Clinton Town Leaders Talk Election, Priorities

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CLINTON — While retaining a Republican majority, the town council has shifted from a three-party to a two-party body after incumbent Eric Bergman, a Green Party member, was not re-elected on Tuesday. 

Two Democrats Carrie Allen and Chris Passante, and one Republican, Tom Hollinger, were elected to fill the three vacant seats. The seven-member council now has four Republican members and three Democrats. 

A third Democratic candidate, Paul Gebauer, was not elected. 

Bergman said he felt the shift toward a two-party system was influenced by the partisan nature of national politics. 

“If we’re stuck on a two-party paradigm … we still have a lot of work to do,” said Bergman. “We have to step outside this two party system. It’s crippling us.”

Bergman said that he felt the Green Party played an important role in balancing out the “bickering” between the Republican and Democratic parties. 

Passante said he believed the Democrats and Republicans could collaborate effectively even without a third party on the council. 

“The biggest thing I’ve been saying is I want to put politics to the side and try to work together,” he said. 

Allen said she was disappointed by the turnout overall. According to the Secretary of the State’s website, about 28 percent of the voters in Clinton voted in the municipal election, a decrease of eight percent from municipal elections in 2019. In comparison, neighboring towns Westbrook and Madison had a voter turnout rate of about 47 and 49 percent, respectively. 

Allen said that while the Democrats weren’t able to take the majority, she didn’t consider it a loss.

“I can’t say I expected the three of us to win. It’s the sheer numbers, to sweep with three seats is hard,” said Allen. 

Republican Tom Hollinger said that Clinton was an interesting town, because there were as many independent voters as Republicans and Democrats. He said he wasn’t convinced that party politics were a huge issue when it came to municipal government. 

“I don’t know that party politics is really that important for a local board,” he said. “Hopefully it’s the people who want to do the best for Clinton who control the board.” 

The downtown, Pierson school and better communication 

Allen said that she hoped the parties could work together to make improvements to the town, particularly through things like STEAP grants and making use of the $3.8 million that the town received in federal coronavirus relief funding. 

“The Republicans don’t care to spend money and tax money, and I get that. But not everything costs money to improve the town,” she said. 

Allen said one of her goals was to beautify the downtown area. She said there were two areas, currently municipal parking lots, that look out over the Long Island Sound and over the river. She said she felt those areas could be put to better use. 

Hollinger said he was a “nearly lifetime member” of the Board of Finance, having begun in 1988, although he had taken a break in the last few years. He said his priority was to develop a “responsible” budget that would avoid extra burdens on taxpayers. He said he also wanted to keep Clinton’s bond rating strong. 

Hollinger added that he wanted to make sure that the town’s police department, fire department and public works department are “properly funded, properly equipped and properly staffed.” He said he did not want to spend money beyond that. 

Passante said that he believed it was necessary to spend money in order to fund things he considered important for the town. 

“I want what we do to be fiscally responsible, but I also think that you need to spend. I want spending for our children. I want that to be in the school budget and the town budget. I want activities, I want programs, but I want it to be done in a fiscally responsible manner,” he said. 

Hollinger said he would like to see improvements made in the Main Street area, ideally with the help of state or federal grant money. However, he said that one of the challenges with downtown improvements was that the majority of shop owners didn’t own the store they were located in. Even with the help of a grant, he said, some landlords and tenants didn’t want to spend money to fix up the buildings.

“[I’d] love to see it happen, though, I love improvement, and I love the development that’s going on on Main street, especially on the eastern side,” he said. 

Figuring out what to do with the former Pierson school will also be a challenge. Hollinger said the town needed to do a study to figure out what the building could be used for. Passante and Allen both brought up the idea of turning the school into a community center. 

Allen said she also wanted to see communication with the town residents improved, through communications from town hall, using the town Facebook page and speaking with local newspapers. Passante said he believed Town Manager Karl Kilduff should take a greater role in communicating with the public. 

“The residents need to know what’s going on in town,” said Allen. 

Allen said she will be disappointed if the council falls into party-line voting and her proposals are turned down. However, she said she hopes that some of her ideas, especially the cost-free ones, will be embraced.

“How can I consider it a loss? The game hasn’t even begun,” she said. 

Passante reflected that he has known the people on the board for “most of my life.” 

“I know that there’s going to be differences of opinion but if we can sort of take each issue and [see] what will work best, I think the town will be better,” he said. 

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