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East Lyme Democrats oust longtime selectwoman

East Lyme — Local Democrats on Thursday failed to endorse a 36-year member of the Board of Selectmen for reelection.

Rose Ann Hardy received the fewest votes out of four candidates at Thursday night's Democratic Town Committee nomination meeting.

The Democratic endorsements for selectmen went to incumbent Daniel Cunningham, as well as current finance board member Ann Cicchiello and Zoning Commission member Terence P. Donovan.

Hardy, a retired educator in the East Lyme school system, has served as deputy selectman three times and as interim first selectman once since she was first elected in 1985.

She identified herself as only the third woman to be elected to the Board of Selectmen, with her two female predecessors lasting only one term.

"I guess you can say I had endurance," she said.

Hardy did not rule out other options for getting on the ballot, such as switching to a third party or circulating a petition as an unaffiliated candidate. State statute allows petitioning candidates to submit a certain amount of signatures — she would need 223, according to the East Lyme registrars of voters — to be added to the November ballot.

Guidance from the Office of the Secretary of the State shows Republican and Democratic endorsements are due July 28, while third-party endorsements are due Sept. 1. The deadline for a petitioning candidate is Aug. 4.

"I'm undecided," Hardy said. "I'll discuss it with my family and consider my options."

She said she couldn't speculate why she didn't get enough votes this year. "I didn't ask," she said. "People are entitled to their opinions."

Due to COVID restrictions imposed by the Connecticut Democratic Party, the local arm of the party had to limit voting to members of the town committee itself instead of opening it up to all registered Democrats as has been done in the past.

Hardy noted the vote was taken by secret ballot. She said there were 38 voting members. "It was a limited group," she said. "I just feel like people voted for what they thought was best at the time."

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Jason Deeble said the vote was not taken by secret ballot, specifying that members had to sign and print their names.

Deeble on Friday told The Day Hardy received a standing ovation during the "emotional" aftermath of the vote.

"I'm not a man who is often at a loss for words but, after reading the results aloud, I was totally tongue-tied," he said in an email. "She's a legend in this town. A legendary educator, a legendary community member, a legendary member of the (Board of Selectmen). I'm still kind of processing the results of that vote."

Hardy received 14 votes to Cunningham's 29, Cicchiello's 28 and Donovan's 23.

Democrat Camille Alberti, the current Board of Finance chairwoman and the party's nominee for first selectman, on Friday described all four of them as "very talented and dedicated public servants."

"I value each and every one of their input and am confident that we will find ways to continue to support Rose Ann Hardy going forward, and welcome her invaluable contributions to our town, albeit in a different capacity," she said.

Republican Town Committee Chairman John Kleinhans said Friday that his party will meet Monday to endorse a slate led by incumbent Selectman Kevin Seery for first selectman.

Kleinhans expressed shock and sadness at what he called "Camille Alberti's decision to not have Rose Ann Hardy on her ticket."

"Rose Ann was my teacher in high school and inspired me to have a career in public service," the current Board of Education member said. "Regardless of party, Rose Ann has served our town with dedication and honor for decades and I hope she will continue to serve our community."

In response to Kleinhans' comment, Alberti reiterated there were four candidates for three slots on the ticket.

"It's telling that the leaders of the Republican Party have chosen to ignore the Democratic process we followed and have chosen instead to falsely assume I singularly can determine who is on our slate of candidates," she said.

Current First Selectman Mark Nickerson, a Republican, called Hardy his "closest confidante" on the Board of Selectmen. "She has been my biggest source of information and history; the reasons behind why things are done and how it all has played," he said. Referring to her as a "political historian," he said she is an expert on the town charter, local ordinances and how things have been done for almost four decades.

"I hope this is not the end of the road for her, and I suspect it will not be," he said.

Hardy put it this way: "It isn't over yet."

She said the bottom line is that she remains committed to what's best for East Lyme — "And that has nothing to do with political party."

Democrats also endorsed Bill Derry, Laura Greenstein and Nickie DeLucco Padilla for Board of Education; Gary Upton for Board of Finance; Debbie Jett-Harris and Jay Ginsberg (alternate) for the Zoning Commission; Deeble and Spencer Clapp (alternate) for the Planning Commission; Gary Cicchiello for the Board of Assessment Appeals; incumbent Karen Galbo for town clerk (cross-endorsed); Christine Dixon for tax collector and Mike Bekech for town treasurer.

e.regan@theday.com

Editor's note: This article was updated to include additional information on voting procedure.

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