CHESHIRE — The Republican Party has been in a leadership position on the Town Council throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, with a mix of old and new faces as candidates for elected positions, the party is hoping that it can continue to lead the town.
Many of the current incumbents are happy with how Cheshire has fared over the past two years, but feel they have a lot of unfinished business.
First District Councilor David Veleber said his biggest project is finally coming to a head.
“For a while now, I have been working on getting this blight ordinance out to the public,” he explained, “and I am very happy with what we as an Ordinance Committee have come up with, and I want to see this through to the implementation phase.”
Since Veleber began his political career, he has been trying to address the issue of blighted properties. The Ordinance Committee, which he leads, had previously created an “unsafe premises ordinance,” but there has since been a push for an ordinance that addresses more issues and has an adequate form of enforcement. The currently proposed blight ordinance aims to address both of those issues.
Veleber also wants to use the upcoming year to focus on economic development.
“We need to focus, as a Council, on how to bring more businesses to town to help offset the cost of school modernization,” he said. “The arrival of Starbucks is fantastic — we need more of that, more innovation and more investment, and I think we will get there with the new appointment of Andrew Martelli as our economic coordinator.”
At-Large incumbent Tim Slocum, who has been on the council for the past 14 years, is a bit disappointed the school modernization plan will not go to referendum this year, but hopes the public is ready to vote in April of 2022.
“I wanted to run again this year because we’re just not done with the school modernization plan yet,” he said. “I am not worn down yet.”
“The School Modernization Committee (SMC) revealed issues that we as a council hadn’t taken into consideration yet, and that’s why I want to see this to the end,” he said.
With school modernization being the biggest project the town has ever embarked on, Slocum wants to make sure that the process remains non-partisan and focused on the facts.
“I am worried that the SMC and the work they did has become political, and that’s not at all what we wanted to do here,” he said. “We have to all get behind one plan. If not, we aren’t going to pass anything come April, and I will not kick this can down the road any longer if it doesn’t.”
Political newcomer Nicole Davison is taking on fellow Second District resident, incumbent Democrat Jim Jinks, in her race, and would like to turn the focus toward public safety, since she comes from a law enforcement family.
“A few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me I would be running for office,” she said. “I live in public safety every single day as a law enforcement wife, and it is such a privilege to live in this town. There are some things I think we could be doing better in regards to supporting our police and firefighters to strengthen our community that much more.”
While new to the political scene, Davison has noticed a widening divide between many elected officials, and would like to bring residents closer together.
“I love this town, but at the end of the day we need to work together, listen to one another,” she said. “My political aspirations stop here. I want to focus on Cheshire and Cheshire alone.”
Longtime At-Large Town Councilor Sylvia Nichols has also noticed the political divide between residents and laments that progress cannot be made until the gap is addressed.
“A lot of us are mired in our own political philosophies and are sometimes too resistant to the other party, regardless of what they have to say,” she said. “I believe I can listen to both sides of the conversation and really bring people together.”
Nichols has seen the town go through a lot of issues, and she believes its best days are still ahead. The new Bartlem Park South project, which will be up for a vote on Election Day, is one she has kept her eye on and is excited to see it come to fruition.
“I think it will be such a beautiful addition to Cheshire, and be great for sports teams in the area who desperately need that field space,” she said. “While modernization is important, we cannot lose sight of all the other things in Cheshire that we need to work on. I understand that not everyone has a school-aged child in town — I know I don’t — but I do see the importance of modernization, which is why I listen to all sides. ”
Third District incumbent Don Walsh admits that he almost didn’t run for re-election this year. Ultimately, however, he continues to have the drive to give back to the community that has given him so much.
“The time commitment is no joke,” he said. “But, as a business owner in town and owner of a nonprofit organization that has continuously put money right back into Cheshire, I thought I should still try to work to make Cheshire a better place.”
Walsh, who owns DW Gem Services and is co-founder of Cheshire’s Lights of Hope with his wife Jenifer, ultimately hopes that the school modernization plan the town approves is affordable and addresses what he feels are the biggest problems at the schools.
“ADA compliance is really big for me as someone who lives with someone who is disabled,” he said. “The fact that Chapman isn’t ADA compliant is unacceptable. If one person has to be denied services because they cannot access certain things due to the building not being ADA compliant, that’s a major issue.”
Lauren Miele is running against Democratic incumbent Peter Talbot for a seat in the Fourth District, and she believes her newer face gives her a leg up on the competition. Prior to deciding to run for the Fourth District, Miele accepted a position on the town’s Public Safety Commission.
“I have to tell you, when I go door to door, most people have no idea who is representing them,” Miele said. “I wish I was confident in him, but people just have no idea who he is.”
Miele, being a Cheshire transplant, believes her differences can help her break traditional Republican and Democratic stereotypes.
“I represent a much broader demographic than Peter does. I am married to a woman and I am a woman,” she said. “My motto is to ‘never rest on your laurels,’ and I believe that wholeheartedly. I believe I can take on all that Cheshire can give me.”
At-Large Councilor Sandy Pavano was added to the council when Paul Bowman stepped down in February of 2020.
“I believe people are really happy with the way we’ve done things in town, and I would like to continue to serve the community I love,” she said. “We have a lot more work to do.”
Pavano, who used to serve on the Cheshire Board of Education, is passionate about school modernization, having seen the last attempt at it fail.
“We have to do something this go-around,” she said. “We cannot keep patching and patching roofs and walls. You can only do that for so long.”
Fellow At-Large incumbent David Borowy is proud of his past two years on the council, especially the fact that he, as Budget Committee chair, has been able to keep the tax rate low during difficult economic times.
“I am immensely proud of passing the zero-mill increase last year, and our ability to keep our tax rate reasonable,” he said. “There is still a lot of unfinished work that needs to be done, and I feel that my actions have spoken loudly. … We need to keep our town reasonable for all its residents, not just the ones who can afford an increase every year. I was at a meeting recently where someone said that an additional $300 a year on their taxes wasn’t a burden to them, but that is an elitist way of thinking. We need to consider everyone.”
The final At-Large candidate, John Milone, was personally asked to consider a run for council by outgoing Republican Chairman Rob Oris, who hopes his pick to replace him will have a similar business mindset.
“When Rob asked me to run because he was stepping down, I thought about it long and hard,” Milone said. “I think I have very strong business and personal values that I would like to implement on the council.”
Milone is president of Milone & MacBroom Inc., a civil engineering and landscape architecture firm located in town.
“No one person is more important than the others, and I hope to bring that sort of level-headedness to the council and to decision making,” he added. “Whatever gets done, we want to make sure it’s done right, at the end of the day, and I hope to be able to steer people in that direction.”