First Selectman Kevin Moynihan in working hard and creatively to make good on major campaign promises has earned a second term in New Canaan’s highest elected office.
The Republican incumbent has increased commuter parking downtown while avoiding an expensive full parking deck and has identified a town parcel in northwestern New Canaan where a cell tower could be located while a private property owner has done the same in the northeast, the latter a project that started before he took office. He’s overseen the installation of a natural gas line and wisely tapped one of New Canaan’s foremost youth sports and fundraising experts to help create a public-private partnership to support and sustain our prized athletic fields.
His challenger, Democrat Craig Donovan, is a highly educated, articulate candidate with substantial management experience who has worked as an advisor to and trainer of government officials. In our interview and at last week’s debate, Donovan sketched out some good if inchoate ideas–for example, creation of a 2040 “vision” of New Canaan to help the town plan long-term. New Canaan would benefit if Donovan volunteered on a municipal board or commission.
Yet with respect to the first selectman job right now, Donovan’s own ideas fail to best Moynihan’s plans-in-progress.
For example, Donovan said he would reinstate the appointed Utilities Commission, which Moynihan allowed to go dormant after multiple members resigned. According to Donovan, the Commission failed to win backing for proposals to locate a cell tower on public property due to lack of support from a first selectman. Yet he has no specific ideas on where a tower could go, and we find no merit in his idea that recasting potential sites as a slate of options—rather than one at a time for a yes-or-no decision—would change the public’s reception.
Asked to give an example where he felt not enough public input was had in a decision, Donovan pointed to the natural gas line installation, saying New Canaan could have done a “much better job” on deciding where it would go, who would be served by it, what are its “pros and cons” and what other parts of town might have wanted to be served but are not. His response appears to brush aside the considerable practical and financial limitations for the utility company itself in rolling out a main line. Donovan used that example as a jumping-off point to assert that he is “just a real big fan of civic engagement”—a point he hit repeatedly, and to progressively less effective use, during the debate.
On certain issues the candidates’ solutions are very similar—both would like to see a side-track used on the Metro-North branch line in order to create more frequent train service—Donovan alone has called for a two-town commission with Stamford to help jumpstart that—and both have pointed to a survey finding that New Canaan lacks sufficient daycare to accommodate young two-parent working families.
In some ways, Donovan is taking aim at a system of government that long has been at work in New Canaan, saying it’s a fundamental problem that people here feel they must live in town for many years prior to serving at a high level, and that there’s a perception that a “small closed group” of residents decide who can and cannot serve. We note that if it’s true New Canaan has been run by such a group of people, it’s also true that they’ve done a very good job. We also would note that the Town Council decided two years ago to fill a midterm vacancy by voting in a resident who had lived here just 18 months at the time (Republican Mike Mauro).
Asked what he would say to electors who may weigh his own lack of experience serving in local government, Donovan said elections are about candidates rather than experience, and that some would say his newness is an advantage.
“Some people call it a breath of fresh air,” he said.
New Canaan faces serious challenges in real estate values, taxpayer spending and train service, and the town already has a hard-working, creative leader with a demonstrated ability to get things done.
Moynihan is a uniquely gifted problem-solver who has addressed challenges that long have vexed municipal officials. In some cases, he’s solved problems that had themselves gone unidentified before he took office—for example, instituting a standalone sewer fee based on usage. He’s also overseen New Canaan’s first solar roof projects for public buildings.
And he’s growing in the role, shedding a petulance that had sometimes followed his own airing of bad ideas.
We also call on the first selectman, if re-elected, to recall one early vow.
Moynihan, like all of us, has the faults of his virtues. While we find his decisiveness refreshing, in his single-mindedness of purpose, Moynihan can at times shut out or shut down others—a tendency that has crept most recently into his curious response to a grassroots effort for security cameras at Waveny.
During a heartfelt speech on the occasion of his swearing-in two Novembers ago, Moynihan said, “We have a big job ahead of us. As we set out, you and I can see ourselves as Democrats versus Republicans. Yet, how much better if we follow the example of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in their later years—by remembering that before and above all else, we are friends and fellow citizens, united by our love for and our dedication to this special place.”
We believe the first selectman is capable of such unity, and that his second term will be most effective by keeping that spirit top of mind.
[Note: Our endorsement of in the selectmen race can be found here.]