The Blue Wave Surges in Bethel



If you’re anything like me, you are still energized by the Democratic triumphs that took place last night.


Voters in Bethel spoke loudly about the leadership they want for our town, and the people they trust to best represent their values. They rejected reckless rhetoric and misinformation, and reminded everyone of who we are as a community.


Together, we supported and elected candidates that represent the best that Bethel has to offer.


Congratulations to ALL of our candidates for running successful campaigns that engaged and energized the electorate. We re-elected Matt and Rich to their fifth terms, and they will continue to move Bethel forward. We also gained four Democratic seats on the Board of Finance, in addition to re-electing Bob Manfreda to the board, making five of the seven members Democrats. Wow! And there are numerous other accomplishments from the top of the ticket down.


Our candidates, volunteers and supporters (many of whom were engaging in this process for the first time) did the work, made the calls, knocked on the doors and got the job done. The national events of November 2016 have certainly provided America with one notable positive outcome: the mobilization of a grassroots movement of doers who are willing to work as hard as possible to achieve their goals.


Even with these successes, there is still so much work to do! 2018 will be a crucial election cycle. Let’s stay energized, motivated, and encouraged.


But for today, take a moment to relax, regroup and reflect on the hard-fought victories from last night… We’ll need your hard work and commitment more than ever in the coming months.


Thanks for everything you did to make last night possible.


Raghib Allie-Brennan, Vice Chairman
Bethel Democratic Town Committee


2017 Bethel Municipal Election Winners:
First Selectman, Matt Knickerbocker (2,935) D
Selectman, Rich Straiton (2,652) D
Selectman, Paul Szatkowski (1,983) R


Town Clerk, Lisa Bergh (4,617) D


Treasurer, Pat Smithwick (2,446) D


Board of Finance:
Wendy Smith (2,453) D
Robert Manfreda (2,363) D
Dalene Foster (2,270) D
Robert Palmer (2,271) D


Board of Finance 2 Year Seat – Automatic Recount
Claudia Stephan (2,257) D or
Bill Slifkin (2,244) R


Board of Education:
Jen Ackerman (2,487) D
Melanie O’Brien (2,417) R
Jen Larsen (2,355) D
Nick Hoffman (2,209) R


Board of Assessment Appeals:
Will Duff (2,352) R
Fern Blair Hart (2,233) D
Gary Passineau (2,143) D


Planning and Zoning:
Patricia Rist (2,377) R
Kitty Grant (2,358) R
Steve Deuschle (2,356) R


Planning and Zoning Alternate:
Penny Kessler (2,369) D


Zoning Board of Appeals:
Richard Lawlor (2,445) D
Jay Streaman (2,425) R
Eileen Freebairn (2,243) D


Zoning Board of Appeals – 2 Year Seat:
Bobbi Jo Beers (3,417) R


Zoning Board of Appeals Alternate:
Cyndie McGuire (2,158) D


Inland Wetlands Commission:
Laura Ferguson (3,140) R
Peter Samardak (3,029) R
Ken Stevens (2,403) R


Inland Wetlands Alternate:
Lou David (3,071) D


Police Commission:
Kevin Cleary (2,540) R
Anthony Rubino (2,387) R
Richard Kolwicz (2,244) R


Democratic Board of Finance Candidates’ Joint Statement

Bethel is facing a perfect fiscal storm and the Democratic team of candidates for the Board of Finance—Dalene Foster, Bob Manfreda, Robert Palmer, Wendy Smith and Claudia Stephan—possesses the business, financial and municipal expertise necessary to weather the storm and to move Bethel forward.


The next budget cycle not only requires Bethel’s Board of Finance to wrestle with the typical issues involving the annual operating budget, but will also require important decisions on both the police station and school renovation projects. Specifically, the town must bond $14.5 million for the new, approved police station, for which construction is underway. The town is also faced with either renovating “as-new” (estimated net cost, $40 to $42 million) or patchwork repairing (estimated cost, $29 million) our Johnson and Rockwell schools. The successful town referendum was an important first step to renovating as new, but now Bethel must wait on the State’s final approval of its grant request.


The State of Connecticut’s budget troubles make the Board of Finance’s job more difficult. These budget woes have and will continue to result in less support from Hartford, jeopardizing funding the Town has relied upon in its immediate past. Given these realities, the Bethel Board of Finance cannot conduct business as usual. We are no longer merely managing a checkbook.


Rather, to successfully navigate the coming fiscal storm, the Bethel Board of Finance members must possess the financial expertise necessary to know how best to use the fund balance while maintaining the town’s AAA credit rating; the financial acumen to assess the interest-rate environment for purposes of paying back $12 million of short-term debt not related to the police station, issuing less-expensive new long-term debt and, possibly, re-bonding expensive existing debt; and the financial foresight to plan for what may come, such as establishing sinking funds for large critical purchases like fire trucks.


The Bethel Democratic candidates for the Board of Finance possess this expertise. We, the undersigned, are the team that will ensure Bethel successfully weathers the storms to come. Please support expertise in financial management by electing the Democratic team for the Bethel Board of Finance. Vote Row A on November 7.


Dalene Foster, Bob Manfreda, Robert Palmer, Wendy Smith and Claudia Stephan

Democratic Candidates for Bethel’s Board of Finance


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.