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Climate, intangibles give Chesebrough Stonington endorsement

Voters in Stonington will face a difficult choice in assessing who is the best person to succeed First Selectman Rob Simmons, a former congressman. Simmons has opted not to seek a third term. It will be difficult because both candidates are well qualified for the job and close on the issues.

Republicans tapped Selectman John Prue as their nominee. He has the advantage of having Simmons’ imprimatur.

Democrats made an interesting choice in nominating Danielle Chesebrough despite the fact she insisted on keeping her unaffiliated voter status. In a time when many are tired of partisan politics, making the claim of independence could be to her advantage.

Both are well familiar with town governance and the challenges facing the town. Chesebrough serves both on the Board of Finance and the Economic Development Commission. In addition to his status as a selectman, Prue has served on land-use commissions and on the committee that worked to update Stonington’s Plan of Conservation and Development.

Professionally, Chesebrough is a senior analyst of investor relations for the United Nations’ Division of Corporate Sustainability and Responsible Development. Prue is a successful businessman. His business — Mystic Group LLC — develops, fabricates and manages exhibit displays for companies at trade shows.

Both candidates say they will set their careers aside if they win election as first selectman.

Prue and Chesebrough say if elected, they will work to finish, though perhaps in scaled-back fashion, the Mystic River Boathouse Park project, approved at town meeting in 2016 but beset by problems involving how to properly deal with historically significant structures on the site and complete environmental remediation.

Prue concedes that the administration, which means Simmons, did not do adequate due diligence in assessing the issues with the site before bringing the idea to town meeting. Prue won election as selectman in 2017. Score him one for candor on that one.

Both candidates for first selectman fault a lack of communication with neighbors, and a proposal that was out of scale with its surroundings, for the opposition that confronted the Smiler’s Wharf project and led to it being withdrawn. Yet both also want to see the Mystic property, now the site of an underutilized marine facility, revitalized in some fashion.

Each says the town must prepare for the potential that state aid will be cut off. And they agree that Pawcatuck is primed for smart development that would add more commercial property to the tax base.

So, what separates them?

The urgency they bring to the challenge Stonington faces from rising sea levels, for one. Chesebrough emphasizes this must be a priority for the town. We agree. The town has recommendations from the Climate Change Task Force formed to look at the long-term implications, but there has not been much follow-through.

“The plan has been stagnant,” Chesebrough said at a recent debate. “We need to make it a priority.”

Prue acknowledges climate change and the implications it has for the town, but he sends conflicting messages in asking whether the data used by the task force exaggerates the size and immediacy of the problem. Introducing such caveats can provide the excuse to put off the hard choices for another day, and that would be a mistake.

Then there are the intangibles. Chesebrough appears to be a natural communicator who puts people at ease and can rally cooperation to tackle a challenge. Asked about parking problems in the village of Mystic, Chesebrough displayed a can-do attitude and genuine excitement in trying to find solutions, while Prue seemed to focus more on the difficulties.

These are subtle differences perhaps, but they can be significant in choosing a town leader.

This race is a close call. And Stonington is likely to do well with whoever wins Tuesday. But The Day Editorial Board gives its endorsement to Danielle Chesebrough

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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