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Column: Greenwich Politics Is Getting Quite Interesting

By Edward Dadakis

Greenwich Republicans met in July to nominate their slate of candidates for the Fall election.

As expected, First Selectman Peter Tesei was renominated for an historic sixth term. Tesei’s record as both First Selectman and Chairman of the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) is outstanding. He’s guided Greenwich successfully through some difficult times while effectively managing the improvement of the town infrastructure.

This year Tesei proposed a budget which cut, truly cut, overall spending by $10 million and reduced head count by more than 10. Most governments can only dream of achieving year over year spending declines but Tesei delivered while providing residents quality services.

With Tesei’s financial acumen, Greenwich’s finances continue to be the envy of towns across America. That is always important but, as the city of Hartford teeters on bankruptcy, the value of competent and experienced fiscal stewards cannot be overstated. 

Almost until their nominating meeting Democrats had no one to oppose Tesei. However, BET Democrat Jill Oberlander didn’t like that. She turned to an activist in her left wing, anti-Trump group to ask if she could convince her husband to run. At the last-minute Democrats nominated Sandy Litvack. You might be asking yourself right now, Sandy Who?

Litvack, who is in his 80s, is a litigator and made his mark as a fixer for the Hollywood elite. He was in the center of the Disney-DreamWorks legal battle in the 1990s which captured the attention of both gossip pages and business pages. He cares so much about our town that he has failed to vote in any municipal election in the last decade except one.

While Tesei’s renomination ran smoothly, Republicans butted heads over nominating BET and Board of Education (BOE) candidates. The Board of Education story is so “obnoxious” it deserves its own column. So, look for the facts on that saga shortly.

Each political party nominates six BET candidates and they all get elected. The RTC ousted three incumbents, Art Norton, former First Selectman Jim Lash and Leslie Tarkington. They replaced them with successful business executive Debra Hess who was nominated by Tesei, retired Bear Stearns Managing Director Andreas Duus and persistent town critic Karen Fassuliotis.

The first five were decided on the first ballot, but the sixth spot required the RTC to poll its members over and over. The final ballot essentially pitted Fassuliotis against Lash where she prevailed by a single vote.

Many townspeople expressed surprise Republicans would push out Lash, a reliable vote getter and, along with Tesei, the architect of Greenwich’s blueprint for low and dependable taxes. It was Lash who worked tirelessly to convert town workers from their defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution plans—a strategy which will save the town millions and millions over the coming decades, and towns across Connecticut still struggle with.

Lash’s single vote defeat was mostly the result of RTC centric issues. Tax Collector Tod Laudonia has had a vendetta against Lash since Lash tried to right size the tax collectors budget last year. While the initial BET cut was directed at Laudonia’s salary, it was quickly corrected to apply to the overall office spending. Wanting still more savings from the tax collector’s budget the RTM further cut it during their May budget meeting.

Outraged the BET would try to drive cost efficiencies in his department, Laudonia focused his anger on Lash, the only Republican to support the cut at the BET level. He gathered his RTC allies to join him in voting against Lash resulting in the single vote loss.

Laudonia himself faces a re-election rematch against Democrat Howard Richman. It looks like Richman will focus less on his prior argument about making the job appointed and focus more on perceived failures in the Tax Collector’s office. BET Democrat Jeff Ramer fired the first salvo in that campaign at the July BET meeting. Tesei’s popularity has pulled Laudonia over the finish line in the past and that could happen again this year.

Lash declined to run a primary because his travel schedule didn’t permit him the time to gather signatures and wage the needed campaign.  However, incumbent Leslie Tarkington, always a top BET vote getter, mustered her team collecting enough signatures to force a BET primary, the first since the 1990s.

So Republicans, mark your calendar for Tuesday, Sept. 12 to go to the polls to support your choice to govern Greenwich financially for the next two years. There are seven candidates running, including four incumbents. You can vote for up to six.  I will provide my thoughts on the candidates in a column prior to the primary.

Now Greenwich politics is (almost) as interesting as Washington and Hartford politics.

Edward Dadakis is a lifelong resident and legislator in Greenwich. Ed was first elected to the RTM as one of its youngest members. He is a former Chairman of the Greenwich Republican Party and currently represents our 36th Senatorial District on the Connecticut Republican State Central Committee.

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