Chairman’s Statement on Social Media Attacks Targeting Democratic Candidates

Social media is an amazing tool that, when used properly, allows people to interact with each other and their elected officials. It allows for the expression of differing views and opinions among the members of our community, which benefits us as a whole. For the most part, participants in online forums engage in very strong debate and hash out differences of opinion and policy, but with a sense of respect for each other and a general sense of decorum. Unfortunately, there is always an exception to the rule.

Recently, two of our candidates for local office were subjected to mean-spirited personal attacks that, in my opinion, cross the line of what is acceptable in productive engagement and discourse. These attacks even went so far as to target the candidates’ child – something that no responsible individual would do. That’s not who we are here in Bethel. Let’s remember that our kids are watching how we conduct ourselves. And let’s make sure the example we set is worthy of them.

Nick Vitti, Chairman
Bethel Democratic Town Committee


Bethel Democrats Nominate Strong Slate for November

Rich Straiton (left) and Matt Knickerbocker are excited to lead Bethel for another term.

At a caucus on July 19, Bethel Democrats unanimously nominated First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker and Selectman Richard Straiton for a fifth term. In addition, a highly qualified slate of candidates was chosen for the rest of the ticket for this November’s municipal election.

“Rich and I are delighted to be a part of a dynamic team of candidates who are eager to serve our town,” Knickerbocker said after the caucus. “We have a blend of experienced public servants with terrific track records as well as newcomers who bring fresh ideas to help further strengthen this wonderful community. ”

This election is a chance to build on the progress in Bethel that Matt and Rich have led since their election in 2009. Recent accomplishments include starting construction on a voter-approved plan to replace Bethel’s outdated police station, breaking ground on the area’s first municipal solar farm, launching a much-needed renovation of the town’s aging water works to improve fire safety and water quality, and completion of the revamped Plumtrees-Whittlesey intersection.

The Democratic candidates are as follows. Those currently serving in these positions and seeking reelection are marked with an (I) for “incumbent”:

  • First Selectman: Matthew S. Knickerbocker (I)
  • Selectman: Richard C. Straiton (I)
  • Town Clerk: Lisa Bergh (I)
  • Treasurer: Pat Smithwick
  • Board of Finance: Bob Manfreda (I), Robert J. Palmer, Wendy Smith, and Dalene Masi Foster
  • Board of Finance (Two-Year Vacancy): Claudia Stephan
  • Board of Education: Jen Ackerman (I), Rick Magee, Jenn Larsen, and Lawrence Bocchiere III
  • Board of Assessment Appeals: Gary Passineau (I) and Fern Blair Hart
  • Planning and Zoning: Tom Borysiewicz, Silvano Senzamici, and Robert Stowell
  • Planning and Zoning (Alternate): Penny Kessler
  • Zoning Board of Appeals: Richard E. Lawlor Jr. (I), Rebecca Hussey, and Eileen Freebairn
  • Zoning Board of Appeals (Alternate): Cynthia Behrens McGuire
  • Inland Wetlands: Laura V. Collins
  • Inland Wetlands (Alternate): Lou David (I)
  • Police Commission: Patrick M. Perrefort and Christopher C. McCollam
  • Police Commission (Two-Year Vacancy): Sandi Richards Forman

Bethel Democrats will be campaigning hard for these candidates in coming months. Please contact BDTC chairman Nick Vitti ( if you’d like to join us!



Annual Family Picnic is July 30

The BDTC is holding our Annual Family Picnic on Sunday, July 30th, at Bennett Park, from Noon to 4 P.M. Come share delicious food with fellow Democrats and meet the candidates running for town office this fall (and maybe even a surprise VIP guest). There will be children’s activities and covetable door prizes. Your attendance supports the campaigns of Democrats running for the numerous positions in local government that make a difference in our lives, and will help kick off the re-election campaign of First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker and Selectman Rich Straiton, who will lead our ticket.

$30.00 for Adults

$60.00 for Families

Children Under 10 Are Free



Come to the Bethel Democratic Caucus on Wednesday, July 19

Local elections determine the money budgeted for our kids’ schools, how much we pay in property taxes, and whether our town can afford enough snowplows to dig us out of winter storms. Presidential elections are important, but local elections determine whether potholes get fixed and the quality of the water coming out of our taps. They’re about the kind of community we want to be. Come be a part of the process! This Wednesday, Bethel Democrats will choose the candidates who will run for election this fall at the Democratic Caucus.

It’s at the C. J. Hurgin Municipal Center, in the Senior Center Cafeteria, at 7:30pm. All Bethel residents who are registered Democrats are strongly encouraged to come and participate! Not sure if you’re registered? Click here to learn how to find out.


Bethel CT Today Returns!

Please enjoy the first installment of the Bethel Democratic Town Committee’s new web-based show intended to inform and educate viewers about the various goings on about town.

In this episode, First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker sits with host Janice Stevenson to share some valuable information about his and Rich Straiton’s announcement of their intention to run for re-election this fall, plus updates on projects around town, recent events, and more.


Bethel Democrats March in Bethel’s First LGBTQ Pride Parade

First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker with event organizers Hailey Gesler and Marcella Antunes

By: Matt Dalen-


The weather was gorgeous last weekend as Bethel Democrats joined hundreds of residents and visitors on Sunday for the town’s first Pride parade, organized by a pair of local 12-year-olds, Hailey Gesler and her friend Marcella Antunes. The two middle schoolers decided to organize the parade after doing a project on LGBTQ rights for English class.


The parade marched from PT Barnum Square and ended at the municipal center, led by a pickup truck adorned with a rainbow of handmade flowers. The Bethel Democrats marched not far behind the lead float.


A good time was had by all on the lawn of the municipal center with music, food, and vendors selling an assortment of goods and services. Artisans displayed their jewelry; photographers took commemorative pictures of attendees; a number of organizations had informational booths; and singer-songwriter Wrabel performed live.


BDTC Vice Chair Raghib Allie-Brennan with organizers

After giving people time to visit, Hailey’s mother Alexis, led off the speakers by welcoming everyone to the event. She was later joined at the podium by keynote speaker Chris Avery Bennet, an LGBTQ activist from Newtown who started the blog “Make a Difference” in high school, as well as Pastor Rachel Fay Beam of the First Congregational Church of Bethel, Katelyn Owens of the Triangle Community Center, and the Bethel Democratic Town Committee’s  Vice Chairman, Raghib Allie-Brennan.


“Today we are all part of a legacy that is changing not only our community, but the world for the better,” Allie-Brennan said.


The event’s website is at


My First Bethel DTC Annual Dinner

By: Rick Magee- 

The Bethel Democratic Town Committee Annual Dinner took place on Saturday, April 8, at Michael’s at the Grove, and this year’s event was to honor Mary Gert McCollam. Mary Gert, a legendary figure in Bethel Democratic politics, was to receive the Bill and Jane Shannon Community Service Award.


We had never attended an event like this before, so my wife and I were a little nervous. Would we be instantly recognized as newcomers or outsiders? Would we be relegated to the unpopular table where we would be pelted with wadded up napkins and uneaten food?


Our fears were immediately assuaged when we pulled into the parking lot and saw a smiling Raghib. My wife and I greeted him and went inside, where more familiar faces welcomed us warmly. We saw First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker posing for photos next to Representative Elizabeth Esty. Matt gave us a friendly nod before turning back to the camera, and any remaining anxiety faded away.


Inside the spacious room, knots of people gathered and flowed, many of them familiar from town meetings or Bethel businesses. In one group, State Representative William Tong from Connecticut’s 147th district stood out as a recognizable face, while in another, we spotted State Representative David Arconti from the 109th. We made our way through the room, stopping to talk with several groups before picking up glasses of wine.


Shortly after this, Senator Richard Blumenthal arrived. As he shook our hands, he recognized us from a rally in Westport a few weeks ago. Later, we spoke to Representative Esty, and I mentioned some work of her that I admired, a bill aimed to help veterans with PTSD, and I mentioned a friend involved in that effort. She and her very capable staffer, Sherri Vogt, responded with enthusiasm, and I later learned that Sherri had contacted my friend to tell him that I had expressed my support for the bills. We worked our way back to our table, where we had a chance to talk to both state representatives.


Soon the dignitaries began to speak about Mary Gert’s contributions to her home town, and expressed their admiration for her commitment to Bethel with great warmth. Others took the microphone, and the message from each was the same: we are a community, and we make each other stronger. Only by working together can we accomplish anything, and Mary Gert stands as the embodiment of the local action ethos.


As we left at the end of the evening, my wife and I were impressed by the overall tone of the event. The politicians were sincere and warm, showing obvious interest in their constituents. The members of the public were neighborly and welcoming, enthusiastic about their community. Gatherings like this are crucial in a time when many of us are feeling distraught at the direction our country has moved in the last few months. Despite the chaos and fear in Washington, DC, we can come together as friends and neighbors and work together to improve our world, beginning with our own town.


Public Site & Building Commission: Police Station Project Moving Forward

Efforts to build the new police station continue to move forward as the Request For Proposal (RFP) solicitation phase will culminate with all bids due on Tuesday, March 8 at 2 p.m. The PS&BC will then gather all of the submitted project architect bids and construction manager bids, and review and evaluate proposals from each firm before working with the Police Commission, Board of Finance, and Board of Selectmen to establish a timeline for the project from that point. One the respective firms are chosen, the design phase will begin with renderings being submitted for feedback and approval.


The town-supported budget for the project is $13.5MM, which was approved by voters in December, 2015. The goal is to break ground no later than the spring of 2017. For more information on the project, continue to check Bethel’s town website, and the Bethel Democrats’ website for periodic updates moving forward.


My Vision for Bethel

by Matt Knickerbocker, October 20 2015

Since taking office in 2009, Rich Straiton and I have focused primarily on putting things back in order. We launched an aggressive plan to completely rebuild over a third of Bethel’s roadways. We secured millions in state grants to fund major portions of road and sidewalk renovation. We reinvented the Bethel utility department, stopping the financial losses, repaying a debt of more than one million and launched a multi-year capital improvement plan that will increase capacity and improve water quality. We established new fiscal policies that moved our town’s bond rating from AAA “negative watch” to a solid AAA rating, the highest possible, a benefit that will save Bethel taxpayers millions in future interest costs. We completed the library renovation, which had been stalled since 2005, without the need for additional tax funds, as well as completed the remaining renovations of Bethel High School.


Perhaps most importantly, we have remained committed to keeping town government small. The improvements listed above were accomplished with no new staff. In fact, town hall today has fewer full-time staff positions than it did in 2009. We’ve also tackled the upward spiral of health insurance and retirement costs. This summer, most of our unionized employees agreed to new high deductible health insurance plans, which will provide significant cost relief to taxpayers. They also agreed to 401(k)-type retirement plans for new employees, which will eliminate future costs associated with traditional pensions.


But no matter what we’ve accomplished, elections are about the future, not the past. We are looking ahead and setting goals for how we can make Bethel an even better place to live and raise a family. Here are the priorities that we envision for our town:


Neighborhood safety. It is time to launch a multi-year plan dedicated to connecting Bethel’s neighborhoods and make them safe for walkers, moms with baby strollers and kids on bikes. Most of the grant money we have obtained to date has been applied to road construction. As our road plan 2 reaches completion and settles back into a normal maintenance schedule, it’s time to shift our priorities toward making more of our neighborhoods safe for walking. Our town has grown a lot in the past 30 years, but most of our streets still lack safe places to walk. It’s nearly impossible for most kids to safely walk to school. Many of our neighborhoods are isolated by dangerous roads. This can be fixed, and it’s time to start making it happen.


Economic development. Unlike many neighboring towns, Bethel does not have an incentive to attract new businesses. I will work with our Economic Development Commission to develop a workable incentive plan to address that issue. New development increases our Grand List and holds down taxes.


Update our downtown Streetscape. Our original Streetscape project was completed about 15 years ago, and it’s showing its age. The light poles are being repainted and benches are being replaced this fall, but the decorative sidewalk paving blocks need to be refreshed. Grant funding was recently obtained to expand the scope of Streetscape. We must seek additional funding to help refurbish our Streetscape, including burying the overhead utilities. Improvements to our charming village center is an important for the “walkability” needed to attract new retail businesses.


Replace our cramped, aging police facility. It is essential that we provide a modern, secure facility for the men and women who ensure our safety. Our officers are crammed into a 1960’s era cement block station that now sits in the middle of a flood plain and subjects the staff to sewage backups with heavy rains. It is incapable of supporting the heightened homeland security requirements of today. We support building a facility that is done right the first time, rather than repeating the mistakes of the past.


Rich Straiton and I are a highly qualified team with a proven record of accomplishments. Rich is a professional tradesman with decades of experience in construction, maintenance and utility operations, and his expertise has been invaluable in solving many of our toughest challenges. I bring over 30 years of business experience in both private business and public administration. We have loved every minute of serving you, and we sincerely hope you will allow us to continue for another two years.




Matt Knickerbocker Q&A

On September 13, First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker participated in a YouTube Q&A session with host Christopher J. Brown. Questions were submitted by town residents online and the resulting 51 minute interview shed light on residents’ many concerns. Click on the video above to watch.