September 23, 2017

Republican Sen. Art Linares Wins Third Term in 33rd District

State Senator Art Linares (R-33rd) File photo.

State Senator Art Linares (R-33rd) File photo.

AREAWIDE — Republican State Senator Art Linares of Westbrook was re-elected for a third term Tuesday , defeating his Democratic challenger, Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman, by a decisive margin in the 12- town 33rd District.

Linares, 28, carried at least six district towns, including Clinton, East Haddam, East Hampton, Portland, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook.

Neeedleman, 65, carried Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Lyme. The margin in Deep River was a close 12 votes 1,268 for Needleman to 1,256 for Linares,. Results were still outstanding as of 10 p.m. from Haddam and Colchester. Excluding those two towns, the total vote was 22,950 for Linares to 17,643 for Needleman.

Linares, was first elected in 2012, taking the seat that had been held for the previous two decades by the late former State Sen. Eileen Daily of Westbrook. He won a second term in 2014, defeating Democrat Emily Bjornberg of Lyme on a 22,673-17,326 vote.  Needleman is serving his third term as first selectman of Essex.

Linares claimed victory around 9:30 p.m., entering the ballroom at Water Edge Resort in Westbrook to cheers from about 100 supporters. “Not bad for a close race in the 33rd, I mean how big do we have to win by,” he quipped. Linares offered special thanks to his younger brother, Ryan, who has managed his three winning election campaigns .
Needleman greeted supporters at the Ivoryton Tavern in Essex.
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Republican State Sen. Linares, Democratic Challenger Needleman Spar in 33rd Senate District Debate

A view of the debate stage from the rear of the Valley Regional High School auditorium

A view of the debate stage from the rear of the Valley Regional High School auditorium

Republican State Senator Art Linares of Westbrook and his Democratic challenger, Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman, sparred Monday in a public debate for the 33rd Senate District contest.

More than 150 voters from the 12 district towns turned out for the 90-minute debate held in the auditorium at Valley Regional High School in Deep River, with the question of which candidate represents the “political class” in Connecticut overshadowing the specific issues where the candidates differed, or nearly as often, concurred.

The session was moderated by Essex Library Director Richard Conroy, who selected questions that had been submitted in advance by district voters.

The debate began with a walk-out by Green Party candidate Colin Bennett of Westbrook. Bennett, who has run previously for the seat and participated in all debates during the 2014 campaign, began with an opening statement where he said his goals are to end hunger, provide access to health care, protect the environment and affirm that black lives matter.

Bennett then claimed that Conroy had attempted to exclude him from the debate based on comments at an Oct. 5 debate in Westbrook where he criticized Needleman and urged people not supporting him to vote for Linares. “I don’t want to be where I am not wanted,” Bennett said before walking off the stage. Linares said later he had told Conroy he would not participate in the debate if Bennett was arbitrarily excluded from the outset.

The term political class entered the discussion soon after the opening statement from Needleman, where the three-term first selectman said he had been urged to run the seat this year by the Senate Democratic leadership because they wanted a candidate with experience in business and municipal government. Needleman said he told party leaders he would not be a rubber stamp, and could become their “worst nightmare,” if elected.

Linares, who was first elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2014, scoffed at the claim, questioning why the Senate leadership would provide Needleman with a full-time campaign manager on leave from the caucus staff if they believed his election would be a nightmare. Linares contended Needleman has been a loyal supporter of Democratic “Governor Dan Malloy and the political class,” contributing funds to Malloy’s two gubernatorial campaigns in 2010 and 2014.

Needleman said Linares is the “career politician,” running for the senate seat at age 23 and laying the groundwork for a future campaign for the 2nd District congressional seat or statewide office.

But despite the sharp exchange, the two rivals agreed on several issues, including support for recently approved incentive package for Sikorsky in Stratford, providing some degree of contract preferences for in-state companies, and reducing, or for Linares eliminating, the estate or inheritance tax. The candidates agreed state employee unions would have to make contract concessions on both wages and pensions if the state faces another large budget deficit in 2017.

From left to right, Norman Needleman (D), incumbent Sen. Art Linares (R) and Colin Bennett (Green Party) make their opening statements at Monday night's debate.

From left to right, Norman Needleman (D), incumbent Sen. Art Linares (R) and Colin Bennett (Green Party) make their opening statements at Monday night’s debate.

Needleman said his experience negotiating contracts with public employee unions in Essex would be helpful in any discussions with state employee unions, though he questioned whether unions could be forced into concession talks. Linares called for mandatory legislative votes on all union contracts, and suggested a need for “additional leverage” to bring unions to the table. “The unions have not come to the table, we’ve tried that, everyone has tried that,” he said.

The candidates differed somewhat on the question of welcoming refugees from war-torn Syria to Connecticut. Needleman said while “vetting is critical,” an arbitrary exclusion based on a refugee’s country of origin or religion is “un-American.” Linares, whose family fled Cuba in the early 1960s, said he would insist on “clearance from the FBI,” because the United States does not have intelligence capabilities in Syria to screen refugees, including those who reach Europe before possible entry in to the United States.

The candidates also differed on possible increases to the state minimum wage, and gun control measures. Needleman said he supports measured increases in the minimum wage, but believes a hike to $15 per hour, as advocated by some Democrats, “is a very bad idea.’ Linares said he favors a national standard for the minimum wage, suggesting that further increases at the state level would hurt small businesses and cost the state jobs. He said the earned income tax credit is a better way to provide assistance to low income workers.

On gun control, Needleman said he is a “2nd Amendment Democrat,” but favors some additional gun control measures. He criticized Linares for opposing legislation approved earlier this year that allows guns to be seized from persons who are subject to a court restraining order where domestic violence is a factor.

Linares said Needleman is “trying to take both sides of the issue,” by referring to gun ownership and the 2nd Amendment. Linares said he opposed the temporary restraining order gun bill because it was an “overreach” that takes away due process for gun owners, and discretion for judges.

The 33rd Senate District includes the Town of Lyme along with Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Portland, Westbrook, and portions of Old Saybrook.
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Hundreds Join Elected Officials to Oppose Possible Amtrak Railroad Bypass

The auditorium was packed for the meeting. Daniel Mackay photo

The auditorium was packed for Wednesday afternoon’s public session with the FRA. Daniel Mackay photo

A crowd of more than 500 area residents turned out Wednesday to join elected officials in opposing a possible Amtrak railroad bypass project that would run from Old Saybrook through southeastern Connecticut to Kenyon, R.I.

The auditorium at Lyme-Old Lyme High School was packed to capacity for a public session with representatives of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Also on hand were elected officials, including U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congressman Joe Courtney, state legislators, and chief elected officials for seven area cities and towns.

The concern is focused on an option that has emerged as part of a long-range plan to improve and expand passenger rail service along the Northeast Corridor from Washington D.C. to Boston, Mass. The option, called the Old Saybrook-Kenyon, R.I. Bypass, would require construction of a second rail line that would cross the Connecticut River and run north of the existing rail line and Interstate-95 through historic and environmentally sensitive areas of Old Lyme and other towns.

Representatives from the FRA along with elected state and local officials were on hand for the public session. Daniel Mackay photo

Representatives from the FRA along with elected state and local officials were on hand for the public session. Daniel Mackay photo

In the session that was held in response to pressure from elected representatives and the public after months of local controversy over the bypass option, two representatives of the FRA, Rebecca Reyes-Alicea and Anishi Castelli, explained the preliminary plans and review process before responding to questions and comments from the elected officials. The “roundtable” did not include questions or comments from the large audience.

Reyes-Alecea said the Northeast Corridor improvements would be completed over the coming decades, and would require congressional approval of funding and probably state funding contributions.

Though the FRA is expected to make some decisions on future project options by the end of the year, Reyes-Alecea said the review process is still in an “early stage.” She added the turnout for Wednesday’s session was the largest officials have seen for any of the public meetings held at locations throughout the 457-mile Washington-Boston corridor.

But the comments from federal, state, and local officials made it clear any decision to pursue the bypass plan, estimated to cost at least $68 billion, would face determined bipartisan resistance every step of the way.

Blumenthal said the bypass plan is “unfeasible, unworkable, and unnecessary,” adding, “I will fight as long and as hard as possible to block any route with an adverse impact on historic, cultural, and environmental values.” Courtney said the bypass plan seemed like something “from an alternate universe” and suggested there is a “long to-do list,” including bridge and grade crossing replacements, that must be completed before any consideration of a second rail line through the region.

State and local officials were equally firm in their opposition to the bypass plan. New London Mayor Michael Passero said previous railroad and urban renewal projects have hurt his city by claiming taxable property and isolating neighborhoods. Passero said there is no way to construct a second rail line through or around New London “without destroying our little city.”

State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook, described the plan as “a dark cloud hovering over these towns.” Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons, a former second district congressman, and Waterford First Selectman David Stewart urged the federal agency to focus first on improvements to the existing rail line. “Why can’t we fix what we have,” Simmons said. Old Saybrook First Selectman Carl Fortuna said all seven municipalities along the possible bypass route would “stand with Old Lyme” in resisting the plan.

Reyes-Alecea said any recommendation filed later this year would set the stage for a Tier 2” analysis process and report that would include more specific plans and cost estimates for improvement projects. She said it could take years before any construction begins, even on the specific improvement to the existing line that are encouraged by the local elected leaders.

Asked after the meeting for his reaction, Gregory Stroud, Executive Director of SECoast – the non-profit constructively opposing the proposed bpass – said, “There is no doubt, that every member of the press, Senator Blumenthal and Representative Courtney came away impressed. A huge crowd. A great coming together of all the towns in southeastern Connecticut. A bipartisan, unified delegation, with one curious exception. Where is Governor Malloy?”

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Republicans Nominate Art Linares for Third Term in 33rd Senate District

Art Linares (file photo)

Art Linares (file photo)

Republicans Tuesday nominated incumbent State Senator Art Linares of Westbrook for a third term in the 12-town 33rd Senate District. Linares was the unanimous choice of about 45 delegates and alternates gathered for the nominating convention at the Old Town Hall in East Haddam.

Linares is facing a challenge in the Nov. 8 vote from Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman of Essex, who is expected to be nominated for the seat at the Democratic convention on May 23 in East Hampton. Needleman, 64, has served as first selectman of Essex since 2011. As well as the Town of Lyme, the district includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Portland, Westbrook, and portions of Old Saybrook.

Linares was nominated by State Rep. Melissa Ziobron of East Hampton, who described the incumbent as a “great advocate for all of the towns,” in the district. The nomination was seconded by Edward Marcolini of Old Saybrook, who described Linares as, “young, vibrant and personable.”

In brief remarks, Linares said he has worked for spending reform and fiscal responsibility at the capitol, contending that overly optimistic budget planning by legislative Democrats had led to first ever cuts in the state ECS (Education Cost Sharing) grants for cities and towns. Linares, 27, said he is ready for the election challenge. “I stand before you a four-year-veteran, a little more seasoned, but just as ready to knock on thousands of doors and wear out shoes as that 23-year-old kid was four years ago,” he said.

Linares declined to comment on Needleman’s candidacy, but confirmed he is ready to debate his opponent on more than one occasion during the fall campaign.

Linares, a co-founder of the Middletown-based Greenskies solar energy company, was elected in 2012 in a district that has been represented for 20 years by the late former Democratic State Senator Eileen Daily of Westbrook. He won a second term in 2014, defeating democrat Emily Bjornberg of Lyme on a 22,672-17,326 vote in a race where Bjornberg also had the Working Families Party ballot line and Linares had the ballot line of the Connecticut Independent Party.

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Hundreds Vigil for Late First Selectman Richard Smith, Selectmen to Meet Thursday to Discuss Succession

Candles are lit in honor of " a remarkable legacy to service, commitment, and dedication to the people of Deep River." Photo by Kim Tyler.

Candles are lit in honor of Dick Smith’s “… remarkable legacy to service, commitment, and dedication to the people of Deep River.” (Angus McDonald Jr.) Photo by Kim Tyler.

DEEP RIVER — The town showed its affection and appreciation for the late First Selectman Richard H. “Smitty” Smith Monday as hundreds gathered at sunset around town hall in a vigil for the longtime municipal leader who died suddenly Friday at age 65.

Hundreds gathered at Deep River Town Hall yesterday evening to pay tribute to their beloved First Selectman Dick Smith, who passed away Friday afternoon.Hundreds gathered at Deep River Town Hall Monday evening to pay tribute to their beloved First Selectman Dick Smith, who passed away Friday afternoon.

The vigil, which precedes the funeral for Smith Thursday at 11 a.m. at St. Joseph Church in Chester, came as the two remaining members of the board of selectman, Democrat Angus McDonald Jr. and Republican David Oliveria, scheduled a special meeting for Thursday to discuss the process for filling the vacancy for the remainder of Smith’s term that runs through November 2017.

A quiet, candlelit moment of contemplation on a life well lived.A quiet, candlelit moment of contemplation on a life well lived. Photo by Kim Tyler.

McDonald, who joined Oliveria to meet with town hall employees Monday afternoon, said the special meeting that begins at 5:30 p.m. in town hall would review “temporary organizational changes to cover leadership in the coming month.” McDonald, who was first elected with Smith in 2011, said he and Oliveria are still discussing who would assume the full-time job of interim first selectman through the unexpired term. The appointment of either McDonald or Oliveria to the top job would also create a new vacancy on the board of selectman.

A boy sets a candle in remembrance of Deep River First Selectman Dick Smith, who passed away last Friday, March 25.During the vigil, a boy places a candle on the town hall steps in remembrance of Deep River First Selectman Dick Smith, who passed away Friday, March 25. Photo by Kim Tyler.

“Dick Smith leaves a remarkable legacy to service, commitment, and dedication to the people of Deep River,” McDonald said. “While we know we can never replace him, we have an obligation to our community to move quickly to fill the vacancy.”

Photo by Kim Tyler.Candles light the faces of those gathered to remember Deep River First Selectman Richard “Smitty” Smith. Photo by Kim Tyler.

Town officials from both political parties joined elected officials from around the state in praising Smith, a Democrat whose 26-year tenure made him one of the longest serving municipal chief elected officials for both Middlesex County and the entire state. A South Carolina native who arrived in Connecticut around 1970, Smith was elected first selectman in 1989, and had been unopposed for a 14th consecutive term in the town election last fall. Smith had also served as a part-time town police officer since 1973.

Candles and roses are held in remembrance of Richard “Smitty” Smith at Monday night’s vigil. Photo by Kim Tyler.

Oliveria, first elected to the board in 2009, said Smith had done “an incredible job as first selectman running all aspects of the town.” Town Treasurer Tom Lindner, a Republican who was elected to the part-time position in 1989, said Smith was “always there for everybody in Deep River.”

State Senator Phil Miller addresses the vigil participants.State Senator Phil Miller speaks at Monday’s vigil. Photo by Kim Tyler.

Speakers at the vigil, where residents of Deep River and other nearby towns held lighted candles and roses in honor of the longtime town leader, recalled Smith’s tireless dedication to the town and its people. Jonathan Kastner, the first selectman’s assistant and friend, said Smith was “a problem solver who somehow found a way to keep adversaries from being too adversarial.” State Rep. Phil Miller, a former first selectman of Essex, said Smith was “a role model for anyone in any kind of public service.”

Photo by Kim Tyler.Remembering a leader who Sen. Phil Miller described as, “a role model for anyone in any kind of public service.” Photo by Kim Tyler.

Smith built a record of accomplishment that changed and improved Deep River during his 26 years as first selectman. There is the row of fully occupied industrial buildings at the Plattwood Park Industrial Area off Rte. 80, a 20-year- development process where Smith earned statewide recognition for using state and federal grant funds to construct buildings for small or start-up businesses as a way to help grow the town’s tax base. One of Smith’s most recent accomplishments was a Main Street redevelopment effort that began in 2005, and concluded in 2009 with construction of a Walgreen’s pharmacy on the former Deep River Inn parcel, along with various streetscape improvements for the entire length of Main Street.

Photo by Kim Tyler.Richard “Smitty” Smith: In Memoriam. Photo by Kim Tyler.

State statute gives the two remaining selectmen up to 30 days from March 26, the day after Smith’s death, to appoint an interim first selectman who would serve until November 2017. The appointment could be forced to a special election by a petition with signatures from five percent of the town’s total voter registration, or about 158 voter signatures, that must be submitted within 15 days after any appointment to fill the vacancy.

Roses in remembrance of Richard "Smitty" Smith. Photo by Kim Tyler.Roses in remembrance of Richard “Smitty” Smith. Photo by Kim Tyler.

Editor’s Note: Deep River resident and professional photographer Kim Tyler, who graciously supplied all of the photos published in this article to ValleyNewsNow.com, has also generously agreed to make many of the photos that she took at the vigil available to our readers at no charge. We applaud her wonderful act of public service. The photos have now been uploaded at this link. For more information about Kim Tyler Photography, visit ktphoto.net

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Essex Zoning Commission Continues Hearings on Cumberland Farms Rebuild, Plains Rd. Apartments to April 18

ESSEX — The zoning commission has continued to April 18 the public hearings on separate applications for a rebuild and expansion of the Cumberland Farms store at 82 Main St. in the Centerbrook section, and a 52-unit apartment complex with an affordable housing component on Plains Rd.

Both applicants agreed at public hearings Monday to extend the legal deadline for closure of the public hearings on the two applications. Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow said the extensions will require the commission to vote on April 18 on the site plan review application from Signature Contracting Group LLC of Westport for the apartments, while the panel will have until June to act on the Cumberland Farms application.

The Cumberland Farms application includes a demolition, rebuild, and expansion of the existing store to include three gasoline pumping stations under an canopy. The new 4,250-square-foot store would include a public restroom, a new septic system, and lighting. The size of the canopy, along with the need for a third pumping station, generated the most discussion, and some objections, Monday.

Nearby residents Robert and Laurie Hernandez objected to the size of the canopy, which would be about 80-feet long, and the third pumping station. Laurie Hernandez said the applicants were ‘trying to jam and prototype onto a very small lot,” to build “something that would be at an I-95 off ramp.”

Joel Marzi, the town clerk who is an abutting property owner at 21 Westbrook Rd., said he has concerns about the size of the canopy, but would also appreciate an upgrade of the site.

Joan Wallace, who lives on the opposite side of Westbrook Rd., said she has concerns about the canopy, lighting, and also traffic flow, contending there are already traffic backups for vehicles heading north to the Centerbrook traffic light. Wallace asked if Cumberland Farms would be willing to proceed with an expansion and upgrade of the store without a third fuel pumping station.

Joseph Williams, an attorney for Cumberland Farms with the firm of Shipman & Goodwin, said an additional fueling station was key to the company’s plan to pursue an estimated $3 million expansion and upgrade of the store. Two residents, Kenneth Bombaci and Strickland Hyde, spoke in support of the project.

With several issues still under discussion, and approval of the new septic system still pending from the town health department, Williams agreed to continue the hearing to April 18.

The site plan for the apartment complex on a 3.7-acre parcel that would combine parcels at 21, 27, and 29 Plains Rd., including the long vacant Iron Chef restaurant property, has been filed under state statute 8-30g, which is intended to encourage additional affordable housing in Connecticut. The proposed 52 units in three separate buildings would include 16 units designated as moderate income housing. Each building would have a septic system, which requires approval from the state Department of Public Health.

One new development Monday came when lawyer John Bennet announced that he has been designated an intervener in the application process for Northbound 9 LLC, which owns the commercial building on the opposite side of Plains Rd. The building contains the office of Bennet’s law firm, and a local construction company.

Bennet said the objections to the project focus on the potential for “environmental damage.” Under the 8-30g law, the commission could reject the application only for public health and safety reasons.

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Chester Opposition Delays Vote on Proposed School District Full Regionalization Plan

REGION 4 — Plans for a three-town referendum vote on a proposed kindergarten-sixth grade regionalization plan have been pushed back after a meeting Monday between district and town leaders brought information about a possible new option for dividing elementary education costs among the three towns, and highlighted opposition to the current regionalization plan from elected officials in Chester.
The special meeting, which included board of education chairpersons and members of the boards of selectmen and finance for the district towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex, came after the Chester boards of selectmen and finance issued a statement declaring unanimous opposition to the current plan and a related inter-local agreement intended to address cost shifts and other issues arising from full regionalization of the elementary schools. School board members had been planning for a possible Sept. 29 referendum on K-6 regionalization, which must be approved by voters of all three towns.
The Chester statement, drafted at a May 28 meeting of the two boards, contended the proposed plan and agreement would have a “negative financial impact” on Chester. In a reflection of concerns that declining student enrolment and full regionalization could lead to grade moves or even a closure of Chester Elementary school, the statement also calls for local voter approval, by town meeting vote or referendum, of any shifts of grades among the elementary schools.
Chester finance board member Lori Clymas urged school leaders to “slow down” and explore further revisions to the plan. “We want to work it out but we feel; like we’re being rushed.” she said. Chester First Selectman Edmund Meehan said the plan that was developed over the past three months needs further review, while adding, “We don’t have to go back to square one.”
Essex Board of Education Chairman Lon Seidman, a strong supporter of the K-6 regionalization, said new legislation approved last week in the state House of Representatives would give the school district greater flexibility in assessing taxpayers in each town regarding the cost of operating the elementary schools. Current state law requires using student average daily membership (ADM) from each town to divide cost shares in a regional school budget, as has been done with the spending plan for the middle school and high school since the Region 4 school district for grades 7-12 was established in the early 1950s.
Current levels of enrollment and per pupil spending would leave Deep River at a $378,000 financial disadvantage in 2016-2017 under a K-6 grade regionalization and budget split based only on student ADM. To address this and build support in Deep River, a draft inter-local agreement would adjust budget shares, with Chester and Essex paying higher budget shares in amounts projected to range from $201,000 to $173,000 for Chester over the next four years and from $177,000 to $65,000 for Essex through 2019-2020.
Seidman said the legislation pushed by State Rep. Phil Miller (D-36th) would allow the district to develop its own plan for sharing elementary school expenses. He acknowledged a full review of options under the new legislation would require a delay in any votes on the K-6 regionalization. The new legislation still needs approval from the State Senate, with the 2015 legislation session scheduled to end at midnight Wednesday.
The Chester call for a local vote on elementary school grade changes also generated discussion Monday, with school board members urging the Chester officials to be more flexible on the process for approving grade reconfigurations at the elementary schools. Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy said any major shifts in elementary school grades are unlikely over the next four years, except for a possible move of sixth graders to John Winthrop Middle School, commenting, “We’re getting mired down over control and we need to come together.”
Region 4 Board of Education Chairman Chris Riley said his board, which by law must initiate referenda on further regionalization, would defer any vote on sending the plan to a referendum in September. Riley noted a regionalization referendum on Nov. 3, when the three towns hold municipal elections, is still possible, but far from certain.
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Democrat Lomme Wins Second Term by 266 Votes for Nine-Town Judge of Probate

Judge of Probate Terrance Lomme wins second term.

Judge of Probate Terrance Lomme wins second term.

The contest for regional judge of probate was a replay of 2010, only closer, with Democratic Judge of Probate Terrance Lomme of Essex winning a second term over Republican challenger Anselmo Delia of Clinton.  The unofficial result was Lomme-12,895, Delia-12,635.

The results from the nine towns in the district, which include the Town of Lyme, were similar to the contest between Lomme and Delia in 2010, the year local probate courts were consolidated in to a regional probate court located in Old Saybrook.  Lomme carried Lyme, as well as those of Chester, Deep River, Essex, Lyme and Old Saybrook, while Delia carried the towns of Clinton, Haddam, Killingworth, and Westbrook.

Lomme won the 2010 race by 419 votes.  But Tuesday’s result was closer, with a 260-vote margin, after a campaign where Delia, a Clinton lawyer, questioned Lomme’s decision to retain some private legal clients while serving in the judge position that has an annual salary of $122,000.

The result for Lyme was Lomme-629, Delia-508; results for the other towns in the district were Chester:Lomme-985, Delia-544, Clinton: Lomme 2,069, Delia-2,755, Deep River: Lomme-1,060, Delie-761, Essex: Lomme-1,740, Delia-1,295, Haddam: Lomme-1,649, Delia-1,855, Killingworth: Lomme-1,291, Delia-1,440, Old Saybrook: Lomme-2,279, Delia-2,109, and Westbrook: Lomme 1,193, Delia-1,368.

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33rd Senate Candidates Face Off at Final Debate in Clinton

CLINTON— The three candidates for the 33rd Senate District seat faced off in a final campaign debate at Morgan High School in Clinton Thursday, with the sharpest exchanges coming during the final minutes of the one hour session.

About 100 voters turned out for the debate that was organized by students in the school’s current issues class, with students posing questions and moderating the session. It is expected to be the final public debate between one-term incumbent Republican Sen. Art Linares of Westbrook, Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg of Lyme, and Green Party nominee Colin Bennett of Westbrook.

The candidates stuck to familiar themes through most of the debate. Linares pledged to work to reduce state taxes on gasoline and phase out taxes on retirement benefits while touting his endorsement by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. Bjornberg said Linares has “voted against the most vulnerable among us,” over the past two years while noting her endorsements from the Connecticut Working Families Party, unions representing teachers and college professors and various women’s and environmental groups.

Bennett, declaring he “will not pander,” occasionally used his time to raise issues that were not part of the initial question, including racial justices, police shootings of minority citizens, and the expense of incarceration for non-violent crimes. He called for a “maximum wage” rather than just increasing the minimum wage and higher tax rates for the wealthy.

Most of the exchanges were cordial in a format that did not discourage applause and cheers from the audience. But the gloves came off in the final minutes after Bjornberg noted that Linares is “the only person on this stage who has proposed a tax increase,” as she pointed to Republican budget proposals backed by Linares that would eliminate the state’s earned income tax credit that provides limited cash rebates to low income workers. Bjornberg also criticized Linares votes on issues related to the environment and women’s rights.

Linares said the earned income tax credit is ” a tax credit for people who don’t pay taxes.” In his closing statement, Linares said Bjornberg “desperate and void of solutions, has begun a smear campaign against me in regards to women and the environment,” before pointing to his support for funding for the Preserve land purchase and labeling of genetically modified foods.

Bennett used his closing statement to claim that some Bjornberg supporters have contacted him and urged him to withdraw from the race to avoid pulling liberal-leaning votes from Bjornberg. While confirming that he would “rather see Emily elected than Art,” Bennett said such efforts are “100 percent antithetical to democracy” and vowed to continue his campaign to the Nov. 4 vote

The 33rd District includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook and portions of Old Saybrook.

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Linares, Bjornberg to Meet in Final 33rd District Debate Tonight

Republican State Senator Art Linares has committed to participating in a final 33rd Senate District debate on Oct. 23 at Morgan High School in Clinton after skipping a session held Tuesday at Haddam-Killingworth High School amid disagreements with the sponsor and moderator for the session.

Linares announced his willingness to participate in the Thursday, Oct. 23 debate, set for 7 p.m. in the auditorium at the Clinton school, after declining to participate in the session Tuesday that was sponsored by the Haddam Bulletin, a monthly newspaper for Haddam. The Oct. 23 debate will be run by students in the Morgan High School current issues class, which had sponsored 33rd Senate debates in previous years.

Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg and Green Party nominee Colin Bennett faced off Tuesday before about 30 voters in the Haddam-Killingworth High School auditorium, with an empty chair on the stage for the absent Linares. Moderator Edward Schwing, editor of the Haddam Bulletin said Ryan Linares, the senator’s brother and campaign manager, had imposed several conditions on participation in the session that included a demand to review questions in advance. Schwing said such a condition would be “contrary to the spirit and intent of the debate.”

Ryan Linares said Wednesday it was Schwing’s role as moderator that prompted the demand to review questions in advance. He noted that Schwing had helped run the 2012 state senate campaign of Green Party nominee Melissa Schlag in the three candidate contest where Art Linares was elected for his first term. Schlag was elected in 2013 as the Democratic first selectwoman of Haddam, and has endorsed Bjornberg for the Nov. 4 vote. “The senator is not interested in that kind of debate,” he said.

Bennett, who has run as the Green Party nominee in previous 33rd Senate contests, used the session in Haddam to contend the current Democratic majority in the Legislature has failed to address several issues and priorities that Bjornberg has stressed in her campaign. Bennett said he is “100 percent committed to this campaign” despite raising and spending no money on the race. Bjornberg said if elected she would be a voice for the district towns in the majority party caucus.

The three candidates had faced off previously at debates on Sept. 16 at the Lyme-in Old Lyme High School, Sept. 23 at Valley Regional High School in Deep River, and an Oct. 6 session with House candidates that was sponsored by the Westbrook Council of Beaches. But Bjornberg has pushed for a debate in one of the northern towns of the sprawling 12 town district, and suggested the session Tuesday at Haddam-Killingworth could have been the missing northern town debate. The 33rd District includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook, and parts of Old Saybrook.

Bjornberg said Wednesday she will participate in the Oct. 23 session in Clinton, but contended Linares is “locking out” the northern towns of the district from a public debate. “The district’s two most populous towns in particular, Colchester and East Hampton, deserve to have their residents’ questions asked and their issues addressed” she said.

Bjornberg said she is still working to have the Norwich Bulletin sponsor a debate at the high school in Colchester, but Ryan Linares said Wednesday no one from the newspaper has contacted the campaign about a debate in Colchester.

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33rd District Senate Candidates Hold Lively Debate at Valley Regional High School

Democratic candidate Emily Bjornberg, Republican candidate Senator Art Linares and Green Party Candidate Colin Bennett (photo by Jerome Wilson)

From left to right, Democratic candidate Emily Bjornberg, Republican incumbent candidate Senator Art Linares and Green Party candidate Colin Bennett at Tuesday evening’s debate.  (Photos by Jerome Wilson)

The three candidates in the 12-town 33rd State Senate District, one-term incumbent Republican Sen. Art Linares, Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg, and Green Party candidate Colin Bennett, held a lively debate Tuesday that covered the economy and taxes, along with social issues such as reproductive rights and possible right-to-die legislation.

A crowd of more than 100 voters filled the auditorium at Valley Regional High School in Deep River with sign-waving supporters of the two major party candidates gathering outside the school before the start of the debate. The 90-minute session was moderated by Essex  Library Director Richard Conroy, who posed questions that had been submitted in writing before the debate from district voters.

Linares, describing his record as “pro-growth and pro jobs,” attempted to tie Bjornberg to tax increases imposed during the administration of Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Democrat-controlled legislature. Bjornberg noted that she was not in the legislature when most of the higher taxes were approved, and pledged to be “very wary” of increases in “regressive taxes,” such as the sales and gasoline taxes, in any future budget decisions.

Objections from Linares to the Malloy Administration First Five program of grants and loans for business expansion prompted one of the sharpest exchanges of the session, with Bjornberg noting that Linares had accepted a $350,000 state low interest loan for his Middletown-based Green Skies solar power company while later voting against funding for the program.  She also contended Green Skies resells cheaper solar panels from China at the expense of producers in Connecticut and the United States. Linares replied that Bjornberg’s comments show “my opponent is ready to attack a good thing,”  describing the business he co-founded as a clean energy company that is providing jobs.

The candidates differed on possible right-to-die legislation for the terminally ill, with Bjornberg pledging support for what she called the “compassionate choices” bill that failed to win approval in this year’s legislative session. Linares said he is “concerned about human error,” under the proposed legislation. Bennett also expressed support for the bill that is expected to be considered again next year.

A question on reproductive rights and insurance coverage for birth control brought passionate remarks from Bjornberg, declaring that she is concerned about her young daughter losing rights that women have fought for and secured over the past 40 years. Linares said he was “born a Catholic” and is “not running for the U.S. Supreme Court,” before changing the topic to his support for new legislation to protect women from domestic violence.

Marijuana and the minimum wage brought the most passionate remarks from Bennett, who has run as the Green Party candidate in three previous elections in the 33rd District. Bennett said  “ending the prohibition” on marijuana would help the state’s economy and finances. Linares dismissed the idea of legalizing marijuana, while Bjornberg said she would not support legalization at the present time but favors a “careful and measured” review of the option and possible further reductions in penalties for possession of marijuana.

Bennett said the minimum wage, set to increase to $10.10 per hour in the coming years, should be even higher and suggested there should be a “maximum wage” for the highest paid earners. Linares said he opposed the minimum wage hike adopted earlier this year because Democrats had blocked all amendments to establish a lower starting wage for workers under age 21. Bjornberg said Linares and state Republicans were “fear mongering” on the minimum wage issue and quoted Eleanor Roosevelt’s Depression era comment that “we all do well when we all do well.”

In her closing remarks, Bjornberg called on Linares to agree to hold another campaign debate in one of the northern towns of the sprawling district. Other sessions set for early October are more limited forums that include candidates for state House seats. The 33rd District includes the Town of  Lyme as well as Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep  River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Portland, Westbrook, and sections of Old Saybrook.

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33rd Senate Candidates Clash Over Task Force Appointment in Campaign Debate

Colin Bennett (Green Party), Republican Senator Art Linares and Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg in first campaign debate

Green party candidate Colin Bennett, Republican Senator Art Linares and Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg in first campaign debate

OLD LYME— A legislative appointment to a state task force on children’s jewelry was the focus of the sharpest exchange Tuesday as three candidates for the 12-town 33rd State Senate District seat faced off in the first campaign debate.
Republican State senator Art Linares of Westbrook, Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg of Lyme, and Green Party nominee Colin Bennett of Westbrook appeared before a crowd of nearly 100 voters at the Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School for an hour-long session that was co-sponsored by the New London Day and the League of Women voters. Day editor Paul Chionere posed written questions, most submitted from audience members, to the candidates.

Linares, a 25 year-old incumbent seeking a second term, and Bjornberg, a mother of two who works in the Youth and Family Ministry of Deep River Congregational Church, agreed on some issues, such as support for small businesses, and differed on others, such as the  stricter state gun law enacted last year. Linares had voted against the gun bill, contending it was never fully presented at a public hearing and imposed “unnecessary” restrictions on “law abiding citizens.” Bjornberg, noting she is from a “family of hunters”, said she would have supported the legislation, and contended Linares was not engaged during the crafting and debate on the bill.

Linares called for tighter control over state spending, along with possible reductions in the state gas and sales taxes. Bjornberg promised “fiscal responsibility,” while adding that she would “not balance the budget on the backs of children and senior citizens.”

But it was a question on the environment that prompted the sharpest exchange of the session, with Bjornberg contending a Linares appointment to a 16-member state task force reviewing the safety of children’s jewelry, particularly the presence of cadmium in the jewelry, showed a lack of concern for the environment and children’s safety.

As the ranking Republican member of the Children’s Committee, Linares was appointed to the task force, or allowed to designate a member in his place. Linares named Brent Cleaveland, the executive director of the Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association of  Rhode Island.

Bjornberg said Cleaveland is a paid lobbyist for the children’s jewelry business, and has publicly opposed limits on the mineral cadmium in jewelry.  She noted that cadmium has been listed as a potential human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, and also claimed that Cleaveland has publicly downplayed the hazards of lead. Bjornberg raised this issue during the exchange on the environment, and again in the final minutes of the debate.
Linares said Cleaveland is “an advocate for making children’s jewelry safe.”  Linares also contended a bill that Bjornberg had expressed support for, to ban all pesticides from high school athletic fields, would have imposed a costly new mandate on schools districts in the 33rd District.

Bennett, a substitute teacher who has run for the seat previously on the Green Party line, avoided direct criticism of the two major party candidates. Bennett said he was uncertain whether he would have supported the 2013 gun law, but expressed opposition to plans to expand natural gas service in Connecticut because much of the gas is produced through hydraulic fracking. Bennett also called for expanded investments in clean energy technology and legalization of the recreational use of marijuana as economic development measures for the state.

Bennett will also participate in a second debate scheduled for Tuesday Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. at Valley Regional High School in Deep River. Another debate sponsored by the Westbrook Council of Beaches is scheduled for Oct. 6 at the Mulvey Municipal Building in Westbrook. The 33rd District includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook and sections of Old Saybrook.

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State House Candidates Stone, Carney Debate Tonight in Old Lyme, 7pm; Also, State Senate Candidates Linares, Bjornberg at 8pm

Challenger Emily Bjornberg (D)

Challenger Emily Bjornberg (D)

State Senator Art Linares

State Senator Art Linares (R)

Republic State Senators Art Linares and Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg have agreed to at least three public debates for their election contest in the 12-town 33rd Senate district, though Bjornberg is calling for at least one more face-off to be held in one of the northern towns of the district.

In a separate campaign development, Colin Bennett of Westbrook has been endorsed the receive the Green Party line on the Nov. 4 ballot. Bennett has run for the seat several times as the Green Party nominee in past elections where former Democratic State Sen. Eileen Daily of Westbrook faced Republican challengers.

The Green Party has secured a ballot line in the district with past campaigns by Bennett, and particularly with the 2012 contest after Daily’s retirement where Melissa Schlag of Haddam won nearly ten percent of the vote as the Green Party candidate in the contest with Linares and Democratic nominee Jim Crawford of Westbrook. Schlag was elected last year as the Democratic first selectwoman of Haddam, and is supporting Bjornberg in this year’s election.

Bennett is not believed to be waging an active campaign for the Nov. 4 vote, but he has been included in at least one of the Linares-Bjornberg debates. Bennett has been invited to participate in a Sept. 23 debate at Valley Regional High School in Deep River that is sponsored by the Essex Library. The debate begins at 7 p.m. in the school auditorium, with written questions from the audience that will be screened by the debate moderator, Essex Librarian Richard Conroy.

Devin Carney (R)

Devin Carney (R)

Mary Stone (D)

Mary Stone (D)

The first campaign face off between the one-term Republican incumbent and Bjornberg, of Lyme, will be held Tuesday, Sept. 16, at the Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School in Old Lyme. The session, sponsored by the New London Day and the Eastern Chamber of Commerce, begins at 8 p.m.  The evening starts at 7 p.m. with a debate between the candidates for the 23rd House seat currently held by Marilyn Giuliano.  Democrat Mary Stone of Old Lyme will face off against Republican Devin Carney of Old Saybrook.  The 23rd seat covers Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook and the southern section (south of I 95) of Westbrook.

Old Lyme is part of the 20th Senate District, but Lyme, its northern neighbor, is in the 33rd District. The district also includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Portland, Westbrook, and parts of Old Saybrook.

The candidates will also appear at a debate sponsored by the Westbrook Council of Beaches in early October, and at a forum, not a debate, sponsored by the Chester-Deep River-Essex chapter of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce on the morning of Oct. 3 at the Chester Meeting House.

Bjornberg this week urged Linares to agree to hold one additional public debate in one of the five northern towns of the district, Colchester, East Haddam, East Hampton, Haddam, or Portland. Bjornberg said she would keep her schedule open for a northern town debate

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Essex Town Meeting Gives Unanimous Approval for $200,000 Contribution to Preserve Land Purchase

ESSEX— Voters at a town meeting Wednesday gave unanimous approval for a $200,000 appropriation as the town’s contribution for purchase of the 70-acre portion of the Preserve property in Essex. More than 100 residents turned out for the meeting in the town hall auditorium, with a round of applause following approval of the funding on a voice vote without discussion.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said the $200,000 would come from an open space acquisition sinking fund available in the current town budget. The town meeting vote ends years of debate about the wooded property that includes the Essex acreage off Ingham Hill Road that had been the subject of a subdivision application in 2011.

Paul Greenberg with the Essex Land Trust, said the non-profit group is expected to at least match the town contribution for purchase of the portion of the property in Essex. Greenberg said the Trust has applied for a state grant of up to $350,000 that is awarded in October. He said the Trust would also use private fundraising for the purchase.

Old Saybrook voters in a July 8 referendum approved $3 million in bonding for purchase of the much larger 930-acre section of the property in their town. State bond funds will also be used for the total $8 million purchase, which is being coordinated by the non-profit Trust For Public Land. The purchase of the total 1,000-acre property for preservation as public open space is expected to close by the end of the year.

Greenberg said the Essex section of the property would be owned by the Essex Land Trust, while the larger Old Saybrook portion would be co-owned by that town and the state. Greenberg said access to the property from Essex would be off Ingham Hill Road, with trails in to the property to be improved for greater public access next year.

Selectman Bruce Glowac, who lives on Ingham Hill Road, spoke for the crowd when he expressed appreciation for the public acquisition of the total property. “We look forward to having 1,000 acres in the town next to us and in our town,” he said.

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Old Saybrook Voters Give Overwhelming Approval for $3 Million in Bonding for Preserve Land Purchase

Polling taking place at the Old Saybrook High School. (Photo by Jerome Wilson)

Polling taking place at the Old Saybrook High School. (Photo by Jerome Wilson)

Voters Tuesday gave overwhelming approval for $3 million in bonding for the town’s share of a planned $8 million purchase of the Preserve property, described as the “1,000 acre forest.” The bonding for the 930 acres located in Old Saybrook was approved on a 2,002 – 242 vote in an eight-hour referendum.

About 20 percent of the town’s 7,361 registered voters turned out for the referendum, with 115 property owners who are not registered voters in Old Saybrook also casting ballots. The bonding approval is the key element in a combination of funding sources that is expected to lead to a closing on the property by the end of the year.

First Selectman Carl Fortuna said he was not surprised by the huge margin of support. “This has been a generational issue in this town and it’s finally being put to bed,” Fortuna said, adding that he was aware of no organized opposition to the bonding authorization while, “There was certainly organized support.”

The parcel, which includes 70 acres in Essex and four acres in Westbrook, is located off Bokum Road and Ingham Hill Road in Old Saybrook and Ingham Hill Road in Essex. The property had been the subject of development proposals dating back to 1999 that once called for over 200 homes and a golf course. It is currently owned by River Sound Development/Lehman Brothers, with the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers setting the stage for negotiations that led to a purchase plan earlier this year. The purchase negotiations were coordinated by the non-profit Trust For Public Land.

Along with the Old Saybrook contribution, the plan calls for about $3.3 million in state funding and about $1.9 million from the Trust For Public Land. Essex voters will be asked at a July 16 town meeting to approve a $200,000 town funding contribution, with the Essex Land Conservation Trust also contributing through private fund raising. The Essex town meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at town hall.

Fortuna said the acreage in Old Saybrook would be co-owned by the town and the state. The Essex Land Conservation Trust will own the section of the property in Essex. Fortuna said trails through the vast property should be improved and ready for public use by the summer of 2015.

Supporters of the referendum near the polling station (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Supporters of the referendum near the polling station. (Photo by Jerome Wilson)

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Nominating Conventions Set Up Contest Between Incumbent Linares (R), Newcomer Bjornberg (D) in 33rd District

Democrats have nominated political newcomer Emily Bjornberg of Lyme to challenge one-term incumbent Republican State Senator Art Linares of Westbrook in the 12-town 33rd Senate district.

Bjornberg, 33, was the unanimous choice of the 45 delegates gathered for the Democratic convention at the Old Town Hall in Haddam. Linares, 25, was nominated by delegates at the May 12 Republican convention at the Riverhouse in Haddam.

Linares, cofounder of a Middletown-based solar energy company, was elected in a three-way contest in 2012, succeeding a 20-year Democratic incumbent, former Sen. Eileen Daily of Westbrook. Ljnares defeated Jim Crawford of Westbrook, who was then serving as a state representative, on a 23,915-21,251 vote in a race where an active Green Party candidate, Melissa Schlag of Haddam, garnered 4,317 votes. Schlag later rejoined the Democratic Party was elected last year as first selectwoman of Haddam, She was present at the convention Monday to support Bjornberg.

Also offering support at the convention was Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, telling delegates “we’re finally going to get someone who will replace Eileen Daily.” Bjornberg was nominated by Crawford, with seconding remarks from Mary Ellen Klinck of East Haddam, who competed with Crawford for the party nomination at an August 2012 Democratic primary, and Daily.

Bjornberg, the married mother of two grown children, contended Linares’s views and votes over the part 18 months are “clearly out of step with the majority of his constituents.” She cited Linares vote against raising the minimum wage, and opposition to bills that included grant funding for local projects in the district.

Bjornberg said Linares would often vote against total funding bills, and then claim credit for grants that are awarded for projects in district towns. “I will be a strong voice for our district inside the majority caucus,” she said.

Linares was nominated last week by former state representative and environmental protection commissioner Sidney Holbrook of Westbrook, with seconding remarks by Carl Chuznik of Portland. Linares told the delegates he would continue efforts to improve the business climate in Connecticut and support policies that provide more flexibility and local control in education.

The 33rd Senate District includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex,, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook, and sections of Old Saybrook.

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Emily Bjornberg of Lyme Declares Democratic Candidacy for 33rd State Senate Seat

Emily Bjornberg, State Senate candidate.  Photo by Jerome Wilson.

Emily Bjornberg, State Senate candidate. Photos by Jerome Wilson.

With three 2012 election rivals and the district’s former 20-year Democratic senator looking on, Emily Bjornberg of Lyme Monday declared her candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the 12-town 33rd State Senate District. Bjornberg will challenge the first term incumbent elected in 2012, Republican State Senator Art Linares of Westbrook.

About 50 friends and supporters turned out for Bjornberg’s announcement at the Deep River Town Landing on the banks of the Connecticut River. Bjornberg, 33, was joined by her husband, Jason, an Iraq War veteran, and children Elliot (age 7), and Anna (age 4).

But it was the other participants at the announcement that signaled district Democrats have united behind Bjornberg in an effort to reclaim the senate seat. There was former ten-term State Senator Eileen Daily of Westbrook, who had represented the district for two decades before her retirement in 2012, and two former candidates who faced off in an August 2012 primary for the nomination to succeed Daily, former state Rep. James Crawford of Westbrook, and longtime party activist Mary Ellen Klinck of East Haddam. Crawford won the nomination in the primary.

Also standing near the podium was Haddam First Selectwoman Melissa Schlag. Elected as first selectwoman as a Democrat last November, Schlag had run an aggressive campaign for the senate seat in 2012 as the nominee of the Green Party. Linares, at age 24, won the seat in 2012, defeating Crawford on a 23,915 to 21,251 vote. Schlag received 4,317 votes as the Green Party candidate.

Endorsement of Bjornberg's candidacy by Haddam First Selectman Melissa Schlag, a ranking woman office holder.

Endorsement of Bjornberg’s candidacy by Haddam First Selectman Melissa Schlag, a ranking woman office holder.

Schlag Monday pledged to actively support Bjornberg in the challenge to the incumbent Republican. “We’re all together again,” she said. Klinck said Bjornberg was “a true social justice Democrat,” who would appeal to young people in the campaign. Daily described Bjornberg as “a very sound Democrat with a huge social conscience that we can all be proud of,” while Crawford said Bjornberg would bring the Linares record on various issues “into the daylight.”

Former State Senator Eileen Daily endorsing Bjornberg's candidacy for her former seat.

Former State Senator Eileen Daily  (extreme left, back row) endorsing Bjornberg’s candidacy for her former seat.

Bjornberg is from the Reynolds family that owns and operates the Reynolds Subaru dealership in the Hamburg section of Lyme. She has worked for the past eight years as Director of Youth and Family Ministries for the Deep River Congregational Church, and is also active with the Lyme Land Conservation Trust.

Bjornberg pledged an active campaign for the Nov. 4 election, citing education, the environment, and the economy as the three top issues.. “I will be a strong voice for our region in the majority caucus, where important policy and legislative decisions are made,” she said, adding “we can no longer afford to be represented by a senator who did not receive a majority of votes in the last election, and who routinely votes against legislation that will benefit our towns.”

Bjornberg is expected to receive an uncontested endorsement for the Democratic nomination at the district nominating convention on May 19. Linares is expected to be nominated for a second term by district Republicans at a May 12 convention. The 33rd Senate District includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook, and portions of Old Saybrook.

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Residents Ask For Compromise on Chester-Hadlyme Ferry Fare Hike

ferry 2CHESTER— Residents called for compromise Wednesday at an informational meeting on a proposal to double fares for the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, urging state Department of Transportation officials to consider a smaller increase in the fare for crossing the Connecticut River on the historic ferry. About 40 residents, most of them from Chester and Lyme, turned out for the session at the Chester Meeting House.

Two years after a move to close the state’s two seasonal river ferries drew widespread public opposition, DOT has proposed a doubling of the fares for the Chester-Hadlyme and Glastonbury-Rocky Hill ferries from $3 to $6 for vehicles and $1 to $2 for walk-on passengers. Monthly coupon books for frequent users would also double from $40 to $80. Informational meetings on the proposal were held this week in Chester and Rocky Hill.

DOT Commissioner James Redeker told the crowd that while ridership on the two ferries has remained steady since 2011, the operating deficit for the service has increased to about $650,000 per year, and would remain around $500,000 per year even with a doubling of the fares. Redeker said the state has spent $499,000 over the past two years to install new engines in three of the ferry boats. He said fares for the ferries have not increased since August 2003.

But the commissioner also stressed that a final decision to double the fares has not yet been made. “This was really just a stalking horse proposal that was put out to get some feedback,” Redeker said, adding that the department understands the value of the historic seasonal ferries for tourism in Connecticut. “We’re not insisting the ferries should make money,” he said.

At Redeker’s urging, several residents offered suggestions for a smaller increase. Curt Michael, president of the Hadlyme Public Hall Association, suggested starting with a fare of $4 or $4.50 for vehicles, and $2 for walk-on passengers. The Hadlyme Public Hall Association had circulated petitions against the fare increase that garnered more than 900 signatures.

Elected officials also objected to the amount of the increase, while also acknowledging that a smaller fare hike may be needed to sustain the service. Chester First Selectman Edmund Meehan and Lyme First Selectman Ralph Eno each said the boards of selectmen in the two towns has approved resolutions opposing the fare increase. Meehan also presented a statement from the 17-town Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments opposing the increase and calling for completion of a “cost benefit analysis” before any fare hikes are implemented.

Meehan said a doubling of the fare to $6 per vehicle “would be counterproductive,” and could lead to a decrease in ridership that would jeopardize the future of the ferries. Eno agreed, declaring “we want to build ridership, not chase them away.”

With the two informational hearings completed, DOT officials are expected to review options and public input before announcing a final decision later this year on any fare hikes for the two river ferries.

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Ivoryton’s Copper Beech Inn Expected to Reopen in May After Foreclosure

Signs with a Story: The Copper Beech Inn, Ivoryton – The Copper Beech Inn nder New Management (Photo by Jerome Wilson)

Signs with a Story: The Copper Beech Inn in Ivoryton  is under new management and will re-open in four weeks according to the signs (Photo by Jerome Wilson)

The Copper Beech Inn in the Ivoryton section is expected to reopen in May under new owners, including former East Hampton builder and developer Wayne Rand.  The inn at 46 Main Street, which included two restaurants, closed in February.

The closing followed a foreclosure action in November where Ivoryton-Main LLC of East Hampton foreclosed on CBI Acquisitions of Old Saybrook.  The foreclosure on the partnership that was run by Ian and Barbara Phillips of Old Saybrook lists several other creditors, including Farmington Bank and the state Department of Revenue Services.  CBI Acquisitions had owned the 6.9-acre property since 2006.

Along with the historic inn, the property included two others buildings with rooms for rent, the newest constructed about five years ago.  A fine dining restaurant, called the Copper Beech Inn, had operated in conjunction with the inn under various owners for nearly 40 years, with a separate French bistro-style restaurant called Pips Brasserie added in 2007.

One of the partners in Ivoryton-Main LLC is Wayne Rand, a former East Hampton resident who runs the Rand Construction Company.  Rand currently lives in the former Castle Inn on Long Island Sound in Old Saybrook, which he converted to a private residence.  Workers, including some who identified Rand as the new owner, have been on the site since the beginning of the month, when a sign was posted announcing, “Closed for renovations- reopening in four weeks.”

In a brief interview at the site Saturday, Rand confirmed that he and other partners in Ivoryton-Main LLC held some of the debt on the property.  He said the inn and at least one restaurant are expected to reopen in early May.  Another sign announcing a pending application to the Connecticut Liquor Control Commission lists Michael Fitzgerald as the prospective permittee for the restaurant’s bar.

Rand referred any further comment on the planned reopening to Claudio Marasco of Westbrook, who is the vice presdient, chief financial officer, and general counsel for Waters Edge Resort and Spa on the waterfront in Westbrook.

But when contacted Monday, Marasco declined to elaborate on his connection to Rand and Ivoryton-Main LLC.  He said Water’s Edge Resort and Spa is not involved with the planned use of the Ivoryton property, which is assessed at $1,540,900 on the current grand list of taxable property.

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33rd District Republican State Senator Art Linares Jr. Assigned to Four Legislative Committees

State Senator Art Linares

State Senator Art Linares

Republican State Senator Art Linares Jr. has been assigned to the Legislature’s Banking, Commerce, and Education committees, along with the Select Committee on Children, as he prepares to take office representing the 33rd Senate District when the 2013 legislative session opens Wednesday.

Linares, a 24-year old Westbrook resident, was elected in November to the 33rd District seat held for two decades by former Democratic State Senator Eileen Daily of Westbrook. Linares defeated Democrat Jim Crawford and Green Party nominee Melissa Schlag to become the first Republican elected in the district since former State Senator Ed Munster of Haddam held the seat from 1990-1992. The district includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook and portions of Old Saybrook.

In the committee assignments announced by Republican Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, Linares was named as ranking Republican member for the Banking Committee and the Select Committee on Children, while receiving a spot on the Commerce and Education committees.

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