When Gary Lawton sought to run on the Republican ticket for a City Council seat recently, the GOP turned him down cold. He garnered little support in the nominating convention and left the session disappointed and at least a little angry.
"It just seems like politicians will never change here," Lawton said on his way out the door.
Now he's decided to give voters the option to bypass both parties on November 3.
"Instead of sticking my toe in the water, I'm taking the plunge," Lawton said.
Lawton, a 46-year-old welder, called himself "plain and simple and blue collar" but ready to lead the community in a new direction, to lend a hand to residents who are suffering through hard times and to remove politics from the decision-making.
He said that the Democrats, who have controlled City Hall for a generation, have posted a record that is "not bad," but they've simply been in charge too long.
"We need something new," he said. "Sometimes change is a good thing."
Lawton began collecting signatures Sunday to press an independent mayoral bid.
The rules say he needs to collect signatures totaling at least 1 percent of the 2007 mayoral vote count. He needs 115 registered voters, of any party, to sign his forms and to get them turned in by 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
Lawton said he's aiming for more, of course, in case some signatures are thrown out.
If Lawton can collect the required signatures, he'll take on first-term incumbent Art Ward, a Democrat, and newcomer John Gill, a Republican. It doesn't appear that either Ward or Gill face a primary.
Bob Casar, a 3rd District GOP leader, said Monday the district was luck “to have a large number of people step forward and volunteer to run” for council this year. Seven people were in the running, but in the end the party tapped Derek Czenczelewski and David Mills , leaving Lawton out of the mix.
“After the results were announced it became obvious that Gary was disappointed that he failed to secure the nomination,” Casar said. “Since then myself and a few other folks from the district have tried to reach out to Gary and keep him involved in our committee but have had limited success.”
“In this time of cynicism and mistrust, it’s encouraging to see so many good people want to get involved in the electoral process,’ Casar said. But, he warned, “In so doing they expose themselves to a high degree of scrutiny and make themselves quite vulnerable.”
Lawton said he’s a strong advocate of finding new energy sources, including perhaps municipal power from dams that already exist on the Pequabuck River. He opposes the $130 million plan for two new schools.
“The city deserves a lot more” than its leaders have delivered, he said.
Lawton is a Bristol Central High School graduate who has lived in Bristol since middle school. He attended college on a wrestling scholarship, but had to give it up after two years when he hurt his knee.
He said he joined the Air Force after leaving college, but the knee completely blew during his military stint, leaving him unable to serve.
He and his wife, Brenda, have five children.
Lawton said anyone interested in helping his campaign can reach him at (860) 819-7851 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Independents face hard road
Bristol voters have treated independent candidates gently at the polls in recent decades.
Though the number of independents has risen to the point where they nearly equal the tally of registered Democrats, voters still almost always turn to the Republican or Democratic candidates, even when they have another choice.
Two years ago, for example, Mark Blaschke ran as an independent for a 2nd District City Council seat. With a hot race between the GOP and the Democrats in the district, voters ignored Blaschke.
The last time an independent mayoral candidate took a shot was in 1995, when Rick Kriscenski hustled to be treated seriously in the showdown between Democratic Mayor Frank Nicastro and Republican Whit Betts.
Kriscenski, too, got wiped out at the polls, though some of the ideas he raised during the campaign landed on the community’s agenda in the years that followed.
Only be reaching back to the 1951 mayoral race can an independent movement show any real success at the polls.
That year, opponents of Mayor James P. Casey allied to create an Independent-Republican movement that installed Daniel Donovan as mayor for a single term, before Casey swept it away in the following election.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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