December 14, 2019

Needleman and Libby Win Essex Democratic Town Committee Endorsement for Board of Selectmen, Challengers Say No Primary

ESSEX— Selectman Norman Needleman and newly-minted Democratic running-mate Stacia Libby Monday won the Essex Democratic Town Committee endorsement for first selectman and board of selectman, with challengers Anthony Chirico and Linda Savitsky indicating they would not challenge the nominations in a primary.

Needleman and Libby, who was a member of the Essex Republican Town Committee until earlier this month, received support from about four-fifths of the 25 town committee members present and voting on the endorsements, with Chirico and Savitsky receiving only a handful of votes.

Needleman, a 59-year-old businessman who has lived in Essex since the late 1980s, was first elected in 2003 with Democratic First Selectman Phil Miller, who is not seeking a new term this year after winning the 36th House District seat in a February special election. Needleman had been widely expected to run for the top job this year. He presented Libby, who has served on the park and recreation commission and the Essex Community Fund Board, as his favored running-mate on July 18, only days after she changed her voter registration from Republican to Democrat.

The challenge from Chirico and Savitsky emerged earlier this month. Chirico, 58, has lived in town since the late 1990s, and was the unsuccessful Republican nominee against Democratic State Senator Eileen Daily of Westbrook in the 33rd Senate District in 2000 and 2002. He became a Democrat in 2004, and later joined the Democratic Town Committee. Chirico, who ran a business related to trade with China, is a former member of the zoning commission and currently serves as the town’s representative on the regional Connecticut River Gateway Commission.

Savitsky also served on the zoning commission, and worked previously as director of municipal finance services for the state Office of Policy and Management. She is married to former Democratic Selectman Alvin Wolfgram, the current chairman of the zoning commission.

The four candidates were allowed to make a brief presentation and answer questions from committee members before the vote, which was conducted by show-of-hands despite a request from Chirico for a secret ballot vote.

Needleman said he has the management and town government experience needed to succeed Miller. Chirico said he became a candidate to offer local Democrats “options”, and pledged to improve communications with residents and develop an economic development plan for the town. Libby said her change of political parties was “not a difficult choice for me” and described herself as a “moderate” ready to support Needleman. Savitsky noted she was a “lifelong Democrat,” and cited her experience in municipal and state government.

But in response to a question from committee member Lon Seidman, all four candidates, including challengers Chirico and Savitsky, said they would not force a Sept. 13 Democratic primary if they did not receive the committee’s nomination. Chirico repeated the no primary pledge after the vote. A prospective challenger would have to file petitions signed by five percent of the town registered Democrats, about 60 signatures, by Aug. 10 to force a primary.

Democrats did not nominate candidates for board of finance because the party currently holds four of the six seats on the board. Acting on a motion from Finance Board Chairman Jim Francis, the committee cross-endorsed incumbent Republicans Keith Crehan and Jeff Woods for new six-year terms on the board.

Democrats renominated incumbent Chris Riley for a new six-year term on the Region 4 Board of Education. Riley has also been cross-endorsed by town Republicans, meaning there will be no contest for the regional school board seat this year. Democrats nominated Loretta McClusky for the Essex Board of Education, and incumbent Richard Helmecki for a new term on the board of assessment appeals.

Barring a challenge that now appears unlikely, the Needleman-Libby ticket will face off with Republican first selectman nominee Bruce MacMillian and his running-mate, Republican Selectman Joel Marzi, in the Nov. 8 town election.