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Taxes A Focus In Board Race

Six Candidates Seek Selectman Seats

By KATIE MELONE
Courant Staff Writer

November 2 2005

SIMSBURY -- Three incumbents and three newcomers - a nurse, a lawyer and a restaurant consultant - are vying for seats on the board of selectmen in the Nov. 8 municipal election.

The three Republicans and three Democrats have identified taxes, the town's form of government, services for seniors and economic development as crucial issues in Simsbury, long a Republican stronghold.

Democratic Selectman John Hampton and Republican Selectmen John Romano and Joel Mandell are seeking re-election. Republican Moira Wertheimer and Democrats Charles Houlihan and Ferguson Jansen were chosen for their respective party tickets this summer after two selectmen chose to retire.

The top vote-getters win selectman seats, but no party can have more than four seats on the six-member board, which includes the first selectman.

The losing first selectman candidate can win a seat on the board if he is one of the top vote-getters. This year's first selectman race pits incumbent Tom Vincent, a Republican, against Democrat David Ryan.

The six selectman candidates agree that "responsible" economic development is needed to bolster the tax base. Nearly all of the candidates note that senior citizens have told them that the high cost of living is driving seniors out. Homeowners bear about 75 percent of the tax burden.

The issue of the form of government has come to the fore as the charter revision commission has met to consider ways to improve the document. Democratic candidates are pushing for the town to consider hiring a town manager instead of electing a first selectman - a recommendation that was recently rejected by the commission, but could be reconsidered by the newly elected board of selectmen. Republicans oppose a town manager form of government.

Mandell, 66, the deputy first selectmen and a lawyer, is seeking his seventh term. A special counsel at CATIC, a title insurance company, Mandell said he hopes to partner with the board of education to maintain the town's quality schools. He also wants to improve the quality of life for seniors by ensuring the senior center is well-maintained.

The father of three and grandfather of four said he feels his actions on the board "speak pretty loud" and he continues to volunteer in town because it's a way of giving back. "I feel privileged and honored in playing a large part in making our town what it is," he said. Mandell was on the 1990 charter revision commission before winning a seat on the board.

Romano, 60, a father of three and a project manager at the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, said if re-elected he hopes to convene a bipartisan tax policy committee to look into easing the tax burden.

Romano, who was born and raised in the Bronx, thinks the town should bolster its dial-a-ride program for seniors and look into buying land to build a senior center complex with affordable housing. A mechanical engineer, Romano said he thinks the town should consider getting a cell tower to provide service to the Bushy Hill section and correct safety and traffic problems on Route 315 in Tariffville. Romano has lived in town for 26 years, and was on the design review board before winning a selectman's seat in 1997.

Romano set himself apart from his fellow Republicans last month when he was one of two selectmen to speak out against "big box stores" when pressed by a residents' group upset that a developer wasconsidering such a store in the south end of town.

Wertheimer, 38, the only woman runningand a mother with nursing and law degrees, said she hopes to set an example for the community and get involved in town affairs. She said she thinks the town should investigate bringing tax incentives or credits to seniors who have lived in town for decades and working with a developer to build smaller housing units for seniors who either can't afford larger homes or do not want them.

"I want Simsbury to remain a place where new families can move in and feel like they can afford it, and I want older residents who put their lifeblood into the town to feel like they're not being driven out by the cost of living," she said. Wertheimer is on the zoning board of appeals.

Hampton, 38, a Tariffville native who works in alumni and government relations at the University of Connecticut, is seeking his fourth term. He, too, supports a tax credit for seniors. He also thinks the town should develop a comprehensive 10- to 15-year open space strategy and reorganize the open space committee because the members - the first selectmen and members of other boards and commissions - are already too entrenched in town affairs.

He said the selectmen should take a more active role in cultivating relationships with members of the business community and meet regularly with them, as former First Selectwomen Mary Glassman and Anita Mielert, both Democrats, did. Hampton was on the zoning board of appeals and the aging and disability commission, and is active in several civic organizations. He made a bid for state representative in 1998.

Hampton spoke out against big-box stores last month, when pressed for an opinion by the residents' group SHARE.

"Chip" Houlihan, 52, a local lawyer who made a bid for state Senate in the 1990s, takes issue with the town leadership and its handling of issues. "There are crucial issues coming to the fore," he said. "It's not been the leadership style to engage them." He is married with two children.

Houlihan, who is on the zoning commission, said the town gave short shrift to discussions about acquiring a large parcel at the Ethel Walker campus - an issue still in play - when Vincentfirst became first selectman. He also questions the board of selectmen holding a meeting at 8 a.m. the Friday before Labor Day and 7:30 a.m. the Tuesday after the holiday to approve a $190,000 set of permanent lights that was an add-on to a project that had already cost $1.9 million.

Jansen, 65, a restaurant consultant and former restaurateur who runs Tyee Management Associates and is on the planning commission, said he thinks the town has lost its regional connection and needs to work to strengthen its ties to surrounding communities.

Jansen is married, has three daughters and grandchildren. He ran the Last National Bank, a restaurant in Hartford, and the Hop Brook Restaurant in Simsbury. He is the director of the Greater Hartford Transit Authority, Simsbury Community Television and the Farmington Valley Visitors Association. He is the former president of the Simsbury Chamber of Commerce.

He thinks the town should look into ways to relieve the tax burden on seniors and supports the town changing to a town manager form of government. "It's in business everywhere," he said. "You have a board of directors and a chairman and they set the policy and the hired hands implement it. They don't change every two years."

Copyright 2005, Hartford Courant