January 25, 2022

Democrat Edmund Meehan Faces Common Ground Party Challenge for Open Chester First Selectman Seat

CHESTER— The contest for the open first selectman position puts a longtime public sector employee against a political newcomer running as the first time candidate of a recently formed local third party.

Democrat Edmund Meehan is challenged in the Nov. 8 vote by Andrew Landsman, nominee of the Chester Common Ground Party, a local party established in 2009 that is running its first ticket for board of selectmen this year. Whoever wins, there will be a change in political control at town hall as Chester Republicans are not running a candidate for first selectman after three consecutive municipal elections wins.

The last change occurred in 2005, when Republican Tom Marsh unseated six-term Democratic First Selectman Martin Heft. Marsh, who last year ran for governor as nominee of the Connecticut Independent Party, easily defeated Democratic challengers in 2007 and 2009 before leaving the first selectman seat in August to become town manager in Windsor, Vt. Republican Tom Englert, elected to the board of selectmen with Marsh in 2009, became interim first selectman on Aug. 16, holding the job until the current two-year term ends on Nov. 22. Englert is seeking a second term on the board of selectmen, but no Republicans are running for the top spot.

Democrat candidate Edmund Meehan

Meehan, 66, has been a Chester resident since 1982, but first arrived in the Valley Shore area in the early 1970s as a planner for the Old Saybrook-based Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency. A married father of four sons, Meehan worked as a planner for the City of Hartford before taking his current job as town planner for Newington in 1988. He served as a member and chairman of the town planning and zoning commission in the 1980s and as member and chairman of the board of finance in the 1990s.

Meehan said he was approached by several residents about serving as interim first selectman early last summer, and declined because of his commitment to the Newington job.  But after consulting with his family, Meehan, who was preparing to retire from the Newington job next year, accepted the Democratic nomination for first selectman at the July 27 nominating caucus. Meehan is running with incumbent Democratic Selectman Larry Sypher, who is seeking a second term on the board.

Landsman, 50, arrived in Chester from Burlington in 2007 after 22 years in various sales and management positions with the CIGNA health insurance company. The father of a 20-year-old daughter, Landsman currently works as director of facilities at the local Aaron Manor Skilled Nursing Care Facility. He has served on the inland-wetlands commission and is active with the Chester Rotary Club.

Landsman, an unaffiliated voter, approached town Democrats about running for first selectman, but later agreed to join the Chester Common Ground Party, a local third party established in 2009 that promotes a non-partisan approach to town government. Landsman said he is running for first selectman to bring his “problem solving and leadership skills to the table.” He is running with Glen Reyer, owner of a local information technology company and former member of the planning and zoning commission who helped found the Chester Common Ground Party in 2009. Landsman and Reyer are the party’s first ticket for board of selectmen.

The two rivals agree on the town’s top priority for the 2001-2013 term, and hold similar positions on several potential issues. Meehan and Landsman each said the Main Street Project, a reconstruction of the town’s Main Street to be done in conjunction with two nearby state-funded bridge replacement projects, would be a major focus of the next two years.

Each pledged to work with a recently established volunteer Main Street Committee, contractors, and the state Department of Transportation to make sure the work does not disrupt life and regular business activity in the downtown village.

Neither candidate calls for changes to the structure of town government, such as drafting of a town charter or a four-year term for first selectman and board of selectmen. Meehan said he would always favor the current two-year term , while Landsman said he would consider proposing a four-year term only if residents were calling for the change. “It’s not high on my priority list,” he said.

Both candidates are open to the idea of Chester joining the Connecticut River Area Regional Health District that now serves Clinton, Deep River and Old Saybrook, but only after a detailed study comparing costs and services. Both candidates pledge to be a full time first selectman, while Meehan adds there would be a “transition” from the start of the term next month to the end of the year as he prepares to leave the job in Newington.

Landsman, while acknowledging Meehan is a “very capable candidate,” said he would bring a “stronger passion” for the job, and sales experience that would help boost economic development. Meehan said he has much broader public sector experience from his role in Newington, particularly for large scale projects like the Main Street Project. Meehan said he has coordinated a four-phase $3.5 million streetscape project and “knows the process,” adding “after doing this for 40 years I’ve done a lot of things.”

Both candidates have campaigned door-to-door over the past six weeks, with Common Ground sponsoring two and Democrats four town-wide campaign mailings. Unlike recent contested town elections, there was no public debate this year. Landsman said his campaign requested a debate, but Meehan said the request “came late” at a time when he was very busy with a controversial development proposal in Newington.

Also campaigning door-to-door is Englert, who notes his service as interim first selectman has given him “great experience and background,” to continue on the board of selectmen. Englert said he has a “personal preference” for the top job, but would probably not make a public endorsement. He also discounted speculation the Common Ground group is linked to town Republicans, with Reyer also on the Republican slate as a candidate for board of finance.

“Glen Reyer is running against me and so for that matter is Andy Landsman,” Englert said, adding there has been no effort by town Republicans to promote the Common Ground Party.

The new board of selectmen will be comprised of the winner for first selectman and the top two vote-getters for board of selectmen, a mix that would include the losing candidate for first selectman.