Selectmen candidates square off at forum

One of the most contentious races this election season, that of four candidates running for two four-year terms on the Board of Selectmen, hit full swing the evening of Oct. 19 when they answered questions on stage at the Wilton Library’s Brubeck Room.

The League of Women Voters event featured questions drawn from the audience, about 75 people who packed the room to hear positions from candidates, some who are well known political figures, and others who are lesser known but equally passionate about local issues.

The candidates were Deborah McFadden, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee and a former member of the Board of Selectmen; Joshua Cole, a Republican who is an attorney; Lori Bufano, incumbent Republican; and Al Alper, who recently resigned as chairman of the Republican Town Committee and is running as a petitioning candidate.

There was no shortage of well spoken monologues.

“I’m impressed with all of you,” said the moderator, Celeste LaCroix of Trumbull, following the one-hour forum.

It was not so much a debate as it was a question-and-answer session, although opportunities were given for rebuttal.

One of the most informative moments of the forum came when McFadden told the crowd that if she is not elected, being the only Democrat running for selectman, there will be no Democrats on the board at all, because the unaffiliated members have taken up the required seating for minority representation.

Questions from the audience were wide ranging, from what to do about attracting new people to town to how to make the most of Route 7.

On the move to town question, the audience asked how to improve the town to attract and retain people.

“Clearly  we have financial issues in town that limit our ability to look at new amenities paid for by the taxpayers,” said Cole. “One thing we need to look at is public private partnership to bring new amenities to town, and fundraise to bring amenities that people are looking for in town. Currently a committee is studying uses for Schenck's Island and Merwin Meadows, of what type of amenities people are looking for. We’ll never be Westport, they have a larger tax base to draw on for amenities. We can’t expect the town to finance every amenity we want. We have to look at public private partnerships and fundraising.

“i agree with Josh on the funding piece,” said Bufano. “We need public and private investment in whatever ideas come to pass. Study groups are important for Schenck's Island, as well as the Park and Recreation study that’s going on.  Amenities are one of my top priorities because it’s very important. Tennis courts are being refurbished to have another 10 to 20 years.. We can take a look at shared services as something we can do to reduce our costs.”

“During my tenure on the Board of Finance I was a proponent of shared services, across the boards,” said Alper, “The town can also share services with other towns and sister communities. Former First Selectman Bill Brennan and I talked about drawing upon amenities to utilize, to drive down the costs and expand opportunities.  Interestingly enough, while amenities are nice to have, most people who go looking for place to live first look at  how much it costs. Carrying costs are what drive people away. I have a neighbor having a short sale on their house because they can’t afford to live here anymore. Reduce the burden on the taxpayer.”

“i remember when i could get a pass at Norwalk Beach for a slightly higher rate as a Norwalk resident because I live in Wilton,” said McFadden. “Public private partnerships are important. The next step is doing private fundraising for assets many people like. The other thing is our senior center, to do more for our seniors in a cost effective manner and see how to enhance their lives. Let’s make sure our seniors can get in at events in town for free. What about doing more with our art? We’re a green community, and we can take advantage of our river and quality of life. We need to think outside the box.”

Another question was how to balance the interest of the political parties with unaffiliated voters.

“We have all parties on the Board of Selectmen, and we collaborate for the best of Wilton,” said Bufano.  “I represent all people in town and try to do that. I can tell you now we really are bipartisan. I would continue to act that way and support the best interests of town.”

“As a petitioning candidate, that’s a  good question for me to answer,” said Alper. “When the Republican Town Committee made their endorsements for selectman and I wasn’t one, I seriously considered not running or petitioning, and a Democrat asked me why I would entertain not running in a town I had volunteered for more than 13 years. They said you should run. In spite of the lack of a party endorsement, from a party I led, I chose to petition and get on the ballot. While I believe in parties, i believe in the town first and foremost. I bring diversity to the table, something missing right now from the Board of Selectmen.”

“Just so we’re all clear, I’m the chairman of the Democratic Town Committee. One thing i found is to make sure all our meetings are open,” said McFadden. “We have unaffiliated people who come to our meetings. You don’t have to be a Democrat to come,  we have people come to engage in our community. The other thing is the Democrats select  candidates who are qualified and we often have picked unaffiliated candidates. So we have worked hard to include as many unaffiliated as possible because Democrats are the minority group. We have less than 3,500 registered Democrats. The largest group in town is unaffiliated, so we work together to help the community as best we can”.

“I am Republican but see myself as a resident first,” said Cole. “We all share the same basic common values and have the same interests. We want a financially strong town, with good schools, and our kids to grow up in a safe environment, and our kids to come back after college and afford to be able to live here. Even though I’m a Republican I’m a citizen first,and  I take pride in being able le to work with everyone. As a lawyer, i build consensus and get things done. We don’t see ourselves as Republicans or Democrats, we see ourselves as citizens first. We have to work together. We are all interested in the same basic things and in keeping the town strong.”

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.