at the moment involves education funding.

“I think our Board of Finance has been very hard on our Board of Education, and I think that while up until this point the cuts in education have been warranted, I worry that further cuts are going to cripple the school’s ability to provide the same quality of education we’ve had up to this point,” Butcher said.

Houchin has lived in Salem for 29 years. He’s a former U.S. Army captain who retired in 2011 following 14 years as regional director for the state Department of Developmental Disabilities. He has served on the the Board of Finance and is a previous chairman of the Democratic Town Committee. 

Munro, a retired educator, is a former longtime member of the Board of Education and the Zoning Board of Appeals. Munro is a member of the LEARN regional education center’s Board of Directors.

Her party said Munro with her 18 years of service on town boards “will bring wisdom and good sense to the selectmen’s deliberations.”

Dickson, an engineer, has served as chairman of the Board of Finance. He’s worked as an engineer for Raytheon as well as General Dynamics/Electric Boat. The Republican Town Committee touts him as someone “who has guided Salem through recent budgets without a mill rate increase.” 

Republican Linda Flugrad will likely continue on as town clerk as she is running on both the Democratic and Republican lines. She has 12 years of experience in the town clerk’s office. 

Republican Pamela Henry will likely continue on as town treasurer as she is running on both the Democratic and Republican lines. She’s spent eight years as treasurer and has 32 years of overall experience in bookkeeping and taxation services.

Vivian Waters, a Republican, is running unopposed to become the town’s tax collector. Democrat Danielle Mauri withdrew her candidacy ahead of Election Day.

Democrat David Bingham is running along with Republican Deborah Cadwell and Democrat Janet Griggs for the Board of Finance. Voters can vote for up to two of them. Republican Cory Bourgeois and Democrat Matt Rucci are running unopposed for the finance board. Republicans John Bernier and Maryann Casciano are running unopposed for Board of Finance alternate. 

Cadwell, who is the owner of Witch Meadow Campground, has been on the board for six years, has previously served on the Planning & Zoning Commission for four years and has spent 36 years with the Salem Volunteer Fire Department. Bingham, who founded the Salem Land Trust, is a former U.S. Army Medical Corps major and founder of several companies. Bingham stated in his candidate biography that he’s running for the board because he’s been disappointed with it consistently paring down the Board of Education budget in town.

Candidates of every stripe say that the biggest issue in this year’s election, as is usually the case, is the budget. The Board of Education budget, which takes up the bulk of the town’s budget, is at the center of the political discussion. Democrats say the town has for too long systematically chipped away at the budget, and it’s time for a reinvestment in schools. Republicans argue the town has been fiscally sound and able to keep taxes down for years while also maintaining a big enough school budget.

While candidates from both sides of the aisle say the town must maintain its small rural charm, Democrats believe it should entertain commercial development in certain cases, while Republicans are running on a platform of preserving property rights.

Board of Education incumbent Democrats Tiffany Cunningham, Tamara Morocco and Will Butler are running against three Republicans who are not currently members of the board, Maura Rehrig, Dan Marsh and Christina Fontaine. 

Rehrig is a member of the Library Board of Directors. She is a small-business owner and a volunteer bookkeeper at Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut.

Fontaine has spent 16 years working with special needs young adults and people with disabilities. She’s a small business owner who, as the mother of a Salem graduate, says she “will be a voice for a reasonable budget that’s good for education and taxpayers.”

Marsh is a retired probation officer and case manager supervisor who volunteers as a baseball and softball coach for various teams. He said the biggest difference between Republicans and Democrats running for the Board of Education is fiscal conservatism.

“Schools have to stay fully funded, but we also have to make sure we’re meeting those needs without going overboard,” Marsh said. “We’re a little bit more conservative than the Democrats.”

Morocco is a clinical project manager at Pfizer and has volunteered as the secretary of the Salem School PTO. She said she believes education to be the top priority in Salem. 

Cunningham, a lifelong Salem resident, is the chair of the school board's long range educational planning subcommittee and has focused her efforts on developing a strategic plan for the Salem School District. 

Butler’s town committee biography says that he “is proud to have played a part in the hiring of Salem’s new superintendent.” 

Democrat Debra Gernhardt and Republican Robert Green are facing each other for a position on the Board of Assessment Appeals.

A crowded Planning and Zoning Commission race includes five candidates from each party. Democrats Diba Khan-Bureau, Jennifer Lindo and Gary Closius are running against Republicans Walter Volberg, John Gadbois and Carl Fontneau. Democrats Sue Spang and Ruth Savalle are running against Republicans Steven Shelley and Dave Knopf for two alternate positions.

Democrat Charles Dutch is running unopposed for a spot on the Zoning Board of Appeals. Republican Elbert Burr is running against Democrat Rebecca Nortz for a place on the board. And Republican True Smith is running unopposed for a position on the board.

Two Democrats, Elaine Jansen and Dee Doolittle, and one Republican, Maureen Collins, are running for two spots as library trustees. 

s.spinella@theday.com

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