Faced with a deadline Tuesday for making a choice about whether to run again, incumbent state Rep. Ron Burns opted to pull out of the race.
The freshman Republican’s decision to sit out the 77th District contest cleared the way for a political newcomer, Jill Fitzgerald, to claim the GOP’s nomination in what is likely to prove a tough battle against Democrat Chris Wright.
“I have no doubt that Jill will be able to fill Ron's shoes and pick up where Ron left off,” said Gary Klemyk, the Republican district chairman.
Burns, who quit the City Council in 2005 after a single term, said he has been “anguishing” about whether to seek reelection for weeks, but ultimately recognized that he could not give his all to both the legislature and his full-time job as the second-in-command at the Bristol Boys and Girls Club.
“Something has to give and one or the other is not going to get my full attention,” Burns said.
Beyond that, he said, he has “irons in the fire” that could potentially lead to a new position.
Burns said he’ll lend a hand to Fitzgerald in her quest to keep the district out of Democratic hands and may well leap back into the political fray in years to come.
Burns was the only Republican legislator in New England to defeat an incumbent Democrat in 2006, when he upended longtime state Rep. Roger Michele, taking the district for the GOP for the first time since James White won the seat in 1992.
State Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose 78th District includes northwestern Bristol, said Burns is “the exact type of person we want serving in public office. He’s diligent. He cares about people and the issues. He works hard. It’s certainly going to be a loss to Bristol, but what are you going to do?”
Hamzy said, though, that Fitzgerald made “a very positive impression” on him.
“She is someone in the same mold as Ron,” Hamzy said, and will put up a solid and potentially winning campaign against a little-known Democrat.
“She’s a really intriguing candidate” with a lot of passion, said Tom Barnes, Jr, chairman of the city’s GOP.
Mayor Art Ward, a Democrat, said he has “the utmost respect for Ron Burns as both a legislator and as a person. Ron has always been able and willing to work in a bipartisan manner for the best interests of the community, as both a member of the Bristol City Council and a state representative.”
“I am positive that Ron's decision not to seek reelection was a painstaking process which ultimately was determined by his dedication to the youth of our community,” Ward said, adding that he wishes Burns “continued success in all of his future endeavors.”
Art Mocabee, a former city Republican leader, called Burns’ departure “a loss for Bristol as a community, as we all know the quality of the values Ron Burns lives his life around. His second term would have led him to many new leadership positions and to a better understanding of state government.
“It is truly disappointing that it had to come down to an employment issue,” Mocabee said. “Ron has done much for the Bristol Boys and Girls club over the many years he has served there. I think they should have worked with him more.”
Burns said, though, that the resources at the club that made it possible for him to run two years ago no longer exist.
“It makes it tough for me,” Burns said.
Klemyk said that Burns “will be a very missed asset that has served Bristol and the state with the utmost dignity, and is always looking out for the tax payer and asking questions making sure our tax dollars are spent wisely.”
Hamzy, a former state Republican Party chairman, said that looking at the big picture, Burns’ decision is typical of a growing problem.
“It really is getting very difficult to find good people to run for office when they have professional obligations,” Hamzy said.
“It’s almost become a societal issue because businesses and employers don’t want employees to run for public office,” he said, which drastically limits the pool of possible contenders.
State lawmakers serve two-year terms and earn $28,000 for their part-time positions. The general election is November 4.
Update at 10 p.m. - I talked with Jill Fitzgerald this evening, but it was too to make the story for Wednesday's paper. And since I'm tired and a little under the weather, I'll wait until morning to write it up. So check back in 12 hours!
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