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16 candidates seek election to New London City Council

New London — This year’s municipal election features a field of 16 candidates vying for two-year terms on the seven-member City Council.

Candidates have focused on the topics of public safety, economic growth and community outreach as some of their priorities.

The League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut hosted a candidate forum Monday at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation. Hearing Youth Voices, a youth-led social justice group, hosted a candidate forum on Sunday at Caulkins Park.

Green Party

Kris Wraight, 41, is a restorative justice trainer and facilitator who is a former member of the Police Community Relations Committee. She has been a vocal advocate for the People’s Budget Campaign, which includes reenvisioning public safety and a shift in funding to better address mental health and social service issues.

“I believe that city government has a responsibility to take care of all of its people and I think our current leaders are failing to do that,” she said at a recent forum. “One in every 3.5 New Londoners is living below the poverty line and yet 60% of city jobs go to people who do not live inside the city.”

“It is time we think outside the box and it is time we think outside the party,” she said.

Eddie Long, 39, is the continuity director for marketing and media firm Cumulus Media New London, member of the New London Arts Council and co-chair for Public Art for Racial Justice Education.

Because so many arts-related businesses contribute to the vibrancy and economic well-being of the city, Long said he has in the past advocated for an arts coordinator in city government, “a point person because we view the arts community as that significant.”

He said any economic plans need to prioritize needs of local artists to allow them to live and work in the city and showcase their talents.

“I can see the city is interested in activating the arts but I don’t think they have the imagination to do it," he said. "That’s the real reason I’m running.”

Democrats

Efrain Dominguez, 48, is the current president of the City Council and seeking his fifth term in office. A lifelong resident of the city, he has been an educator for the past 24 years and works at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School as a bilingual social studies teacher.

He is the founder of the We are New London Parade that celebrates the city and its people. He lists among the council’s best accomplishments the move to establish a community recreation center. He also leads a joint budgetary task force with the school board and would like to see expansion of the Public Works and Human Services departments.

“The Hispanic population is growing,” he said. “I want to make sure we continue to have representation of all groups, especially Hispanics.”

Reona Dyess, 56, is the longtime executive director of the Drop-In Learning Center and community volunteer working with children. She is seeking her second term in office.

Dyess said she is proud of her accomplishments as a city councilor and looks to continue to work to establish a community center and on budgets that have thus far not increased taxes. She has been advocating for a community center for a decade and said “now to be here to help usher that through is exciting.”

If elected, Dyess said she would work to follow through recommendations of a special committee tasked with reviewing policies and practices of the New London Police Department. One of the recommendations was formation of a civilian police review board.

Jocelyn Rosario, 41, a mother and native of the Dominican Republic who has lived in New London for the past 17 years, studied business administration management at Three Rivers Community College and works as an inventory supervisor at Thermal Solutions in East Lyme. It is her first time seeking public office.

She said she was never really interested in politics but has a deep love for the city and wants to focus on health programs.

“My passion is really to help people. I started attending meetings for the city and I see we have a lot of potential in the city. I think I’m somebody that can contribute ... who can take responsibility. We’re doing a good job but I always believe we can do better.”

John Satti, 65, is seeking his fourth term on the council. He is a retired probation officer who runs a landscaping business. He is chairman of the School Maintenance and Building Committee overseeing $165 million worth of construction projects at the middle and high schools.

With the recent influx of federal COVID-19 pandemic funding, he said it is up to the council to ensure that money is equitably distributed to programs and groups most in need.

Satti is an advocate of a community center but not in love with its proposed location at Fort Trumbull, in part because it is not centrally located. “My belief is the community center belongs at Bates woods where we already have recreational fields. Where we’re putting it now, we’re taking taxable land off of the tax rolls.”

James Burke, 30, is an operations manager for the Connecticut Working Families Party and part-time sound engineer at 33 Golden Street music club. He lives with his partner and young daughter and has two stepchildren.

He is seeking his second term and said among accomplishments he is most proud of is lowering of the price of entry for residents at Ocean Beach Park and an on-call sidewalk repair program he spearheaded.

Burke said he would work to ensure the future community center gives every child an opportunity to participate and one of his top priorities is boosting manpower in the Public Works Department. “It would benefit from increased manpower to continue to make our neighborhoods and parks beautiful and an asset to everyone in our city.”

Martha Marx, 58, is a longtime registered nurse, mother of four, former city councilor and chairperson of the Democratic Town Committee who has made two unsuccessful runs at the Republican-held 20th District state Senate seat.

She said the city is moving in the right direction under its current leadership but could use someone with expertise in the health care field, like her, as the coronavirus pandemic transitions into an endemic. “I love what’s happening in New London right now and I want to be sitting at the table,” she said.

Marx said her focus as a councilor would be public safety, helping the city recover from the pandemic, affordable housing, racial inequities, the construction of a community center and establishment of a commission on women.

Akil Peck, 44, born and raised in the city, is a landlord who has served on the board of the Thames Valley Music School and New London Homeless Hospitality Center. He started his own business selling Miss Horencia’s Original Mexican Hot Sauce.

Peck said he would like to see, among other things, continued development along Bank Street and encourage investment, foster and enhance community partnerships and encourage the investment and promotion of small businesses. He said he is seeking election “so that I can bring about real change that makes sense and will really help out people here in New London and not just a bunch of talk that will lead us nowhere.”

“I’ll work very hard to ensure everyone has a voice, that everyone’s voice is heard,” he said.

Republican candidates

John Russell, 71, a Navy veteran and former owner of Russell’s Ribs, had a hand in establishing the New London Homeless Hospitality Center and founded and operates Homeward Bound Treasures thrift shop. He previously served a term on the council and is a member of several city commissions.

Russell said the main reason he is running is frustration that the City Council has consistently waived three readings of votes on important topics and stymied discussion and input from the community. “It’s akin to saying 'we know better than you and we’re going to pass whatever we want.'”

In response to one such vote, Russell spearheaded a successful petition drive that eventually led to a referendum and rejection of a council vote to repeal a police staffing ordinance.

Aaron Ide, 34, an engineering project lead at Electric Boat, is a volunteer mentor on the New London High School Robotics Team. He helped start a small business, scalebirds.com, which designs and builds scale warbird aircraft kits.

He said if elected, he would “focus on issues that affect the city as a whole and not just that appease vocal special interests or oblige a certain national agenda.”

Ide said the city could benefit greatly from a boost in home ownership and his idea of $10,000 tax rebates for new homeowners willing to invest money and live in their properties could be an incentive, help increase the grand list, restore blighted properties and increase property values for homeowners.

Marty Olsen, 67, had served several terms on the City Council and said he is running on a platform in part focused on a clean and safe community. He said the council’s vote to remove a police staffing ordinance ran counter to the will of the citizens as shown by the rejection of the move at referendum.

“I think the council has shown outright hostility to police, its staffing and public safety in general,” he said. One of his priorities would support for police and thinks a boost to police presence downtown might lead to fewer empty storefronts.

“If we really want to have economic development in our community, people have to feel safe and secure on their person, in their homes and in the community,” Olsen said.

Nancy Cole, 77, a project manager in the energy sector and former teacher, is a former member of the Parking Commission and one of the founding members of the Neighborhood Alliance. One of her priorities is quality-of-life issues such as blight.

Cole said the current City Council has a “spotty record” when it comes to public safety issues and communication with constituents. She thinks the vote on $30 million in funding for the city’s community recreation center was rushed and without enough public input.

“I think you have to look out for the best interests of the city," she said. "You really need to listen to the other side, not always listen to the loudest, shrillest voice, no matter what side they come from. We have to work with each other.”

Michael F. Hudson, 61, is a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission and retired federal employee who worked at the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton. He proposes reopening the city's charter to implement minority representation in elected office, barring one party from filling all available seats on the City Council or Board of Education.

With a Democratic mayor and all-Democratic council, he said, measures proposed by the mayor are “rubber-stamped.”

“If it doesn’t come from a Democrat, it’s not even considered. We need to get back to a representational form of government and stop the one-party rule,” Hudson said. “There’s not fair representation of members of the electorate.”

Kysim Thompson, 41, is a behavior coordinator at New London High School, head track and field coach and wide receiver and defensive position coach for the varsity football team. He said he is focused on making the city a clean and safer place.

As much as he loves sports, he said he wants city youth to also be provided with an education that allows them to succeed. He’s an advocate of more jobs in the city for residents and would like to be part of a City Council that is “less about politics.”

“For the last two or three years, it’s been identity politics instead of getting things solved,” Thompson said. “It’s not just about talking to your particular party, it’s about getting solutions done for our community, especially our children.”

Rashad Umrani, 45, is a father of four and lifelong New London resident who works at the Southeastern Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. As to why he is seeking office, he said his love of New London is driving him to want to work for the city.

If elected, Umrani said he would look for initiatives to provide the youth with activities. And while he is not against the construction of a community recreation center, he said he wonders about the accessibility, especially for those youth that used the Martin Center before it was sold.

While construction of new residential complexes in the city is helping with economic development, Umrani said there are many who live in the city who simply can’t afford them.

g.smith@theday.com

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