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Allyn-Gauthier anticipates quick learning curve in Preston's top seat

Preston — Sandra Allyn-Gauthier credited the preparation work over the past year, along with help from supporters, for her overwhelming victory in Tuesday’s election, but still plans more study over the next two weeks before she officially takes office as first selectwoman.

Democrat Allyn-Gauthier defeated Republican Gregory S. Moran Sr. on Tuesday night, 1,017 to 516, and will be joined on the Board of Selectmen by former Democratic Selectman Gerald Grabarek and Republican Kenneth Zachem, both with decades of experience in town government. All three are current members of the Board of Finance, with Grabarek as chairman.

“I think it was a lot of things,” Allyn-Gauthier, 55, said Wednesday morning of her victory. “I’ve been going for over a year to as many Board of Selectmen and (Preston Redevelopment Agency) meetings, board and commissions. I think that really helped. We’ve been really working hard on our campaigning. Leigh Pappas and I did a lot of work, walking, the transfer station.”

Pappas lost to Republican Jill Keith in Tuesday's race for town clerk/tax collector. Keith will succeed 27-year Republican incumbent Hattie Wucik, who will retire Jan. 6.

Allyn-Gauthier said the endorsement letter to the editor from departing 24-year First Selectman Robert Congdon also helped. She plans to meet with Congdon multiple times in the next two weeks to work on the transition.

The top issues to tackle will be those she discussed during the campaign: helping the town obtain the final cleanup funds needed for the former Norwich Hospital property, start working on the 2020-21 town budget and “get up to date on the different projects.” Preston and Mohegan tribal officials are working with state legislators to request a final $7 million state grant to complete the Norwich Hospital cleanup, necessary before turning over the property to Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment for a planned major redevelopment.

“It’s really important to know the finer details of the discussions,” Allyn-Gauthier said of the request for funding. “I know Bob was hoping to have that done before he left office, but it doesn’t look like that will happen.”

The three new selectmen officially take office Tuesday, Nov. 19.

Allyn-Gauthier still has to work out her departure plan at her current full-time job as financial advisor at the People’s Securities division of People’s United Bank. Her term on the Board of Finance ends the same day she takes office as first selectwoman, as does Zachem’s term on that board. Grabarek will submit his resignation from the finance board before taking his new position, creating a vacancy for the incoming Board of Selectmen to fill.

Congdon, who was elected to a seat on the Board of Finance, said he already has met with Allyn-Gauthier numerous times to discuss issues the town is facing and said her past year on the Board of Finance will give her a good background on financial as well as governance issues.

There will be technical matters to work out, Congdon said, such as the town’s bank accounts, how the emergency alert system works and changing the locks on the first selectman’s office. “I think it’s the smart thing to do. It protects her. It protects me,” Congdon said of the locks.

“I think she knows everybody in Town Hall,” Congdon said, “and she’s gotten to meet everybody at the transfer station. Whatever I can do to help her be successful, that’s my goal.”

Grabarek and Zachem also are no strangers to Town Hall and town issues. Grabarek was elected selectman during Congdon’s first term as first selectman. He and Zachem currently serve on the Board of Finance and have served on past town commissions for more than three decades. This will be their third board serving together.

“It’s just a different title now,” Zachem said Wednesday. “I’m on with my buddy. We both have the best interests of the town in mind. It’s just a new adventure, and hopefully I’ll get to do positive things for the town.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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