Democrat Sean Donlan is challenging incumbent Republican Robert McGarry in the race for Haddam First Selectman. McGarry was first elected in 2019, with 62 percent of the vote.
In the 2020 elections, the town voted for Democrats Joe Biden and Joe Courtney at the national level, and Republicans Brendan Saunders and Robert Siegrist for the state legislature.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Donlan about his priorities if elected.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Why did you decide to run for Haddam First Selectman?
I’m very passionate about Haddam. My kids are who they are because they grew up in Haddam, and I think Haddam can be one of the most desirable towns in the state to live in. I think we need to do so much better in promoting that and making Haddam a more desirable place.
We’re at a point where we’re behind in our town, and we need to take action. We just lost one of our schools due to enrollment going down, and some of our commercial buildings are empty. We have to make it more attractive, and take action to help businesses and landlords attract the type of businesses people in Haddam want.
Why do you feel qualified to run Haddam?
I’ve been an advocate for my clients for 20 years, so I think it’s natural for me to want to take those skills and put them to work for the residents of Haddam. Prior to being in law, I majored in entrepreneurial studies and economics, and I worked as a business consultant. That uniquely allows me to understand the economics behind running a town and a budget. I also have experience with being part of Haddam politics, because I served on the Economic Development Commission, served as selectman for eight years, and did one term on the Board of Finance. I have also been involved in various organizations in town.
How would you differentiate your governing style from your opponent?
I don’t want to say anything disparaging or negative about the current First Selectman or any from the past. I’m not saying they were deficient in any way, I’m just expressing my own perspective.
I view the First Selectman’s office as a place where you have to be aggressive and advocate and be pro-active for your town. I don’t view the First Selectman’s job as a ceremonial position for somebody to sit back and react to things. The last few administrations have taken inaction when they should have taken more action, and have deferred to the town planner or other people to make decisions when really, it should be the First Selectman driving that agenda.
Are there any specific decisions you’ve seen First Selectman McGarry make that you would’ve handled differently, had you been in office?
I would have acquired various pieces of property that we had the opportunity to acquire in the past. When I was a selectman for the town, I advocated for trying to acquire Eagle Landing. The state controls Eagle Landing, and they have done nothing to improve it. If it was town property, we could have improved it, but the First Selectman did not make the decision to go after that.
The last time I was on the board, I advocated for better cell service in town and public Wi-Fi so we could make it easier for people to have businesses in town. Those are decisions I would have made in the past that probably would have been implemented today had we not waited.
What are your goals for Haddam’s economic development?
I want to focus on getting us to a financial position where, as a town, we can control our future, rather than allowing businesses and developers to come in and dictate what will happen in our town. At this point, with so much of the tax burden on the homeowners, you get to a situation where you have to look at anybody who comes in, and we don’t want to do that.
What types of businesses would you like to see moving to Haddam?
When you have a commercial building and have retail business in there, that retail business does not pay any taxes on inventory, just equipment. The businesses you want are businesses that have machines and equipment, because one manufacturing or molding machine could be valued at millions of dollars. If they have that machine, you get taxes on that value. Businesses that have valuable machines and equipment on the premises that we can tax are the businesses you want to be in your industrial park to give you a strong financial base.