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It turned out to be an eventful year in 2010, as Cheshire saw many things change, and some things stay the same.
There was changeover on both the Board of Education and Town Council, as members left to pursue other opportunities and were replaced by newcomers who will now jump headlong into the budget process.
Police Chief Michael Cruess, embattled since the fall of 2009 when members of the department issued a vote of no confidence in his leadership, retired and will be replaced at the beginning of the year by former Hartford Assistant Police Chief Neil Dryfe. Some things, however, remained the same, as many long-serving members of the Connecticut legislature won re-election bids, holding off tough competition in an environment that was suppose to ring the end to many incumbent’s careers.
But, the year seemed to be dominated by the Steven Hayes murder trial, which began in January with jury selection proceedings and ended in November with sentencing.
Here now, we look back at the stories that filled the pages of The Cheshire Herald in 2010:
Steven Hayes Goes To Trial
One of the major stories of the year brought back horrible memories for many Cheshire residents. Steven Hayes, one of the two men charged with murdering members of the Petit family in July 2007, had his fate decided this year. Jury selection for the career criminal began in January and, until his conviction and sentencing last month, it was a case covered extensively, even garnering national headlines. Juror after juror was excused during a painstaking voir dire process but, after five months, an impartial jury of 12 regulars, six alternates, and two back-ups was selected. Jury selection had to be halted in February after Hayes was found unconscious in his cell, caused by an attempt at suicide.
In April, Hayes shocked the court by announcing he wished to change his plea to guilty, without a plea bargain agreement. His assigned defense counsel threatened to leave the case if the judge accepted the offer and, ultimately, Hayes withdrew his request.
On Sept. 13, the trial began, more than three years after the horrific events had occurred in Cheshire. On the second day of the trial, Dr. William Petit, the lone survivor of the home invasion that claimed the lives of his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and daughters, Hayley, 17 and Michaela, 11, took the stand. He recounted what happened the night of July 23, 2007, while a packed courtroom of media and friends and family listened. On Oct. 4, the jury entered the deliberation room to decide whether Hayes was guilty of the charges brought against him. Facing 17 different counts, Hayes was found guilty on 16 of them on Oct. 5. Since six of the charges carried a possible death sentence, a penalty phase was held less than two weeks later.
On Oct. 18, the penalty phase began and the defense tried to paint Hayes as a bumbling criminal who couldn’t get out of his own way. It was Joshua Komisarjevsky, the other co-defendant, they claimed, who was responsible for the escalation of violence inside the Petit home. After 10 days of testimony, the jury deliberated again and, on Nov. 8, after 17 hours of discussion, Hayes was sentenced to death. He was formally sentenced by Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue on Dec. 2. His sentence will be automatically appealed. Jury selection for Komisarjevsky is expected to begin in February.
Election Night Good For Incumbents
It was supposed to be the year of anti-incumbency, where long-serving politicians were given their walking papers as a new generation of fresh-faced representatives stepped up into positions of leadership. That was certainly the case across much of the nation, as new politicians, especially Republicans, swept into office in overwhelming fashion.
Cheshire, however, followed suit with the rest of Connecticut, which saw most incumbents returned to office winning on election night by fairly wide margins. Long-serving Democratic state representatives Vickie Nardello and Mary Fritz had little trouble holding on to their seats in Hartford, as each dispatched with political newcomers and Republican challengers Kathy Brown and Richard Abbate.
Fellow Democrat, and long-serving State Senator Thomas Gaffey had been expected to be in for the political fight of his life, after controversy swirled over his campaign failing to report certain contributions and a relationship with an employee in the state higher education offices. Yet, his challenger, Len Suzio, was able to put only a small dent in the large armor of support Gaffey has built up over the years, and he was able to win re-election convincingly.
Much of Cheshire’s attention leading up to Election Day had focused on the battle for U.S. Congress between incumbent Democrat Chris Murphy and popular Republican challenger Sam Caligiuri. Murphy was deemed to be vulnerable because of his support of the federal government health care initiative and his ties to unpopular U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Reports surfaced only a few weeks before Nov. 2 that Caligiuri was actually leading in many polls, and his candidacy received some national attention and even drew the support of Republican heavyweights like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. However, when the votes were cast and counted, Murphy had won re-election for the second time, returning to Washington, D.C. for his third term.
The only bright spots, locally, for Republicans came when Joe Markley won election to the State Senate in the 16th District, taking over the position vacated by Caligiuri when he took on Murphy, and Al Adinolfi, the long-time Republican state respresentative who had been ousted from his seat by Democrat Elizabeth Esty in 2008, and returned the favor in 2010.
PD Gets A New Leader
It was a tough 2010 for the Cheshire Police Department, as turmoil between the rank-and-file and Chief Michael Cruess reached a boiling point. In October 2009, the Union unanimously took a vote of no confidence in Cruess. Through Freedom of Information requests, correspondences between the Union, Town Manager Michael Milone, and Cruess were revealed to the public.
The Town hired an outside consultant to come in and assess the situation in 2010. The firm was paid $5,000 and interviewed the parties involved in the strife within the department. They came up with a series of recommendations at a substantial cost and, ultimately, the Town Council did not engage those services. Mediation between Cruess and his officers continued, but the relationship was never properly mended, sources said. Union President Kerry Deegan retired at the end of April and shortly thereafter, Cruess announced his plans to retire on Oct. 31.
For the last two months of this year, Joe Popovich served as the acting Chief of Police, with Bob Vignola serving as the interim Assistant Chief. Next week, a new chapter in the Cheshire Police Department’s history will begin as, on Jan. 3, 2011, Neil Dryfe, former Assistant Chief with the Hartford Police Department, takes the reins in Cheshire.
Pool Questions Abound
Almost every “year in review” involving Cheshire includes some bit of news about the Community Pool, but this year saw major developments that, ultimately, offered little in terms of answers. Early in 2010, the Cheshire Town Council narrowed down a series of designs that had been proposed by different firms as possible replacements for the pool bubble. The plans called for permanent enclosures that could be erected over the pool area and left there all year long. After deliberations, the Council decided to recommend a $7 million OpenAire design that would have entailed a polycarbonate and glass structure with operable ceiling and wall panels.
The proposal allowed the structure to be closed during the winter but somewhat open in the spring and summer months, allowing swimmers to still retain some of the outdoor feel of the facility. Debate over the structure ensued, with many insisting that the OpenAire proposal, while costing $7 million, would save the Town money in the long run by cutting down on large energy costs currently paid to maintain the facility. Others argued that $7 million was far too much to spend for an enclosure, considering the original facility cost only $3 million to build. In June, voters turned out to let their voices be heard, and the OpenAire proposal was voted down by a large margin. Officials have stated that it is unlikely the Town will explore a permanent enclosure in the future, and everything from a replacement bubble to selling the facility to an interested buyer have been raised as possible solutions.
Pratt And Union Battle
Another near-weekly story that The Herald followed for all of 2010 was the back-and-forth battle between manufacturing giant Pratt & Whitney and the machinist union. Pratt & Whitney had announced plans to close two plants in Connecticut, including one in Cheshire, and lay off more than 1,000 workers. After negotiations failed to produce a compromise, the union filed a law suit stating that Pratt had failed to negotiate in good faith. In February, a U.S. District judge ruled in favor of the machinist union, determining that Pratt had not done enough to try and come to a compromise that could save jobs and/or the facilities. However, the squabbling continued as Pratt promised to continue forward with its plan to close the two Connecticut plants, after the union contract had expired, while union representatives and local politicians kept up their attempts to block such a move. Yet, a deal was finally struck right before the holidays that will stave off many of the expected layoffs in lieu of retirements and relocation opportunities. The deal does not, however, help to save the Cheshire facility, which will be closed at the end of the year. The closure will mean a loss of revenue for the Town, which will now look to entice another occupant to fill the large building.
Some Late Changes
Cheshire government bodies change every two years after local elections take place but, this year, Cheshire witnessed some mid-term changes. It began in October when long-serving Board of Education member Peter Massey announced that he would be stepping away to focus more on his masters program. Then, that same month, Republican Town Councilor Tim White, a seven year member of the Council, shocked his colleagues by announcing his plans to resign and take a position with the Haitian Health Foundation as the director of administration and finance.
The following month, Democrat Justin Adinolfi also announced that he, too, would be resigning from the Council. Adinolfi took a new job that requires extensive travel. For a few weeks, the Council was down to six members.
Both party committees took their time in nominating candidates to fill the vacated seats, with the the Republicans choosing Stephen Carroll for the Council, while the Democrats nominated Patti Flynn-Harris for the Council, and Peter Talbot for the Board.