(HIGH) One of the raps against Derrik M. Kennedy, who is leaving his post as Westerly town manager, is that he doesn’t live here, and thus is out of touch, in some ways, with the community. That won’t be the case in his next job, as town manager of Mansfield, Conn. In a statement after accepting the job, he noted that Mansfield had a history of successful professional management, adding that “I am very excited to get to know and work with the staff, residents, community groups, university officials, and town councilors. My family and I are delighted to make Mansfield our home, too.” It makes sense. Although any number of Westerly leaders over the years (bank chairman, school superintendent, etc.) have been commuters, for Kennedy, Mansfield would be a stretch: close to an hour from his home in Old Saybrook, compared with about 33 minutes — on a good day — on I-95 to Westerly. Kennedy has built-in ties, there, too, as a UConnn graduate. It’s too early to assess his performance in Westerly, but the Town Council, by its actions, has shown its appreciation, recently voting him a raise of 2.8 percent, retroactive to his second anniversary last October. He certainly shook up the status quo, pushing the town to confront its beach access issues, for example, or pursuing a seemingly quixotic broadband plan. He has also had an impact on budgetary practices and personnel policy. As one councilor remarked, “You left Westerly in a much better place.”
(HIGH) Politics have been in the news lately as candidates gear up for legislative campaigns that have the potential to be competitive, at least in Connecticut. There will be a changing of the guard in the 43rd District, in Stonington-North Stonington, as Diana Urban, a nine-term incumbent, has decided to step down. Younger voters may not recall that when Urban was first elected in 2000, her victory — with 34 percent of the vote in a three-way race — went down as a “hold” for the GOP. She was the successor to fellow Republican Rob Simmons, Stonington’s current first selectman, who had carried the district with 73 percent of the vote in 1998. After her election, she was unopposed three times as a Republican. Switching her affiliation to Democrat, she was unopposed once, in 2014, rolled over a write-in candidate in 2012, and took the other three races with no less than 61 percent of the vote. Now she has passed the baton to her friend Kate Rotella, a Democrat who was elected to the Stonington Board of Selectmen in 2017. Rotella works in Hartford as purchasing manager for the Capitol Region Education Council. On the Republican side, Shaun Mastroianni, 37, a senior assisted living executive, announced his candidacy last week at a well-attended event in Pawcatuck. Mastroianni is well-known for his involvement in Stonington Borough and town affairs, including his service on the Planning and Zoning Commission. Simmons, who served for 10 years before Urban took over, had high praise for Mastroianni, calling him “Young and idealistic, eager to serve.” This one could be a horse race.
(HIGH) In the 18th District Senate race, the Democrats are looking for a comeback after losing the seat in 2016. Republican Heather Somers, who won the open seat after Andrew Maynard did not run again, is seeking a second term. Her victory was crucial in giving the state GOP a share of power in the Connecticut General Assembly, thanks to the Senate’s 18-18 split. Somers, like Urban, has been successful in creating a personal brand and is an energetic campaigner, asserting an “outsider perspective” in Hartford. It’s possible that the Democrats could have a primary, as two candidates have emerged: Dan Kelley, of Pawcatuck, a retired state correctons officer, and Bob Statchen, of Stonington, a law professor and lieutenant colonel in the Connecticut Air National Guard. Kelley has staked out progressive positions on several issues, including raising the minimum wage, reinstating tolls, and moving to a Massachusetts-style health care system. Statchen, who served on Stonington’s Charter Revision Commission, has come out for universal health care, and also backs electronic tolls, gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15, and policies that promote economic growth. “I don’t believe trickle-down economics, I don’t believe tax cuts for the rich are going to result in economic development,” he told The Sun. This contest, if it’s based on the issues, could produce some interesting debates.
(HIGH) March 14 is rapidly approaching, the day of a nationwide school walkout in remembrance of the Parkland massacre. Local school officials have been preparing for it, and to their credit some are stressing its positive aspects while professing to be wary of any “political” connotations attached to gun violence. There has been some code talk about “student safety” concerns on March 14. Well … isn’t it school safety that has caused such an upheaval among young people? This can be a learning opportunity. Don’t blow it.