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Stick with experience in City of Groton mayoral primary

During his first two terms in office, City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick has pushed budgets through the council that have lowered the property tax rate, now 4.3 mills. There seems to be general satisfaction in the city with the level of services. And over the last four years the Hedrick administration, while not without problems, has been scandal free.

Odd, then, that a member of his own Democratic Party would seek to unseat Hedrick. Yet that is exactly what Groton Town Councilor Aundré Bumgardner is asking voters to do in Monday’s primary. And the winner will be mayor because, unfortunately, Republicans have not fielded a candidate for the general election that takes place May 3.

Bumgardner has offered no compelling reason why city Democrats should give the party’s top-elected official a pink slip and supplant him with a far less experienced replacement — him.

The City of Groton mayor is responsible for managing the $20 million municipal budget and $70 million Groton Utilities budget. The city is home to the Pfizer research campus and the now-expanding Electric Boat submarine manufacturing facility. It has a strong-mayor form of governance, meaning the mayor is the chief executive officer, not some ceremonial figure who presides over meetings and cuts ribbons.

In addition to the experience of managing the City of Groton for the last four years, Hedrick, 61, is a veteran of 20 years of Naval service and, prior to becoming mayor, was an operations manager at URS, later acquired by AECOM, a major infrastructure consulting firm. He holds an MBA from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Bumgardner, 26, has been moving in the direction of a career politician. In 2014, at age 20, and running as a Republican, he employed a door-to-door campaign to win a stunning victory as state representative for the 41st District, covering portions of Groton and New London. (Both Hedrick, also a former Republican, and Bumgardner became Democrats after becoming disillusioned with the GOP, they said.)

Bumgardner lost his re-election bid in 2016, but later won a seat on the Groton Town Council. He is also on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. He is otherwise unemployed. He does not have a college degree.

The primary challenger is ambitious — nothing wrong with that — and an instinctive politician. Becoming mayor would be another rung up the political ladder. Bumgardner is brimming with ideas — creating a composting waste service in the city to generate biofuel to power a new fleet of city vehicles; promoting solar panels on homes and businesses; expanding youth activities and providing tutorial programs; and amending building rules in light of rising sea levels, among them.

His strategy to pull off the upset is to expand the voting base by getting younger people, renters, and minority residents to take part in an oddly timed, local election that they might normally ignore. Nothing wrong with that, either. Bumgardner is again using a vigorous door-to-door campaign and listening to voters — which they appreciate.

Bumgardner won the endorsement of AFSCME Local 1303-007, representing Groton Utilities workers. We suspect, however, that keeping a municipal union happy is not the highest priority with many residents.

Bumgardner is young, and new, and exciting. Hedrick is, well, none of those.

Yet Democratic voters would be making a mistake in dumping this experienced mayor. Might the inexperienced Bumgardner rise to the occasion if elected? Perhaps. But it would be risky business to find out.

With his greater know-how, Hedrick is better prepared to direct the administration’s discussions with Electric Boat to deal with the parking and traffic challenges tied to its job growth and the regulatory matters stemming from its physical expansion.

Hedrick’s goals — seek opportunities for development along Thames Street, carefully manage finances, leverage the lower rates charged by Groton Utilities to attract and keep businesses — may not be as lofty as some of Bumgardner’s climate-friendly initiatives, but they may be more practical and attune better to the concerns of ratepayers and taxpayers.

The Day gives its endorsement in Monday’s City of Groton Democratic mayoral primary to Mayor Keith Hedrick.

 

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 Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser 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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