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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    46th District in Norwich will elect a new state representative

    Norwich ― With no incumbent in the race for the 46th District House seat, two veteran campaigners are vying for the seat that covers the urban and southern sections of Norwich.

    Democratic City Council Alderman Derell Wilson and Republican Robert Bell are vying for the seat being vacated by five-term incumbent Democrat Emmett Riley. Bell also is running on the Independent Party ballot line, while Wilson also will appear on the Working Families Party ballot line.

    Wilson, 30, a paraeducator at the Integrated Day Charter School since 2017, grew up in Greeneville and has lived in his family’s home all his life. He has been active in politics and civic affairs since his youth when he served on the NAACP youth council locally and as an advisory to the statewide NAACP youth council as an adult. Wilson has campaigned in the 46th District since he was a teenager, working on state Rep. Melissa Olson’s campaigns. Olson, Riley’s wife, preceded him in the seat for 10 years.

    Wilson ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2017 and was elected twice to the City Council in 2019 and 2021. He also is Norwich Democratic Town Committee chairman.

    “I’ve been part of the 46th District my entire life,” Wilson said. “I’ve watched the evolution of the 46th District. Having another young voice in Hartford that understands and knows what families moving (to Norwich) and who want to move to Norwich need is important.”

    Bell, 48, originally is from Texas. He first came to southeastern Connecticut in 2001, when he served in the Navy. He bought a home in Norwich in 2006, got out of the Navy in 2007 and worked for Sikorsky while remaining in Norwich. He now owns a property management company, Bell Logistics LLC, which is headquartered on Main Street. His 16-year-old daughter, Emma Louise Bell, is a junior at Norwich Free Academy.

    “I just grew roots here,” Bell said. “My friends are here, my support system is here I have a business here and in most areas, I’m respected here,” Bell said.

    Bell twice ran unsuccessfully for Norwich City Council in 2019 and 2021 and lost to incumbent Riley for the 46th District seat in 2020.

    “This is the first of many elections, or this is the last,” Bell said of his second run for the 46th District seat this fall.

    The two candidates have traded opinions on one of the most controversial issues this fall, the state Department of Transportation’s plan to reconstruct Route 82-West Main Street with six proposed roundabouts, a median divider and traffic reduced to one lane in each direction. The $20 million first phase with three roundabouts would require acquisition of five properties that house four businesses and one apartment.

    Wilson, who voted in favor of a council resolution to accept maintenance of sidewalks, roundabout centers and a new proposed short public street upon completion – a vote that allowed the project to move to advance design stage -- said his vote did not mean he supports having six roundabouts.

    He said city leaders need to continue negotiating with the DOT project team to reach an acceptable agreement. The project is only at the 30% design stage, Wilson said.

    Wilson said something “missed” in the conversation about the roundabouts is the safety issue. Wilson said he understands the pain families of fatal crash victims feel. Wilson’s twin brother, Terell Wilson, died in a crash on I-95 in Milford in April 2016.

    “It’s that emotional damage,” Wilson said. “I don’t think any dollar amount will ever make those families whole. So, we know that something has to happen to that route.”

    Wilson said if elected, he would push for a pot of money for impact aid to help businesses cover their full relocation costs and to cover construction period disruptions to those remaining on West Main Street.

    Bell has attended the DOT public informational meetings on the project and said project leaders answered all his questions. Bell said he supports roundabouts and safety improvements, “but I draw the line at shutting down businesses at all.” Bell said the businesses to be disrupted in the first phase all have said they do not want to sell.

    “I like the idea of making the road safer, making the road better, but one thing I cannot tolerate with that is our government stepping in and taking away businesses,” Bell said.

    The two candidates differed on how the state should handle the current $4 billion state surplus, whether to use a portion to pay down the outstanding state pension debt as Gov. Ned Lamont proposes or return much of the money to state taxpayers.

    Bell said the surplus should be returned to the taxpayers, and he sees it as a way to reduce or eliminate the state income tax.

    “One of the things we can look at is getting rid of the state income tax for a while, if not permanently,” Bell said. “Because $4 billion of money taken from the voters is a lot of money, and looking at the cost of living these days, I’m sure everybody would like a lot more money back in their paychecks.”

    Wilson said the smart and “bold” thing to do with the surplus is pay down the state pension debt. That will free up money in future budgets for other spending priorities and tax relief.

    He pointed to a similar step taken by the city to lower its pension debt. Last year, the city council and voters approved a plan to bond the city’s entire outstanding pension debt, which saves $3 million on this year’s pension payment. There will be savings in each year of the 20-year life of the the bond.

    Wilson said one issue he is passionate about is preserving women’s right to choose whether to have a baby or seek an abortion. He pledged to protect that right in any future legislation, as well as protecting healthcare providers and women from other states seeking abortions in Connecticut.

    “When you take the politics, religion, everything out of it, when we talk healthcare, we can’t talk choice for some things and not choice for others,” Wilson said. “As a male, I should not be the one that dictates and tells an individual female what to do with her body. Women go through so much with childcare, and so much health related (issues).”

    Bell also supports Connecticut’s abortion laws and said the decision should be between a woman and her doctor. He also supports protections for women coming to Connecticut from other states and for Connecticut medical care providers.

    Norwich has a referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot on whether to bond $385 million to build four new elementary schools, reducing from the current seven to four elementary schools and substantially renovate an older, obsolete middle school. City taxpayers’ share after state reimbursement would be $150 million.

    Both candidates support the project. Bell said the schools are “in terrible shape,” and city taxpayers would be on the hook for high maintenance costs for insufficient buildings without the new schools.

    “I love it. We need it, honestly,” Bell said. “I hate the cost, not a fan of the cost. They’ve been neglected so long, we’re in a position now where we just have to do it. Everybody complains about our taxes. That’s the biggest complaint in Norwich. We have to bring families to Norwich.”

    Wilson said he understands the financial struggles families face now, but he hopes city taxpayers realize the importance of the project to modernize city schools. He said when the election primaries were held in some city schools, voters got to see first-hand some of the shortcomings in the school buildings.

    “I think the primary voting at schools opened some people’s eyes,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be a tough one. I’m optimistic that it passes.”


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