Bethel First Selectman Robert Burke pleaded not guilty Tuesday to harassment charges. He was accused of making 40 harassing phone calls to a woman and her boyfriend. He turned himself in to Connecticut State Police in Southbury two weeks ago after learning there was a warrant out for his arrest.
State Police released few details at the time of Burke's arrest but said he made a series of harassing phone calls on Dec. 8, 2008. Police did not say who received those calls, but several sources told NBC Connecticut the victim is a woman whom Burke was interested in.
Bethel Police Commissioner Nick Ellis told the Danbury News Times that Burke and the alleged victim had a personal relationship that was private between them and their families, but the issue became public after that person went to the police department several times.
The arrest was eight months in the making, state police said. The charges come just three weeks before the 62-year-old two-term Republican squares off in the town's primary election Sept. 15.
"I don't know the details, but from what I understand, he has a good reputation in the community. I know he's up for reelection," Brooks Baldwin, of Bethel, said.
Burke releases a statement after his arrest to the News Times and spoke with the paper.
"I will vigorously defend my innocence of the charges,'' Burke said. "At this point, I look forward to running on my record."
His statement said that he did not know the details of the allegation but was certain it was "without merit and baseless.''
"I fully cooperated and I have nothing to be afraid of. It's a minor misdemeanor,'' Burke said in a phone call.
Some residents in town were surprised to hear of the arrest.
"That's not very cool, but innocent until proven guilty. I guess," Linda Schumacher-Brown said. "I guess we have to find out the details of what really happened."
"Anytime there is a break down in an elected official, it doesn't serve the community they are serving," former First Selectman Alice Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson, a Democrat, lost to Burke in 2005.
"I have a feeling as all of this comes out, the political process will take care of itself with the citizens of Bethel making that decision," Hutchinson said.
Bethel's Republicans didn't nominate Burke for re-election to a third term, but he petitioned to be on the primary ballot.
Democratic candidate Matthew Knickerbocker said voters would have the final say.
"I am not calling for his resignation," Knickerbocker said. "I don't wish him ill. It's going to be a difficult time for him. It's close enough to the election that the people of Bethel should decide who will run the town."
Burke was released on a written promise to appear in court on Sept. 8. The primary election will be held on Sept. 15. He said Tuesday, he plans to continue his campaign.
A judge issued a protective order barring Burke from having contact with the woman or her daughter.