Kathleen Stowe asked that The Greenwich Sentinel publish the full answers to her questions from our candidate profile questionnaire. There are as follows:
- What are your biggest strengths that you would bring to the table if elected to office? Why should people vote for you?
This is a critical time for Connecticut and we need strong and experienced leadership in Hartford. We have economic challenges ahead of us, but I also feel there are a lot of opportunities for our region and state, and it will take a representative who has a track record of growing businesses and a collaborative style to help move us forward. I think people should vote for me because I have an established track record from two decades in the financial industry, with a proven ability to grow businesses even through economic downturns. I also believe my leadership role on the Board of Education has shown my ability to work with others on very important and emotional issues, especially during a pandemic. As the world keeps changing around us, more than ever we need a representative with my financial acumen, my dedication to serving the community, and my ability to work collaboratively with a positive attitude.
- Off all the things you could be doing with your life, why are you running for political office? Was there any inciting event that prompted you to run for office?
I’ve always believed in the value of community and a strong community is built on small contributions from each of one of us. I’ve looked for ways to make a contribution as I could. I volunteered as a class parent when my kids were starting school. I’ve coached their teams. When I was asked to run for the school board, I thought I might have something to add as a parent who appreciated the mission of the schools but also sought to drive improvements and efficiencies. I thought my financial skills might be useful in the budgeting process and my day to day experience with the practical realities of the schools would provide some useful perspective. A few months ago I heard that Livvy was not going to run for re-election and people started pushing me to think about the seat. Livvy was probably the first public official I met in Greenwich, when she came to read to my daughters’ nursery school. I had tremendous respect for her and the work she’s done for our district and I had never considered challenging her. As I considered it, I thought about a number of factors. Our district needs strong, capable representation and I did not want to see that slip with Livvy’s retirement. Our voters have not had a choice in representation in many years, and I thought they deserved that option. Most of all, though, I look at the situation our state faces right now and I think we need all the help we can get in Hartford and I would like to help address our issues.
- Are there any specific policy stances that align you and your campaign with the Democratic Party? More generally, why run as a Democrat?
It’s a great question. I was raised in a household of Democrats but if you look at my history you might not identify me as a Democrat. I am a proud graduate of The University of Notre Dame, my father is a U.S. Army veteran, and I have spent two decades in the financial industry. I am by nature a fiscally conservative person (ask any of my friends). I identify as a moderate in most things. That sometimes feels like a lonely position in the hyper-partisan world we seem to inhabit, but I believe it is the right place for me. I often felt Livvy voted not based on party, but on her ideals, and I think you will find I am quite balanced on all issues, but identify more closely with the Democratic Party today on social policies from public education to the environment and individual rights.
- What initially drew you into your career in finance and investment? Was there any inciting event that prompted you?
When I graduated college, I was looking to start my career with something that was challenging and stimulating. Investment banking gave me the opportunity to work with a small group of motivated, high-performing people doing interesting and intellectually stimulating work. At the time, the technology investment banking group at Salomon/Citigroup was raising money for young, growing technology businesses. It was exciting to be a part of building and growing these dynamic businesses. Later I transitioned to private equity which appealed to me for the opportunity to dig in deeper with individual companies, guiding strategy and helping them to grow and mature. Building a business can create opportunity for many – the entrepreneurs who lead the business, the employees who benefit from a growing business and the investors who trust us to manage their capital. The public sector is very different but I try to bring some of this same mindset to that sphere, with a results- and growth-oriented approach and a focus on outcomes that benefit all constituents.
- From your career in the private sector, what lessons or skills have you learned that would serve you well in office?
There are so many important lessons from my career in the private sector, but I think the most important skill is finding a way to balance multiple constituencies and achieve beneficial outcomes for all. You need to find a way to align the incentives while managing diverse interests. Of course that is pretty easy when times are good, but you need to always protect the downside, which means you have to find a way to maintain that fiscal health for a downturn. Additionally, I have found that when you protect the downside by finding efficiencies, you often free up capital to invest in the long term, which is what we need to do here in Connecticut. We have a real opportunity now to attract businesses with this urban exodus, and I am excited for that. I am passionate about building – companies, economies and communities. That’s the fun part.
- What first prompted you to run for Greenwich’s Board of Education? Was there any inciting event that prompted you?
Friends and families in the community urged me to run in 2017. I have always been a strong believer in the value of a public education. My husband and I are both products of public education and always intended to send our kids to public schools, where all three have been since kindergarten here in Greenwich. I respected the work the school board was doing but hoped I could add to the process. I specifically thought my financial skills would be helpful in managing the budget in a reasonable fashion. I had no idea that I would soon be leading a superintendent search and then trying to navigate a pandemic, but it has been an interesting and rewarding experience that has taught me a lot more about the schools and about our town government.
- What are some of your most significant accomplishments from your time serving on the Board of Education? Please give as many specifics (dates, people involved, details of the achievement) as you can.
I led the superintendent search after a surprise resignation. In my private equity world, I had worked on multiple CEO and executive management searches and so I was asked to lead the process. We were able to run a broad-ranging search that surfaced some outstanding candidates and our final group were all people whom I would be proud to see in the seat. Ultimately the Board picked Toni Jones and she has been an outstanding leader. I was aware that Greenwich has experienced significant turnover in superintendents previously and I saw first-hand the disruption that can cause. My goals were thus to run a fair and wide-reaching search and to seek a candidate with the potential to manage multiple years in the seat and provide some continuity for the system. To that end, I designed a contract with a portion of the compensation deferred for payment only after five years. This “retention bonus” concept is commonly used in the private sector, and I brought it to this process to help align the new superintendent with the interests of the community.
I have served since 2017 and currently Chair the Policy Governance and Budget Committees. I am quite proud of the work this committee has done to standardize our policies, which has been countless hours of work, but I think most significant is our ability to find a way to leverage the guidance provided by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. Using comparables is always important, but we know when to use it as a guide and when to address our local needs. A perfect example of that would be the grading policy we passed in the spring for grading during the pandemic. Many other school systems went to a pure pass/fail option, but we sought a hybrid solution to satisfy the varying needs of our student population and their families.
The budget committee is constantly working to find efficiencies and meet budget guidelines, but we had a particularly active year with this past budget cycle.
Finally, in the last year I’ve served as Vice Chair of the Board of Education, and I am quite proud of the work I’ve done here. Peter Bernstein, the current Chair and a Republican, and I have a great working relationship and try to always find a way to collaborate to achieve the best results for our students and thereby the community.
- From your time in the Greenwich Board of Education, what are some of the lessons and skills you’ve learned that would serve you well in office?
I think my biggest lesson is to always listen to the community and to get as many perspectives as possible before making a decision. As I am a parent in the schools, a coach and active in neighborhood associations – I find that having that one-on-one conversation with your neighbor whenever possible is instrumental as it provides a real sense for the community.
It is also important to learn how to implement ideas and turn them into action. It is easy to come to the arena with passionate notions but getting things done for our community ultimately requires a leader to build consensus and often to work across the aisle no matter the political ideology. Our board is split between parties and thus every decision requires some cross-party consensus. This requires listening to all opinions and working to find the common ground that leads to the best results for our students and the community.
My time on the school board has also reminded me of the financial impact of government. Every decision comes with a cost and must be weighed appropriately. I know I try to constantly balance our goals of top quality service with a commitment to fiscal discipline.
- I read in another profile that you’re originally from Yorktown, N.Y. What year did you move to Greenwich, how old were you, and what brought you to Greenwich?
I was actually born in Poughkeepsie, NY and grew up in Yorktown (Northern Westchester). It’s a great suburban community with a wonderful mix of people and I made some lifelong friends there. Yorktown taught me a lot about the value of community where I attended public schools K-12, played multiple sports, and my father was also elected to the local Board of Education.
I left Yorktown 25 years ago, went to the Midwest for college, studied and interned abroad in Australia and England, respectively, and then settled in New York City while I started my career and met my husband. He had grown up in Connecticut (his family has been in Connecticut since the early 1600s), and when we were ready to move to the suburbs to raise our children, Greenwich was a natural choice. We loved the beautiful environment and the strong public school system but what really sold us on the town and the southwest Connecticut area in general was the wonderful sense of community we witnessed. We’ve come to appreciate that more and more as we’ve lived here.
- How long have you coached T-Ball, baseball, and softball, and since when? What initially drew you into coaching sports?
As a parent, you welcome most any opportunity to engage with your children and to encourage them in their learning and development. It was easy for me to dive into coaching as I’ve always loved sports. I played tennis, softball and basketball up through high school and four years at Notre Dame would make a sports fan out of the most recalcitrant observer. Organized athletics provides a fun way for our kids to develop their physical abilities as well as learning about skills like teamwork and sportsmanship. I’ve enjoyed watching the kids I’ve coached develop across seasons and years and I am proud to support them. I coached t-ball initially, I then graduated to baseball for a few years, and while our softball season was cancelled this spring, I just signed up to coach this fall. Let’s hope it works out!
- How will you help support Greenwich’s public schools? Do you support any specific policy ideas/proposals/positions, or do you support any of the state legislature’s previous or current bills/efforts to help Greenwich’s public schools?
My years on the school board have taught me a lot about the role the state has to play in our schools. Leadership in the schools is fundamentally local, as it should be, but the state contributes by providing frameworks and expertise that would be inefficient to develop on a town-by-town basis. At the same time, state policies can be cumbersome when they don’t appreciate the specific dynamics at the ground level. The unfortunate experience with the pandemic showed me both the good and bad of state involvement. The guidance from state and national health authorities has been very helpful – it would obviously make little sense for each town to have a staff of epidemiologists – but I’ve also seen how some state policies can create challenges. As a legislator, I would work to impact legislation as well as advocating with the governor to ensure that all state actions support our local efforts.
- Speaking to helping foster a strong local and state economy with “supportive policies” and “reasonable regulations,” do you have any specific policy ideas/proposals/positions, or do you support any of the state legislature’s previous or current bills/efforts to accomplish such goals?
Having built and grown businesses, I know that it is often a complex set of issues that guide business decisions. There are no simple answers. Connecticut already has many of the key ingredients that any business seeks – we have a highly educated workforce sitting astride the I-95 corridor. We have great universities producing outstanding research and top quality young graduates every year. We have wonderful communities and cultural resources for all those employees and their families. We need to build on these strengths and market them.
We need to encourage business formation and then encourage strong communities that will keep those businesses as they grow. Some will argue that means lower taxes, and lower taxes will always have some appeal. The truth is much more complex however. We are competing with states like Massachusetts, New York and California – not exactly low tax jurisdictions. Companies and their founders and executives want great communities, they want talented, engaged workers and they want to see their peers around them. Let’s focus our efforts, and our dollars, on targeted investments to nurture and grow businesses here. Let’s leverage the great research coming out of top institutions to build those businesses. Instead of across the board tax cuts for business, how about a one-year tax holiday to give a new business a head start? Let’s support offering some student loan forgiveness for graduates who stay in state and build their careers and businesses here.
Most importantly, I think we have a real opportunity now to capitalize on businesses looking for a new home as people and companies leave New York City. For example, Jordan & Jordan, the company I am building with my Dad is starting to ask that very question. Our employees have not commuted into New York City since March, and we are still serving our clients well while growing as a team. Should we continue to work from home or find a new office outside of New York City and have a smaller footprint? We are clearly not the only business asking these questions and so now is the time for Greenwich and Stamford to be pitching companies.
- How old are you? What are the names and ages of each of your direct family members (husband, son, and daughters)?
I am 44 years old, and my children are 8, 10 and 12.
- Are there any major life events that shaped your into the person you are today? If so, please tell me the story and how it specifically molded you into the person you are today?
There is not one specific moment, but a collection of childhood moments….
I have a wonderful supportive family, and my parents always encouraged me to pursue any and all dreams. I felt very lucky since I grew up with my grandmother and her brother, my Uncle Tony, who was a WWII tank commander and a true hero. They were a part of my daily life and they reminded me of how lucky I was to be in the U.S. and how hard it was for their parents to leave their homes and make a life here. I was lucky enough to hear the stories of my great-grandparents who arrived on Ellis Island from Ireland and Italy, bought homes, and worked hard to create great lives for their children and the generations to come. My parents never forgot that history and always found a way to help others from simple acts in town to giving to charity to my Dad serving in the U.S. military.
I was encouraged to see the world and take on new opportunities, and they are still doing that today. When I asked them if I should run for this seat they admittedly said for a moment do you have enough time with your kids (they’re grandparents first so let’s remember that’s their primary concern), work on the Board of Education, and with my work at Jordan & Jordan. Then in the same breath they said, you have to run since you really could help your community and you always find a way to step up and follow through to find a solution. I truly believe that I am the right person for this time in Connecticut given my deep financial background, my collaborative style and my government experience.
- Are there any other questions I should have asked you about regarding any topic? If so, please spell out what the topic is and its importance to you personally, your campaign, or generally.
You asked so many great questions. This was really fun to go through. Only thing I would add is that one of the lessons I learned in this pandemic is that people are incredibly resilient and really want to do the right thing. Obviously it is uncomfortable to wear a mask, but I think the attitude of you’re doing it to protect others and especially the most vulnerable just shows how we care about one another as a society. My children for example know we need to be especially thoughtful because of their grandparents. For me this comes back to my theme of building a strong community.
When you go to vote you often look at the platform, but I truly believe more than ever you need to look at the person. Look at their track record and their background since the next couple of years as we hopefully recover from this pandemic fiscally and health wise are so vitally important to our future. When I was elected to the Board or Education no one ever thought, “How will she handle a pandemic?” However, what I think I’ve learned is that in all things you need to find a person who will give it their all (including a lot of zoom summer meetings), can find a way forward, has a good attitude, is open minded, has proven themselves in their career, can work well with others, and just cares. You will have that with me since I don’t know how to operate otherwise. Stay well.