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Lawmakers tell 18th District towns they'll be covered till Maynard returns

Senate Democrats do not know when Andrew Maynard will be well enough to resume his legislative duties at the state Capitol, but they have devised a plan to make sure that his constituents in the 18th District are represented in his absence.

On Monday, Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, met with municipal leaders from seven of the eight towns in Maynard's district to hear their concerns, update them on the legislative session now underway, and assure them that while Maynard is out, their needs will be met.

"It's one of the best meetings I've ever been to," said North Stonington's 15-term first selectman, Republican Nicholas H. Mullane.

"I was overly pleased, 100 percent satisfied," said Mullane, of the meeting at the Groton Town Hall where Looney, Osten and state aides and policymakers met with the town leaders for almost two hours to discuss issues including municipal funding, grants, bonding and other programs and revenues that come from the state to the towns.

"I feel that because Andy is absent, and maybe a little incapacitated, that these other people are going to make sure that his constituents will get a little extra attention, and I'm going to take advantage of that," said Mullane.

The meeting, which was the idea of Osten, was attended by municipal leaders from Griswold, Groton, North Stonington, Plainfield, Preston, Stonington and Voluntown. The only town unable to send a representative was Sterling.

The plan is that Maynard's staff - as well as Osten, Looney and their staffs - will deal with concerns and requests from 18th District constituents until Maynard is back at work.

Maynard, who was seriously injured in a fall at his Stonington home in July, was re-elected to a fifth term as the state senator in the 18th District by a wide margin in November.

The incumbent senator was the party's nominee for the seat at the time of his injury and according to state law, the only person who could remove his name from the ballot was Maynard himself. That never happened. And as late as October, his family issued a release saying that it was their "genuine belief" that Maynard would be recovered enough to resume his legislative duties this winter.

On Jan. 7, Maynard briefly appeared at the state Capitol to take the oath of office, and while he didn't speak publicly, a press release issued that day said, "Sen. Maynard looks forward to working with his Senate colleagues and resuming a full schedule on behalf of all the constituents of the 18th District as soon as he is able."

The release noted: "Sen. Maynard's office will continue to operate in its full capacity as it has since the July accident."

Maynard's legislative aide, CJ Strand, attended Monday's meeting and will continue to be the point person for constituents if they have a question or an issue for the senator, said Adam Joseph, spokesman for the Senate Democrats.

Joseph said it is "hard to pinpoint a date certain, it is hard to predict," when Maynard will return to Hartford, but the expectation is that he will be back during this session, which ends in June.

Looney, the new president of the Senate, also said he expects Maynard to be back at work later this session.

"Andy has made extensive progress, and I'm confident he will continue to make progress and be back at the Capitol," he said.

"I don't know what that schedule will be," he added, "but I'm very much encouraged by the significant recovery he has shown."

Looney said he met with Maynard in December and the senator "has a great deal of interest in what happens in his district and said he wants to be at committee meetings and hearings."

"I think people (constituents) should be confident that their concerns will be represented," said Looney, who added there have been other instances when legislators have been ill or unable to work because of family issues or other concerns, and that fellow legislators have covered their districts.

With the consent of other Democrats in the Senate, Osten organized the meeting.

"It's just a normal part of business, colleagues filling a hole, while someone is dealing with an issue that they have to deal with," she said.

Looney said that the Democratic vice chairman of the General Assembly's Transportation Committee, Carlo Leone, will fill in for Maynard, who is co-chair of the committee, until he returns. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said that transportation issues will be a primary focus of this legislative session.

Osten, as well as a number of other southeastern Connecticut lawmakers, also sits on the Transportation Committee.

Joseph, the spokesman for the Senate Democrats, said it was clear in the press release issued on Jan. 7 after Maynard was sworn in to his fifth term that he would not immediately be back at work.

"We tried to be very clear that he will rejoin the Senate as soon as possible, as soon as he is able to," said Joseph.

The release said Maynard suffered physical injuries and a traumatic brain injury and that the recovery process was taking time.

"Sen. Maynard is currently undergoing physical and occupational therapy to work on his balance, strengthen his right arm and refine the use of his right hand.

"In addition, the accident has left Sen. Maynard with aphasia when it comes to his speech. While he can process language and understands others, the condition impairs his ability to speak," said the release. "As part of his ongoing recovery he is working with a speech therapist. Although he is making great progress, he currently has some difficulty retrieving words and names."

Looney said in his meeting with Maynard the senator communicated his interest in his district and his desire to return to the legislature.

And Looney noted that voters in the district overwhelmingly re-elected Maynard despite Maynard never campaigning and with constituents knowing that he was badly injured and that he had not been seen since July.

"He was re-elected by a huge margin, and by a greater margin than some candidates who campaigned for six months," said Looney.

Stonington First Selectman George Crouse, who attended the Monday session, said it was helpful and provided an update on Maynard.

"They told us he's functioning, his office is functioning, and that he will be back as soon as his rehab is finished. And they told us his mind is working and working well," said Crouse.

Mullane, the North Stonington first selectman, said Maynard's colleagues are taking care of his district in his absence.

"This is how government should work. We all work together," he said. "And I wish Andy well."

Osten is encouraged, too.

"I think, without being a medical person, that Andy is making great strides," she said. "He is a fighter, and he is fighting back on his medical condition. I believe he will be back this session."

a.baldelli@theday.com

Twitter: @annbaldelli

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