Preston could see its first primary in 24 years — or not

Preston — The town could see its first primary challenge in 24 years for the Republican nomination for first selectman this September, but the primary petition filed by prospective candidate Gregory S. Moran Sr. faces an election complaint alleging that Moran failed to follow proper petition procedures.

Moran, 52, a lifelong town resident active on town boards and civic groups, lost the Republican Party caucus endorsement to Edward Gauthier in a 15-12 paper ballot vote.

Gauthier, a current member of the Board of Education, is the son of Republican Town Committee Chairman Norman Gauthier, who filed the election complaint against the petition this week with the state Elections Enforcement Commission and with the town clerk and town registrars’ office.

The first selectman seat is open this fall, with the pending retirement of current Republican First Selectman Robert Congdon, who has held the post for 24 years. Congdon bested former Selectman Robert Maurer in a primary in 1995 for his initial nomination, the last party primary for the top seat.

Moran collected 80 signatures of registered Preston voters in his petition to force a Sept. 10 primary — well over the required 1 percent of the 467 votes cast for the first selectman position in the 2017 election, when Congdon ran unopposed.

If the petition stands, the primary winner will face Democratic Party-endorsed candidate Sandra Allyn-Gauthier, not related to Edward and Norman Gauthier, in the Nov. 5 election.

But in a complaint filed Monday with the state Election Enforcement Commission, Norman Gauthier said Moran did not follow the proper procedures in that he signed the “Circulator’s Statement of Authenticity of Signatures” before he collected the signatures. Norman Gauthier wrote in his complaint that Moran signed the form and had it notarized on July 26, but he was seen collecting signatures outside the polling place at the Preston Plains Middle School during the July 30 budget referendum.

The signature certification page states in part: “Each person whose name appears on this petition signatures page signed the same in person in my presence.”

Norman Gauthier said the petition should be rejected. He said he hand-delivered his complaint to the state Monday and asked the staff at the Hartford office to expedite a review of the issue, since the primary is Sept. 10. He sent a letter to Preston Town Clerk Hattie Wucik and Republican Registrar Desiree Majcher — both of whom signed Moran’s petition — citing the state law requiring the certification of signatures be signed after collecting signatures.

“It does not comply with the law and must be rejected,” Norman Gauthier wrote to the town officials.

Moran said Tuesday he was not aware of the election complaint. He said he worked with Majcher to obtain the proper petition forms and believed he followed the correct procedures.

Moran said he decided to run for first selectman after the close vote in the July 22 party caucus. He has been a member of the Board of Assessment Appeals and the Zoning Board of Appeals for the past several years. He coached youth baseball when his son was young and now coaches his grandson in Little League. He has been a Boy Scout leader and is a lifetime member of the Poquetanuck Fire Department.

Moran has worked as a truck driver for Anderson Oil for the past five years and previously worked at his family’s auto repair business, Moran Service Center, in Preston.

Moran said none of the candidates running for first selectman has experience in the position, so he decided to try to lead the town through the final cleanup and proposed development of the former Norwich Hospital property and to try to “keep the town above water,” keep tabs on the budget and the taxes under control.

“I just want to do the best for the town and learn as I go,” he said. “Nobody that’s running has been a first selectperson before.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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