Blankley, Farricker enter crowded race for BET

For years, races for the Board of Estimate and Taxation have been quiet affairs, but that could be about to change.

Both Greenwich Democratic Town Committee (DTC) Chairman Frank Farricker and John Blankley, the party’s nominee for first selectman two years ago, have announced their intention to run for the finance board. But since none of the six current Democrats on the 12-person board have announced they are leaving, this could well lead to a competitive election.

Mr. Blankley’s interest in the BET has been an open secret for months now. A former member of the Representative Town Meeting, he has run unsuccessful political races each of the last two years, for both first selectman and state representative. He said he was first approached about the BET three years ago but decided to run for first selectman instead. Now, with the interest still there, he said he wants to put his name forward again.

“There are still things happening that I don’t think are being done right,” Mr. Blankley told the Post. “I want to be a part of doing them right. I’ve sniped from the sidelines about these issues, but it will be far more productive to try and take a leadership role from the inside.”

Mr. Farricker says he will continue as party chairman even while pursuing his own candidacy but will recuse himself from all executive committee discussions about BET candidates. There is precedent for the dual roles. Current Republican Town Committee Chairman Jim Campbell held that position when he was on the BET, and past DTC chairman Jim Himes served on the BET before being elected to the U.S. Congress in 2008.

“I’m not doing this because I feel I’ve got to be on the BET as a status symbol,” Mr. Farricker told the Post in an interview on Tuesday. “I’m not doing this to be a part of the in crowd. I’m doing this because our town is holding on to an outdated and unsustainable model known as ‘modified pay as you go’ that is treated more like a religion among Republicans and some other people deeply attached to Greenwich politics than it is a reality. Because of this model, we’ve been slapping Band-Aids on problems, and now the box is empty.”

Predicting he will be portrayed as a Democrat looking to spend money wildly, Mr. Farricker said that isn’t the case at all. He said he instead wants the town to spend money more sensibly, making sure infrastructure and school buildings are well maintained to avoid bigger, more expensive problems down the line and exploring long-term bonding for major expenses. He told the Post that he considers the current way of spending in Greenwich to be an “unsustainable business model” that has allowed school buildings to become an “embarrassment.”

He also advocated for a new approach with town employees toward pension costs. Those costs are contractually mandated and Mr. Farricker said there may need to be a new way of dealing with them. Mr. Farricker said contracts have also left the town paying 50%-70% more on projects than they would if there were partnerships in place with the private sector. He claimed that residents are willing to pay more in taxes if it means getting back great service from the town.

“People in Greenwich do not want to pay low and predictable taxes for lousy and expensive service,” Mr. Farricker said. “They want to pay a fair rate for a government commensurate with the best of Greenwich.”

Mr. Blankley also is focused on schools, saying he wants a “first-class school system in Greenwich.” He said current policy has been a “slow throttling of the school system” where the BET guidelines have forced the district to turn in lower-than-needed budgets that have resulted in staff being let go and cuts in capital spending like maintenance for district buildings.

“I understand frugality, but if you defer maintenance it will always cost more in the end,” Mr. Blankley said.

Like Mr. Farricker, Mr. Blankley has long been an advocate of long-term bonding and said he will continue to advocate for it if elected to the BET, which is forming a committee to look at the merits of bonding.

“I think it’s right that more than one generation should pay for facilities that are built for more than one generation,” Mr. Blankley said. “Interest rates are at an all-time low. This is an amazing opportunity that we must seize.”

But before they can get to work on town budgets, the Democrats face a bit of a numbers crunch of their own. There are only six spots on the BET and so far no members have announced they will not run for another term. Mr. Farricker said that current members William Finger, Mary Lee Kiernan, Jeffrey Ramer, and Sean Goldrick have all filed paperwork to run again. Randall Huffman is expected to run again and Bob Brady said he is undecided. A ninth Democratic candidate may also come forward.

Candidates face an April 1 deadline to be considered by the DTC’s executive committee, but the real deadline is the last week of July, when the party holds its nominating convention.

Mr. Farricker has never been a quiet and shy type as DTC chairman, clashing publicly several times with First Selectman Peter Tesei and other high-profile Republicans in town. But he said he feels his message is one that will have bipartisan appeal. He cited the experience in finance of Republican BET members Joe Pellegrino and Greg Bedrosian, claiming they wouldn’t allow the firms they work for to be operated the way Greenwich has been.

“We have to change the way we do business,” Mr. Farricker said. “I know that some of the Republicans won’t agree with the message I’m bringing, and we can certainly talk about that, but I believe they will agree that things have got to change.”

Mr. Blankley said the intention isn’t just for them to try and get on the board to be quiet. According to him, a “cozy consensus” has settled over the BET and he wants to be part of a reform slate of Democratic candidates offering an alternative to policies he feels have not served the town well. As such, he said the intention is for the Democrats to run active campaigns for the BET. Traditionally those elections have been nonevents, since six candidates from each party have run with no competition, but Mr. Blankley said the goal this year will be to provide a competing vision to the Republican leadership for voters to consider.

“This is where the power lies and we want to offer the town an alternative,” Mr. Blankley said.

 

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