Greenwich political parties hold caucuses: Tesei leads GOP ticket, Sherr begins petition drive

Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei happily accepted the Republican party's nomination for a fourth term. — Ken Borsuk photo

Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei happily accepted the Republican party’s nomination for a fourth term.
— Ken Borsuk photo

Deciding not to mess with success, the Greenwich Republican Town Committee (RTC) last week nominated a ticket that will look mighty familiar to the party’s supporters.

At a special meeting last Wednesday, the RTC formalized what has been expected for months. First Selectman Peter Tesei, after three landslide victories, will seek a fourth two-year term. Joining him on the ticket will be Selectman David Theis, who is seeking a third term, as well as Tax Collector Tod Laudonia and Town Clerk Carmella Budkins. This top of the ticket was approved unanimously by the RTC’s voting members with no challengers from within the party.

The renomination of all four of these officeholders was such a certainty that the RTC reused posters and photos taken from their last campaign in 2011 and simply pasted over a new date on them to get people out to vote on Nov. 5. And the ticket is looking at excellent odds for continued success this year as Greenwich Democrats have struggled to find a candidate willing to challenge the popular Mr. Tesei for first selectman (see related story on page one).

But Greenwich Republicans do still have decisions to be made, though, for the Board of Education. For the second straight municipal election, the party is looking at a competitive election on the school board, as incumbent board member Peter Sherr has begun a petition drive to gain access to the ballot after the party chose to nominate challengers Peter Bernstein and Brian Peldunas instead of him.

Sherr pushes on

The RTC could have run a maximum of four candidates for the two positions on the Board of Education it has up for election this year. In 2011, four candidates, incumbent Marianna Ponns Cohen and challengers Barbara O’Neill, Peter von Braun and Anna Povinelli ran for the two spots, with Ms. O’Neill and Mr. von Braun winning. But this year the party decided to only nominate two candidates and the RTC supported the recommendation of its executive committee by voting for Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Peldunas when it was put before the membership.

From the voting members of the RTC, Mr. Peldunas received 42 votes, Mr. Bernstein got 35 and Mr. Sherr 28.

Mr. Sherr vowed to press forward that night and has begun the drive for signatures. According to the town’s registrar of voters, Mr. Sherr needs 620 signatures of registered Republicans to be on the ballot and he was seen in town gathering them this past weekend. In an interview with the Post on Wednesday, Mr. Sherr said he believed there was a link between his decision in late 2011 not to support Republican Steven Anderson as Board of Education chairman, which allowed a Democrat, Leslie Moriarty, to take the spot for the first time in decades, and the RTC’s vote to not nominate him for a new term.

Mr. Sherr did have a visible number of supporters at the meeting, many of whom told the Post they expected he would have no trouble getting on the ballot.

“I’m really grateful for the support I received from half of the RTC,” Mr. Sherr said to the Post last Wednesday. “That said, it’s clear that I was not to be forgiven for my vote of conscience against a Board of Education chairman who had mishandled his office. I’m going to continue to be a fighter for the critical issues facing our school system and advocating on behalf of the 9,000 children in the district, including three of my own.”

In speeches given by supporters on Wednesday night, advocates for Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Peldunas focused on the positives for their favored candidates.

Marc Ducret, a vice chairman for the RTC, delivered the nomination for Mr. Peldunas, who has been a regular at Board of Education meetings for years and has spoken often about his advocacy for revision of current policy and an increased concentration on math in the district. Mr. Ducret said that Mr. Peldunas’ pledge to focus on digital learning, a more rigorous curriculum and working with the state on the district’s racial balance issue without forced busing or radical redistricting is what Greenwich needs.

“Brian has a daughter at Riverside School and recognized the problem with the math curriculum,” Mr. Ducret said. “But instead of just complaining and going about his business he worked hard with the school board, parents and the superintendent to institute change. He started a blog on the Internet about this subject called By The Numbers. He organized the Riverside math club For Girls Only to fight the stereotype that girls aren’t good at math. The culmination of his efforts is a districtwide math curriculum review that will result in the implementation of a new math program this fall focusing on the basics.”

Mr. Bernstein had the support of Lauren Rabin, a former Greenwich High School PTA co-president. She said his work inside the PTA and regular attendance at board meetings and work sessions have allowed him to develop knowledge about the school system’s inner workings and what its goals should be. She said he would fight for funding for the schools without giving a blank check.

“His two sons are students at Hamilton Avenue School and his entire family has a vested interest in seeing the long-term success of our public schools,” Ms. Rabin said. “Peter possesses the background and unique skill set to serve. He put his leadership and professional skills to use as a successful PTA president and I know from experience that this is not an easy thing to do while working full time.”

The RTC also made a call on who will be on the ballot for the Board of Estimate and Taxation. Current members Joe Pellegrino, chairman of the budget committee, and Greg Bedrosian are not running for new terms, opening up two Republican positions on the 12-person board, which is made up evenly of Greenwich Republicans and Democrats. Four candidates sought the nomination for those two spots and ultimately the RTC gave its support to Bill Drake, chairman of the Representative Town Meeting’s Budget Overview Committee, and Nancy Weissler, a former school board chairman.

John Lucarelli and Jon Redmond fell short of the support needed to get onto the ballot. Now Mr. Drake and Ms. Weissler will join BET incumbents Michael Mason, who serves as the finance board’s chairman, Marc Johnson, Art Norton and Leslie Tarkington on the ballot. Barring unforeseen circumstances, all six of them will be on the board when the new term starts in December.

Tesei, Theis thank supporters

While the BET and Board of Education races provided the suspense for the RTC’s nominating caucus, it was the coronation of Mr. Tesei that provided the highlight of the evening for Greenwich Republicans. State Rep. Stephen Walko (R-150th) gave one of the nominating speeches and praised Mr. Tesei’s leadership abilities, saying it went beyond just generic words.

“Instead of words we have six years of action to form our opinion and support Peter,” Mr. Walko said. “Fully appreciating the inaction of some governments that burden our state, I know you will agree with me that actions not words help define who we are and who Peter is.”

He praised Mr. Tesei for leading the town for the past six years “with honesty, conviction and common sense” both in his promises and in his actions.

“I can assure you that he will carry on those same virtues into his next term,” Mr. Walko said.

Mr. Tesei also received a nomination from former First Selectman Lolly Prince where she cited his financial management of the town during difficult economic times as a reason to support him.

“We are so fortunate to have had him for six years as our first selectman and we are more fortunate that he has chosen to run again,” Ms. Prince said. “Peter has a winning track record, not only in elections, but in his accomplishments in office.  His goal has been to put Greenwich first and to sustain and enhance our town.”

In acceptance remarks, after a standing ovation from his supporters, Mr. Tesei thanked the party for its confidence and pledged to continue to make the life safety of Greenwich’s residents his top priority.

“I see this as priority number one, two and three,” Mr. Tesei said. “Over the last six years, we have focused like a laser and seen to it that our law enforcement officials have the right resources, not only in the field, but in a command staff that was put in place where they are not fighting with one another.”

Mr. Tesei also talked about work that had been done to improve fire services and the health department while noting more was being looked at. There was discussion as well about investment in infrastructure such as roads, buildings and bridges. Mr. Tesei said this was what government “should provide” and that it would be there for everybody.

“Our challenges are not necessarily internal,” Mr. Tesei said. “The challenges we face are really coming from external forces. Both federally and at the state level, there has been a shift as to the role which government plays. As a Republican, I certainly believe solutions are best resolved at the local level where you have greater public input, oversight and management… There are merits to regionalization in areas like emergency management; when it comes to education and assessment of taxes we are running down a slippery slope and it is a redistributative slope.”

But Mr. Tesei wasn’t quite done for the evening with his own acceptance. He took the microphone again minutes later to nominate Mr. Theis, his “partner in government.” He said that not only did they complement each other on the board, but that Mr. Theis was someone who would have your back.

“Dave Theis has many fine qualities as a human being,” Mr. Tesei said. “Trustworthiness and compassion are two he consistently generates in carrying out his duties as our selectman. Dave is honest and candid about his assessment of issues and people. He speaks clearly and directly on matters facing our town and always indicates his priority is what is best for Greenwich, not what is politically expedient.”

Mr. Theis, too, was greeted with a standing ovation and said it was a privilege and an honor to continue to serve on the Board of Selectmen with Mr. Tesei and praised the volunteers working in town by serving on boards and commissions.

“I want, during our third term together, to invite everyone out there to participate in government in some level, whether it’s on the RTC or on a board or commission,” Mr. Theis said. “I want to see more participation… In our next term, I will work to improve the quality of life each and every day for some one in town in some way, to make Greenwich the model for the rest of the state and address the needs of all diverse community.”

 

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