BETHEL -- Robert Burke is a petitioning candidate for first selectman as a member of the Connecticut Tea Party, along with a proposed slate of candidates, according to the secretary of the state's office.
Burke applied for a nominating petition for his slate for the Nov. 8 municipal election. He needs 49 signatures and must present them to the Bethel town clerk or the Secretary of the State's office by Wednesday.
Burke, who did not return phone calls Friday, plans to run against incumbent Democrat Matt Knickerbocker and Republican Kevin Cleary.
Burke announced in April that he planned to run for office again. It was on the day a second-degree harassment charge against him was dismissed because he had completed an accelerated rehabilitation program, a form of probation only offered to first-time offenders, according to court records.
The case stemmed from complaint filed when he was first selectman in 2009 by a woman with whom he allegedly had a yearlong relationship, according to a court affidavit.
Burke's announcement shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. He came close to beating Kevin Cleary at the Republican convention and the former First Selectman still has a following of core supporters.
Does Burke have a chance in becoming First Selectman again or does his entry into the race guarantee another term for Matt Knickerbocker? Many in Bethel believe that Burke played the spoiler two years ago by pulling away votes from Republican candidate Larry Craybas and handing Knickerbocker a victory.
Here's what Bethel RTC chairman Paul Improta had to say about Burke on election night two years ago...
Republican party chairman Paul Improta was furious with Burke's role in the election.
"He got over 1,200 votes," Improta said. "He has a pending criminal situation and they would still come out and vote for him.''
If Burke pulled 1,200 votes two years ago (in face of his criminal situation at the time), why couldn't Burke pull 1,200 votes (or more) two years later? Remember, the Republicans in Bethel just nominated as their choice for First Selectman someone who was a Democratic candidate for Selectman back in 2007 as well as someone who stood up for Jason Bartlett in face of the disdain Burke, Selectman Paul Szatkowski, and the Bethel Republican had for the former State Rep. back in 2008...
News-Times October 6 2008:
For the last two years, First Selectman Bob Burke, a Republican, has made no secret of his disdain for state Rep. Jason Bartlett, D-Bethel.
But a recent political flier endorsed by Burke and the Bethel Republican Town Committee wasn't just out of bounds, it was against the law.
Under the state's new public financing laws, only opposing candidates can issue attack ads against each other. In this case, Bartlett's challenger for the 2nd District, Republican Melanie O'Brien, was nowhere to be seen.
What's more, the Burke-authored flier skewers Bartlett on issues that aren't in the 2nd District, including repaving roads in the Stony Hill Sewer District and protecting open space on Hickok Avenue.
Even if you believe Bartlett is "a bag of hot air," as Republican Town Committee chairman Paul Improta suggests, it doesn't excuse Improta from showing zero remorse Tuesday for violating the new public financing laws.
"We are willing to pay the penalty," an indignant Improta told The News-Times.
Is this the message Republicans really want to convey in Bethel?
One of the main points of contention between Burke and Bartlett is a $500,000 state bond appropriation Bartlett secured to make improvements in downtown Bethel.
Burke claims the money is not available. Bartlett disagrees in no uncertain terms.
According to Bartlett, the money has been bonded and is available to improve sidewalks, create retail parking, renovate the teen center or any other downtown project Bethel wishes to pursue.
Does the money need to be released first by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican? You bet.
Will she do it while Connecticut and the rest of the nation are mired in economic turmoil? Not likely.
Bartlett was supposed to address the Board of Selectmen about the $500,000 bond earlier this year, but the meeting was cancelled and Bartlett's appearance not rescheduled.
At the board's Sept. 2 meeting, Selectman Kevin Cleary, a Democrat, requested that Bartlett be added to the next meeting's agenda to discuss the bond allocation.
When Burke said Cleary needed to make a formal motion, Cleary obliged and asked for a second. Suddenly, Roberts Rules of Order was little more than political posturing.
Burke and fellow Republican Selectman Paul Szatkowski sat in sheer silence, until Burke finally responded, "Your motion does not have a second, therefore it has failed."
But who really failed here?
It's not a stretch to contend Burke failed townspeople by not allowing Bartlett to address the selectmen, effectively censoring him.
Clearly, Burke should have seconded Cleary's motion and put Bartlett back on the agenda. As someone who represents Bethel in Hartford, Bartlett should get the floor, just like he should be held accountable for his actions.
It's not a stretch to say that some Republicans in Bethel remember the Democratic Clearly during his time as Selectman when he locked heads with the Republicans and might be turned off with his candidacy...I mean we're talking about Bethel politics.
Lets just say that (once again) Bethel's campaign season could turn out to be very interesting...