Paulmeno withdraws from race, Democrats seek new candidate

Stephanie Paulmeno has ended her candidacy for Greenwich first selectman after a controversy over comments she made three years ago.  — Ken Borsuk photo

Stephanie Paulmeno has ended her candidacy for Greenwich first selectman after a controversy over comments she made three years ago.
— Ken Borsuk photo

Bowing to pressure from within the Democratic Party in response to what she called a “horrific smear campaign” based around alleged comments about sexual assault and rape, Stephanie Paulmeno has ended her run for first selectman.

The withdrawal is another strange turn in the saga of town Democrats finding a challenger to First Selectman Peter Tesei. At first it appeared the party would not be able to field a candidate at all, until Ms. Paulmeno volunteered at the last minute at the party’s nominating caucus in July.

But her campaign was only official for a little more than a week before she withdrew at the urging of party leaders concerned about the repercussions of a story published three years ago in the Greenwich Time where she is quoted as giving controversial statements about sexual assault.

Ms. Paulmeno has said she does not remember granting the interview and says the story distorted her position. While she attempted to stay in the race at first, ultimately, after party leaders said they would not be able to support her, she sent out an email on Monday afternoon to members of the Democratic Town Committee (DTC) and supporters, saying she would no longer pursue Greenwich’s top elected office.

“I’m disappointed in the process of how all of this played out,” Ms. Paulmeno told the Post Monday evening. “I wasn’t looking to run for this office. I was a temporary candidate when this started. But the more support I got allowed me to get more and more into this. I would have enjoyed the run. I’m disappointed because my character is being badly maligned.”

Ms. Paulmeno said she was withdrawing “for the good of the other party candidates who still have political aspirations.” She added that the Greenwich Democratic slate has her “full support” and that she would be happy to help them in any way they wished.

“We will put all this behind us,” Ms. Paulmeno said, pledging to be at the DTC’s kickoff picnic on Sept. 8.

At issue are statements she is alleged to have given to the Greenwich Time in a May 9, 2010 story about a proposed ban on people who are registered sex offenders entering designated areas of town where children frequently were.

Ms. Paulmeno, who was then a member of the Representative Town Meeting, was one of many who spoke out against the proposal, which did not end up going forward. In the Time’s story, Ms. Paulmeno is quoted speaking about her son, who is a registered sex offender after he entered a plea bargain and served jail time for a charge of attempted sexual assault of a woman in Nevada where he broke into her apartment while she was showering.

The article cites her as saying that a drunken incident could haunt a person’s life forever and attempted to differentiate between different kinds of sex offenders, comparing it to her son’s case.

“I do believe no is no,” Ms. Paulmeno is quoted in the story. “(But) someone who has committed a rape is far different from someone who has committed a date rape. Someone who’s taking a picture is far different from someone who has molested a child.”

Ms. Paulmeno told the Post on Tuesday that she “strongly disputes” making that quote, noting her decades of work as a nurse and health administrator as well as her longtime support of the YWCA of Greenwich’s Domestic Abuse Services and Stamford Sexual Assault and Crisis Intervention Center. She added that she believes taking or disseminating pornographic pictures of children is a “heinous crime.”

She claimed to the Post that she was not even aware the article had been published until this controversy began.

“That’s not something that would ever come out of my mouth,” Ms. Paulmeno said. “The issues of women’s rights and women’s sexual rights and preventing teen date rape are what I have fought for for years. For anybody to make allegations like this about me of all people is just unbelievable.”

Ms. Paulmeno said she has requested a tape and a transcript of that interview but was told that only notes of it exist. While insisting that she did not remember giving the reporter an interview about this, she claims the article represented a distortion of her position, which she had discussed publicly on several occasions prior to her unsuccessful run last year for state representative.

She said she has never said there should be any kind of special distinction for date rape.

Ms Paulmeno told the Post on Monday that her position is that there is a difference between a violent rape and a situation of two teenagers having consensual sex where the man could be charged with statutory rape, end up on a sex offender list and be regarded as a pedophile. She said those were people who could be impacted by creating the “sex offender zones” in Greenwich and part of why she opposed the law.

After officially entering the race for first selectman, the Post and other media outlets have received letters demanding Ms. Paulmeno respond to these comments and strongly criticizing her for allegedly making them. None of the authors responded to requests from the Post for clarification of their statements, but all specifically referred to the quotes in the Time’s story, calling them “shocking,” “disturbing” and “offensive” while questioning whether she could hold office if these were her beliefs.

Ms. Paulmeno said this was a “smear campaign” and that her position on this issue as well as what happened to her son were well known prior to her runs for office.

“I think the better story is why there has been such a concerted effort to smear me on something upon which my position has been known and publicly stated and supported for so many years,” Ms. Paulmeno said in an email to the Post.

Ms. Paulmeno later told the Post that the accusations made against her were personally hurtful, particularly in comments and postings on resident Chris Fountain’s blog.

“Those were such hateful comments about me, who’s done nothing but public service for people my entire life,” Ms. Paulmeno said. “I couldn’t believe the hatefulness, especially about something I never said. How can anyone believe I would say something like this that is completely opposed to everything I believe in and have fought for?”

While she said she still had a lot of supporters in town urging her to keep running, Ms. Paulmeno said she didn’t want to do anything to damage the other party and that she was told by party leaders that this could end up creating more scrutiny and negative attention toward her family.

“I’m hurt by this but it wasn’t as though they didn’t stand by me,” Ms. Paulmeno said. “They spoke with me at great length and I understood where they were coming from. They were very concerned because of my son’s situation that this would all be rehashed and it would be very painful for me to go through this again.”

Discussion of these comments led to much debate within the Greenwich Democratic party over the weekend, with several key figures in the party urging her to step aside. But Ms. Paulmeno said that she received a lot of support from Democrats to stay in the race as well and ultimately she came to believe it would be best for the party if she did.

On Monday night the DTC’s Executive Committee met and unanimously accepted her withdrawal with one member saying it was done with “affection and sadness.”

“We thank her and appreciate what she’s done,” DTC Chairman Frank Farricker said, referring also to Ms. Paulmeno’s decision to enter the race in the first place when the party was faced with not having a first selectman candidate for the first time in its history.

At the nominating caucus, Ms. Paulmeno volunteered to act as a stand- in candidate, insuring the party would have someone, with the intention of withdrawing by Sept. 1 if another candidate emerged. In the weeks that followed, Ms. Paulmeno said she received so much encouragement that she decided to stay in even though a second candidate did make themselves available.

Now it seems likely that Greenwich Democrats will turn to that second candidate, who has not been publicly disclosed yet. Mr. Farricker told the Post that a committee was being formed to seek a new nominee.

“We believe we will have a candidate and have this settled by Friday,” Mr. Farricker said.

 

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