East Lyme Democrats gain key seats on Election Day
East Lyme ― With voters delivering big wins to Democrats on Election Day, East Lyme’s first selectman-elect Dan Cunningham hit the ground running.
On Wednesday, the Democrat met with outgoing Republican First Selectman Kevin Seery in preparation to take the oath of office on Dec. 4. Seery did not seek reelection.
“I don’t want to waste any time getting involved,” Cunningham said.
That includes reaching out to Finance Director Kevin Gervais to start planning their approach for one of Cunningham’s most pressing responsibilities as first selectman: putting together the annual town budget.
At the same day’s Veterans Day luncheon for the Rotary Club of Niantic, Seery said he introduced Cunningham as his successor in the context of closing remarks on the importance of an orderly transfer of power.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Dan,” Seery told The Day. “I’ve worked for him for several years on the Board of Selectmen and I think he has the best interests of the town at heart. We’ve already started talking about turnover.”
Cunningham called it a “nailbiter” as his family and supporters awaited the results at the Lyme Tavern before absentee numbers came through around 9:30 p.m. declaring him winner. It was the first time in 16 years voters elected a Democrat to the town’s top seat.
Democratic Registrar of Voters Wendi Sims on Wednesday said election numbers won’t be final until she and Republican Registrar of Voters Mary Smith add to the official return nine ballots that had to be hand counted. Ballots must be hand counted when they are rejected by the machine for reasons such as using a check mark or an “X” instead of filling in the bubble or voting for too many candidates in a race.
State election law gives registrars 48 hours to provide the final results to the town clerk.
Santoro did not concede the race on Election Day and did not return multiple calls for comment on Wednesday.
Cunningham will preside over two Democrats and three Republicans on the Board of Selectmen. Republicans held a 4-2 majority with Seery at the helm.
Democrat Ann Cicchiello will return to the board, joined this time by Democratic Town Chairman Jason Deeble.
Elected under the Republican banner was 19-term Selectwoman Rose Ann Hardy, who is unaffiliated, as well as Board of Education member Candice Carlson and Harbor Management/Shellfish Commission member Don MacKenzie.
On the Zoning Commission, voters ousted Republican Chairwoman Anne Thurlow and member Mike Schmitt in favor of three Democrats: Nancy Kalal, Denise Markovitz and Gary Pivo. The Planning Commission remained in Democratic control with the election of Democrats Nick Menapace, Brian Bombach and Richard Gordon.
The Board of Education, a 10-member board evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans going into the election, returned all incumbent candidates. Elected were Democrats Cate Steel, Jill Carini and Esteban Garcia, along with current Republican Chairman Eric Bauman and secretary Jaime Barr Shelburn. But a Republican seat will open up now that Candice Carlson was elected to the Board of Selectmen.
The town charter requires the remaining members of the school board to fill any vacancies within 30 days. Otherwise, the Board of Selectmen gets to choose the replacement.
In a bright spot for the GOP, the party retained control of the Board of Finance with the election of incumbent Lauren McNamara, an unaffiliated candidate running under the Republican banner. Incumbent Democrat Rich Steel and Democrat Jay Ginsberg were also elected.
Voters approved eight out of 11 referendum questions culminating the almost year-long charter revision process, based on unofficial results. The recommendations from the 11-member commission ranged from establishing four-year terms for the first selectman and Board of Selectmen to raising the spending threshold that triggers voter approval.
The extended terms passed, but increasing the authority of the selectman and Board of Finance to approve purchases up to $100,000 did not. The threshold remains at $10,000.
Voters also rejected a call to provide automatic approval for special appropriation requests if the Board of Finance fails to act on it within 30 days.
The issue arose in 2021 when the Board of Finance, under the leadership of chairman Camille Alberti, did not immediately address a $280,557 funding request to earmark a portion of the town's $2.7 million American Rescue Plan allocation for projects including emergency services and information technology upgrades and youth services staffing.
Mark Nickerson, Republican first selectman at the time, said he had not previously seen the finance board let a request go unanswered for 30 days. He noted the charter gives the finance board a month to act on a request but does not specify what happens if that doesn’t happen.
The charter was last revised in 2009. This time around, voters also approved a provision requiring selectmen to consider a charter review at least every 10 years.
Charter Review Commission Chairman Marc Salerno on Wednesday said he was pleased with the results of the vote.
“The most important changes that we brought before the voters were passed,” he said. “I’m proud of all the work our subcommittee did and we’re glad the voters agreed with our recommendations, for the most part.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated to correct McNamara’s affiliation.
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