EAST LYME — Republican First Selectman Mark Nickerson won a third full term as the town’s chief executive on Tuesday, but with a thinner margin of victory than in his previous two elections, while town Democrats took a majority on the Board of Finance and made gains on other boards.
The election was set against the backdrop of a partisan debate about plans for a new emergency safety services complex.
“This was a very tough campaign, a very ugly election season,” Nickerson said in a victory speech at Flanders Fish Market. “A lot of ugliness, a lot of Washington-style politics, but that was then, and tomorrow we’re going to go back out, and we’re going to pick up these lawn signs, and we’re going to collaborate, and we’re going to do the right thing for the people. Not for politics. Not for the party. Not for power. But for the people. That’s why this town is so great, because that’s how we’ve always done it.”
During the campaign, Nickerson described himself as an experienced long-term thinker, citing economic revival on Niantic’s Main Street and the establishment of an independent town police force under his term.
Nickerson received 2,811 votes, or about 51.5 percent of those cast, according to results from the town registrar of voters. His opponent, Democrat Camille Alberti, received 2,630, or 48.3 percent.
By comparison, in 2017 Nickerson won over 70 percent of the vote, trouncing Democrat Robert Wesley Firmin III. In 2015, he took 65 percent against Democrat Steve Carpenteri.
Debate during the election season was dominated by discussion of Nickerson’s plan to renovate the former Honeywell office building into a public safety complex for the town’s police and other emergency services. Alberti and other Democratic candidates said that the renovations had been poorly planned financially and cast doubt on the town’s ability to complete the project under budget.
Nickerson said in his speech that renovating the Honeywell building was the right path forward and that it would be done within budget.
“We bought this building and we’re going to get it done,” he said. “We’re going to get it done on budget. We have a great crew of people putting this together. And you know what right? It was the right thing to do. We couldn’t kick the can down the road any longer. We had to go and take this chance. We took our hits tonight because of that, because of the police building. But we were brave enough to stand up and do it. We’re solving the biggest problem that’s been in this town for almost two decades.”
Voters appropriated $5 million for the project in a February referendum. Twice before that in the past 16 years, other efforts to fund a police station failed either at referendum or on board votes.
Nickerson has said repeatedly in public discussions that he plans to request up to a million dollars more — for about $6 million total — to add detention cells and a sally port for police vehicles to the building.
“It’s a good deal,” Nickerson said. “We’re going to get in this building, when we get that other million dollars, for six million dollars or so, to get this building up and running with police and fire marshall and all that and there’s plenty of room to move in our town and grow into, we’re going to do that for less than half the price of building a new one, which is some opponents out there thought that was a better idea.”
To receive that additional funding, he’ll need approval from the Board of Finance, now controlled by Democrats who voiced doubt about the plan during the election.
Democrats win majority on Finance Board, even splits on other boards
The three Democratic candidates for the Board of Finance swept the race for three available seats: Ann M. Cicchiello received 3,108 votes, Richard Steel received 2,676, and Peter Derosa received 2,887. They defeated Republican candidates Lawrence Fitzgerald and Matthew Kane, who received 2,621 and 2,598 votes respectively.
With these wins, Democrats take a 4 to 2 majority on the finance board. Camille Alberti, who was Nickerson’s challenger for first selectman, is an incumbent member of the finance board whose seat was not up for election this year.
The Board of Selectmen will be unchanged by this election, with all incumbents re-elected: Democrat Rose Ann Hardy won 2,839 votes, Republican Marc Salerno 2,686, Democrat Daniel Cunningham 2,669, Republican Kevin Seery 2,638, and Republican Paul Dagle 2,489.
Democratic challenger Jason Harold Deeble received 2,140 votes and will not be seated on the Board of Selectmen.
Three other boards — the Board of Education, Planning Commission, and Zoning Commission — that have been majority Republican will now be evenly split between the two parties due to Democrats gaining additional seats.
On the Board of Education, two new Democrats — Barry Sheckley and Catherine Steel — won seats with 2,781 and 3,156 votes respectively. They’ll be joined on the board by re-elected Democrat Jill Carini, with 3,276 votes, and the re-elected Republicans Jaime Barr Shelburn, with 3,045, and Eric Bauman, with 2,846.
Incumbent Republican Ryan Shrader (2,724 votes) and Democrat Esteban Garcia (2,759 votes) will not be seated on the school board.
In a separate, uncontested race for a two-year term on the Board of Education, incumbent Chair Timothy Hagen, a Republican, was also re-elected.
On the Planning Commission, Democrat Michelle Royce Williams won her first term in her own right, with 3,155 votes, after previously being appointed to fill a vacancy. She’ll be joined by newcomer Democrats Nichole Davison (2,769 votes) and Richard Gordon (2,655 votes). They defeated Republican candidates Donald Phimister (2,267 votes) and David Schmitt (2,503 votes).
In a race for a two-year term on the Planning Commission, Republican Mary Ann Salvatore defeated Democrat Peter Lynch 2,668 to 2,370.
For Planning Commission alternates, Democrats Brian Bohmbach (2,459) and Elizabeth Allen (2,709) as well as Republican Rita Franco Palazzo (2,348) won seats, defeating Republican Griffin J. Woods (2,180).
On the Zoning Commission, Democrats Anne Thurlow (3,306 votes), William Dwyer (3,283 votes), and Terence Donovan (2,993 votes) defeated Republican George McPherson, 2,681.
For one available seat on the Zoning Commission alternate, Democrat Denise Markovitz defeated Republican Tracey Lizza 2,571 to 2,341.
Alberti looks forward to working with Nickerson
Alberti said Tuesday night that she had conceded, congratulated Nickerson on his win, and looked forward to working with him as a member of the Board of Finance for the next two years. She said she was also pleased with Democrats’ gains on different boards and commissions.
“It was a competitive race, and I’m glad to have entered it just a few short weeks ago,” she said. “It’s important to give people a choice, and I believe our town will be stronger because of it.”
In his victory speech to supporters at Flanders Fish Market, Nickerson thanked his team and encouraged them to dream big and work hard.“We dreamed big, and we’re delivering,” he said. “And while we didn’t win every seat tonight, we’re also not going to fail this town. We’re going to get a police building built, and I’m so happy that we’re beyond this. We’re just going to go to work and get it done, together as a team we are successful.”
This story was corrected at 6:35 a.m. to reflect that Barry Sheckley, not Esteban Garcia, won a seat on the Board of Education.