Oberlander says she will be a strong advocate for Greenwich

Jill Oberlander

Jill Oberlander

Calling her first run for political office the culmination of years of community service and professional experience, Jill Oberlander says she’s eager to show voters in the 150th District that she’s the best candidate to represent them in Hartford.

Ms. Oberlander is the Democratic candidate for the open seat in the 150th and when she sat down recently with the Post for a candidate profile interview, she discussed her decision to jump into the first political race of her life and the issues inspiring her run. A former three-term member of the town’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) and an attorney, she might be new to politics, but she’s not new to government, having worked for the City of New York, including a time in the mayor’s office, the Metropolitan Transportation Association (MTA) and in the business improvement district in Manhattan.

Now she is in the position to run for office herself and says she’s excited. Her work experience has brought her directly in contact with legislative issues and she’s directly worked on things like transportation and economic development that will continue to be front and center of any agenda in Hartford.

“This offers me an opportunity to work on issues that are important to me, my family, my neighbors and my community,” Ms. Oberlander said. “I see it as a great opportunity to do good. I believe that government has the power to change people’s lives for the better and I’m so fortunate to have this opportunity.”

Ms. Oberlander said that as a Democrat she would be able to give Greenwich a voice inside the majority party in the General Assembly, something the town has not had. She praised the work of the town’s Republican caucus in Hartford but said that Greenwich’s priorities could be better addressed with a member able to speak to leadership as a member of the Democratic caucus. She also stressed her own bipartisan background, including work on the campaign of New York City mayoral candidate Joe Lhota in 2013.

“I will be a strong advocate for every one of the residents. I’m not particularly partisan by nature and I feel this election should be about who will be the best person to represent Greenwich,” Ms. Oberlander said, pledging to bring “an incredible work ethic and attention to detail” if elected. “I am a collaborative person and I will advocate strongly and effectively for the issues the voters care about in the district.”

When asked which issues she was most focused on in her campaign, Ms. Oberlander said that there are five of them, including both what she initially brought to the campaign as well as what she’s learned from discussions with the voters.

“The first issue has to be the economy and fiscal responsibility,” Ms. Oberlander said. “And the next two are directly related to that. I believe in investment in transportation and investment in education. Both of those will have an economic impact and draw businesses and jobs here. It will insure a better education for our children and over time it will have a long-term economic impact. People are still feeling the impact of the economic downturn and this is what they’re focused on.”

The other two issues that Ms. Oberlander says she wants to fight for in Hartford are protection of natural resources and advocacy for seniors. Ms. Oberlander has worked as a volunteer in a long-term care facility in Mamaroneck, N.Y., and says that this background in senior care is something she wants to draw upon to advocate for Greenwich’s seniors both at The Nathaniel Witherell and private facilities and those living in their own homes. But that also opens a door to an area Republicans view Ms. Oberlander as soft on, past votes on the RTM about Nathaniel Witherell.

Both town Republicans and Democrats have expressed concern about Ms. Oberlander’s perceived lack of support for the town-owned facility, which her Republican opponent Michael Bocchino brought up during a debate they had on News 12. However, Ms. Oberlander responded by noting that she wasn’t on the RTM when it took the vote on whether the town should continue to operate the facility, and by providing the Post with documentation of her vote approving the bond resolution in December 2011 allowing the almost completed and much acclaimed Project Renew to go forward to renovate and revitalize Witherell.

“I never voted against Nathaniel Witherell,” Ms. Oberlander said. “I voted in favor of the renovations for the Nathaniel Witherell and both bonds that were issued. As a member of the finance committee [on the RTM], I do believe that we need to ask the questions that will bring out information on projects we undertake, like Nathaniel Witherell. I wanted to know about their financial projections and what the cost would be and what the reimbursement would be. I wanted to know about what the expectation of the ongoing obligation of the town would be. I think it’s incumbent of members of the town legislature, especially finance committee members, to ask those kinds of questions to find out as much information as possible.”

Ms. Oberlander did pledge that fiscal responsibility would be a major part of her focus in Hartford. She said as part of an overall effort to improve the economy she wanted more attention on lowering the state’s unemployment rate. While jobs are coming back to the state, she said it’s not happening as quickly as people would like. To combat that she wants to make Connecticut more attractive for businesses and that means a responsible approach toward fiscal policy and finding efficiencies in government.

“We need to know where our money is being spent and how it’s being spent and if it’s being spent efficiently,” Ms. Oberlander said. “I will take a careful look at that and ask the tough questions that need to be asked.”

Ms. Oberlander said progress has been made in making government leaner under Gov. Dannel Malloy but more has to be done. She said there are too many instances in the state of different offices doing overlapping tasks and with streamlining there can be more effective and efficient government. She added it’s not just about cutting spending and more about finding those efficiencies and reallocating spending.

One thing Ms. Oberlander and her opponent are completely in agreement on is the need to invest in early childhood education. As a mother of three, Ms. Oberlander said investment in public education has to be a priority of the General Assembly.

“I believe early childhood education is critically important,” Ms. Oberlander said. “We are fortunate in Greenwich that most of our residents have access to quality early childhood education, but not all of them do. We need to make sure all of our residents have that access and I will make that a priority. We need to advocate for Greenwich schools. We need to advocate for more of the tax dollars we send to Hartford to come back to support Greenwich-based public schools, particularly in capital reinvestment and in our graduate education and career readiness training.”

Ms. Oberlander’s campaign faces a very Greenwich-sized kind of challenge, though. The town has not sent a Democrat to the state legislature since 1912, when William Howard Taft was president. But Greenwich Democrats think that Ms. Oberlander is the one to break that streak, especially in the 150th District. This is an open seat following State Rep. Stephen Walko’s planned move out of the district and Ms. Oberlander is not facing an incumbent, rather fellow political newcomer Mr. Bocchino (see related story on page 1A). Plus there is the makeup of the district, which is 1/3 registered Democrats, 1/3 registered Republicans and 1/3 unaffiliated, which makes Democrats believe this is their best chance in years.

“In truth, I’m a political novice when it comes to campaigns,” Ms. Oberlander said. “But I believe that this race should be about the person and the issues. It shouldn’t be about the party. I feel like I’m the right person for this job. Voters will see my commitment to the issues and what I can do to make their lives better. My only question going into this wasn’t ‘Can a Democrat win?’ It was ‘Am I the right person for the job?’ I wasn’t focused on electability, I was focused on the issues. The more I learn about this race, the harder I work and I think the more people get to know me the more they will see how hard I will work for them and how I can be the most effective advocate in this race.”

Mr. Bocchino is quite well known inside the 150th District and that means that a critical part of Ms. Oberlander’s campaign has been building name recognition. In addition to telling the voters where she stands on the issues, she is also telling them who she is. Ms. Oberlander has been a regular at public events lately, eagerly wearing her campaign buttons and introducing herself. There’s also the personal touch of knocking on doors in the district and meet-and-greet events as well as electronic outreach through numerous sources like OberlanderforGreenwich.com, Twitter.com/JillOberlander and Facebook.com/jill.for.greenwich.

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