AREAWIDE— Essex First Selectman Phil Miller announced Tuesday he would seek the Democratic party endorsement to run for the open 36th House District seat in a special election that is expected in March.
The seat representing the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Haddam becomes vacant Wednesday when James Spallone, the Essex Democrat who has held the seat for the past decade, declines a new term to assume the full-time job of deputy secretary of the state. Spallone, a lawyer, had won re-election for a sixth term in November, defeating Republican Chet Harris of Haddam on a 6,055-4,332 vote.
Miller, the former director of the Bushy Hill Nature center in Ivoryton, was elected to the top job in Essex in 2003. He won a fourth term in the November 2009 town election, defeating Republican Joel Marzi on a 1,437-1,061 vote.
“I look forward to the opportunity of putting over a decade of municipal experience to work serving the people of Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Haddam,” Miller said, “With the state facing its greatest fiscal crisis in generations, we need experienced representation that will continue to protect our towns’ interests.”
Miller said he decided to run in the special election after talking last week with Spallone, State Sen. Eileen Daily of Westbrook, and the Democratic town committee chairmen for the four district towns. Miller said if he wins election as state representative in March, he would continue serving as first selectman and hold both positions through the end of his current term in November, but not seek re-election as first selectman in the Nov. 8 Essex town election.
Miller added that if his run for state representative is unsuccessful, he would reconsider whether to run for a new term as first selectman. Endorsements for this fall’s town election will be made at party nominating caucuses in July. Governor Dannel Malloy will set a date for the special election soon after he takes office Wednesday. The special election must be held within 60 days of the vacancy, making Tuesday March 1 a likely date for the four-town vote.
Democratic and Republican nominations for the 36th District seat will be made at conventions later this month by the same party delegates that nominated Spallone and Harris at conventions held last May. Because of the short time frame, there will be no primaries for the party nominations. Candidates who are not endorsed by the conventions would be forced to run as petition candidates if they wish to remain in the race.
There are 15 Democratic delegates, five from Haddam, four from Essex, and three each from Deep River and Chester. No other candidates have announced for the Democratic nomination, though Diane Stock of Haddam is considered another potential candidate. Stock was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for first selectmen of Haddam in 2009, losing the general election after winning the party nomination in a primary.
Miller said he believes he has the support of a majority of the 15 delegates, while adding “it’s my case to make.” Miller said he would appear at a meeting of the Haddam Democratic Town Committee tonight. The four Democratic town committees are expected to hold a joint meeting on Jan. 12 in Essex to hear presentations from Miller and any other prospective candidates.
No candidates have announced for the Republican nomination in the 36th District special election. Essex Republican Selectman Joel Marzi, who is considered likely to make a second run for the town’s top job this year, said he would defer any comment on Miller’s plans until after Miller has won the convention endorsement to become the special election nominee.