Democrats have their nominee for first selectman, so you can now officially remove the “placeholder” status from Stephanie Paulmeno’s candidacy.
After weeks of deliberation, Ms. Paulmeno announced her run for Greenwich’s top elected office in an email to the town’s Democratic Town Committee (DTC) on Monday and she is expected to follow that up with a press conference within the next week. At that time she says she will outline the themes of her candidacy and build upon that throughout the campaign, starting at the DTC’s kickoff picnic on Sept. 8.
This announcement comes after it seemed like Greenwich Democrats had no candidate to challenge incumbent Republican First Selectman Peter Tesei and then looked like they had too many. Ms. Paulmeno initially put her name forward in July at the DTC’s nominating caucus, standing as a placeholder candidate until Sept. 1 to give the party more time to find a permanent candidate and preventing someone from outside the party being able to petition their way onto the Democratic ballot.
Ms. Paulmeno insisted at the time this was only meant to be a temporary solution to the party’s difficulty in finding someone to run against Mr. Tesei, who is coming off three landlslide victories in 2007, 2009 and 2011, but after that meeting she said she began receiving encouragement to run and began thinking more seriously about a real candidacy. Another potential Democratic candidate with experience in town government came forward at that time, but on Tuesday Ms. Paulmeno told the Post that she believed she was the best one who could represent the party in the fall election.
“I had no intention of running when we started this process,” Ms. Paulmeno said. “But when no one else would come forward I didn’t feel our top spot should be vacant. Since then I have received so much encouragement and support from both parties. I said I would step aside if there was a better candidate who could do more to support our party and our party’s values. I don’t believe there was anyone who brought more as a candidate than I feel I do.”
A registered nurse and health care administrator, Ms. Paulmeno has worked for the town as both the director of nursing and administrator of record for The Nathaniel Witherell, and also as director of community health planning for the Department of Health. She has served on the Representative Town Meeting and on town boards like the Commission on Aging. Since 2009, she has been a small business owner in town, operating a health care consulting business in Old Greenwich, Global Health Systems Consultants.
She pointed to both professional and volunteer experience working in health and social services locally and for the state as reasons why she is a strong candidate for first selectman. Ms. Paulmeno also has experience working on the Greenwich United Way’s Planning Committee, and on the Community Development Block Grant program that gives federal dollars to local non-profit agencies. During her time working for the town she helped lead the Greenwich public health system’s assessment and develop emergency response plans for the outbreak of a disease such as SARS.
“Not only do I know town departments, but I know the local agencies that will be working with the town,” Ms. Paulmeno said, adding that health and safety will be major areas of attention in her campaign.
Ms. Paulmeno has been viewed as a strong candidate for office for some time and not just by Democrats. Before an unsuccessful run last year for the open 150th District state representative seat, Ms. Paulmeno said she had been approached years earlier by State Reps. Lile Gibbons (R-150th) and Livvy Floren (R-149th) about running as a Republican. She said she believed that was a testament to her ability to work in a bipartisan fashion to build consensus on issues facing the town and the state.
Calling herself a fiscal conservative with a strong belief in issues like education, housing and a social safety net, Ms. Paulmeno said she believed she can address town priorities as first selectman due to her experience as an administrator developing budgets and achieving goals. She pledged, if elected, to draw from her experience in analysis and data gathering to make the best decisions for the town. She said a first selectman in Greenwich can have influence on a lot of issues, stressing her support for a recent measure before the board calling for stronger federal gun laws (see story on page one) and the ongoing question of what to do about racial balance in the town’s public schools.
She said she had received encouragement and support from both town Democrats and Republicans. Ms. Paulmeno said she’s never looked at people’s political parties to try and solve a problem, but rather how they could best work together.
Ms. Paulmeno is now at the head of a Democratic ticket that faces a large hill to climb if it wants to unseat Mr. Tesei in a town where Republicans still enjoy a large voter registration advantage over Democrats. Selectman Drew Marzullo is running for a third term against Republican Selectman David Theis and, under Greenwich’s election system, if Ms. Paulmeno got more votes than Mr. Marzullo he would be pushed off the board. But Ms. Paulmeno said she was working to make sure there was a unified party.
“I would love to see all of us operating and campaigning together,” Ms. Paulmeno said. “Drew is a good friend and a very major factor in why I’m doing this.”
Mr. Marzullo had much praise for Ms. Paulmeno as well, telling the Post on Tuesday that Ms. Paulmeno was “a great friend with a distinguished career working for the town who would bring institutional knowledge to the office”
“I’m looking forward to an energetic and robust campaign season alongside Stephanie,” Mr. Marzullo said.
And while it seemed for a time as though Mr. Tesei might be unopposed for a new term, Republican Town Committee Chairman Jim Campbell said this will not change the party’s strategy going into the fall.
“Peter Tesei has done a great job,” Mr. Campbell said. “I welcome Greenwich voters having a choice and I’m confident they’ll choose to have two more years of Peter Tesei as first selectman.”
Not surprisingly, DTC Chairman Frank Farricker had a far different assessment of Ms. Paulmeno’s chances.
“I’m pleased she’s running,” Mr. Farricker told the Post on Wednesday morning. “She’s level headed and experienced and extremely dedicated to the people in this community. She has the experience and the ability to do things and speak out for our town’s women and our senior citizens. She’s proved that for the decades she’s committed herself to helping people and her real world experience runs rings around Peter Tesei.”
This campaign is having to hit the ground running quickly. While the “election season” in Greenwich typically does not begin until after Labor Day, Mr. Tesei’s intentions to run for a fourth term had been known for some time before he made it official. That gave the party lots of time to begin fund raising and organizing, something the Democrats are only now beginning for Ms. Paulmeno.
She agreed this was a “huge challenge,” but nothing she wasn’t used to from her time in the health department.
“Everything I did was put together with little time and no money,” Ms. Paulmeno said. “But we were able to get things done because we built consensus and worked closely with people. That’s how we can do this.”