ESSEX—Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman’s bid for a third term faces a challenge Tuesday from Republican Selectman Bruce Glowac, a former first selectman who returned to the board in 2013.
The contest between two well-known elected officials, which follows a 2013 election where Needleman’s second term was unopposed by town Republicans, has been relatively quiet. Neither candidate is campaigning door-to-door, and each generally avoided direct criticism in recent interviews. The candidates will face off in a public debate Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the town hall auditorium
Needleman, 64, is a Brooklyn, N.Y. native who arrived in Essex in the late 1980s to establish Tower Laboratories as a local manufacturer of personal care products. The company now has plants in Centerbrook, Clinton, and Montague, Michigan. A divorced father of two grown sons and two step-daughters, Needleman was elected to the board of selectman in 2003, when the victory of former Democratic first selectman, now state representative, Phil Miller, ended 18 years of Republican control of the top job. Needleman was elected to the top job in 2011, defeating Republican Bruce MacMillian on a 1,415-993 vote.
Glowac, 63, is a lifelong resident who established a local landscaping business before winning election to the board of selectmen in 1989 running with former Republican First Selectman John Johns. A married father of four grown sons, Glowac was elected first selectman in 1991, and won a second term in 1993 before stepping aside in 1995. After serving on the Region 4 school board in the late 1990s, Glowac was hired for his current position as director of facilities for Region 4 schools.
Glowac, who returned to the board of selectmen in the uncontested 2013 election, said he stepped aside in 1995 because he is “a firm believer in term limits,” and believed he had accomplished initial goals. Glowac said he decided to run again this year to ensure a contest for the top job. “No choice on the ballot leads to voter apathy,” he said, adding that ” a fresh look every few years is not a bad thing at all.”
Needleman said he respects Glowac’s decision to run for the top job, and praised the Republican for working with him on several goals over the past two years, including voter approval of an $8 million bonding authorization for capital projects last December. He said the current board of selectmen, including Glowac and Democratic Selectwoman Stacia Rice-Libby, has been “one of the best working boards” in town history.
Needleman said he is “running on a record of accomplishment,” pointing to completion of two grant-funded projects, the town hall civic campus and the Ivoryton Man Street projects, along with advancing plans for a 22-unit expansion of the Essex Court elderly housing complex. Needleman said his management has improved operations at town hall to provide efficient and responsive service to residents.
But along with pledging to be a “full-time first selectman” without also directing a private company, Glowac suggests that property taxes have increased too much, and the town’s undesignated fund balance grown too high, in recent years. Glowac said when the fund balance has grown to over $2.5 million, as it has in Essex, transferring from the fund balance to defray a portion of a tax rate increase “should always be a consideration.” He added “there are some generations that we are taxing out” of Essex.
Needleman said he has given the position of first selectman “my full attention and best effort,” over the past four years. Needleman agreed the board of finance should be prepared transfer from the fund balance if the town is facing a steep tax hike over the 2015-2017 term, and noted that he had objected to very small tax rate increase the finance board had approved for the current 2015-2016 budget.
Both candidates said adoption of a town charter, or a possible proposal to change to four year terms for board of selectmen, would not be a priority during the 2015-2016 term. Needleman is running with incumbent Selectwoman Rice-Libby, who was elected with him in 2011. Glowac is running with Phil Beckman a former U.S. Navy officer who lives in the Ivoryton section. Both campaigns are close in fundraising, with Democrats raising a total of $8,384 as of Oct. 1, with Republicans raising a total of $7,162. Two big doners for the Democrats were Needleman and his companion Jacqueline Hubbard, each contributing $2,000 over the summer.