After a campaign with no public debate and few differences on issues, State Rep. Jim Crawford of Westbrook and party activist Mary Ellen Klinck of East Haddam face off in a Democratic primary Tuesday for the open state senate nomination in the 12-town 33rd Senate District.
Tuesday’s vote marks the conclusion of an abbreviated contest that began on May 15, when ten-term Democratic State Senator Eileen Daily of Westbrook announced she would not seek a new term this year. Three candidates emerged at the Democratic nominating convention on May 21, including Crawford, Klinck, and former state Rep. Dean Markham of East Hampton. After four ballots, Crawford edged Klink for the party endorsement on a 31-27 delegate vote. Contending both candidates were not well known by district Democrats, Klinck decided to wage a primary for the nomination.
Crawford, 62, is a lifelong Westbrook resident who, after serving in the U.S. Army, in 1974 began a 37-year career teaching social studies in the Westbrook school system. Crawford and his wife, Elaine also ran the Maples Motel on Route One in Westbrook, which was owned by Crawford’s family from 1947 to 2001. The couple are parents of two grown children. Crawford was elected to the Westbrook Board of Selectmen in 2007, serving nearly two terms until 2010, when he was elected state representative for the 35th House District comprised of Clinton, most of Westbrook, and Killingworth.
Klinck, a 58-year East Haddam resident who declined to specify her exact age, has been active in the Democratic Party for decades, serving on the East Haddam Board of Selectmen in the 1970s, and as Connecticut’s Commissioner on Aging through most of the 1980s during the administration of the late former Governor William O’Neill of East Hampton. A widow since 1984, Klinck is the mother of three grown children with six grand-children. A realtor for decades, she also ran the Hale and Hearty Restaurant in East Haddam for 11 years.
In telephone interviews this week, both candidates declined to criticize each other, and suggested the lack of a public debate during the primary campaign was no accident. “We have agreed to keep it clean,” Klinck said, suggesting a debate would have spotlighted criticism and differences that could sow divisions among Democratic voters.
Klinck contended the primary would help each candidate become better known in the large district that extends along both sides of the Connecticut River to include the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook, and portions of Old Saybrook.
Crawford said he and Klinck “are both good Democrats,” adding “I have nothing but respect for what she has done for the party.” But Crawford maintained his single term as a state legislator over the past two years gives him an edge in experience. “It comes down to her experience and my experience, and my experience is current,” he said.
A review of likely issues for the 2013 legislative session shows few differences between the two candidates. Both would support authorization of red light cameras for traffic enforcement under a pilot program, and both are open to new state restrictions on assault rifles and multiple-shot ammunition clips in the wake of the recent mass gun killings in Colorado and Wisconsin. Both say spending cuts must take priority over new or higher new taxes to deal with any lingering state budget deficit. Crawford, who supported tax increases last year as part of Governor Dannel Malloy’s budget plan, said “I don’t think there is any way we can raise taxes more.”
One issue that has emerged involves the controversial, but now cancelled, Connecticut River land swap that had been supported by Daily as an economic development measure for the Tylerville section of Haddam. Crawford had supported the land swap in a House vote last year, while a recent mailing to district Democrats declares Klinck is ” a Democrat you can trust to make the right decision with open space.”
Party support and endorsements have broken down largely along geographic lines within the district, with leaders from the southern shoreline towns supporting Crawford, and leaders from the northern and east-of-the-river towns backing Klinck. Crawford has received endorsements from Daily, Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller of Essex, and Democratic first selectmen Willie Fritz of Clinton, Norman Needleman of Essex, and Edmund Meehan of Chester. But longtime Deep River First Selectman Richard Smith is backing Klinck, who has also received support from longtime Democratic State Rep. Linda Orange of Colchester, and donations from Nicki O’Neill, widow of the former governor, and former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, who owns a house in East Haddam.
Both candidates have received a $37,590 state Citizens Elections Program campaign finance grant, and each has nearly $50,000 on their campaign coffers leading up to the primary. The two rivals have campaigned door-to-door in various towns, and sponsored multiple political mailings to registered Democrats in the district.
The winner of Tuesday’s contest will face Republican nominee Art Linares of Westbrook and Green Party candidate Melissa Schlag of Haddam in the Nov. 6 election.