Democratic state Sen. Andrea Stillman's bid for a second term in the 20th Senate District is facing an aggressive challenge from Christopher Oliveira, an Old Lyme lawyer and Republican Party activist who claims Stillman did not object to New London's controversial use of eminent domain for the redevelopment of the city's Fort Trumbull neighborhood.
Stillman, 58 of Waterford, was elected to represent the seven-town shoreline district in 2004, succeeding Melodie Peters, another Waterford Democrat who had represented the district for 12 years. Stillman represented the Waterford-based 38th House District from 1992 to 2004.
Oliveira, 36, is making his first bid for elective office after previous involvement in the Republican Party, including service as Old Lyme's Republican town chairman and as a member of the Republican State Central Committee.
The district covers New London, Waterford, East Lyme, Old Lyme, Salem and portions of Montville and Old Saybrook.
Although the eminent domain controversy has eased after a settlement with the Fort Trumbull homeowners in June, Oliveira has made it a campaign issue by alleging that Stillman avoided active involvement in the long-running issue because J. Solomon Inc., a New London business she co-owns with her husband, was selling stationery supplies to the city and the New London Development Corp., which had initiated eminent domain proceedings against several property owners who refused to sell their homes to make way for redevelopment.
Oliveira raised the issue at the campaign's only public debate, held Tuesday in Old Lyme, and has continued to press it with freedom of information requests seeking records of business between J. Solomon Inc. and the city. He claims that more than $700,000 in business with the city over the past decade and $3,500 in sales to the New London Development Corp. led Stillman to "tacitly support" the actions of the city and the development agency during the eminent domain controversy.
"Those folks went to her for help and she did nothing," Oliveira said, adding that Stillman should have limited the company's business with the city and ended all sales to the development agency during the controversy. "It's the definition of a conflict of interest," he said.
Stillman bristles at Oliveira's effort to link her business with the eminent domain issue. "I think it is despicable that he is denigrating a well-respected family-owned business to improve his chances of getting elected state senator," she said.
Stillman rejects claims that she tacitly supported the eminent domain actions. Furthermore, she said, the New London Development Corp. was established under an agreement between the city council and the administration of former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland. "There was no legislative input," she said.
Stillman also pointed to her support, during this year's legislative session, of two unsuccessful amendments that were intended to limit the use of eminent domain for economic development projects.
Oliveira calls for both legislative action and a constitutional amendment to limit the use of government acquisition of private property via eminent domain. Stillman said she intends to support legislation that would require a referendum or town meeting vote to confirm any municipality's decision to use eminent domain.
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