Mike Madru is challenging Ellington First Selectwoman Lori Spielman. Madru entered the race just a few weeks ago after the original Democratic nominee, Charlotte Ward, stepped down due to what she described as a personal medical emergency.
Spielman has led Ellington for three terms, winning reelection most recently against Democratic challenger Peggy Busse in 2019, with more than 60 percent of the vote.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Madru, an insurance industry professional, about his campaign and priorities if elected.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What led you to run for first selectman of Ellington?
The candidate supported by the Democratic Town Committee, who was going to run for First Selectman, ended up not being able to run for personal reasons, so I didn’t get into the race until very late in the game, just a little over two weeks ago.
I hadn’t considered running before then, because I didn’t think there was an opening to run. Still, as a resident, homeowner, and spouse of someone who works in the school system, I’ve had concerns about how the town has been run.
As First Selectman, I’d want to ensure our town finances are set up for a successful future, and I’d leverage my financial background to look at our tax situation and potentially save our residents some money. I have a lot of professional experience and expertise that directly correlates to running the town as first selectman, because I worked as an investment accountant for five years, and then in operational management roles for the last nine years.
My wife is a school teacher at Center School in Ellington, and she was my connection to getting to know Ellington. I started attending town events, like the farmers’ market and the fireman’s carnival, and I knew this was a place we could make our forever home. I know a lot of others already do feel that way about Ellington, but I want everyone to feel that way. I want to make it stronger, safer, more welcoming, and a better place for everybody.
What sets you apart from your opponent?
My biggest thing that would be different would be a focus on a strategic, long-term vision for the community, because I’m not sure we have that right now. There are a lot of things that go into making a vision for a community, and I’m not sure we have that right now. A collective and clearly-defined long term vision for our community is key, and once we establish what that is, we can budget and build for it accordingly.
What are some specific decisions she made that you would have handled differently, had you been in office?
We missed out on an opportunity to take advantage of state general obligation bond money to help better our community. We could’ve used that money to do a lot of good in our community, and we lost out on that. It could have gone towards public safety by adding additional nighttime patrols, or improving air circulation and ventilation in our schools. I don’t know if it was a decision that was made at the town government level due to a lack of clarity or understanding, but we had the opportunity to capitalize on that and did not take advantage of it for whatever reason.
When you think about public safety in Ellington, it seems like you want to increase funding for the police. As a Democrat, what do you think about “defunding the police,” and do you think reallocating funds to other services would help with crime in Ellington?
Ellington is in a very unique situation, because we don’t have our own full time police force, instead relying on State Police, a resident state trooper, and constables. Ellington is a safe community, not a dangerous town at all, but we have seen an increase in small crime, and at the state level, there has been an increase in car theft that is not unique to Ellington. I don’t feel like we are properly staffed or set up to patrol our streets and ensure we’re safeguarding our community on a regular basis. I don’t know if a full-time police force is the answer, though if Ellington continues to grow, that would need to be considered. Still, we have the opportunity to do more for public safety right now with increasing patrols.
Last summer, your opponent was disciplined by the Board of Selectmen after posting a meme on Facebook about Black people and crime. Do you feel that incident was indicative of a racism problem in Ellington, or with the selectwoman?
I think what happened was unfortunate, and I heard a lot of concern about it from neighbors and friends in town. I don’t know Lori personally, and I’ve never even met her on a one-on-one level, so I don’t want to speak to her intentions behind her post without knowing her. I won’t sit here and tell you she intended it in a racist manner because I don’t know her and I wouldn’t be comfortable making that accusation, but I understand why some people interpreted it the way they did.
I’m running to make Ellington a better place for all, and part of that to me means making Ellington a place where people feel welcome and safe and included regardless of their race, ethnicity, background, or sexuality. I’m not trying to say that is not the case today, and I would not describe Ellington as a racist community, since I think it is largely a very welcoming community. Still, there is always room to improve.
You mentioned that you’d leverage your financial background to decrease the tax burden on residents. Do you see specific areas in the local budget that could be cut?
I think there are opportunities to utilize funds, like the general obligation bonds or COVID relief, to offset things currently funded by taxpayer dollars. I also think that, for example, I previously lived in Windsor Locks, where bulk waste pickup happened on certain days of the month. Here, it’s on-demand, and I’d like to understand if there’s a cost associated with that, and if that’s something we could look into to cut down on the financial burden on taxpayers.
Do you think taxes could have to go up in the long term?
There is always the reality of the potential for tax increases, but would want to ensure that if taxes went up, they would be put to good use helping enact the strategic, long-term vision Ellington needs. I’d also want to be transparent about why taxes were increasing, and what benefits residents would see as a result.