Preston finance board member to seek Republican nomination for first selectman

Preston — Republican Board of Education member Edward Gauthier became the first candidate to announce plans to run for first selectman in this fall’s election to determine the successor to 22-year incumbent Robert Congdon.

Gauthier said he has submitted his name to the Republican Town Committee — chaired by his father, Norman Gauthier — to seek the party endorsement in the July caucus for the first selectman seat.

Gauthier, 46, a sales consultant at Lowe’s in Lisbon, grew up in Preston and has observed his father’s longtime participation in town government and civic groups. But Gauthier said that doesn’t mean his father would rubber-stamp his nomination or positions. “He’s my biggest critic,” Edward Gauthier said.

The younger Gauthier was elected to the school board in 2017 and sits on the board’s Finance Committee. He also is treasurer of the Republican Town Committee and already has asked if he could continue in that role as a candidate potentially receiving funding from the committee. The treasurer, he said, only writes checks for spending that must be approved by town committee members.

As he considered running for the full-time chief elected officer position, Gauthier has attended selectmen and other town agency meetings in recent weeks to learn more about issues the town faces.

Preston has to plan for major changes on the way, he said, with Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment soon to take ownership of the former Norwich Hospital property, and other development emerging. Building permit revenues are way up, and school enrollment is expected to stabilize or climb, rather than drop.

“With changes coming, there’s got to be a clear three-, five-, 10-, 15-year plan,” Gauthier said. “There are things today in town you never would have expected 15 years ago: paid firefighters, paid police.”

Residents this spring will consider a request by Fire Chief Tom Casey to nearly double the fire department budget to hire one additional full-time firefighter and enough per diem firefighters to cover all shifts seven days a week.

Gauthier said his generation also has seen a greater unification of town identity, with Preston becoming “less ‘boroughed.’”

Gauthier said he would make public safety and quality education his priorities, along with planning and exploring regionalized cost-sharing. He supports having a capital nonrecurring fund in the budget to squirrel away money for unanticipated one-time projects or purchases to avoid bonding.

“If we can put a quarter to a half a mill away, we don’t have loan payments for these things,” he said.

No Democratic candidates have yet announced plans to run for first selectman, Democratic Town Committee Chairman Nicholas Vegliante said, but at least one is considering seeking the nomination.

Along with Congdon, incumbent Selectmen Michael Sinko and Lynwood Crary have announced they will not seek re-election. Former Democratic Selectman and current Board of Finance member Gerald Grabarek and fellow Republican finance board member Kenneth Zachem have announced possible runs for a seat on the board, but not for first selectman.

c.bessette@theday.com

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