Post-election attitudes by Republicans don’t help with town’s challenges

Bill-Gaston-Greenwich-VoicesFollowing their solid triumph in the November municipal elections, rather than displaying humility and binding the wounds of battle, town Republicans instead chose to indulge in a gloating victory dance.

Peter Tesei, elected to a fourth term as first selectman, crowed, “European socialism and left-coast liberalism — they don’t work. They’re not welcome in Greenwich.” But not everyone in town found Mr. Tesei’s churlish triumphalism welcome.

One letter-to-the-editor writer termed his remarks as “insensitive, ignorant and inappropriate” and pointed out that Mr. Tesei’s “socialized” pension and health care benefits are provided by town taxpayers.

But it wasn’t just Mr. Tesei. Echoing Mr. Tesei’s sentiments, BET Chairman Republican Michael Mason was quoted in the Greenwich Time as saying, “So we’re going to start borrowing longer and paying higher interest rates. Oh, I forgot, we’re not. We’re not doing that. Status quo. If we want it, we’re going to pay for it, like we’ve done since the 20s. It’s what made Greenwich, Greenwich.”

Ever sarcastic, Mr. Mason was alluding to the Democrats’ campaign platform advocating long-term financing. Never mind that long-term financing is widely used in AAA-rated cities around Connecticut, including Republican-held strongholds like Darien and New Canaan, which have used it for years to finance a range of infrastructure projects. Mr. Mason was far more interested in trying to rub salt into the electoral wounds. And contrary to his blustery pronouncements, long-term financing saves taxpayer money and reduces pressure on property taxes by capitalizing on near record-low interest rates. But don’t take my word for it. Ask our Republican neighbors.

Surely it must come as news to GOP First Selectmen Jayme Stevenson of Darien (recently re-elected with 98.3% of the vote) and Robert E. Millozzi of New Canaan (100% of the vote) that their communities are hotbeds of “European socialism.” Who knew that the well-heeled hedge fund types that crowd the train platform every morning in those towns surreptitiously pore over their dog-eared copies of Gramsci while humming the Internationale on their way to work?

Comrades, you have nothing to lose but your carried interest provisions!

If Greenwich Republicans consider long-term financing a damning example of “left coast liberalism,” what makes the practice so uncontroversial, nay popular, in New Canaan and Darien? Perhaps the excellent public pools and schools there were a secret gift from Hugo Chavez? What’s not to like about locking in low interest rates to pay for infrastructure projects that need to be made, and removing the threat of having to pay higher rates in the medium to long term?

When one party controls the town purse strings, as Republicans have for decades and decades in Greenwich, it’s natural that a certain ideological rigidity sets in. When one party controls all levers of government, how and where do fresh ideas come into play? Where are the real choices that the electorate must face? Where does one find compromise or the middle ground?

Town Republicans are to be congratulated for winning a hard-fought campaign, but they are making a big mistake if they think their resounding victory is a vote of confidence in their harsh austerity regime. When town projects across the board continue to languish, as they have been allowed to, and more sensible options like long-term financing — endorsed by Wall Street experts and employed by Republican-held towns across the state are rejected for ideological reasons, it’s Greenwich residents that ultimately pay.

Resorting to overblown political rhetoric is one thing. But what Greenwich Republicans call sound fiscal policy is, in fact, doing serious long-term damage to the town.

If long-term financing is good enough for New Canaan and Darien, shouldn’t it be good enough for Greenwich?

 

Bill Gaston is a vice chairman of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee, but the opinions expressed here are his own.

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