Democrat Chet Bialicki is running for First Selectman of Westbrook, a seat left vacant by the retirement of longtime Republican First Selectman Noel Bishop.
Bialicki, Westbrook High School’s teen leadership coordinator, is running against Republican nominee John Hall, who has served on the Board of Selectmen for 10 years.
Why did you decide to run for Westbrook First Selectman?
I’ve been a teacher in Westbrook for 44 years, and I have a passion for the town. I always have. My involvement in education has always been more than just work within the walls of the school itself. I write grants putting students into job placements over the summer for training with local businesses, and many of the things I do lead to deeper connections to the community.
Eighteen years ago, I ran for second selectman, and lost by three votes. It was bittersweet, because 18 years ago, I was in a different situation than I am now, because I’m currently in a position where I could retire from the school to help the town move forward.
It’s going to be very difficult for me to leave my students, because that’s my passion in life, but I’m also working on coming up with creative ways to still be able to connect with students and graduates at a higher level from Town Hall.
I’ve been working here for 44 years, and I’ve always said that the day you stop learning is the day you should retire. I’ve never stopped learning, but I want to take what I’ve learned to Town Hall. The town has felt stagnant for a long time, and I want to see the town moving again, which it hasn’t been doing in the last ten years.
Tell me more about why you think Westbrook has been stagnant for the last decade.
I don’t see boards and commissions working together, or people in Town Hall working together. I’m not always seeing happy faces around. I believe that with my people skills, I could unite boards and commissions and Town Hall, and we could make movement and progress in the areas we need to give attention to.
Primarily, town center needs a tremendous amount of work, and it needs an incentive to move forward for revitalization and restructuring. We have a number of committees working independently on the town center, and they’re doing a great job, but it’s going to cost money. I have the expertise and talents and connections with grants to get the finances necessary to move the project along so we can bring in economic development and bring pride to the town.
How has your experience as a longtime educator prepared you to lead Westbrook?
I have been leading a school climate venture and social emotional learning enhancement in our high school for the last 10 years. I have built structure with students, faculty and parents to enhance emotional learning among our students and staff. I trained through the National School Climate Center in Manhattan, and have a certificate from the Flippen Group, which is an organization for building people skills that has worked with Fortune 500 companies. I’ve gone across the state in the last five years, reaching over 2,000 adults and students, and bringing techniques to enhance social emotional learning and school climate to their districts. I worked with the state Department of Education, with probably a dozen school districts in the state, collaborating with them about how to build a more supportive climate. I can bring this to the community, to Town Hall, and use my people skills to move things forward.
In your years of observing how Noel Bishop has run Westbrook, have there been any situations where he’s made a decision that you would have handled differently?
It’s hard, because I have to be political in this response, but I like Noel Bishop, I really do. I dealt with him my entire career as he was First Selectman, and if there’s any difference between us, it’s that I will be taking a more hands-on, active approach. I believe in being out in the community, and will create a forum for the community to respond to me and ask me questions. I guarantee I will be out on a daily basis, and will visit as many businesses in town as possible. I will keep that on an ongoing level, will walk the streets and talk to our citizens, and I feel like we’ve been getting away from that.
How would you differentiate yourself from your opponent, John Hall?
It’s hard for me to comment on John because I haven’t really worked with him or even really seen him in action that much, but I would say that we differ in our personalities. I’m a person that believes in listening, and sometimes decisions in Westbrook have been made without listening.
I’m going to be cautious with spending, but my focus is going to be on improvement, and I’m going to find ways for improvement without raising our taxes. Other than the sidewalks, I’m not seeing a tremendous amount of improvement going on in our community in the present time.
What role do you see national politics or party identification playing in local races like this?
I know there are parties, and there have to be parties, but for 44 years, I’ve dealt with thousands and thousands of parents and students, and we didn’t talk about party preferences. We all moved forward successfully. I’m looking to stop the us vs. them in our community and looking to go for the we. While there is a strong influence from national level down to the local level, on the local level, I see people looking at the individual. I see people looking and saying, I know this person, I know what they can do, and I either do or don’t have trust in this individual. On the local level, people value the personal connections more than the national party.