Mansfield Democrats might not be facing Republican opposition for their six seats on the town council, but the candidates have spent several weeks campaigning on what they have deemed “a record of success.”
Tuesday’s election will result in victory for the nine candidates running for the nine-member town council, as Republicans opted not to run more than the three candidates guaranteed a win under state election laws. In an at-large town council election system, the minority party is guaranteed one-third representation.
Toni Moran, chairman of the Mansfield Democratic Town Committee and a member of the town council, said Democrats have kept taxes low, reduced taxes for 60 percent of residents and pursued smart development. She said Storrs Center alone has brought in $1.3 million in new revenue for the town.
“Through the lens of smart growth, (we’re) controlling sprawl,” Moran said. “We can shape the development of the town so that it both preserves our existing community and also provides tax benefits.”
Moran also said Mansfield schools have succeeded in “educating the whole child.” The school system produces engineers, scientists, auto mechanics, farmers, artists and musicians among many others, according to Moran.
Democratic Town Committee vice chairman Ben Shaiken said despite the recession, the schools have been able to maintain the extracurriculars and small class sizes that make them some of the highest quality schools in the eastern region of Connecticut. E.O. Smith High School in Mansfield is one of Connecticut’s top 50 high schools and received bronze status nationally in U.S. News and World Report’s rankings.
“Kids coming out of our school systems are really prepared to function in the world at a very high level,” Moran said.
Moran gave a significant amount of credit to incumbent school board chairman Randy Walikonis, who is up for re-election this term and is facing Republican opposing. Walikonis is a neurobiology professor at UConn. He is running alongside Kathy Ward, who was appointed to the board of education in 2014. The Republicans are running two candidates in an effort to gain an additional seat on the board of education.
Even though the schools are doing well, Moran said the town will begin to reevaluate which school facilities need to be repaired or replaced. She said the issue has not been on the town council’s agenda yet, but will be in the next term.
Moran said the Democrats also plan to continue looking at Mansfield’s development in a “narrow and cautious way.” She said Storrs Center embodies what they hope to pursue – targeted and limited development surrounded by conservation areas. Democrats are pursuing a similar strategy in the Four Corners area near the junction of State Route 195 and U.S. Highway 44.
Shaiken said Mansfield was able to weather the recession better than surrounding towns, because it did not have to raise taxes or slash the budget past what he deemed excess. Now, he said, the mission is to find ways to begin funding more services and projects again with surpluses and setting aside dollars in case of future economic challenges.
Green energy initiatives, infrastructure investment and town facility improvements will all be top priorities during the next term, Shaiken said. He believes these will lead to long-term savings for Mansfield that will be felt 20 to 30 years from now.
Moran and Shaiken are just two of the six Democrats running for seats on the town council this November. Incumbents Paul Shapiro, Peter Kochenberger, Bill Ryan and Alex Marcellino are also running for re-election.
Shaiken will take the seat of Mayor Betsy Paterson, who is retiring after 18 years of service on the town council.
Four of the six candidates have direct ties to UConn. Kochenberger is a law professor at the university’s Greater Hartford campus while Moran attended graduate school at the university in the 1960s and later served as the university faculty’s labor representative. Shapiro served as senior legal counsel to the university while serving as an assistant attorney general for 29 years. Shaiken was a student at the university and graduated in 2010.
As a result, much of the party’s vision involves greater involvement between the town and the university.
“If the university weren’t here, we would be Union or Ashford,” Moran said. “They are great places, but you go there for a certain lifestyle. If you have an interest in high quality libraries, a high quality education, good public services, all of those have been heavily contributed to by university faculty, staff and students who live in this community.”
Shaiken said his involvement with WHUS, the university’s on-campus radio station, while at E.O. Smith High School demonstrated how the community and university students can come together for a common aim. He said after UConn football player Jasper Howard was murdered outside the Student Union on Oct. 18, 2009, he heard some students call for the campus to be fenced off from the rest of the town.
Shaiken said that would not have solved the problem, nor would fencing off the university from the town solve any of the issues Mansfield residents are concerned about.
Moreover, Moran said the town conducted a study to measure the economic impact of the state’s Next Generation Connecticut program, known as NextGen, and found the funding to the university would lead to “very significant economic benefits” to the town.
“The boundaries between the town and the university are very porous,” Moran said. “People come and go between them all the time.”
Shaiken said the town is projected to have $3 million in new state funding in the coming fiscal year as a result of the efforts of the governing Democrats.
“We’ve made lots of promises over the years, and we’ve delivered on them,” Shaiken said. “And that’s rare.”
CORRECTION (Nov. 2) — Democratic Town Committee vice chairman Ben Shaiken said that the town is hoping to have a $3 million budget surplus. He actually said the town is hoping for $3 million in new funding from the state.