Debating Orange candidates reveal their 2016 presidential choices

Democrat Margaret Novicki, left, Independent Alex DeAngelo, center, and Republican Orange First Selectman James Zeoli, all candidates for Orange First Selectman, shake hands after a debate Sunday morning at Congregation Or Shalom in Orange.

Democrat Margaret Novicki, left, Independent Alex DeAngelo, center, and Republican Orange First Selectman James Zeoli, all candidates for Orange First Selectman, shake hands after a debate Sunday morning at Congregation Or Shalom in Orange.

The three candidates for Orange First Selectman debated Sunday at Congregation Or Shalom, where the answers to the question about who they voted for in the 2016 presidential election may have revealed more insight into their personalities than any other.

The race this year is between six-term Republican incumbent Jim Zeoli, Democrat Margaret Novicki, a newcomer to the local political scene whose popularity is rapidly growing — giving Zeoli has biggest challenge for the top job in 12 years, and independent candidate Alex DeAngelo, a 24-year-old Amity High School graduate who says he knows he he’s a longshot, but he’s in it to give a voice to millennials like himself.

There is no single burning-hot issue in Orange right now and the candidates all believe economic development, affordable senior housing and maintaining the town’s high educational standards are priorities.

But there is a game-changing difference in their proposed approaches to those issues — with Novicki asserting Orange’s next leader needs to be proactive rather than reactive to make Orange an even better place to live.

Zeoli said in response that he’s proactive every day, but Orange isn’t structured in a way like Milford to lower taxes through increased revenue streams.

In answer to the question about the presidential election, Novicki said she voted for Hillary Clinton, DeAngelo voted for Donald Trump, and Zeoli didn’t vote for either. Reached later by phone, Zeoli said he voted that day, but left the presidential area blank.

DeAngelo got the first crack at the surprise question — forgetting to give a name, but telling the crowd that he wanted to see “change” and a “fresh face” because he wasn’t happy with what either Democrats or Republicans had done in recent years. He confirmed after the debate that Trump got his vote and it wasn’t until after the election he realized he was an independent.

Of Trump, DeAngelo said later in a Facebook message, “ I still think he can succeed, but we all wish he could display better behavior and courtesy on the political stage.”

Novicki answered the question clearly and decisively, saying she voted for Clinton because the candidate has values of the Democratic Party, which includes support for working people and diversity.

Zeoli said although he was interested in some candidates at the primary level, he “didn’t vote for either,” major party candidate on Election Day. Zeoli told the crowd he doesn’t hold values in common with Trump and he wouldn’t vote for Clinton.

There wasn’t any nasty sparring during the “debate” — more like a discussion of each candidate’s position on the various issues: economic development, projects that could provide relief from taxes, education and senior citizens.

On the issue of senior citizens, DeAngelo said he visited the senior center and was shocked by the state of the facility at High Plains Community Center. He said the chairs were ripped.

“Our senior citizens are a top priority,” DeAngelo said.

Zeoli said he was “furious” to learn about the ripped chairs — he said there is money to fix that — as well as to repaint the senior center. Zeoli has maintained for 12 years that seniors are a priority of his and recently said he is always looking to create senior housing opportunities.

Novicki said she has spoken with many seniors on the campaign trail, and they fear for the future, wondering if they can afford to stay in their homes or whether they can get enough money from the sale of their house to move where they want to. She said recently that seniors in town feel “marginalized.”

She said there need to be more resources and a holistic approach to solving the problems they face.

Another hot button issue during the campaign has been economic development. Novicki, who said she acquired great leadership and managerial skills during a long career at the United Nations, said she would take a proactive approach to economic development with an eye toward filling some large, vacant parcels. She said there needs to be an updated approach and “a good 10-year plan” to build the tax rolls.

Zeoli said he’s already on top of economic development — that he works with Greater New Haven development groups and there are talks in the works for the Stew Leonard property on Marsh Hill Road, but he can’t divulge the developer.

Zeoli said that of over 6 million square feet of retail and industrial office space in town, only 280,000 square feet is vacant.

Novicki, who is endorsed by Democrats U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy told the debate audience that taxes have gone up 28 percent in 10 years and “It’s time for new leadership in Orange.”

Zeoli said he’s “worked very hard,” as the town’s leader and likened Orange to being like a soccer ball — without the pieces sewn together to make it what it is, the ball won’t hold air.