What Makes Lydia Benedict Run?

Written by Julie Wernau.


School board candidate says she has received backlash due to husband


Jeff Benedict isn’t the only Benedict making local headlines these days.

Lydia Benedict -- wife of the local author who is also president of the Connecticut Alliance Against Casino Expansion -- has herself become the subject of local controversy.


In her run for a seat on the Board of Education, Lydia Benedict has been criticized for her successful campaign against the Board of Education’s extended school day policy, which her opponents have deemed a “publicity stunt” designed as a springboard for political gain.

Her own party members turned against her when all Democrats currently on the Board of Education wrote a letter this June unanimously opposing her candidacy. She, along with four other candidates, received her party’s nomination at a caucus last month.

Former Superintendent Jack Reynolds hinted that his decision to leave East Lyme for another district was, in part, due to Benedict’s “personal attacks,” according to news reports.

In articles and letters to the editor in The Day and this newspaper, Benedict has been criticized for everything from her “confrontational” approach to her star-studded campaign contributions -- an untouchable $4,000 in just three weeks. Others have wondered whether her campaign is actually being used to aid her husband’s higher political aspirations.

In a one-on-one interview last week, Benedict said that her campaign had been “tainted” by “baggage” left over from her husband’s unsuccessful campaign for Congress and his work against casino expansion.

At the Celebrate East Lyme festivities last week, Benedict encountered an example of that backlash when she approached a constituent about her campaign.

“Once he put two-and-two together - ‘Benedict, Benedict’ --he said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t support you,’” she said. The man alluded, she said, to her husband’s campaign against the Mashantuckets that started with the publication of his 2000 book, “Without Reservation,” which questioned the tribe’s legitimacy. “I said, ‘Does that mean that I’m tainted by that?’ and he said, ‘Honestly, yes.’”

Benedict said last week that her aspirations are completely separate from those of her husband, who has armed her with loads of advice as campaign manager and chairman of her fund-raising.

“I’m my own person, and this is a completely different issue,” said Benedict, who graduated from Northeastern University near the top of her class, with a major in English and writing concentration. Lydia Benedict published a children’s book before Jeff Benedict’s first published book hit stores.

Benedict said she didn’t have “the foggiest notion” that she would run for the Board of Education when she jumped on the extended-day issue, which is still being debated for what opponents have deemed a lack of parent and teacher input from the administration.

Benedict, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a stay-at-home mom with three young children, has criticized the extended day for the time it would take away from families.

Although she has a background in education and administration, Benedict said, “My own children are a big reason why I’m running. … I have three jobs, and their names are Tennyson, Clancy and Maggie.”

When asked how her religious beliefs would affect her policy-making if elected, Benedict, who does not believe in evolution, said that although her faith is “integral” to her life and opinions, she feels that the Board of Education is “more about how the people feel and representing them.”

“I am not an extremist,” she said. “...At home, I’m going to make sure that I teach my children what we believe. You’re not going to be able to control everything your child is taught in school. The family is the basic institution.”

Benedict first attended a meeting on the extended school day in 2003, and said that the more she got involved in the issue, the more she was convinced that the board “could use some new voices.” She said parents and teachers approached her and asked her to run for the seat.

“If I had a hidden agenda, I wouldn’t have latched on to the extended school day issue,” she said. “I would have just run for the Board of Education, not rocked the boat. I could have gotten on without much controversy.”

Benedict defended herself from those opponents who’ve said she has stooped to personal attacks, saying that she has yet to see an example of one of her “so-called” personal attacks.

“Standing up and asking a question about a policy … the procedure by which that procedure came into play, that’s not a personal attack,” she said. “...This idea that ‘the Benedicts are confrontational’ -- well, sometimes you do have to confront the issues.”