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Bloomfield's Democratic Primary: Experience Vs. 'New Generation'

Tuesday's Democratic primary for town council pits a challenge slate of residents with little to no political experience against the endorsed slate featuring incumbents in five of its six slots.

The endorsed slate, which includes Mayor Joan Gamble, Deputy Mayor Sydney Schulman, incumbents Wayne Hypolite, Derrick Seldon and Joe Washington, and challenger Kevin Hussain, has used that experience and their accomplishments in office in campaign literature and in conversations with residents to bolster their case for votes on Tuesday.

The challenge slate, billing itself as "A New Generation of Democratic Leaders," includes Suzette D. Brown, Kevin Gough, Rickford Kirton, David Mann, Jennifer Marshall-Nealy and Kenneth McClary, and has used its outsider status to try to persuade residents that they are a choice for change, transparency and trust.

The challenge slate also has used the controversial Niagara Bottling plant project to make its case that the current town council was less than transparent with the public as discussions with the company, which took place over a two-year period.

Schulman has denied that was the case, and pointed to several instances during the process when Niagara's name was on meeting agendas. However, in the aftermath the town council enacted changes in how it disseminates information to the public about upcoming meetings in order to be more transparent.

This week, in a flier paid for by the Democratic town committee, the endorsed slate once again pointed out that it has kept tax increases low, supported public education, maintained smart economic policies and advocated for a new public works garage and human services building, which were approved at referendum.

The endorsed slate also went on the offensive in the flier. The literature claimed that one member of the slate works for the Metropolitan District — which helped bring Niagara to Bloomfield — but has not disclosed his employment, that another member has filed for bankruptcy and that several members of the slate have not paid their automobile taxes.

The flier also claims that Mann, a a member of the Inlands, Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, voted to approve the Niagara application. Mann has denied that.

Democratic town committee Chairman Donald Harris defended the flier's content, saying that it was "informative" rather than "negative" and that voters have a right to know.

Harris said that, several years ago, The Courant reported that he was behind on his property taxes while he served as deputy mayor.

"It was unacceptable," he said. "If you are going to run for office you need to be squeaky clean."

Harris added that the facts betray the challenge slate's claims of transparency.

Brown, who is the person the flier claims filed for bankruptcy, said Friday that the information is partially accurate.

She said she claimed a bankruptcy 10 year ago, after several years and difficult times of trying to save her late father's electrical supply business and his legacy. The tax liens, she said, were paid.

Brown said the flier made her relive losing her father suddenly and not being able to hold onto his company.

"It's sad and it's hurtful," she said. "I hope residents see them for who they are."

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