Rosenthal's Re-Election Bid And New Party Affiliation, Crick Owen Democratic Running Mate
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal and his two-term running mate, Selectman Maureen Crick Owen, notified The Newtown Bee this week that they will be seeking third terms this November. However, this run will see Rosenthal doing so not as a Democrat, but as a member of the Serve America Movement (SAM), which will require him to petition his name onto the local ballot. Crick Owen said she will retain her party affiliation and run as a Democrat.
Rosenthal stressed that the change in party affiliation does not stem from “any disagreement of lack of support from the Democratic Party” but rather as part of his vision of the office of the first selectman being non-partisan. He expressed his “strong belief that the role of the first selectman should be free from party politics altogether.”
“Residents should always feel that whatever their issue or concern, it will be dealt with fairly and impartially,” said Rosenthal. “Party affiliation has become a strong driver in how people relate to and work with one another — and that gives me concern for our town, state, and country.”
“The best idea should always win, no matter who invented it,” Rosenthal continued, adding he has no issue with Crick Owen’s party affiliation.
“I respect her desire to run as a Democrat,” said Rosenthal. “I’m not looking to stick my finger in anyone’s eye.”
Owen said that no matter what party affiliation Rosenthal chooses, if both are successful at the polls November 2, they still plan on doing the “same job we have for the last three-and-a-half years.”
“I have been a longtime member of the Democratic Party,” said Owen, “but I have always considered my party affiliation irrelevant to my role as a selectman.”
Rosenthal said he was “attracted to SAM’s message,” which “may be surprising to some.” He said that he always strived to “center the conversation” as best he can.
According to Rosenthal, SAM (joinsam.org) “takes no ideological positions and instead focuses on transparency, accountability, problem solving, term limits, electoral competition, and voting access, among others, as a way forward.”
He said that he didn’t think Newtown’s voters tend to vote straight party ticket and that they “tend to vote for the best candidate.”
“Most of us are friends and neighbors,” said Rosenthal. “People tend to vote for candidates they know.”
Rosenthal pointed toward his many achievements over his previous terms as reasons he should be re-elected.
He stated that over the last two years, “we have been able to hold the line on taxes,” with no tax increase last year and a modest tax decrease this year. In spite of no increases to taxes, the town has been able to maintain “critical services to the public and [continue] to build our operating budget for road work.”
‘Pay As We Go’
Stating that Newtown has a “strong fiscal culture,” the incumbent first selectman said he wants to see Newtown continue to expand with “a focus on reducing debt and moving closer to a pay-as-we-go approach.”
Owen noted that roads were one of the main concerns they heard about from voters when they were campaigning for their first term in 2017.
“If we take our eye off of roads, with 275 miles of road in town, we’ll fall behind fast,” Rosenthal said. “We were behind, but we’ve got a lot done in the past three years. I hope people have a reasonable belief that we’ll get to their road. The results have been more tangible.”
He stated that he was able to expand a “well-deserved” tax benefit for volunteer first responders.
“Volunteerism is the heart of what makes our community special, and it is important we do everything we can to keep it that way,” Rosenthal said.
Over the past several years under Rosenthal, a number of construction projects have either been started or completed.
The new police and emergency communications facility that broke ground at the beginning of this term was completed “ahead of schedule and more than $300,000 under budget,” stated Rosenthal. He said the new facility is a “multigenerational building” that will “serve the town well.”
“This long-overdue facility will serve our community well for years to come,” Rosenthal said.
Soon the town will begin construction on the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial, with a completion date set for December 14, 2022. Additionally, the town will be upgrading its emergency communications system and potentially the Hawley School HVAC system.
“With all these projects and others I have not mentioned, I intend to bring the same management focus as done with the successful police project,” said Rosenthal.
Now the town is considering what to do with the former police headquarters, with Rosenthal stating that the project should be handled in a “manner that will not change the character of Main Street.”
Under Rosenthal, the town is also currently taking bids on possible economic development projects on the Fairfield Hills campus.
Rosenthal said that the town is reaching an “inflection point” with the Fairfield Hills property in determining not only how to develop the campus, but also which buildings may have to be demolished.
“This is a process that takes time, and the priority is for what we can renovate,” Rosenthal said.
He stated that there is more work to be done on economic development, adding that the Country Camper RV dealership coming to 201 South Main Street is a good business for the town and “complimentary of existing businesses” on main street.
“That’s the sort of business we want to bring,” Rosenthal said. “We want to diversify the things that would bring people to the town.”
Rosenthal has maintained a focus not just on economic growth, but also on natural preservation, wanting the town to have a “balanced approach” between the two.
“We were able to preserve some key pieces of open space, namely Castle Hill Farm and 20 acres at 76 Boggs Hill Road,” said Rosenthal.
He stated Castle Hill Farm was an area of land the previous administration wanted to preserve but was searching for the right grant. His administration found a grant — the Connecticut Farmland Trust — and was able to preserve 30 acres of the farm with a conservation easement. The Boggs Hill Road property was preserved by partnering with the Newtown Forestry Association.
Rosenthal also discussed the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias, which hit Newtown hard last summer. He said that Newtown and several other communities pursued complaints with the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) over Eversource’s failures following the storm, as some residents in the community did not have power for more than a week.
“Eversource dropped the ball with their management of the storm,” Rosenthal said. “When things go badly with power restoration, we field a lot of calls from residents.”
However, Rosenthal stated that the town wasn’t getting the kind of communication from Eversource they were used to. Newtown joined with neighboring communities including Ridgefield and Bethel to get “intervener status” to get things resolved.
“Eversource was sharply rebuked with fines and demands as to how future storms are to be managed,” said Rosenthal. “I view it as a success. Time will tell, but I felt we got the result we wanted.”
If re-elected, Rosenthal intends to push the consideration of a town manager or administrator to handle the day-to-day management of Newtown.
He said such an administrator would still have political oversight, but that the “town is a complex organization” and that it is sometimes difficult to find people willing to come out of a private sector job or those who are retired to come and run the town for two years. He said elected officials would move into a more volunteer role instead of having a chief elected officer involved in the day-to-day running of the town.
“While the town has been served well with a chief elected official in the past, I don’t think we can let history be our guide much longer,” said Rosenthal. “The affairs of the town are complicated, and I think long term we would be best served by a professional manager with elected oversight.”
Strong Team Spirit
Rosenthal attributed his success as first selectman to a strong team spirit in Newtown and to the community’s willingness to work together.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my fellow members of the Board of Selectmen over the past three-and-a-half years, my running mate [Owen], and Jeff Capeci,” Rosenthal said. “I am a big believer in teams and I could not have asked for a better one. There have been very few decisions that were not unanimous, but that does not mean there was not robust debate and discussion around the best course of action to take for our residents.”
Rosenthal said he appreciates the “two-way street” he has built with the other selectmen; they can trust him to keep them appraised on everything that is being worked on, while they give him the flexibility needed to do the job as chief elected officer without him feeling like he is being “babysitted.”
Rosenthal noted that the role of first selectman is about consensus building as there are many boards and commissions to work with.
“I am thankful for the support I’ve received from all of our town boards and commissions,” said Rosenthal. “The role of first selectman has taught me a great deal and given me the ability to meet and work with so many wonderful people trying to make our town a better place. I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve the community I love for another two years.”
Owen stated that during her past two terms as a selectman she has done her “best to effectively, constructively and diligently serve on the Board of Selectmen representing all of the residents of Newtown.”
“I will continue to focus on the important Newtown issues that come before the Board of Selectman on a non-partisan basis, and I will do my best to do what I believe is right and in the best interests of the town and its residents.”
Rosenthal is not the first Newtown resident and political hopeful affiliating with SAM. Former Lt Governor candidate and town attorney Monte Frank currently serves as chairman of the Connecticut affiliate of SAM, known as SAM CT.
In a February Op-Ed piece in The Stamford Advocate, Frank wrote, “Our government under the control of the duopoly consistently puts the acquisition and maintenance of political power ahead of resolving the issues that matter most to people and our shared quest to create opportunities and a better nation for our children.
“SAM believes our elected representatives should be rewarded for their adherence to shared values of accountability, transparency, problem solving and electoral competition — values that are not defined in any way as red or blue, left or right,” Frank continued. “Through the SAM lens, public servants are challenged to serve their constituents, defined broadly, to solve our nation’s and our state’s significant issues, to restore faith in government, and to drive progress.”
Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.