BEACON FALLS — Chris Bielik turned some old shoe leather into a new job.
The Democrat’s door-to-door campaign paid off as he won Beacon Falls’ first selectman race in his first attempt, unseating Republican incumbent Gerard Smith by earning nearly 53 percent of the vote Tuesday.
Bielik garnered 973 votes to Smith’s 871. Smith, the only registered Republican on the ticket, was not reelected to the Board of Selectmen as a pair of Democrats — Bielik’s running mate Peter Betkoski and Smith’s partner Dominick Sorrentino — both earned higher vote totals.
“I am very humbled that the people of Beacon Falls have enough faith and confidence in me, a relative newcomer to the town, to think that my record so far as a selectman and my background can take us on a good path forward,” Bielik said. “That’s my pledge: to take us on a good path forward.”
Betkoski received 965 votes and Sorrentino received 873. Because the difference between Sorrentino’s and Smith’s totals was just two votes an automatic recount was triggered. According to the town clerk’s office, Smith declined the recount so it will not be held.
Smith said Tuesday he is retiring from local politics after a quarter-century.
“I served the people of Beacon Falls for 25 years and I’m good to go,” said Smith, who noted he harbored no regrets during his two years as first selectman. “It was a good race. The people of Beacon Falls decided who they wanted as first selectman.”
Smith pointed to “an aggressive, door-to-door campaign that was filled with a lot of conversation” as the main reason why Bielik won the election. The 52-year-old retired U.S. Navy commander agreed.
“Getting around door to door is the single most important thing a candidate can do because it’s the only way to get unfiltered feedback from the people of this town,” Bielik said. “The electorate of this town is the governing body, and we need to know what’s important to them. There’s no other way of doing that than getting around.”
Bielik said he reached every public road in town by campaigning about six days a week for two months.
“I’ve listened to people, and they’ve listened to me,” Bielik said. “That’s a relationship I hope to keep going — maybe with not so much shoe leather involved, but my door will be open and people can talk to me any time.”
Bielik celebrates nine years living in Beacon Falls this month. He served as a minority selectman for the last two years and said he wants to change what he perceived as exclusiveness in town business.
“This result shows that people really want actual open government and not someone else’s idea of what open government should be,” Bielik said. “That means actually listening to people and encouraging comments from people.”
Beacon Falls has a number of major infrastructure projects that must be addressed, including work at the wastewater treatment plant and the crumbling of many roads in town. Bielik said he will have to find a way to manage those needs with the issue he heard most during his campaign.
“The single most important issue that I heard going door to door is that people are worried about taxes,” Bielik said. “My first responsibility is to answer those questions from them: Where is the money going, and how are we going to spend it wisely? What are the big projects coming down the road, and how are we going to address them? They all feed off each other.”
Democrat Sheryl Feducia maintained her seat on the Board of Education while newcomer Christine Arnold, a Republican, took the other spot. Republicans also kept the offices of town clerk and treasurer, as Len Greene Sr. and Mike Krenesky won their respective races.
Democrat Maryann Holloway was elected as tax collector. Jim Huk, a Democrat, and Brian Ploss, a Republican, retained their seats on the finance board. Democrats Jessica DeGennaro and Patty Caldwell were elected as library directors.
See election results here.