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No fixing in North Stonington

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published November 06. 2013 4:00AM

One of the ugliest comments I read from a municipal candidate this election season came from the person challenging longtime First Selectman Nicholas Mullane in North Stonington.

"We all have a shelf life," Bob Testa said about his race against 75-year-old Mullane.

Ouch.

It suggests that people, especially a selectman in the way of your political ambitions, might get thrown out like, well, expired batteries, whether they are still working well or not.

I think it's fine that people vote officials out of office because they don't like them or their policies, but not just because they've been around too long.

It was Mullane's long career in charge of the town, 28 years and still running, that drew me to North Stonington on Election Day this year.

On the unlikely chance Republican Mullane was pulled from the shelf, it would have offered a closer glimpse at an historic election for North Stonington.

But mostly I thought it might be interesting to see how someone with 14 terms under his belt handled his latest challenge.

I can report that, after spending a short time with Mullane outside the voting station Tuesday, it was hard to imagine him losing, since so many voters stopped on their way out or in to shake his hand and wish him luck.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said one of the well-wishers reaching for Mullane's hand. I couldn't tell if Mullane even recognized the young voter as he thanked him, shaking hands while waving to the driver of a passing car.

It seemed like about the closest you could get to being a rock star in North Stonington.

Mullane also gave me a short driving tour around town, pointing out some of the accomplishments of his 28 years governing this rural town of 55 square miles. Its entire budget of about $4 million practically leaks out of state coffers in a single day.

The Mullane tour is almost encyclopedic, with stops at natural features like underground reservoirs and intersections where new drainage pipes have been installed. There are long, loving visits to the transfer station and public works complex, where big, well-maintained trucks sit at the ready in neat covered bays.

I'm sure Mullane could tell you the last time the oil was changed in each one.

As we rounded a corner on another of the magnificent fall landscapes of North Stonington, even Mullane, accustomed to the spectacular scenery of his town, stopped to acknowledge that, yes, it's beautiful.

Despite his challenger's comment about shelf life, the only thing old-fashioned about Mullane I noticed was the flip cellphone he pulled out of his pocket. It made me think of the rotary phones that probably hung not so long ago on the kitchen walls of the old farmhouses we passed.

And yet North Stonington seems remarkably modern, with solar panels on public buildings, a commitment to open space and lots of public recreation facilities, including new tennis and basketball courts with outdoor lighting.

I asked Mullane about some of the recent controversies in town and whether they are a factor in this year's election.

"Everything is an issue in a small town," he said.

I also wondered out loud whether some of the new voters in town might not know of his role in containing the development of Foxwoods Resort Casino so that it would not destroy the town's rural character.

Mullane fought hard to keep Route 2 a two-lane road through town, instead of a highway to the casino. He also helped defeat the tribe's plan to add to its reservation by making the town smaller.

He agreed the dragon of casino expansion has been slayed, and some people may not be familiar with the fight.

Mullane told me Tuesday that he was prepared to lose, although he said he stayed in the fight because he doesn't want to turn the town over to this particular challenger.

Even before he won Tuesday, Mullane sounded grateful.

"I hope they elect me because they think I've done a good job, and think that I will continue to," he told me in the afternoon. "I am proud of the town and proud of the people who have chosen me for as long as they have."

Apparently, North Stonington voters decided it ain't broken.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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