Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom is running for reelection this fall, seeking a third term in the office. The Republican incumbent is facing off against Democrat Mark Bettencourt, who serves as Norwich City Council President Pro Tempore and lost to Nystrom in the 2009 Norwich mayoral race. In 2017, Nystrom was elected with 57 percent of the vote.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Nystrom about why he’s seeking a third term, and what he’s proudest of during his tenure as mayor.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What led you to run for a third term as mayor of Norwich?
I’m running because I know that I’m the right person to keep working here. I was born and raised here, and my kids were born and raised here, and we’re all graduates of Norwich Free Academy, which is one of the best high schools in the country. I have strong relationships with state officials and the Governor from my 18 years serving in the statehouse. I’m out in our community every day working on major projects with the public to make a difference.
What has being involved in the community helped you accomplish for Norwich?
I’m not asked or required to attend meetings of neighborhood watch groups, but I choose to show up, because I want to know the needs of the community. At one of those meetings, I learned that there were concerns about plans to put a second full regulation court in a playground in Taftville, because it would have consumed the field that’s there and people wouldn’t have had that open space for other types of recreation. I worked with the neighborhood watch and fire department to find a better home for the second court, and we have league play there so there’s lots of demand for court time, but I listened to people and what their wishes were so everyone could get what they needed.
What are some of the projects you’re proudest of from your time as mayor?
Last summer, there were protests after George Floyd lost his life, and our city united together. Members of our police department and the leaders of the protests wanted to go beyond just hearing people’s concerns, so they formed an organization. Now, there are weekly discussions and monthly programs, like one called Coffee with a Cop. Police officers have a very strong presence in the community, not just when they’re working. No one was talking about de-funding the police. A lot of the things passed in the police accountability bill that departments were required to do were already in place here in Norwich. For example, de-escalation training has been the norm in Norwich for four to five years already.
Your opponent mentioned your relationship with the Board of Education as one area where he’d want to make changes. How do you feel about where that relationship stands now?
The relationship with the Board of Education is better today, because we have a new superintendent who’s been here for a couple of years. The board has been overspending their budget, but the board is run by the Democratic party, not us. In 2018, there was a Democratic majority that came up with a 9 percent request, and it wasn’t sustainable. At the end of the whole budget process, they didn’t make any spending reductions. They left everything on paper as if they were going to continue to spend money they weren’t appropriated, and it increased the tax burden on the city.
How specifically did Norwich’s property tax rate change?
When I was mayor during the first term from 2010 to 2013, the mill rate was 27.38 mills. In just a few years, it went up to 40.9, because the Democrats didn’t make any effort to reduce spending. Mark Bettencourt wants people to think he cares about fiscal austerity, but that’s not true. A city has contracts and obligations, like salary and benefit costs, and a lot of those are fixed. You have to make an effort to reduce spending every single year, and they didn’t even bother.
What are some other differences between you and your opponent that you’d like voters to keep in mind?
He says he works with everybody, but his party doesn’t work with Republicans at all. He may claim he can, but the party doesn’t, as a matter of history and voting record. For example, they just decided to block a vote on the first round of American Rescue Plan funding, and didn’t tell me or the city manager they were doing that, they just sprung it out in the meeting. Shouldn’t we have a dialogue about those decisions? I didn’t disagree with their concern about wanting more public hearings, but they didn’t even share that they were going to block it. Why isn’t there an open flow of information? It’s a problem when you don’t do that.