GROTON – Dan Gaiewski first got interested in politics in 2006, when he was sitting in the back of his mother’s car and saw lawn signs for Joe Courtney and Rob Simmons.
“It was something I’d never seen before, it was exciting, and since then I’ve followed every local election from Town Council to state reps to Congress,” Gaiewski told CT Examiner.
Over the years, Gaiewski’s interest in politics only grew. He started knocking on doors to campaign for former State Rep. Joe de la Cruz when he was in high school. And on Tuesday night he took his first political office when the Groton Town Council appointed him to serve out the remaining months of former Councilor Melinda Cassiere’s term, after her resignation last month.
Mayor Juan Melendez said Gaiewski was the only person to express interest in filling Cassiere’s seat, but he commended how much work he has done for the town already — including serving as the student liaison to the Board of Education in high school, and recently as a member of the Fair Rent Commission. Melendez said the council was lucky to have him.
“I met Dan when he was still in high school, and he was already involved knocking doors and campaigning for local elected officials,” Melendez said. “From the moment I met him, I knew he was going to be holding elected office himself one day, and I’m glad that time has come.”
Gaiewski, 22, who graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in May, said he watched online streams of Groton Town Council meetings on YouTube while he was away at school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
He said he never really wanted to leave, and his plan was always to come back to Groton. He had the Connecticut flag, a Mystic banner and the seal of Groton hung on the walls in his room.
“It’s not the vision that people [outside of Connecticut] have,” Gaiewski said. “Most people think of the western side of the state where it’s busy, a suburb of New York City. Here is more rural, industrialized and developed, but not feeling like you’re in a big suburb. It’s kind of the best of all worlds, you can find what you want.”
Gaiewski said he had always wanted to run for office in Groton, and now that he’s back from college and planning to stay, it was the right time. When Cassiere resigned, it was an opportunity to get to know the Town Council from a different perspective than watching and participating as a citizen. He said he’s grateful he had the support of the council.
Cassiere, first elected to the Town Council in 2021 after serving on the Representative Town Meeting, announced at the July 3 Town Council meeting that she would be stepping down to focus on a new educational opportunity to advance her career.
Melendez told CT Examiner that the town charter gives the Town Council 45 days to fill a vacant seat with a resident who belongs to the same party. The appointed councilor holds that seat until the next election. Gaiewski already announced he was running for Town Council, and he would keep the seat for another two years if elected in November.
Melendez said the charter calls for people interested in filling a vacant seat to contact the council, and the council would choose from those interested. Gaiewski was the only person to show interest, he said.
Councilor Portia Bordelon said during the vote to appoint Gaiewski that she considered abstaining because she was concerned there wasn’t more of a discussion about who to appoint. But she said she was very comfortable with Gaiewski joining the council, and ultimately decided to vote for approval.
“I grew up in this town, I love this town, I’ve always wanted to serve this town and to make a difference,” Gaiewski said. “I have the experience, the background, the passion and the drive to serve Groton residents, and being only 22, I can represent the younger generation.”
Gaiewski said he’s energized by the other young residents taking political office in New London County, including Melendez, State Rep. Aundre Bumgardner, and Danni Cruz on the New London Board of Education.
He said he sees housing as a major issue for the younger generation across the Northeast, especially in Groton, and said he supports increasing the housing supply and looking at how vacant town-owned properties can be developed for housing.
“We are a middle class community, with Electric Boat and the Navy base, we are just hard-working, let’s get the job done folks,” he said. “And when it comes to housing, the biggest fear, especially with people that are our age, is that they’re not going to be able to afford the town.”
The other big issue for his generation is dealing with the impacts of climate change, he said – especially in a coastal town that will have to deal with increased flooding and rising sea levels.