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For Hiram Fuchs, it all started with a playground.
Fuchs is a Connecticut state marshal and former small business owner who is running as a Democrat against Westbrook First Selectman Noel Bishop, a Republican.
Fuchs decided to run for office after his son, at 18 months old, fell and injured his hands in the renovated playground behind the Westbrook firehouse. The surface between the two play areas, where the toddler was running, is crushed stone.
“When he hit the gravel [the skin on his hands] got peeled back,” Fuchs said. “And he was crying and he was bleeding.
“Crushed stone is the stuff you put on your driveway—it’s very, very sharp,” he said.
Fuchs wrote a letter to Bishop, saying the surface wasn’t appropriate for a playground and needed to be fixed.
“And while we’re at it,” he said he wrote, “I think it would be nice if you changed the theme there to a fire department theme. The fire department’s 100th anniversary is coming up next year...It would be beautiful; the whole community can get involved.
“He wrote me back [saying] we’re not going to change it,” Fuchs said.
Fuchs has spent time researching playgrounds. Crushed stone, he said, is not among the recommended surfaces. And according to Fuchs, a member of the Parks & Recreation Commission told him that they were not consulted on the playground renovation—which was funded with a grant from the Westbrook Foundation—but that the Parks & Recreation director bought the equipment and the Public Works director installed the crushed stone.
Fuchs met with Bishop and told him that since the playground was renovated, fewer children play there. Bishop, Fuchs said, attributed this to the decrease in enrollment in Westbrook schools.
“I said, You don’t realize that the people who use our playgrounds are not just Westbrook people; they’re from all over,” Fuchs said. “They have a choice of where to take their kids. And they’re not coming here anymore. So there’s nothing appealing to people to move to Westbrook.”
For Fuchs, a playground is not just a playground. It’s an investment in the community. He points to the Essex playground, located behind Essex Town Hall. The playground was paid for entirely with a $130,000 state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant.
“It’s a brilliant investment,” he said. “They have a team of grant writers. They have three of them, apparently, and they work together. Their motto is, ‘Ya gotta make ’em cry.’”
Fuchs has called for a Westbrook grant writing team to be established to seek out and write grant proposals, a cost he believes will earn for the town many times its members’ salaries.
The Essex playground renovation, he said, “attracts a ton of people; it’s a lot of fun for the kids...Playgrounds are a smart investment of money. It’s not an expense. It’s an investment in the community. It attracts young families.
“Wherever I look in town, I see opportunity, he continued. “I’m student of [the book] Good to Great by John Collins, a professor at Stanford.”
Fuchs quoted the book: “To allow something to remain good when it could be great is a secular sin.”
Fuchs apparently applies that philosophy to his own life. He is a striver who said he never settles for “good enough.”
After moving to Connecticut in 2007 and renovating the 1831 house next door to his mother’s, Fuchs, who has an undergraduate degree in economics and a master’s in teaching, thought he’d try his hand as a driving instructor. He worked for AAA, becoming one of three master instructors in the organization after 3 ½ years. A few years later, he decided to open his own driving school.
He thought, “I’d like to do driver’s ed better than AAA,” he said. “For AAA, it’s just sort of a side thing...I want to make the best driving school I can.
“I researched it, it wasn’t super hard to get the license, I went through all of the processes, then I rented a location in Old Saybrook,” he said.
After two years, he moved the school to a new building in Clinton. He hired two of the driving instructors who’d trained him when he worked at AAA. He was the third teacher; all three had master’s degrees in teaching.
“It was a profitable business,” Fuchs said.
But at the end of five years, the state changed a number of regulations that made it difficult for small driving schools to stay in business, he said. After giving it some thought, he decided to ride out his lease until the end, get everything in order, and close the business.
He approaches his work as a Connecticut state marshal—a sworn peace officer who serves legal papers, among other duties—similarly. Connecticut requires legal documents to be served in person or left at the recipient’s home. Some marshals, Fuchs said, regard a name on a mailbox as sufficient proof that someone lives there. Fuchs requires independent verification. Then he’ll note that on his returns—the papers he files—in case there’s any question.
“You have to get that stuff straight because at some point...someone’s multi-million-dollar lawsuit [could be] in front of a judge and the opposing attorney is looking to pick apart the return,” he explained. “If they can find something wrong with it, they can lose the entire case and the marshal gets sued.
“I’ve been a marshal for seven years,” he added. “I’ve never had a complaint filed against me and I’ve never had a single one of my services that I’ve done ever called into question by a court.”
Fuchs hopes to turn his enthusiasm and attention to detail toward running the town.
“One of the most important jobs of any executive is to manage risk,” he said.
For him, West Beach’s deteriorating jetties are an example of lack of risk management.
Bishop, Fuchs said, “has consistently put off replacing the [eight] jetties.”
Currently, $100,000 is in the town’s capital plan for replacement of one jetty.
“If we get hit with another major storm, it could wash the jetties away,” Fuchs said, “along with the beach. The resulting cost to rebuild would run into the millions of dollars.”
Other examples are the Westbrook Outlets, which Fuchs said are “approaching 50 percent vacancy.”
“When I met with the manager...I suggested they move away from retail and focus more on providing experiences,” he said. “My concern is if the outlets go belly up, we risk losing the almost $700,000” in annual taxes. “Who do you think would have to make up that loss?”
“I’m passionate about the town,” Fuchs said. “I’m passionate that the town does as best as it can.”
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