2019 caucus preview: Wetlands seats among 30 to fill

Joy Strand, with sons Joel, 9, and Jackson, 6, check in with official checker Doug Kleinmann at the Yanity Gym polling place Tuesday afternoon. The Yanity Gym, the district 3 polling place in Ridgefield, Conn. had a steady stream of voters Election Day, Nov. 4, 2014.

Joy Strand, with sons Joel, 9, and Jackson, 6, check in with official checker Doug Kleinmann at the Yanity Gym polling place Tuesday afternoon. The Yanity Gym, the district 3 polling place in Ridgefield, Conn. had a steady stream of voters Election Day, Nov. 4, 2014.

Carol Kaliff / Carol Kaliff

Warming seems a safe prediction for the political climate with a contest developing for first selectman as Ridgefield’s political parties prepare for caucuses later in July.

Republican finance board member Dick Moccia, a former mayor of Norwalk, is preparing to challenge Democratic First Selectman Rudy Marconi, who has confirmed he’ll be seeking re-election to what would be his eighth term.

“Politics — you can be tough, but you don’t have to be mean,” Moccia said, telling The Press he intended to run a positive, issue-oriented campaign. “That’s where leadership comes in. You have to be prepared to use the bully pulpit a little bit to help boards move along, to perhaps smooth things out, help the public understand — not dictating, not intrusion.”

Marconi said he’ll focus on what’s positive about the town.

“There are so many negatives out there: ‘Life is terrible!’ I happen to feel life is good in Ridgefield,” Marconi said. “And I love this town and I enjoy my work. And I hope the people of Ridgefield agree and will give me another term —and I’ll continue to work as hard as I have over the last 20 years.”

This fall Ridgefield will also elect its first Inland Wetlands Board separate from the Planning and Zoning Commission, and fill seats on the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, Board of Education, Planning and Zoning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Police Commission and Board of Assessment Appeals.

Besides first selectman, three elected town hall administrative offices — town clerk, tax collector and town treasurer — will also be on the ballot, along with some 30 board and commission seats.

Ridgefield Democrats will caucus Monday evening, July 22, at 7:30 p.m., in town hall’s large lower level conference room.

The Republicans will caucus the next night, Tuesday, July 23, at 7:30, also in the lower level conference room of town hall.

Eighth term

Marconi recently reconfirmed an intention he had made public in January to to seek an eighth term as the town’s top elected official in the November election.

“Hopefully, people have paid attention and feel that our town is in pretty good shape,” he said. “... That the current administration — that my work over the last 20 years — has gotten us to this point where our debt is coming down, we continue to have a great school system, people love the downtown, the economy is good.

“Everything locally is very good,” he said. “I know we hear a lot of negatives about the state. But I’m happy to report the Town of Ridgefield — and this is due to everyone’s effort —is a positive place to live.

“I think we’d all be happy if the state was in the place Ridgefield is.”

Marconi’s first successful run for the town’s top office — he lost once, in 1997, to Abe Morelli — was in November 1999. “It’ll be 20 years,” he said.

A charter change was approved in November 2006 lengthening all Board of Selectmen terms from two years to four years. Marconi has had seven terms: four two-year terms in the eight years from 1999-2007, and three four-year terms in 12 years from 2007 to 2019.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Alex Harris said Marconi’s re-election has the “Ridgefield DTC’s complete, enthusiastic and unanimous support.”

With Moccia willing to challenge Marconi, the Republican Town Committee says it is committed to nominating candidates for offices up and down the slate.

“The GOP has candidates for all offices and we are continuing to interview this week and next,” Republican Town Committee Chairwoman Hope Wise said in a June 25 email. “I will give you names at caucus.”

And, the RTC is still interested in hearing from potential candidates. They can email Wise at gopchairiswise@gmail.com.

Wetlands board

A focus for both parties this year, according to Wise, will be finding candidates for the new separate Inland Wetlands Board — which voters on a charter revision question last fall decided should be split off from the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“The GOP worked hard to pass the question for an Inland Wetland Board last November,” Wise said. “I reached out to Alex Harris to work with him and other groups to find the highest qualified candidates to sit on the IWB ... Alex and I have the most experienced people in town to sit on the board. We understand the importance of expertise here and we have the candidates who exemplify that expertise.”

Harris said the Democrats are also focused on finding strong candidates for the new wetlands board.

“Ridgefield Democrats have openly and broadly solicited input, recommendations, and candidates from all Ridgefield residents and community groups,” Harris said. “The nonpartisan ‘IWB Candidate Search Group’ has recommended a number of extremely qualified individuals as possible candidates for that board, and we are deeply engaged with their recommendations…

“Additionally, we have received recommendations from local activists concerned about various matters considered by P&Z in recent years, and we are likewise deeply engaged with those folks as well.”

One of the groups following land use issues in town —Ridgefield Voters United, or RVU — will be reviewing both parties’ nominees for Inland Wetlands Board and Planning and Zoning Commission, with an eye to making endorsements.

“... RVU is a group of nonpartisan residents committed to identifying and supporting highly-qualified P&Z and IWB candidates for the November 2019 election,” Lori Mazzola told The Press. “We have no comments regarding specific candidates until after the caucuses are concluded.”

Waiting to announce

The Democratic Town Committee (DTC), like its Republican counterpart, isn’t yet releasing the names of the candidates they plan to endorse.

“DTC has not yet formally endorsed any candidates, so prefers not to announce names at this time,” Harris said. “DTC has interviewed, vetted many candidates, but will hold off final endorsement until just before our caucus to ensure we give full consideration to any individuals that may step forward in July.

“That said, DTC has recruited and vetted candidates for every seat that Democrats can legally contest under election law,” Harris said. “DTC expects to endorse candidates for over 20 local offices. DTC has recruited outstanding prospects for every office, including for the new IWB. At this point, DTC is confident we will endorse and present our strongest and largest ever list for nomination at caucus.”

The Democrats, too, remain interested in hearing from people.

“Any Democrat registered in Ridgefield who wishes to assist in recruiting/vetting candidates, recommend a potential candidate, or offer themself as a potential candidate, should email recruitment@ridgefielddems.org, providing full name, contact information, a resume or biographical write-up, identifying the offices or roles they wish to consider,” he said. “That email will be instantly received by every member of our Executive Committee and Recruiting Subcommittee, so we will promptly follow up.

“Alternatively, they may call the DTC’s main number, 203-403-7080, and leave a detailed voicemail message with contact information, and we will likewise promptly follow up.”