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Bumgardner, Hedrick again face off for Groton City mayor

Groton — Groton Town Councilor Aundré Bumgardner and City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick will again face off to see who will be the city's mayor for the next term — this time in the city's general election on May 3.

Democratic nominee Bumgardner and Hedrick, the city's Democratic mayor for the past two terms who is making a write-in bid after losing the March Democratic primary to Bumgardner by five votes, both are seeking to lead the city. No Republican has entered the race.

The two candidates outlined their priorities for the city.

The post-COVID recovery, fiscal prudence and addressing climate change are Bumgardner's top priorities, while Hedrick named responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, economic development and continuing community policing.

Bumgardner, 26, serves on the Groton Town Council and the Groton City Planning and Zoning Commission. He was the youngest person elected to the state House of Representatives at age 20, serving the 41st District from 2015 to 2017, and also has worked for the state treasurer.

"I am the only person in the race that has state, town and city experience," Bumgardner said.

Hedrick, 61, served in the U.S. Navy, worked as operations manager at engineering design firm URS/AECOM and for the past four years has been the city mayor. He also served on the City Council, including as deputy mayor, and on Groton's Representative Town Meeting.

"I do think that the experience that I bring from the Navy, private industry and the last four years gives me insights into how to run the city and how to continue to move the city forward," he said.

COVID-19 recovery

Bumgardner said the post-COVID recovery is a priority, and while the state and federal government is providing assistance, the city will need to work with state and federal partners to ensure the city recovers from the pandemic with a focus on equity and inclusion.  As the federal government prepares to invest more heavily in broadband in the years to come, he would like to explore establishing Wi-Fi hot spots throughout the city in areas facing a digital divide so every family can access job opportunities and connect to the global economy. He also would like to invest in Thames Street and simplify permitting processes and regulations for small businesses.

He said the city should explore expanding its summer camps and partnering with the Board of Education to offer enhanced after-school programing at the new elementary school being built on the West Side Middle School site. He said the federal government will be issuing more guidance on how COVID-19 relief dollars will be spent, and he proposes making the case to the town and the state for investing in children, who he said have been hit hardest by this pandemic.

Hedrick said one of his over-arching goals is continuing protocols to handle COVID-19 and keep employees and residents safe and continuing partnering with Ledge Light Health District for vaccine clinics for vulnerable populations, such as a recent clinic at Branford Manor. He said every municipal and city employee who wanted to be vaccinated has been vaccinated. The city also will expand its recreational programs and offer "COVID-friendly" events, such as concerts in the park, and, as the governor releases guidance, will look to lift some restrictions at the beach so people can enjoy a semblance of normalcy.

Economic development, fiscal prudence

Economic development is a priority for Hedrick, with a new development proposed for the Five Corners area and another developer interested in Thames Street, he said. The city recently received a grant for an eight-slip boat dock, with a handicapped-accessible kayak boat launch, along with a study of how to make Thames View Park handicapped-accessible, which he said will be a driver to spur economic development on Thames Street, a long-held goal of the city.

The city will continue its efforts to try to work with property owners to turn properties into businesses or sell the properties so businesses have space to locate to Thames Street. He said the city plans to establish a committee with residents to engage the community in the revitalization of the street. As part of economic development initiatives, the city is working on expanding its walkability and bikeability and conducting a resiliency study to identify vulnerabilities and solutions.

Fiscal prudence is an area of focus for Bumgardner. While working at the state treasurer's office and as a member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Community when he was state representative, he said he appreciated the wealth of information provided in financial documents. He said he would like to launch an online data portal so residents can easily understand and sift through data on how the city allocates tax dollars.

Other top priorities

In terms of coastal resiliency, Bumgardner said the city will be facing a 20-inch sea level rise by 2050, so he said it's critical that the city strengthen infrastructure against storms and work with the town and Groton Utilities. He also would like to tap into the wealth of knowledge in the community, from the University of Connecticut's Connecticut Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation to city residents who are experts, about how to best mitigate rising sea levels. As chair of the Groton Utilities Commission, he said he would like to explore offering a more robust program for residential and commercial customers to install solar panels and see a reduction in their utility bills.

Hedrick said the city will remain focused on community policing and community engagement with the police. He said he and city police Chief Michael Spellman welcomed Black Lives Matter protesters last summer, and two months after the demonstration, formed a Police and Community Together, or PACT, group to strengthen the relationships between residents and police. "We took action right away," Hedrick said.

PACT has given away backpacks and helped at food distribution sites, he said. The group is working on developing a database of social services available to people, which will be posted on social media and delivered in people's utility bills, and also is working on plans to help engage youth and partner with the school system on study and mentorship programs.

The League of Women Voters of Southeastern CT will hold a virtual debate between Bumgardner and Hedrick at 11 a.m. Monday, April 26. Groton City residents can submit questions to lwvsect15@gmail.com. For more information on the debate and how to register, visit bit.ly/gcmayordebate.

The Day also plans to post a video of the debate online later for people to watch.

k.drelich@theday.com

How to vote

Voting will be held from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, May 3, at the following polling locations:

     - District 2: Zbierski House, Eastern Point Beach, 1 Beach Pond Road
     - District 3: City Municipal Building, 295 Meridian St.

People voting by absentee ballot can fill out an application in the city clerk’s office at the Groton Municipal Building at 295 Meridian St., or they can fill out an application found online at bit.ly/ctvoteabsentee, and return it to the city clerk’s office either in person, by mail or by dropping it in the State of Connecticut white ballot box in front of the city municipal building.

If people are returning their application to the city clerk’s office in person, they should do so by Friday, April 30, or, if they make advance arrangements by emailing City Clerk Deb Patrick at patrickd@cityofgroton-ct.gov">patrickd@cityofgroton-ct.gov or calling her office at (860) 446-4102, she will be available 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1, and Sunday, May 2.

If residents use the mail, they should use their judgment to make sure there is enough time, she said.

Once the city clerk receives the application, she will process an absentee ballot for them either in person or to be mailed to them.

Voters then must return their completed ballot to her either in person, by mail or in the ballot box, and it must be received no later than 8 p.m. May 3.

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