Power of choice

FI-EditorialIt’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that when it comes to casting a vote it’s a heck of a lot better to have a choice rather than none at all.

However, that’s a very real possibility for Greenwich this November as Democrats still do not have an official candidate for first selectman to take on three-term incumbent Republican Peter Tesei. What they do have is a temporary candidate keeping the seat warm, but in a perfect world this unofficial candidate would become the official one and Greenwich Democrats would head into the campaign season with Stephanie Paulmeno leading the ticket.

Ms. Paulmeno agreed to the temporary arrangement at the last minute at last week’s Democratic Town Committee (DTC) nominating caucus when it seemed that there was nothing anyone could do to convince anyone to run. The absence of a first selectman candidate was not for lack of trying. Town Democrats did everything but place a help wanted ad. But still no one could be found and there are reasons for that.

Town Republicans continue to easily outdistance town Democrats, and even the large block of independents in town are made up far more of those with Republican leanings. Add to that the truth that running a campaign would take serious investments of time and money and that Mr. Tesei is doing a fine job in office and you don’t need a crystal ball to know that Democrats face the longest of long odds in the fall.

So why run? Why waste money and time and effort when the likelihood of victory ranks somewhere behind slim? At the risk of not sounding cynical about democracy, it’s because the town would be better off being able to have a choice at the ballot box.

Ms. Paulmeno only volunteered to stay on through Sept. 1, allowing the party time to find a replacement, but this week she did leave the door open a crack. She said that she would love it if another candidate stepped forward, but that it was too important a position on the ballot to leave unoccupied. Naturally, Democrats would love it if Ms. Paulmeno decided to make a real run of it and town Republicans should too.

A campaign between Mr. Tesei and Ms. Paulmeno would be excellent for the town, as having the town’s top elected leader run unopposed removes a key accountability factor. Many in the town are quite pleased with Mr. Tesei’s record over the last two years, and there are a lot of reasons to feel that way, but it’s important for a chief official to have to face the voters and explain why choices were made and what the agenda for the next two years will look like. Opponents make for sharper candidates who are more in touch with the residents they seek to represent.

And it’s likely that a campaign between these two would resemble what we have seen, and what we are expecting again from Selectmen David Theis and Drew Marzullo and that’s a campaign built on mutual respect and courtesy. It doesn’t mean months of “I agree with what my opponent just said,” but it does mean no mudslinging or negative campaigning and that visions for the town’s future can be openly presented and voters may decide what best fits their values.

Ms. Paulmeno ran an excellent race last year for state representative, speaking loudly on issues like health and housing. And it bears remembering that Republicans had a big interest in running her for office until they found out she was a Democrat. The truth is someone with Ms. Paulmeno’s abilities would be in Hartford now if she had a “R” next to her name on the ballot and not a “D.”

It is this paper’s hope that she remains in the race and that she and Mr. Tesei have a respectful, issue-oriented campaign. Because not only is it good for Democrats to have someone at the top of the ticket, it’s to the town’s benefit to have a choice about who best deserves to represent it.

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