Jennifer Zonis, a New Canaan native with a professional background in media and entertainment, on Monday announced her candidacy for the Town Council. We put some questions to Zonis ahead of the July 18 Democratic caucus, where she will seek party backing.
Here’s our exchange.
New Canaanite: What is your background professionally and in terms of living and volunteering here in New Canaan?
Jennifer Zonis: After graduating from NCHS in ’85 and Harvard College in ’89 I moved to NYC to pursue a career in Media and Entertainment. I spent a year at CBS News working as an Assistant Producer. Next, I moved into Film Publicity for Buena Vista Pictures Marketing, a division of Walt Disney Co, where I worked on the successful launch of hits like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and the Lion King. I continued working as a freelance publicist in Arts and Entertainment in London in the mid-90’s and for a behavioral finance expert in Hong Kong in the early aughts.
Since our return to New Canaan in 2005, I have immersed myself in leadership positions on several nonprofit boards including Horizons at NCCS and Squash Haven, a student enrichment program based at Yale. I have been President of New Canaan’s Interfaith Council since 2018, while now sharing duties as Co-President, and for the past 15 years I have served as the VP of Schools and Scholarships for the Harvard Club of Fairfield County. In this capacity, I coordinated outreach and speaker series, and served as the liaison for Harvard Admissions in the region.
One of my favorite involvements in recent years has been doing grant review work for the New Canaan Community Foundation. It is such a great way to peek behind the curtain of so many of the town’s outstanding cultural, environmental and social service organizations and see the synergistic way our town is working with professionals and volunteers to provide superb services for the community.
Why are you running for the Town Council
I am a New Canaan native, and one of its biggest champions; that’s why after many years abroad, we decided to move back home. Over the past 18 years, I have been very active in the community, and now I am at a point in my life where I can really step up my commitment. If elected to the Town Council, I can serve New Canaan in a much more substantial way.
I see myself as a unifier, a person who has always worked hard, studied up on issues, listened and collaborated well with people who have diverse points of view. These traits have guided me in my role as President of the Interfaith Council. Part of Interfaith’s mission is to incorporate the views of different faiths and backgrounds in our efforts to serve the town. Through this work, I have collaborated with the leadership of the NC Library, the NC Museum, the Land Trust and Planet New Canaan and been part of the coalition with NC Cares and NC Parent Support Group. In my role as President, I have also served as a liaison with the Department of Health and Human Services and with the town’s Emergency Management Director. I feel I have a unique perspective on how New Canaan thrives when our leadership works to support its outstanding employees and the staff and countless volunteers of its world-class, nonprofit organizations.
What do you view as the biggest issues facing our town
First and foremost, we need to maintain our top-rate schools and continue to manage our wonderful town in a fiscally responsible way.
I do believe that one of the biggest challenges we face is coming up with viable solutions to address our housing shortage. We want New Canaan to remain a place where our teachers, police force, our civic employees and also our seniors and adult children can afford to live. But we want to create this housing on our own terms, and not be bullied into projects by the threats of lawsuits from local developers. I feel we are beginning to get on the right track with the formation of the Affordable Housing Committee of the Town Council.
Improving cell phone service in the town is also a high priority. We, and many others, live in parts of the town that have traditionally had spotty service. I think we need to commit to improving town-wide service in as timely a manner as possible, while also respecting input from the community as to the best placement for the new towers. Community involvement and transparency will be critical for town buy-in.
Describe an instance where a Town Council decision changed your life in New Canaan for the better.
My family and I, and I assume most in our community, would say that the Town Council’s decision to approve the generous grant to the New New Canaan Library has had a tremendous impact on our lives. Since its opening, I have gone to countless meetings in the gorgeous and highly functional board rooms, attended riveting lectures in the Bartlett Auditorium, and my husband, who mostly commutes but occasionally has to work locally, finds the small work spaces to be excellent. It has been a game-changer for Jon, who finds working from home to be much less efficient.
I also applaud the Council’s decision to pass the Land Acquisition Fund Ordinance in 2017 which provides for a budget line item for money to be saved to acquire open space. And similarly, Ordinance 57-27, passed in 2021 which allows for the abatement of taxes for the transfer of property exempt for a nonprofit land conservation organization. This makes it easier for residents to donate land to the NC Land Trust. We live within walking distance to the Browne Reserve and our daily walks there during the Covid lockdown were a lifeline. I am still hoping to visit the Firefly Sanctuary around the corner from us on Sleepy Hollow Road this summer.
Finally, tell us something about yourself that many New Canaanites likely don’t know.
I have been a singer my whole life, including professionally when we lived in Hong Kong. The biggest moment of my singing “career” was getting to belt out the National Anthem at Yankee Stadium for the last game of the 1997 season, just a few weeks after my daughter, Charlotte was born. It was surreal!