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Formica announces he will not seek reelection to state Senate

State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, announced Tuesday that he will not seek reelection to the state Senate and will retire from public service after a 31-year run that took him from East Lyme Town Hall to Hartford.

"It's been one of the great honors of my life to be able to serve the town of East Lyme and the great 20th District for all those years," the Senate Republican leader pro tempore told The Day on Tuesday.

Formica said he does not have plans to run for another elected office or get back into local politics.

"I loved my time in East Lyme; it was one of the highlights of my life, as was the Senate," he said. "But 31 years is a great run and I couldn't be more thankful and proud of what I've been able to do."

Formica, 68, said he is looking forward to finishing out his term with a "strong, successful session." Beyond that, he singled out the birth of his first grandchild this month as a sign of what his future looks like.

"I'm excited for whatever the next chapter brings," he said.

Formica is a widower and has four adult children, three daughters and one son, according to his state Senate biography. The longtime East Lyme first selectman and Flanders Fish Market restaurateur was elected in 2014 to his first term as state senator, becoming the first Republican elected to serve the 20th District since 1990. The district encompasses Bozrah, East Lyme, part of Montville, New London, Old Lyme, part of Old Saybrook, Salem and Waterford.

Formica began his career as an elected official on the East Lyme Zoning Commission in 1991, when exasperation over a new zoning regulation led him to get involved in politics. He went on to serve as chairman of the Republican Town Committee, a member of the Board of Finance and as first selectman for more than seven years before being elected state senator.

He also ran for Congress in 2012, when he challenged incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who won reelection.

Formica detailed his decision to retire in a news release Tuesday.

"In recent months I have been sensing a pull toward a new season," he wrote. "It has been a thought-provoking process because I have been deeply blessed, grateful and proud of the season I am currently in. I have decided to embrace this new season and therefore I will not be seeking reelection to the State Senate in November of 2022."

He called his 31 years of public service "one of the greatest honors" of his life but said he feels "it's time for me to retire and move into the next season."

He cited several accomplishments, from helping to revitalize Niantic's Main Street and preserving open space as first selectman in East Lyme. As state senator, he named achievements that include being "a leader in the fight to secure the next decade of Connecticut's carbon-free baseload supply of energy at Millstone Station," and helping to develop in 2017 "a true bipartisan budget" as co-chair of the appropriations committee.

In the release, he noted that it's been an honor to work with other legislators and to lead "the Senate Republican team."

"The most rewarding aspect of my elected service has been the honor and pleasure of meeting and serving so many wonderful and passionate people from around the 20th District and across our great state," he added.

Formica said he was "particularly grateful to my business family, the incredible team on my town and state staffs and especially my family."

"I look forward to spending more time with my family, my businesses, perhaps some new hobbies, and to begin a new season with my special love," he added in the news release. "There is a bright future ahead for this state and this district. I believed it 31 years ago and I believe it even more today. Thank you for the honor of serving the communities I hold so dear."

Praised for his bipartisanship

Former East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson described himself as elated that Formica “has chosen to put himself and his family first.”

Nickerson was tapped as Formica’s replacement in 2015 and went on to run successfully for the seat three times before making his own announcement that he was not going to run again prior to the 2021 municipal election.

“Take it from a guy who left while on top, who said ‘this has been an incredible opportunity and I’ve done everything I could and I need to put my family first and myself first,’” he said. “And also, there just comes a time.”

Nickerson pointed to Formica as a “great example of a gentleman” in his personal and political life. “In politics, he did it the right way. He worked with everybody. He worked across party lines. He’s an example other politicians should use on how to conduct themselves,” Nickerson said. “A lot of people should take his example.”

State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, who was on the Board of Selectmen of East Lyme with Formica for three terms, said Tuesday that she was saddened to hear the state senator would not be running again.

“He has dedicated 31 years of his life to public service, starting with his time on the zoning commission in East Lyme,” Cheeseman said. “I have never doubted his integrity, his work ethic, his genuine decency as a man and a friend. From that point of view, I do think it’s a great loss not only for the citizens of our district but for the state of Connecticut.”

She said she hopes Formica’s replacement will bring “the same spirit of true bipartisanship” and “the same ethical grounding.”

Democratic state Senate candidate Daryl Justin Finizio issued a statement Tuesday night to thank Formica for his service. Finizio reiterated, as when he announced his campaign to run for the 20th District seat, that he is "not seeking this office to challenge any one person, or party, but to advance the ideas that are in the best interests of all the people of this district.”

In his statement, Finizio said people deserve health care as a human right and the need to continue to diversify the "job market, support small businesses, grow green energy jobs, and raise wages for all workers,” and rely less on regressive taxation.

“I look forward to debating all these issues as the campaign moves forward, but for tonight, I just want to say, as I said three months ago; Paul Formica is a good man with a beautiful family," Finizio said. "I wish Paul and his family the very best.”

"Paul embodies everything that makes an incredible public servant," Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said in a statement Tuesday night. "He brings people together. He listens to all ideas and perspectives." He noted Formica's role on the Appropriations Committee that "produced the first bipartisan budget in years that created the record surpluses in the state's rainy day fund today and historic investments in paying down on Connecticut's pension debt." 

Formica "is practical, hardworking, and cares deeply about our state and its people. From leading a town, to running a restaurant, to being an amazing father and now grandfather, Paul is someone you can always rely on to bring dedication and love to all he does," Kelly continued. "Thirty-one years of elected public service takes so much from an individual as well as their family and Paul's commitment is unparalleled."

Calling Formica an "advocate for individuals with disabilities, for children, for the environment, for tourism, and for every Main Street in Connecticut and the job creators and families across our state," Kelly said, "It has been an honor to serve with Paul in the Senate, and more recently to serve side-by-side with Paul as my deputy. As leader, I could not have asked for a better partner and friend."

State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, said he and Formica have been good friends for a long time, and despite representing opposing political parties, he said losing Formica is a severe blow to the state Senate.

“His presence in the Senate and the Republican caucus has been excellent. As a friend I’m sad to see that he’s leaving, but happy for him if that’s what he wants,” Needleman said. “I’m actually a few years older than him, so these are hard decisions. Paul and I have had a similar path in life, through business and public service. He told me today he’s been involved for about 31 years, and that made me think, I’ve been around about the same amount of time.”

Needleman went on to praise Formica’s work on the energy committee. He called the outgoing senator “a real statesman” and lamented the lack of more moderate politicians in today's General Assembly.

“Paul is also a statesman in that he tried to balance the interests of his party with the interests of good public policy, and I have to tell you, that’s not easy,” Needleman said. “It’s harder all the time as ideologues begin to sort of have a heavier hand. ... You lose good people, it’s very hard to replace them, and you’ve got political ideologues jumping into the fray."

k.drelich@theday.com

e.regan@theday.com

s.spinella@theday.com

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