Candidates make their cases

If by chance his political career doesn’t work out, Selectman Drew Marzullo might have a future in comedy.

The incumbent Democratic on the Board of Selectmen borrowed a page from the David Letterman show and shared a top 10 list of why voters at a backcountry election forum should vote for him on Tuesday. Mr. Marzullo mixed humor and earnestness in his list, including No. 3, when he said he is as diverse personally as the town of 61,000 is.

“Who is more diverse than me — a gay Italian selectman with season tickets to the Patriots who listens to Mamma Mia on the way up to Foxboro?” he said to laughs from the audience of about four dozen people.

The event was hosted by the Round Hill, Northeast and Northwest associations Monday evening at the Round Hill Community House. The associations hosted the five Board of Selectmen candidates and the six Board of Education candidates.

First Selectman Peter Tesei touted his record in the position since he was first elected in 2007. He said his vision has been to promote a strong community where families can build their lives and prosper.

“We want to retain Greenwich as a premier residential community for people to live, work and raise a family,” he said.

He said safety is one of the major reasons that attract people to live in the community and said that runs the gamut from the installation of sidewalks to effective policing. Mr. Tesei said he continues to support a new fire station in northwest Greenwich and promised his audience of about four dozen people that he will continue to press the Board of Estimate and Taxation to back the project.

Mr. Tesei proudly read the Greenwich Post’s Oct. 24 endorsement of him for another term in his closing remarks.

Mr. Tesei’s Democratic opponent Beth Krumeich pointed to her community involvement and also promoted the Democrats’ proposal to use long-term financing for major projects instead of the town’s policy of short-term bonding.

“We have to stop wasting taxpayer dollars using short-term bonds for long-term financing,” she said before adding, “We need to have smart financing in this community. We need to look at each project, once the community has decided to do it, and determine what is the best financing for it.”

Independent first selectman candidate James Reilly presented a list of ideas he said would help the town, including a sawmill at the Holly Hill recycling center and a political retreat where ideas could be hashed out and agreements reached on issues facing the town.

“It’s very hard to get people to cooperate these days. Everyone is so fixed, entrenched in their own attitudes,” he said.

He pointed to President Lyndon Johnson, who he said brought conflicting politicians together in order to iron out differences and promote his social programs.

Mr. Reilly also lamented the removal of the coastal watchtower at Greenwich Point.

“To me that was the only thing that symbolized Greenwich’s commitment to national security,” he said about the tower that played a role in coastal defense in the Cold War.

Mr. Reilly abruptly ended his comments as he said he was thrown off by the sign held by one of the organizers telling him his time was near an end.

Dave Theis, the Republican incumbent selectman, disagreed with the Democrats’ pitching of long-term financing for major projects, a theme for Ms. Krumeich, Mr. Marzullo and BET Democrats for the Nov. 5 election.

“I think it is important not to take on too much debt,” he said as he pulled out a chart and said the current historically low interest rates might be the “new normal.”

He added, “My point is that I don’t think we need to rush out and issue too much more debt; whatever it is, we still have to pay it back.”

Mr. Theis said one of the town’s strengths is its strong neighborhoods and he praised the town’s tough planning and zoning regulations that he said support the town’s neighborhoods. Mr. Marzullo said he is also an outspoken advocate for community issues, including creation of a new northwest fire station.

Mr. Theis and Mr. Marzullo complimented each other for the working relationship they have created in their time together on the Board of Selectmen.

The selectmen candidates didn’t take any questions as they left to attend the Representative Town Meeting. But the night wasn’t just about the selectmen. It was also about the Board of Education. Each party has three candidates running for two positions on the board and all six of the candidates were on hand to speak about their priorities for Greenwich schools.

Political newcomers Peter Bernstein and Brian Peldunas are the Republican Party’s choices, while incumbent Peter Sherr, who failed to get the party’s nomination, was able to get enough signatures from registered Republican voters to get on the ballot. The three candidates spoke of their support of the Parkway School, which has been hit by falling enrollment.

Closing the school is not an option, Mr. Sherr said.

“As long as I am on the board that issue will not be on the table,” he said.

Mr. Peldunas said he was a “qualified supporter” of digital learning.

“We have to make sure we are spending our money wisely; we need to monitor it as we go along,” he said.

Mr. Bernstein supported digital learning but said it’s results, not hardware, that count.

“Giving a student a device is not success. The success is seeing how it raises achievement,” he said.

The three candidates were united in their opposition to state-imposed redistricting to achieve racial balance. Mr. Sherr said he pushed for the board to take redistricting off the table and urged the town to come up with an agreement with the state that is focused on Greenwich’s values.

The Democrats’ endorsed candidates, Debbie Appelbaum and Samarpana Tamm, along with another Democrat, Laura Erickson, are vying for the party’s two open seats on the eight-person board. Ms. Erickson said she supported magnet schools but said they shouldn’t be used as a way to achieve racial balance.

“I don’t believe in using magnet schools as a tool to racially balance our schools,” said Ms. Erickson, who said she backed the board’s approach to the racial balancing issue.

Ms. Tamm agreed that closing schools like Parkway is not an option.

“I don’t agree with closing a school. It’s counterproductive,” she said.

Ms. Appelbaum also was emphatic that Parkway should remain open.

“I agree with everyone else. Absolutely do not close the school. I would not support that now or ever. The cost of opening and closing schools is extremely high,” she said.

Ms. Tamm said more professional training for teachers should be provided to close the achievement gap. Ms. Erickson said constant turnover at the top administrative level doesn’t help achieve educational goals. She said she would work to ensure there is continuity at the top, particularly in the superintendent’s position.

“In order to do those things we need to have somebody in Greenwich over the long haul,” she said.

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