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Races to watch on Election Day

Amongst the heavy favorites and uncontested races, a few contests will provide some drama in Tuesday’s municipal elections.

Despite speculation that anger over the election of President Donald Trump could fire up the Democratic vote or, conversely, that voters unhappy with the state’s ongoing budget problems will take it out on Democratic candidates, in the end it will be local issues and personalities that matter.

In Norwich, Republican Peter A. Nystrom has the inside track to return as mayor. Nystrom was defeated in his bid for re-election by Democrat Deberey Hinchey in 2013. A rematch seemed likely until Hinchey, stung by her foolish decision to participate in the controversial trip to the Kentucky Derby with the electric energy cooperative, opted not to seek a second term.

Nystrom won election to the City Council in 2015, with Republicans taking control of the council, a shocker in this Democratic city. They have pushed fiscal austerity and held the line on taxes, a record Nystrom is now running on.

He faces a relatively weak field. Democratic nominee Derell Wilson, who has worked with young people in the local NAACP chapter, is long on empathy for the problems Norwich faces but, at age 25, is short on experience and solutions. I don’t expect the two petitioning mayoral candidates or the Libertarian to be much of a factor.

In New London, Mayor Michael Passero does not face re-election until 2019, but the City Council and Board of Education races deserve watching.

In the council race, the question is whether Republicans can end the total control Democrats now enjoy, holding all seven seats. It would be a healthy development to have a minority voice. Martin T. Olsen Jr., a former councilman, came up three votes short in 2015 and is trying again. Republican Tim Ryan has also put on a big push, showing a good grasp of details in the council forums.

In the Board of Education election, the city has the unusual spectacle of a recently retired superintendent, Manny Rivera, now running on the Democratic ticket. If elected, he would play a major role in selecting his successor. Backers say his experience would be a great asset to the board. Critics say it would not be a healthy situation having the immediate past superintendent setting the policy and pushing the agenda for the new guy or gal.

Look for Rivera to win election and be among the top vote-getters.

Only two incumbents are seeking re-election to the seven-member board. One of them, Jason Catala, should easily win re-election. Things could then get interesting since Catala, running on same ticket as Rivera, was by far the superintendent’s biggest critic on the school board.

The other incumbent, Mirna Martinez, faces a tougher road. She is running on the Green Party line, the fourth and last of the party lines on the ballot, and has to hope voters find her name. Martinez was cross-endorsed by the Republicans in 2015, but had a falling out with party leadership over what she saw as unfair criticism of student testing performance.

For reasons of continuity, and because she has been a diligent board member, it would be good to see Martinez’s return.

Speaking of the Greens, the party has grown local roots in Waterford, running seven candidates. But will the party break through and win seats?

Finally, in North Stonington, Asa Palmer, a 22-year-old dairy farmer, is the Republican candidate for first selectman. He faces 40-year-old insurance agent Mike Urgo, running on the Democratic and Independent Party lines. Will voters in this Republican town elect the kid candidate? Stay tuned.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.


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