Next Monday, May 1, promises to be a bit of a nail biter; in particular for the candidates for first selectman, Beth Heller and Tony Anastasio — and by extension for those who have been campaigning by their side. Monday is municipal Election Day in Woodbridge, and residents have a chance to pick new leadership for the town. Voting will take place at the Center gym, across from the library on Meetinghouse Lane. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
[Two days later, on Wednesday, May 3, residents again are asked to vote at the Center Gym, this time for the proposed 2017-18 Amity school district budget. The details are available on the District website, at http://www.amityregion5.org/ under the BOE drop-down menu.]
Heller heads the Democrats’ ticket, Anastasio that of the Republican slate. Both are currently serving on the Board of Selectmen and both come with deep roots in the community and years of experience on the board. However, running for the first selectman position means that the candidate with the higher vote count will be the town’s new first selectman, and the other candidate will not be part of the board any longer, at least not until the next election cycle poses another chance.
The campaign season has been relatively peaceful, a few stolen campaign signs notwithstanding. Both Heller and Anastasio have worked together on the Board of Selectmen, and neither is known for narrow partisanship. Yet their leadership styles promise to be different. While Heller emphasizes listening, diversity and inclusiveness as the way to solving the town’s challenges, Anastasio stresses openness and greater transparency, with a proactive management style.
Critical of previous administrations’ handling of political appointments for the various boards and commissions in town, for instance, Tony Anastasio vows to change the process in order to give all nominees a fair shake. The Board of Selectmen appoints volunteers to a number of boards, including the Board of Finance and the Town Plan and Zoning Commission. Nominees are vetted and put forward by the parties, but in the past the majority party would vote in their candidate without consideration of the other party’s nominee. Contention over this practice led to the Republican selectmen “boycotting” the process altogether two years ago. “At first they didn’t even let us read our names,” Anastasio said in a phone conversation. What he would like to see is for both groups to present their candidates and their merits before a vote is taken. In most instances, he predicted, the board will find consensus; if not, majority rule will kick in. Of course, board appointments have to follow state law for minority representation. But, “if it’s just about politics I’m not interested,” he said.
Heller is sympathetic to the Republican point of view. She said if elected, she would have a meeting with the whole board to discuss the process and work to find consensus. “It’s important we are all comfortable with the process,” she said.
Land use issues: Both candidates have been campaigning extensively, going door-to-door as well as holding meet-and-greet events. The question of what to do with the Country Club of Woodbridge is the number one issue people talk about, they say.
The Republican platform is clear on its opposition to any kind of high-density development. Anastasio said he is not fundamentally opposed to selling some plots of the 150-acre property for single-family homes; but he opposes changing the residential zoning currently in place for that area. He is not convinced that the town sufficiently marketed the property to allow golfing or other open space recreational opportunities. If elected, he would make a concerted effort to pursue a potential sale – with an easement to prevent large-scale development. However, if that goes nowhere, by January 2018 he would start planning for recreational uses, such as a dog park, repairs of the outdoor pool and tennis courts.
Heller said she favors exploring the potential recreational uses. She said there are many points of view on this issue, and she would encourage further discussion, but she plans to move on in a timely fashion. “I think we can do a better a job in disseminating facts on the implications of investments that preserve and enhance the quality of life in Woodbridge,” she said in a statement. “I am absolutely confident that a well-informed electorate will choose the option that is best for Woodbridge.”
Budget and taxes: Both candidates pledge to look for efficiencies in town government and keep tax increases low. “Despite our record of strong fiscal management, the current realities in Hartford and Washington will require us to explore new, creative approaches to managing our resources,” Heller said. That’s why the party platform includes financial tools such as vendor consolidation and sharing of services with neighboring towns and the school districts to maximize economy of scale; Heller also wants to continue expanding green energy and energy efficiency measures. Heller promises to partner with the business community in order to address its needs.
Economic development is an important action item on the Republican platform. In fact, Anastasio is suggesting the hiring of a part-time economic development director to help market the town’s commercial area, thereby increasing the tax revenue. Although he does not approve of high-density development, Anastasio would welcome the 137 units of 55-and-up housing project proposed by a group of investors called Woodbridge Village Associates. The permit for this project was recently renewed, although there does not seem to be any immediate interest to start the project. Anastasio would revive the Architectural Review Board to ensure that any development is in keeping in style with the area and town.
School Resource Officer: Both candidates have supported Beecher families who objected to having the school resource officer cut from the budget. ‘Maintaining a safe and secure environment at Beecher Road School is paramount,” Anastasio said. He said the cut came too late in the budgeting process, with very little discussion of the rationale, insufficient public input, and with no direction from the selectmen. “We do not support this cut.” Instead, the town should create a school security strategy, including input from the community. “If it is determined that the on-campus SRO presence is required within our security strategy, then it must remain in the budget,” Anastasio said in a statement.
Heller addressed the police commissioners when they were discussing the cut. “Seeing a police officer at a school is a deterrent to anyone who might do harm to our children,” she said. She said the officer is a reassuring presence to children and faculty. “Most importantly, the presence of the SRO on site could be critical to the outcome if an officer is needed in an emergency.”
Both Heller and Anastasio are presenting new names to represent the town on the Board of Selectmen. There are six candidates, three on each ticket, with the voter asked to choose three. When all votes are counted, the top five vote counts will be seated.
For the Democrats, Teri Schatz, Joe Crisco and Mica Cardozo are ready to serve on the board. Schatz, a mother of three, would represent a demographic that has been missing for a few years; that of young families. She became well known as one of two founders of the Pease Place playground, which, after years of determined lobbying, offers an inclusive and truly magical playground near the Pease Road playing fields. She currently serves on the Commission for Publicly Owned Properties (CUPOP). Teri is a human resources consultant with Human Capital Consulting, LLC. She cited Beth Heller’s support during the playground planning process as being an important factor in agreeing to run for office. “The party thing wasn’t important,” she said. “There are very few partisan issues in this town.”
Joe Crisco, for many years state senator for the 7th District, brings experience and connections to the table. He has been a successful liaison between the town and the state to channel grants back into the community. “I have always been involved in government,” he said.
Mica Cardozo is a regional sales manager with Frontier Communications. He currently serves on the Board of Fire Commissioners. Previously, he served on the Economic Development Commission, where he served as a committed and active liaison between the town and the business community. This is his first run for elected office. He has volunteered for a number of organizations, both locally and regionally, including coaching for Southington Youth Basketball and the JCC Girls Basketball programs.
Running on the Republican ticket are Dave Lober, Spencer Rubin and Joe Dey. Dey is the only incumbent running for reelection to the Board of Selectmen. He and Anastasio connected over opposition to proposed Country Club of Woodbridge development plans as well as many procedural issues. Dey is a lawyer with a practice in Milford.
David Lober is one of two newcomers on the Republican ticket. A life-long Democrat, Lober started getting involved in local politics when the town wrestled with the future of the Country Club of Woodbridge. Opposing the Toll Brothers proposal for development, he found that on the local level his values were well represented by Tony Anastasio and his running mates, so he changed his political affiliation to unaffiliated and joined Anastasio’s ticket to lead the town into the future. In a phone interview, he said the town needs to pay more attention to the business area and its development. He also thinks that the town could do better at getting state and federal grants for projects. As for the Country Club, he personally would like to see it preserved as a golf course. He is hoping that some solution can be found for the 44,000 square foot clubhouse. Herb Newman, the architect who had designed the building, has floated the idea of shaving the upper level off the building and totally refurbishing a smaller version of the building, Lober said. The town should use the STEAP grant earmarked for the old firehouse for a bigger project like that, he said. A retired anesthesiologist, his personal interests are widespread, from woodworking to sports and volunteering.
Spencer Rubin is representing a younger generation of municipal leaders. The 2009 Amity graduate is currently serving as an alternate for the Zoning Board of Appeals. He grew up caddying at the Woodbridge Country Club when he was a teenager and became the Amity golf captain. Currently he serves as press contact at the state Capitol for Rep. Themis Klarides, R-114, and several others.
The Woodbridge Board of Education is a 9-member board, with five positions up for re-election. Therefore, five of the six candidates named on the ballot will be seated. Two of the candidates are seeking reelection, namely Steven Fleischman on the Republican slate and Nancy Yao Maasbach for the Democrats. Newcomers are John Vultee and Meagan Genovese on the Democratic ticket; and Jeff Hughes and Paul Testa for the Republicans. Not running are current board members Lisa Connor, Karen Kravetz and Keri Adams Matthews.
Amity Board of Education: Robyn Berke and incumbent Pat Cardozo are running on the Democratic ticket; Harold Smullen and Robert Rosasco III are running for the Republicans. Two of the four candidates will be seated. Those may or may not be the top vote getters, to satisfy minority representation on the regional board.
Board of Assessment Appeals: Ann Rubin is running for re-election on the Democratic ticket; Beth Walter is the candidate for the Republicans. Voters get to vote for one, but both will be seated.
Zoning Board of Appeals: Three of the six candidates will be seated. Candidates are Jeffrey Atwood, Aldon Hynes and Henry Nusbaum for the Democrats; Wanda Luciani-Kesses, Kim Giangrande and Mary Hill for the Republicans. Alternates: Candidates are Yonatan Zamir (D) and Robert Wiznia ®.