The Wilton Democratic Town Committee honored Paul Burnham and Deborah McFadden as its Democrats of the Year at the organization’s annual Spring Breakfast on April 28. Both are longtime leaders in Wilton and on the DTC, instrumental in building the Wilton Democratic Party from a small minority to more than 3,600 members.

The gathering of 100 also heard from guest speaker Jeremy Stein, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, who reminded them there is much work remaining to be done on gun safety, a core Democratic issue.  

Several office holders and candidates were guests, including State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Assistant Secretary of the State Peggy Reeves, gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont, attorney general candidates Chris Mattei and William Tong, and probate judge candidate Doug Stern.

Ross Tartell, candidate for the state House of Representative and DTC nominating chair, called Burnham and McFadden “two fabulous people who have made such a difference to Wilton, their party, and the state.” They are, he said, “part of a sea change that is happening still in Wilton,” manifested by the party’s dominant showing in the 2017 elections.

“I’ve seen Democrats blossom from a small minority to a strong force,” said McFadden, in accepting her award, “by demonstrating concern for all of our citizens.” McFadden has worked for Democratic causes in Washington, Utah, and Connecticut, and has served as a Democratic elector. In Wilton she won election as a constable, served an appointment to the Board of Selectman, ran the first closely competitive race for first selectman in decades, and most recently led all vote-getters in her successful race for the Board of Selectmen last November. Tartell characterized McFadden’s philosophy as: “Get your hands dirty and get it done.”

Burnham captured the community spirit of the breakfast when he recalled a family trip he’d taken as a boy that had been an early inspiration to public service. After a short roadside meal stop at a rather messy rest area, he watched his parents clean up the place.

“Before getting back in the car, my parents, without a word to us or to each other, began to pick up the litter that previous visitors to the spot had left. I asked, ‘Why?’ And my mother said, ‘We want the next people who come here to enjoy their meal even more than we have.’” Burnham said he learned that day “that you can’t consider yourself a decent person if you don’t care about people who you don’t know.” The time he has devoted to Wilton, he said, was just “being who I should be.”

Guest speaker Stein reminded attendees that much remains to be done in the fight against the “major medical crisis” that is gun violence. He named the banning of bump stocks, so-called “ghost” guns (unregistered and unregulated gun kits), and “Safe Storage” legislation as current focus issues. Stein cautioned against complacency in Connecticut, which has led the nation in gun legislation.

“I’ve had people say, we’ve done so much. Why not claim victory?” said Stein. “I tell them, ‘Because there are gubernatorial candidates right now who want to repeal all of the Sandy Hook legislation.’” Commenting on the recent student movement against gun violence, Stein said, “The youth of America are an unstoppable force. We need to tap into that.”

DTC Chair Tom Dubin called the breakfast a great success. “A handful of DTC volunteers made the Annual Wilton Democratic Breakfast a wonderful event this year,” said Dubin. “Turn-out was great, Jeremy Stein’s discussion regarding gun safety was engaging and informative, and most importantly we had the opportunity to honor Deb and Paul for their decades-long contributions to Wilton and the Democratic Party.”