Consumer advocate Ralph Nader has come home again. But the mayor wishes he'd mind his own business and stay in Washington.
"You know, Ralph Nader is not the king of Winsted," said Mayor James D. O'Meara.The two men have battled for the past two years over a school that Nader and his family attended.
Nader led a drive to save and renovate the big red brick building built in 1900. O'Meara wanted the Mary P. Hinsdale School flattened because of structural problems and replaced with a modern structure.
The mayor won, with the backing of a majority of the voters, and demolition began July 6.
That prompted Nader to launch an investigation by his Public Interest Research Group into how Win-sted decides issues of great public interest.
Nader said he had been planning for some time to investigate ways in which "governments obstruct citizen participation" and decided last month that there was no better place to start than his hometown.
"There's a bipartisan agreement in Winsted that historically the town has not been governed well, that the planning process has been poor," he said.
The battle to save the school was highly emotional and led to numerous public hearings, a petition drive and a court battle. Nader and his supporters sought and lost two referendums, the last one by a 2-1 margin in May.
The school was located around the corner from the Nader family home. Nader, 54, was a student there from 1939 to 1943. Another graduate was David Halberstam, an author and journalist.
Nader and his sister, Claire Nader, who is still a Winsted resident, sought to have the school protected under state and national historic preservation regulations, but that was rejected because a portion of the school was torn down in 1950 when a wing was added.
They argued that renovation would have been cheaper than demolition. A week before demolition began the city rejected their bid to rent the school for $85,000 a year. Win-sted plans a $7.8 million, one-story school at the site.
"Nader's problem is that he's highly personalized this thing," the 45-year-old mayor said. "He ought to come up and take a barometer of the people's attitudes in this town about what he's trying to do.
"I'm a political, elected official. I'm a lifelong resident and have lived here 90 percent of my life, and I think I've got a good feel for what people want. I mean, he's been gone for 37 years."
Nader said his study should be ready by fall and he hopes it will make Winsted "a more progressive, better place to live," and provide lessons for other small towns.
O'Meara believes Nader's study is "plain, unadulterated nonsense."
"This town has functioned for 200 years without Ralph Nader, and it will continue to function," the mayor said. "It's just sour grapes over the fact that the voters have voted twice to demolish a school building that his family opposed."