Scott Jezek, an East-Haddam-based attorney, is the Democratic candidate for first selectman, competing against State Rep. Irene Haines, the Republican candidate, who currently represents Colchester, East Haddam, East Hampton at the State Capitol. The Connecticut Examiner sat down with Jezek to talk about what inspired his run, what differentiates him from his opponent, and what his priorities would be in office.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What inspired your run for first selectman?
I’m a lifelong East Haddam resident. I have a long history with the East Haddam Lions Club, a service organization I’ve been a part of for over 40 years. When I first became involved, one of the things we did was delivering food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas right to people’s houses. I remember going to a couple of houses on my first trip out, and they were houses that had water boiling on the stove and cellophane on the windows and ovens open, and when I got back to our headquarters, I mentioned to the senior guys in the club, what was that all about? They said, that’s why you’re in the Lions Club, because there are a lot of people in East Haddam that don’t have the benefits that you and I do. I was a brand new lawyer at the time, and that’s just stayed with me all of these years.
I’ve tried to live my life according to the idea that there are people that don’t have what you have. I’m a hands-on, boots-on-the-ground community member. I’ve served and done either physical work or pro bono work for every entity in East Haddam, bar none. It doesn’t matter to me what your group was or what your party was, I help everyone.
How did you decide to get into local politics?
Over the last few years in town, politics has become so partisan and acrimonious that it’s offensive to most people. Because of my background and the people I know here, I think I can help fix that. As an attorney, you have to know how to negotiate and build consensus, and that’s a skill set I have and can bring to bear on any of the issues that are affecting the town now and yet to come. I’ve had to be able to get along with people. I also have an understanding of how municipal government works. I represented the board of selectmen of the town of Lyme, which has a similar form of government to East Haddam, for about 25 years, through three different administrations, so that has given me a sense of how the position works and what the responsibilities are. I also served for that long, if not longer, as counsel to the revenue collector for the town of East Haddam, and it gave me insight throughout the years into a lot of the difficulties and struggles that people in East Haddam have. I have seen the hardship that the tax burden can have on the average citizen today and how difficult it can be to keep up. Also, a lot of my litigation is in affordable housing and land use, and about 15 years ago, the first selectman of Lyme asked me and another Lyme resident to come up with an affordable housing plan for the town. It became a model used in many communities in Connecticut. I’d like to see the town of East Haddam, which is struggling now to figure out affordable housing, look at a program along the lines of the one I devised in the town of Lyme.
Your opponent, Irene Haines, would serve in the first selectman and state representative roles simultaneously. Would you continue working in your law firm if elected first selectman?
If I am to be elected, I will be a full-time first selectman. I made arrangements at a law firm close to two years ago to allow for my standing aside in the event that I was elected first selectman. I would treat the position as the primary thing I would be doing. A first selectman job is not a nine-to-four job. There may be days when you have to be on the job for 12 hours for days on end if there’s a problem. Years ago, it may have been a part time job, but today that’s not the case. Anyone I’ve worked with in that position over the years has treated it as a full-time job, and I think that’s a necessity.
Are there any issues you would have handled differently had you been first selectman for the last few years?
We had an opportunity in East Haddam to purchase Goodspeed Airport, which was offered to the town, and for reasons that are obscure to me, it never even got to a point where residents in town had an opportunity to weigh in. I’m disappointed that it did not get brought to a vote at any point.
What are some of the biggest issues in town that you’d be dealing with as first selectman?
The biggest short term issue is that we can’t get a budget approved right now. The budget we have now is a good budget, and it should be approved, but it went down to a huge defeat at the polls. It was not as well-presented as it should have been, and I think it was treated too casually in the presentation process. It will get approved, but I think it should have been communicated better.
The biggest long term issue has to do with the potential sale of 2.7 acres of land in East Haddam, and I think for any project in town to be successful, it has to do two things. It has to incorporate the views of Goodspeed, because they are the center of East Haddam, and it has to stay on the tax rolls. I did the Goodspeed actor housing campus, a project no one ever thought could get approved, so I’m familiar with what their needs are and how that operation works. Whether the town leases the property it currently owns, sells it outright, or gives to Goodspeed, it doesn’t matter to me as long as it stays on the tax rolls, because that’s what we need here in East Haddam. We’ve had a real issue with some properties that have gone to open space or non-taxpaying entities, and it’s really had an impact on our budget.