Tesei, Theis will run again

The 2012 election is but a month behind us, but last week talk jumped ahead to the coming municipal election of 2013.

Ending the suspense before it even began, First Selectman Peter Tesei made it official last week by saying he would seek a fourth term in Greenwich’s top elected position. Mr. Tesei, who has won blowout victories in his previous three runs, will seek a new two-year term in 2013 with Selectman David Theis by his side once again. Mr. Theis, who was first elected in 2009, will seek a third term, but Selectman Drew Marzullo, the board’s lone Democrat, said he’s still undecided about a new term. However, he is expected to run.

Typically Mr. Tesei has not announced this early in the process, preferring to wait until the spring. But, in an interview with the Post, Mr. Tesei said the heavy agenda looming for the town, including what is expected to be a difficult and potentially contentious negotiation over the 2013-14 municipal budget, inspired him to make his plans clear now so there would be no speculation about his intentions.

“Given all the time and attention I’m going to be putting into developing the budget, as well as the other issues that need the town’s attention, like the continued development of the economic advisory council and storm aftermath, I thought it would be better for there not to be a lot of guessing about what I’m going to do and simply put it to rest now,” Mr. Tesei said. “I wanted people who might be considering running to know that I am interested in continuing to serve.”

Mr. Tesei’s announcement will certainly have an impact on the race, given his status as a popular three-term incumbent who has won by wide margins in the past. Democrats who might have considered running for an open seat might instead sit the race out, and it could also head off any other potential Republicans. Greenwich Republican Town Committee Chairman Jim Campbell told the Post he believed Mr. Tesei would be a successful candidate once again.

“Peter Tesei has done an outstanding job as first selectman,” Mr. Campbell said. “In three terms he has successfully been able to keep town tax rate increases modest and predictable while maintaining services to help our residents, all while facing enormous economic challenges.”

A potential Republican candidate had Mr. Tesei not run could have been Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) Chairman Michael Mason, said some within the party. In an interview with the Post this week he quickly put the kibosh on any idea he would challenge Mr. Tesei for the Republican nomination and said he had never expressed any kind of willingness to do that.

“I’ve long believed that Peter was going to run again, and I’m glad he announced it now to end all the jockeying for position,” Mr. Mason said.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Frank Farricker has made recruiting a priority of his tenure, and the party has had increased success in recent years challenging elections that might previously have gone unopposed for the Republican incumbents due to the strong GOP advantage in voter registration. But unlike the 2009 and 2011 elections, when Democratic challengers had been apparent months in advance, Mr. Farricker said that no one main candidate has stepped forward to make himself or herself the name to beat within the party.

“There have been a number of indications of interest, but people are interested in seeing how things fully shake out on the GOP side first,” Mr. Farricker said. “I think when we get closer to springtime, that’s when people will really step forward.”

Mr. Farricker said what there is in the party is a huge surge of interest in serving on the BET or the Board of Education, and not just from the “rank and file Democrats” but from those outside the inner circle of the party, and even some Republicans looking to switch party affiliations. Mr. Farricker said they’re being inspired to run to deal with specific issues as opposed to the broader look to the town one needs to be first selectman.

The Democrats ran a number of first-time candidates in last month’s legislature elections and they could well have interest in running again despite their losses. Stephanie Paulmeno, a former town employee in the Health Department and The Nathaniel Witherell, ran for the 150th District’s state legislature seat. She told the Post that she been asked to at least consider a run for first selectman by “several people” and hadn’t made any decisions about any potential political future, but said she had enjoyed being a candidate and talking about the issues with the voters.

“This isn’t something I’ve aspired to of my own volition, so I’d have to give it more thought,” Ms. Paulmeno said. “A selectman run is something I would not necessarily rule out.”

David Rafferty, president of the Old Greenwich Association, who ran for the 151st District seat, told the Post there had been “general discussions” between him and members of the Democratic Party about possible positions “within the political realm.”

“I don’t know where they might lead and I’m not going to jump just because someone says jump,” Mr. Rafferty said. “If I do something, it will be because I think it’s a good idea.”

One name Democrats can expect not to see on the first selectman’s ballot is Mr. Marzullo’s. He told the Post last week that if he does run this coming November it will be for a third term as selectman, not for first selectman. Mr. Marzullo said being selectman is a job he’s “enjoyed immensely,” and he indicated he would make his plans public within the next week or two.

Despite past election results, Mr. Tesei said he wasn’t assuming anything about his chances next year. He did say, though, that he has enjoyed working with Mr. Theis and Mr. Marzullo the past four years in a bipartisan fashion and that he hoped the three of them would have the chance to continue to serve the town.

“I’m not about to take anything for granted,” Mr. Tesei said. “I never do. As for the composition of the board, over the last three years we’ve developed a good working relationship. There is a mutual respect, and I think we’ve operated in a relatively non-political fashion that our citizens approve of. A lot of our residents don’t like politics and the gamesmanship. They want people to stand up and be transparent. I think Dave and Drew are very transparent about who they are and what their priorities are for the community. I think it’s good that we’ve been able to avoid the petty nonsense that has plagued boards in other towns.”

Speaking to the Post on Tuesday, Mr. Theis was asked if he had any hesitation about running for a new term, and he quickly replied, “None whatsoever.”

“I believe I can add value,” Mr. Theis said. “I feel a great deal of confidence in running with Peter. Very rarely do you find someone with as much experience and capability who is as honest as he is. We’re both multi-generational residents of town, and I think that gives us a strong understanding of the wants and needs of all pockets of the Greenwich community. This board, along with our friend Drew, has great chemistry and is based on a mutual respect and a shared desire to serve the community.”

Mr. Tesei’s decision now could have been made to give him a stronger hand in negotiating with the BET over the budget. The finance board, by a party line 7-6 vote with Mr. Mason casting the tie-breaking vote as chairman, recently approved budget guidelines that call for a far smaller mill rate increase than in past years and could well result in layoffs at a town level or a reduction in services. The guidelines go even further than Mr. Tesei, a fiscal conservative, has gone in the past. When asked by the Post, he didn’t deny that signaling he wanted to be in office for at least another two years could be part of the negotiating process.

“I think having been re-elected in 2011 and having strong bipartisan support gives us a greater sense of the interests of the community,” Mr. Tesei said. “Balancing those varied interests and bringing about a consensus in determining what’s best for the community is something I was elected to do.”

 

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