NAUGATUCK — The Republican Town Committee has chosen Alex Olbrys to fill a vacant burgess slot on the GOP ticket.
“I was excited,” said Olbrys, 21, about his emotions after being told he was tapped to fill the vacancy. “Then I realized it’s going to be a lot of work, and I’m looking forward to working hard for the citizens.”
Olbrys, a senior studying history at Southern Connecticut State University, has served on the Inland Wetlands Commission for the past two years. He is the youngest candidate running for a major elected office in Naugatuck this year.
Olbrys said he’s running for burgess because young people can’t afford to live in Naugatuck and the state. When college students graduate, he said, many are saddled with student loans and leave Connecticut because of the high cost of living. Many of his peers are already talking about leaving, he said.
Olbrys said Naugatuck is a great community and he doesn’t want to see it lose its young people.
“I think young people need a voice in government and they need to be involved in local government as well,” Olbrys said.
As a senior at Naugatuck High School, Olbrys headed the politics club and helped organize protests against layoffs during the 2009 school system budget crisis.
As a freshman at SCSU, Olbrys said he was looking for ways to get involved at the school. However, he said, it was difficult because he commutes. Olbrys said he approached Mayor Robert Mezzo at the time about getting involved locally and was appointed to the Inland Wetlands Commission.
“It’s been a learning experience, and I’m really grateful for the time I’ve been on wetlands,” Olbrys said.
Olbrys filled the vacancy left when candidate Smokey Regan dropped out of the race in late July. Regan was criticized after the Republican American reported on back car taxes she owes the borough.
Olbrys was selected by the town committee’s vacancy committee comprised of Burgess Catherine Ernsky, state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas and finance board member Kim Kiernan.
Ernsky said about six candidates expressed interest to fill the vacancy and about half of them were interviewed. She said Olbrys stood out for many reasons.
“Not only did he have a strong sense of community that is essential, he also had some town experience having served on the wetlands commission,” Ernsky said in an email. “In addition to the glowing letters of recommendations we received regarding Alex, when you meet him he has a sense of earnest that is rare to find these days.
Ernsky said instead of leaving after college, Olbrys is looking to be part of the change in Naugatuck that will make it possible for him and others his age to want to stay.
“We look forward to the rejuvenation that he will infuse in the younger voters across all party lines,” she said.
Republican Town Committee Chairman Dorothy Hoff said Olbrys brings enthusiasm and energy to the ticket.
“I have found Alex to be a bright young man, who has already served two years on one of our land use boards, and wishes to broaden his service to our community,” Hoff said in an email. “His enthusiasm and energy will be good not only for our ticket, but for all the residents of Naugatuck.”
Olbrys agreed that he can bring a more youthful approach to the Republican slate. But, he said, his candidacy shows that anyone can get involved locally no matter how young or old they are.
“This campaign is not about me,” he said. “It’s about getting Naugatuck back on track.”
With Olbrys now on the ballot there is only one burgess vacancy left to be filled, which is on the Democrat ticket.
Democrat burgess candidate Peg Sheehy dropped out of the race in early August due to health reasons. Town Clerk Michelle Dowling said earlier this week that Democrats had not filed any paperwork regarding her replacement. Democratic Town Committee Chairman M. Leonard Caine could not be reached for comment as of press time.