Incumbent Republican First Selectman Michael Eldredge is hoping to extend his six-year tenure as first selectman for another two on Tuesday.
He faces opposition from two other candidates – Democratic Selectman Mark Palmer and A Sentinel Party candidate Christina Beebe-Mailhos.
This election also marks the first election bid in which Eldredge was not cross-endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats. Frequently, the Sentinels – Willington’s third party – square off against combined Democrat/GOP slates.
“I would love to serve another term as first selectman,” Eldredge said. “I think we’ve got a strong slate this year.”
Eldredge was elected first selectman in 2003 after serving for two years on the board of selectman.
Prior to that, he served four years as the union president for the Town of Willington municipal employees and four years on the Willington Board of Education. He also served as manager of the town transfer station for eight years.
“The budget season is a critical issue,” he said. “Don’t incur new debt until you retire old debt, that’s my philosophy.”
Eldredge said an important part of preventing new debt and new taxes is to secure federal and state grants, something he said he has achieved throughout his tenure as first selectman.
He is currently working on a grant through the Connecticut Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) to bring water to the Center School and the project is in its engineering stage.
Willington has also been awarded a $300,000 grant as part of a rehabilitation project for low-income housing.
“I’m very pleased we got that,” he said.
Still, Eldredge said tough decisions will have to be made.
“I don’t want to see a tax increase,” he said, “but I can’t promise to lower taxes.”
His experience, Eldredge said, puts him in a unique position to meet these challenges.
“I’m willing to do anything to prevent a tax increase,” he said, “and the only way to do that is to prevent spending. You have to make taxes that people can pay. We all have to work together on that.”
Throughout his eight years with the board of selectman – six as first selectman – and with four years on the board of education, Eldredge said he has experience with both sides to make this happen.
Prior to public service, Eldredge worked for 26 years in the Aerospace Industry with United Technologies and Pioneer Aerospace Corporation.
He has lived in Willington for 40 years with his wife of 42 years.
Dem selectman has sights on top spot
After winning September’s Democratic primary election, incumbent Selectman Mark Palmer is ready to be the Democratic voice in town government.
On Tuesday, Palmer will challenge incumbent Republican First Selectman Michael Eldredge and A Sentinel Party candidate Christina Beebe-Mailhos in his bid for first selectman.
Palmer is a small business owner who has lived in Willington for 23 years and served on the Willington Democratic Town Committee for the past six years.
At the center of Palmer’s platform is planning for future development and putting long-term plans into place, including smart growth and low-impact development.
He said, in the current economic climate, melding future plans with current issues is important.
“The Democratic party in town is trying to get in tune with the budgetary restraints,” he said. “We need to make sure essential services are there in spite of projected revenue losses.”
While some short-term plans, such as construction of certain roads could be delayed, he said, that is only a short-term fix.
“The Democrats feel we’ve addressed those immediate long-term needs this economic climate,” he said. “That’s one thing we’ve been pushing with this slate. We have to because other people haven’t.”
Palmer has worked toward rebuilding a strong Democratic party in Willington during his six years as a part of the Willington Democratic Town Committee.
“We’re challenging these offices to at least propose the questions, if not the solutions,” he said.
For the past few years, as selectman, Palmer has helped to secure grant money for projects like bringing public water to Hall Memorial and Center schools.
He plans to pursue other grant-funded initiatives if elected first selectman and he said his position as an alternate representative to the Windham Region Council of Governments helped further his understanding of these processes.
As for running against Eldredge, who he’s worked with on the board of selectman, Palmer said the two had differences in their approach to solving the town’s problems.
“I voted against the budget this year because I didn’t think it was in line with what the town needed,” he said.
This and other differences led to Palmer’s bid for election. “If the town feels it needs a Democratic voice, I’m happy to be that voice,” he said.
Back home again, Mailhos seeks seat
When Christina Beebe-Mailhos moved back to her hometown five years ago, she knew it meant she would, again, become deeply involved in the community.
After serving on the board of education, the board of directors for the E.O. Smith Foundation, as president of the Willington Nursery School Co-op and as a Girl Scout leader, Mailhos is now running for first selectman.
Mailhos is the A Sentinel Party candidate and she will run against incumbent Republican First Selectman Michael Eldredge and Democrat Mark Palmer.
Mailhos grew up in Willington and recently moved back after living in New York City for the past 10 years.
She received a master’s degree in business and psychology from New York University while working in marketing and advertising before making the move back to Willington.
As first selectman, she wants to pull together town boards and commissions to create a long-term plan for Willington.
“We often just think about the year ahead, but we have to focus on the full future,” she said.
A cornerstone of this plan is considering economic development.
“We need to make economic development a priority,” she said. “The business area of town is kind of looking like a ghost town at the moment.”
As a way to garner input from townspeople, the A Sentinel Party launched “Willington Vision,” (www.willingtonvision.com) a web survey with in-depth questions about town issues.
“We really did the survey to engage people and start to think about where we want the town to go, get people thinking about the town’s direction,” she said.
The survey, along with her years of volunteer work, has helped her understand more about how the town works and how each individual’s views make an impact.
“So far it’s worked out well. We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback and the responses run the gamut,” Mailhos said. “There’s not just one way to look at things in Willington.”
She said many people shared concerns about empty businesses in the commercial area of town, which led her to make development a priority.
“It would help us depend less on state funds and offer convenience and sustainability. That’s one thing people want to change,” she said.
As a founding member of the Willington Renewable Energy and Conservation Task Force, she said many more people are interested in getting involved and finding ways to make energy use more efficient.
Posted Nov. 2, 2009