[Editor’s Note: A direct quote attributed to Cristina Ross regarding her position on a possible future primary has been updated for accuracy.]
Republican candidates for first selectman Cristina Ross and Kevin Moynihan said during a debate this week that that it is “likely” that there will be a primary in the coming fall election should they fail to win party backing at the July 18 caucus.
“I think it’s very likely that it might come to a primary,” Ross, currently a member of the Town Council and also a member of the RTC, said during the organization’s second candidates’ debate, held Wednesday at Town Hall. “I will assess the number of [RTC] votes [following the caucus] and see where things stand [before making a decision].”
Moynihan, also a member of the Town Council and the RTC, said it would “really depend on what the vote [count] is.” He pointed out that while primaries for first selectman seats in neighboring towns including Darien and Greenwich “are quite common,” still “we’ve never had a primary in New Canaan.”
But this time around, “with three people in the race” for first selectman, “it increases the likelihood of a primary,” Moynihan said during the debate, co-moderated by Michael Dinan of NewCanaanite.com and Greg Reilly of the New Canaan Advertiser.
“I think it’s very likely [that there will be a primary],” he added.
Ross and Moynihan are challenging three-term incumbent First Selectman Rob Mallozzi.
Mallozzi said he “hasn’t spent much time contemplating a primary” and basically left it at that.
As in the first debate, the topic of recent tensions between certain members of the Town Council and Mallozzi was again broached—only this time, it was in the context of the town administration’s recent announcement that it had finally, after years of negotiations, reached an initial agreement with utilities provider Eversource to bring a natural gas line into New Canaan.
Moynihan said he was disappointed that details of the deal were not shared with the Town Council before it was signed.
“No one on the Town Council has [yet] seen the agreement,” Moynihan said. “This is a large and important transaction for the town of New Canaan… and the Town Council is the land use body for the town. All the roads in town are the Town Council’s responsibility. Nothing has been vetted through the Town Council; that deal was signed yesterday. It’s a lack of transparency and lack of collaboration. I don’t get it.”
A recent letter to the editor in NewCanaanite claims that Moynihan played a pivotal role in facilitating the gas line deal—a claim which others say is not true.
“It’s not about taking credit—it’s about the process,” Moynihan said during the debate. He explained that back in December, when he saw an appropriation for about $1 million in the preliminary Board of Education budget for installing propane tanks at certain school facilities, he asked why the appropriations for new tanks were in the budget, considering that natural gas was coming to town and that the schools were to be served by natural gas. At the time, he said, the superintendent of schools told him that the first selectman had said that there was “no way” a deal with Eversource for natural gas would ever happen.
Moynihan said he then contacted Eversource, at which time a representative told him that “they had a new authorization to expand in Connecticut, with $90 million.” So, Moynihan “passed that info on to the Board of Selectmen, by way of the Board of Finance.” But the Board of Selectmen apparently “had no interest in talking with Eversource,” Moynihan said. This, he said, was due to “hurt feelings” from the previous negotiations with Eversource, which broke down last year. He implied that this misstep on the part of the administration caused the school district to end up spending money on propane tanks that would not have been needed had the gas line deal gone through earlier.
Mallozzi, in rebuttal, said Moynihan’s “timeline is flawed” and that the negotiations between the town and Eversource picked up again in February. He said the reason the school district proceeded with funding the propane tanks was to show Eversource the the town was willing to stand tough in the negotiations.
“The way you get people back to the [negotiating] table … is if they’re fearful of losing a very good piece of business,” Mallozzi said. “We showed our seriousness about bringing propane into the schools.”
On the topic of transparency between the Board of Selectmen and the Town Council, with respect to the gas line deal, Mallozzi said he “shared the emails” from Eversource, through Bill Brennan, former first selectman of Wilton, with local media, leading up the most recent meetings.
“I furnished you folks with all the emails,” Mallozzi said. “You’ve seen the responses. Certainly I was very responsive. And I’m very happy I was.”
On a different topic, when asked what changes she thinks need to be brought to the capital budget planning process—and further why she had cast a lone “no” vote on the town’s capital plan as the last budget season approached—Ross said the problem for her is that the Town Council doesn’t get a detailed view of the capital budget when it is presented for approval.
“The budget presently comes down from the Board of Selectman to the Board of Finance and then to the Town Council,” she said. “[When the Town Council first receives it] it is a very summarized version—and it has not been audited, in terms of departmental [expenditures], to see where the monies are actually being spent. There is no breakdown—so there is no way to look to efficiencies or savings. For example, the way the departments order business cards—some are in color and some are black and white—why?”
Each of the candidates was asked how they would react, if they are elected as first selectman, should home assessments decrease dramatically in the upcoming town valuation.
“It’s a distinct possibility—and it is something that we think about and plan for in advance,” Mallozzi said. “Certainly, we would look at all options—including a phase-in of the [mill rate] increase. Really, it would require us to reduce on the spending side. On the priority side, we would have to take a deep dive and see what we can do to mitigate the pain for taxpayers.”
Mallozzi, however, added that the town has weathered periods of decreasing valuations before.
Moynihan said should there be a dramatic decrease in assessments, “You’re going to have to focus on costs—you’re going to have to get serious about sharpening the pencil and cutting.”
Ross said her response would also be to cut spending. “With a $140 million budget. we’re going to have to reevaluate our expenditures,” she said.
When asked about her vision for downtown—more specifically whether she favored “smart growth” approach, allowing for more multifamily housing, or a “preservation” approach, to maintain the town’s historic quality—Ross said, “I think the small town setting with the attributes of an expanding little city.”
“We need to support the retail community while expanding certain types of housing and I think it needs to be a combination of the two,” she said.
Mallozzi, on the other hand, said he prefers the “preservation” approach.
“I think what makes New Canaan unique is our central village,” he said. “It’s the look and feel which is so very important. We don’t have waterfront, we don’t have a large commercial district and we don’t have Route One and I-95 bisecting us… We need to preserve what we have, as best we can. And I think we’ve done a beautiful job of doing it. I would not sacrifice that small town feel for smart growth.”
Moynihan said although “you need to have preservation … tastes change, over time.”
“Years ago, people gravitated to the four-acre zone—today there is an attraction to downtown,” he said. “We have very few apartments in relation to single-family homes… I think you have to have both.”
The debate also included separate debates between Republican candidates for Board of Selectman as well as Town Council. Stay tuned for coverage of those debates…