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Incumbent Norm Needleman to face Republican Brendan Saunders in 33rd state Senate District race

Democratic state Sen. Norm Needleman will face newcomer Republican Brendan Saunders this upcoming election season after Saunders announced his candidacy to run for the 33rd state Senate District earlier this year and was endorsed Monday during a virtual convention.

Saunders is the only candidate who stepped forward to run against incumbent Needleman, who is running for his second term as state senator.

As state senator, Needleman serves as chairman on the General Assembly's Energy & Technology Committee; vice chairman on the Planning & Development Committee; and is a member of the Transportation and Commerce Committee and the Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee. He is also the first selectman of Essex, where he has held office since 2011, and served on the town's Board of Selectmen from 2003 to 2011; the Zoning Board of Appeals from 1997 to 2003 and the Economic Development Commission from 1995 to 2003.

Needleman additionally served on the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments and on the Valley Shore Emergency Communications board. He is a board member of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce and a cooperator of Middlesex Hospital. He and his two sons run pharmaceutical company Tower Laboratories, the largest producer of effervescent products in the United States, which employs more than 150 people across several locations in Connecticut.

Needleman said by phone last week his combined experience in local government and business has allowed him to effectively create new policy and legislation as a state senator. He touted his work on The Energy and Technology Committee, where he helped push forward legislation supporting the governor’s zero-carbon goals, including legislation allowing the state to procure at least 2,000 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind farms in the next decade.

“My experience in business and municipal government and now at the state level makes me uniquely qualified to find common sense solutions to problems,” he said. “Throughout this pandemic, I’ve had to find solutions for all three.”

Saunders, a self-described “Reagan Republican,” is the director of sales and marketing for the Courtyard Marriott in Cromwell. He serves on the Hospitality Advisory Board of Manchester Community College and is also an ordained Baptist minister, who served as the founding pastor of Lighthouse Community Church of Westbrook from 2008 to 2017.

Saunders stepped down from that position to create The Fusion Podcast, an online forum providing lighthearted conversations about life and faith for young adults, he wrote in a news release.

Saunders, a Connecticut native, lives in Clinton with his wife, Mary, who is a Deep River native and registered nurse at Middlesex Health. They have a 14-year-old daughter, Jorden.

Saunders said his business and ministry experience will allow him to effectively work across party lines, hearing and thoughtfully considering all opinions, while also making the state a more affordable place to live. He left the state in his late 20s and early 30s, then returned with his wife to find the cost of living had gone up.

“I’ve noticed that Connecticut has become a very expensive state in which to live,” Saunders said in a news release. “It seems like many of our representatives in Hartford ignore us, burdening us with more taxes, fees, and regulations. The result is that opportunity and freedom gets crushed. I believe government is at its best when it cultivates, not impedes, opportunity.”

In particular, he said, he wants to fight to phase out income taxes on pensions and annuities for retirees, as well as establish and support other programs that can help people retire in state.

The 33rd District encompasses Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, part of Old Saybrook, Portland and Westbrook.

m.biekert@theday.com

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