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Norwich Democrats face off in mayoral debate

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published August 29. 2013 4:00AM

Norwich - The two Democratic mayoral candidates who will face off in a Sept. 10 primary disagreed on several key issues during an hourlong debate Wednesday, including whether the city should convert to a strong mayor form of government.

Democratic Aldermen Charles Jaskiewicz and Deberey Hinchey are vying for the party nomination Sept. 10 to run against incumbent Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom and petitioning Libertarian candidate William Russell in November.

More than 150 people attended the forum, sponsored by The Bulletin, at the Slater Auditorium and listened to the candidates offer their stances on major issues ranging from a potential charter change to create a strong mayor position, whether the city needs a new police station and whether the Norwich Community Development Corp. should be converted into a city agency.

Hinchey, a two-term alderwoman, said she has opposed charter change over the past few years and does not now support converting the city to a strong mayor form of government. She said a city the size of Norwich with a $115 million budget needs a professional manager. But Hinchey said the city does need a full-time mayor in charge of economic development.

Hinchey has pledged to quit her job as a clinical social worker to represent the city full-time. She said the mayor needs a stronger presence in Hartford and needs to attend regional mayors' meetings to discuss issues and ideas.

Jaskiewicz supported the charter change for a strong mayor. He said other aspects of the charter also need to be addressed, including the financially struggling Public Parking Commission, which was created by charter.

Jaskiewicz said a charter revision commission could be among the first issues he would consider if he were elected mayor.

Asked by Bulletin Editorial Page Editor Ray Hackett to address the controversial relocation of the St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen to the former St. Joseph School, the candidates also were asked whether the City Council should continue its authority as the zoning board. Under city charter, the City Council is the zoning board.

Both said they would like the city to consider creating an independent zoning board.

Hinchey declined to comment substantively on the soup kitchen relocation, because the city is in litigation against the Diocese of Norwich over planning and zoning permit denials at the new location. The diocese has four lawsuits pending in federal court against the city on the location.

Jaskiewicz, however, said he volunteers at the soup kitchen and is "not opposed" to the new location. He added that the soup kitchen facility has to be constrained and not be allowed to expand beyond reason. He said the surrounding neighborhood would have to be protected from the impact of the soup kitchen.

Jaskiewicz also favored restructuring NCDC to bring it under the umbrella of city government, while Hinchey favored the independent structure of the agency designated as the economic development arm of the city.

Both candidates supported the controversial proposal last fall to relocate the city police station downtown in a $33 million police station, a plan soundly rejected by voters in a referendum. A new committee is studying possible alternative locations and designs.

Both candidates said they continue to support a new downtown police station. Hinchey said voters didn't oppose the idea of a new station.

"When I went door-to-door canvassing for it, they said they supported it, but not the price," Hinchey said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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