Ellington First Selectwoman Lori Spielman is running for a fourth term leading Ellington, facing off against Democrat Mike Madru, who entered the race last month after the original Democratic nominee, Charlotte Ward, stepped down due to what she described as a personal medical emergency.
Spielman most recently won re-election against Democratic challenger Peggy Busse, who she beat in 2019 with more than 60 percent of the vote.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Spielman about his campaign and priorities if elected.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What led you to run for first selectman of Ellington?
I’ve got projects that I want to see through, like the Route 83 sidewalk, which we received a grant for. All of the engineering has been done, and we’re waiting to get a few different approvals to go on people’s property, and they will start probably at the end of next summer. I also want to see through the parking lot for the Hall Memorial Library. We purchased a house that was next to the library for future parking and the house has been taken down, so we have plans already, and I submitted them to the state to see if we could get any funding for it, and I’m waiting to hear back. I’d also like to do a big garden behind it so people can sit and read.
I also want to start working on our elderly housing. We’re at capacity, and we have about a year and a half waiting list for our low-income elderly housing, so we really need this quite badly. We purchased a property in July or August, so now it’s time to get funding for engineering and get going on that. I also want to add more sidewalks in town to make it safer for people, and we desperately need a nice playscape and outdoor grills at Crystal Lake beach. I’ve been involved in these projects since day one. I know the lay of the land, and I know the people who are involved, and I want to see them through.
Would you consider raising taxes in Ellington to finance these projects?
No, I wouldn’t do it if we had to raise taxes. The year before last, we kept the mill rate flat, and last year, we dropped it down a mill, and that was very significant. I’m a town resident, and also I have a small business in town, so taxes are very important to me. If I can keep the taxes down, I’m going to do it.
What sets you apart from your opponent?
I’ve never met him, though he sounds like a really nice guy and I’d like to meet him sometime. The difference between us is that I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve served on various boards and committees, and on the Board of Selectmen for six years prior to taking the position of First Selectman. I’ve also had a landscaping business for 35 years in town, and it’s all been up to me to keep that business going and make the right financial moves, keeping our personnel up to date and keeping our electronic equipment up to date but still affordable. As a business owner, I’ve worked with the unions, done a lot of purchasing, been to a lot of bid openings, and done a lot of athletic field construction for municipalities. It’s a lot of experience over 35 years.
Last summer, you were disciplined by the Board of Selectmen after posting a meme on Facebook about Black people and crime. What have you learned since then?
This occurred over a year ago, and I apologized publicly, so I don’t have anything else more to say on that subject.
In your apology, you said you would try to learn from the incident. Could you share anything you’ve learned as a result?
We started up a few different diversity and inclusion committees, and it was really great because a lot of different people were serving on it, some from the high school, some just homeowners, all different people, all doing quite a bit. The meetings are in conjunction with our human services. I kicked off the meetings and went to the first few, but we were right in COVID then, so it’s been a lot of Zoom. We’ve gotten a lot more people involved in town, so that’s been a good thing for everybody.
How would you describe the state of public safety in Ellington?
As far as our police go, we never had a problem until they passed a new law saying that you can’t hold juveniles accountable. Once they put that into effect, that really changed everything. Now, you have people stealing cars and they’re not held accountable. If you can’t hold people accountable, how is law enforcement going to straighten that out?
In what way does the law make it so juveniles can’t be held accountable?
You can arrest them, but then they get out before you even get home. Their record is erased, and that’s the whole problem. There’s people out there who want to defund the police, but that’s the wrong thing to do. We need our police to help with all sorts of things. We have a DARE program, drug take back programs, and all sorts of other things going on.
Looking back, how do you feel that you handled COVID?
This was all new territory for everybody, but it was really important to me that vaccines and tests were accessible to people in Ellington. When it first started, what really helped us out was that people were able to get their shots at Rentschler Field, and then the town of Vernon designed a portable unit that could transport the COVID vaccines, so we were able to have vaccines administered at our senior center right here in Ellington. The idea that they would have had to go to Rentschler field and sit in the cold with no bathrooms, especially if they’re not comfortable driving to Hartford…I wanted to avoid that. We had lots of handicap accessible and local vaccines and testing here in town.
We’re also one of the few towns that did not shut down our town hall. We limited people that were coming in, set up drop boxes out front so people didn’t have to come in if they didn’t want to, and went to appointment-only if you wore a mask. We put up plexiglass, masks, and everything else, but every single department kept moving. We have great employees here in Ellington that are very dedicated.