In a move that surprised some observers of Clinton politics, the expected two-way race for the first selectman’s job in the November election turned into a three-way contest at the last minute.
Vincent Cimino, the chairman of the Republican town committee, filed a petition Wednesday – the last day allowed for such a filing - with the requisite signatures to run without party affiliation as a candidate for first selectman.
Cimino will run against incumbent First Selectman William Fritz, endorsed by the Democratic town committee caucus for a fourth term in office, and Republican Selectwoman Carol Walter, whose nomination was endorsed by the GOP caucus.
Walter said Cimino also had been nominated for first selectman at the party caucus, and he declined the nomination.
“It’s baffling,” she remarked of his decision to run as a petitioning candidate, adding, “I’m trying to avoid any conflict with Mr. Cimino.”
But Cimino explained, “After declining the nomination at the RTC caucus, numerous individuals – Republican, Democrats, and unaffiliated – contacted me and asked me to reconsider running for first selectman.”
He said he petitioned to be included in the race because, “There are numerous serious issues facing this town, and I think I’m the candidate who can turn this town around.”
In addition to Cimino, three other candidates have filed petitions to be placed on the November ballot:
Leonard Cahill, with lengthy service as a selectman and on other town boards and commissions, petitioned to run for the Board of Police Commissioners, on which he currently is filling a vacancy whose term expires this year. The GOP party caucus chose Cimino and Susan Dubey as its candidates for police commission.
Also filing petitions as candidates for the Board of Education were Rachael Rutkis, who is unaffiliated, and Charlene Voyce, a Democrat.
With Cimino’s name appearing twice on the ballot, it may be the first time Clinton voters will have seen a candidate running for an office with a party affiliation, and for another office without a party identity.
Town Clerk Karen Marsden said there is nothing in state statutes or the town charter that would prohibit Cimino from running for both the police commission and first selectman.
“Technically, yes, he can run for both offices," she said. "The charter doesn’t address it, and the statutes don’t prohibit it, but I would think if he won both, he would resign one of them.”
Fritz said he was motivated to run for his fourth term by the accomplishments he sees in Clinton over the past six years. Among them, he says, “Fiscally, the town is in tremendous shape. We’ve been frugal with our money, have a long term fiscal plan, and we’re sticking with it.”
He said his ability to obtain state and federal grants has allowed the town to proceed with an assortment of capital projects.
For the immediate future, Fritz agrees the economy “is a challenge. It was a challenge two years ago, and it still is. We’ve got to find creative ways of providing services without increasing taxes – we can’t increase taxes.”
The closing of the Stanley Bostich plant in Clinton three years ago, and the closing of Unilever next year are a blow to the town’s grand list, but “the bigger impact is to the local economy. The town actually has seen an increase in the number of its smaller businesses, but we need state incentives to help find new tenants” for the Bostich and Unilever properties.
Walter, completing one term on the board of selectmen, sees herself as best qualified to lead the town. “I think I can do a much better job of running the town and its finances than is being done now. I think I’m a breath of fresh air that Clinton needs.”
Walter sees taxes as the principal issue in the coming year.
“The tax rate is too high. We are paying all we can afford and then some,” she said. “I certainly don’t want to see any more increases if they can be avoided.”
“We need to focus on economic development, rather than watching businesses walk away, we have to find ways of bringing them in,” said Walter.
While she said the local GOP is working on ways to encourage economic development, Walter said, “I don’t have any answers for that right now.”