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Rosenthal Leaving Office, To Enjoy Fruits Of His Labor



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“The door prize is that I still get to live [in Newtown],” First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said of leaving office after three terms — six years — as the town’s chief elected official.

Speaking with The Newtown Bee this week, with less than one week left in his final term, Rosenthal said he hopes he can enjoy just living in a town he hopes he left in a better place than it was when he assumed the first selectman role in 2017.

With his public service behind him, and a new job ahead at Newtown Savings Bank, Rosenthal is planning a trip to Japan in the interim to see his in-laws. Rosenthal had announced early this year that he would not run for a fourth term. Legislative Council Chairman and Republican Jeff Capeci won the recent municipal election, running against Board of Education member and Democrat Dan Cruson. Having been sworn in on November 26 (see related story), Capeci takes over his new position December 1.

On making his decision to leave, Rosenthal in a written statement in February said it was “not a decision that I arrived at easily and without a great deal of soul searching.”

“Serving the town that I love has been a privilege of a lifetime and only gratitude comes to mind when I think about leaving it behind,” he stated.

Reflecting back six years when he decided to run for first selectman Rosenthal recalled, “My daughter, Hana, was still in high school, my daughter, Emi, in middle school and my son, Ben, was in fifth grade.

“They, along with my wife, Meri, got behind me and gave me the push I needed to run and the love and support I needed to be able to do the job,” he said. “Fast forward to today and Hana is out of college, Emi is nearing the halfway mark in college, Ben is closing in on completing high school, and Meri is home while I attend meeting upon meeting.”

Rosenthal said his loved ones “all sacrificed time with me and wholeheartedly supported a job with its 24/7 responsibilities.

“It’s time I give them all of my focus and attention,” he said.

A Legacy

With a family legacy in the office he is vacating, Rosenthal said he never saw himself as first selectman when he was younger. While he went door to door campaigning when his grandfather, Jack Rosenthal, was campaigning for first selectman, he said he “did not see the politics of it back then,” and that it was a “different time.”

Jack Rosenthal served for six terms, from 1976 to 1987, before losing a bid for a seventh.

“I only saw the job’s ability to help people,” said Rosenthal. “That was my exposure to the job.”

When his father, Herb Rosenthal was elected, Rosenthal was grown and out of the house, but he did see more of the political side of the position during his father’s six terms in office, from 1997 to 2007. Herb Rosenthal also lost a bid for a seventh term.

For his own part, Rosenthal was happy with his career in finance and with his wife and family of three children. He left the hedge fund he worked for in summer of 2016, however, and tried to “reconnect with the town.”

He had already begun that somewhat with service on the Legislative Council, Planning & Zoning Alternate, and the Police Commission, but in 2016 he began going to NYA Sports & Fitness and connecting with people.

Rosenthal said that upon hearing that then-First Selectman Pat Llodra was not rerunning for office, he started hearing suggestions that he should run himself. He recalled one such suggestion was from Llodra herself. It was not until his wife told him that he really loved the town and that he should run, however, that he decided to put his name in the hat.

Firm But Fair

In November 2017, Rosenthal and running mate Maureen Crick Owen won over Republican Will Rodgers and his running mate, Jeff Capeci.

“We worked hard and were rewarded at the polls. Election Day was great, who doesn’t like to win,” Rosenthal recalled. “But it can’t be about ego.”

In a 2017 Newtown Bee story about his win, Rosenthal said, “People got behind us, and how do I thank people for giving in ways that I never asked them to?”

This was a sentiment Rosenthal echoed six years later in a speech he gave at a full house celebration of his three terms on November 28 at the community center.

Rosenthal said he and Crick Owen “immediately went to work.” The day after his first swearing in, Rosenthal said, he was at the municipal center, meeting people and preparing for his new role.

Rosenthal said that as first selectman, he had “lots of power to say No, but limited power to say Yes,” but even given the limitations of the office, he was “proud of the successes” he’s had. He said the key part of the job was convincing people who did have the power to say Yes to see things his way.

“I think this job is about collaboration, at least if you want to be successful at it,” he said. “If you want to snap your fingers and boss people around, you won’t be successful. People work for the town, not for me.”

While there were certain points where a crisis would arrive and Rosenthal would have to exercise full authority in the moment, he felt most of the best decisions were made when he had the time to listen and hear what people thought. He felt that hearing others out and working with other opinions was better than getting others to “acquiesce to what they think” Rosenthal wanted.

“That’s not good decision-making,” he said. “I hope I had a reputation for being firm but fair. I always wanted to hear what others thought instead of rushing to judge.”

When Rosenthal started his tenure as first selectman, the community center project was just underway — ground was broken on Election Day 2017. He said the challenges that went into constructing that building were “well publicized” but that the staff under Matt Ariniello’s leadership did “a great job.”

Rosenthal said he oversaw the consolidation of some departments, such as the Senior Center and Social Services into Human Services, which he felt would “better serve the community.”

“There were fewer directors and more licensed professionals on staff. With the new budget, program membership flourished,” he said, adding, “That’s not a slight to those before me, but they were limited by the size of the old senior center.”

Also early in his term was the relocation of Newtown Police Department from 3 Main Street to its new location at 191 South Main Street.

“Chief James Viadero got the ball rolling,” said Rosenthal. “And the public got behind it in a big way.”

He said the project — and this was a common theme for projects under Rosenthal — was completed “on time and under budget.”

Another project related to the police department that Rosenthal oversaw was the new digital communications system. While the old system was state of the art when bought 20 years ago, there were broad holes in the net it cast that often left first responders trying to communicate with cellular phones or other means.

The new digital system means those days are behind the town’s police, fire, and ambulance services. The project added three new communications sites, more towers, and digital radios. The town’s voters authorized $7.5 million, of which $6.5 million has been spent.

“The transmissions are very clear,” said Rosenthal. “It allows different responder groups to communicate in a crisis, which had been a challenge previously.”

Project Successes

Most of Rosenthal’s second term was dominated by response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was re-elected unchallenged in November 2019, and by February and March 2020 COVID cases were spreading through Newtown and the rest of Connecticut. Fortunately, unlike in some other states, COVID protocols in Connecticut did not preclude construction activities, so that the police department construction was not threatened by shutdowns.

“We definitely danced through the raindrops there,” said Rosenthal.

Another project completed under Rosenthal was the planning for and construction of the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial, which began under Llodra. The cost of the originally proposed design was “extraordinary,” said Rosenthal, and he was grateful that the work of the design firm, the town’s Public Buildings & Site Commission, and others who contributed such as the Memorial Commission, helped to “scale back the design while maintaining the spirit.”

“They all hung in there,” said Rosenthal. “They kept things on track from a financial perspective. None of it would have been possible, though, without public support of the people who went to the polls and said Yes.”

Rosenthal recalled that the state later stepped in and paid for two-thirds of the project cost, which was a “great state-municipal partnership.”

Another project completed on time and under budget under Rosenthal was the Hawley School HVAC project, which solved air quality problems while adding air conditioning to additional parts of the school. It was a “substantial budget,” but the town used American Rescue Plan funding to pay for a third of that project’s $8 million cost.

Money left over from the project will be used towards replacing chillers from 1997, which were originally part of the project but cut to save money.

‘A Community Guide’

Rosenthal is also proud of the progress made in the town’s road work under him. He and Crick Owen both noted they received many complaints about roads when they first entered office. Now such complaints, they said, are few and far between.

During the November 28 celebration, Crick Owen, with assistance from Public Works Director Fred Hurley, noted that under Rosenthal, 125 miles of the town’s 280 miles of roadway had been repaved. Rosenthal said when he started, the town had a roadwork budget of $1.5 million per year, and was bonding $1 million of it.

As he is leaving office, the town’s roadwork budget is $3 million per year, and none of that goes on the town’s credit card. This was achieved even with multiple years having flat or small mill rate increases and reducing the town’s debt service.

“Our credit rating was reaffirmed at AAA all six years,” said Rosenthal.

Rosenthal noted that he and Capeci agree that the budget for roadwork should keep increasing in future years to keep pace with inflation and keep the town’s roads in good shape.

“I’m proud that we put an emphasis on roads and that I saw not a lot of resistance to it,” said Rosenthal. “With 280 miles of road, you can never take a victory lap, but the roads are materially better than they were six years ago.”

Rosenthal pointed towards land preservation as another thing he supported and was proud of. It started under Llodra in a collaboration with the federal government with Castle Hill Farm. Rosenthal then worked with Newtown Forest Association in preserving land off Boggs Hill and at Cherry Grove Farm.

All in all, Rosenthal feels he’s left the town “well positioned” for the future.

“Part of the job is to do no harm, and leave things better than they were,” said Rosenthal. “Now it’s Jeff’s turn.”

At the celebration, town and state officials spoke fondly of Rosenthal.

State Senator Tony Hwang said that “at the end of the day, [Rosenthal] is a son of Newtown.” Hwang credited Rosenthal’s “beautiful family” for their “support and sacrifice.”

“We have a proclamation, but no piece of paper can do justice for all [Rosenthal] has done for the people of Newtown,” said Hwang.

State Representative Mitch Bolinsky said that even in these increasingly partisan times when sometimes people can feel like “we are speaking to ourselves,” Rosenthal was “always about Newtown, speaking together and being friends.” Bolinsky noted that with Rosenthal’s even temperament he was a “natural as a community guide.”

Crick Owen said the celebration was to honor Rosenthal, her friend, for his “time, energy, and unwavering commitment to the community as first selectman.”

“Dan will leave a lasting mark on the town landscape,” she said.

“His dedication to the town is truly remarkable, and he prioritized the needs of the residents so that families thrived, businesses flourished, and individuals could reach their full potential.”

Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

Incoming First Selectman Jeff Capeci (left) shakes hands with outgoing First Selectman Dan Rosenthal (right), as former First Selectman Pat Llodra (center) looks on. —Bee Photos, Taylor
Incoming First Selectman Jeff Capeci, former First Selectman Pat Llodra, and outgoing First Selectman Dan Rosenthal. —Bee Photo, Taylor
State Representative Mitch Bolinsky (left) and State Senator Tony Hwang present a proclamation to First Selectman Dan Rosenthal during a celebration for the outbound first selectman on November 28. —Bee Photo, Taylor
A sign hung at a celebration of First Selectman Dan Rosenthal’s six years in office.
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