New Canaan DTC BBQ—Sept. 10, 2023
Amy Murphy Carroll, the Democratic candidate for the town’s highest elected position in the upcoming municipal election, told a room full of fellow party members Sunday that in their 27 years in New Canaan, she and husband John have gotten to know many people.
“Worked with them, volunteered with them, and just made so many friends across the town,” Murphy Carroll said during the annual DTC BBQ, held at Carriage Barn Arts Center. “Different backgrounds, different interests, different professions, and—oh, gasp—different political parties. And when it comes down to it, all my interactions with people here, we’re just neighbors. We’re friends, we’re fellow New Canaanites. We’re Walter Stewart’s shoppers, we’re Zumbach’s coffee drinkers, we’re Waveny concertgoers. We’re New Canaan Rams major fans. We’re high school musical applauders. We’re Irwin Park dog walkers. We’re book club members. And certainly in our family, we were often weary-eyed, exhausted soccer, lacrosse and hockey paratroopers, right?”
Hitting on one of her campaign slogans, Murphy Carroll continued that “we’re all in this together.”
“And even though we’ve seen all this division at the national level, I’m going to challenge you: I don’t think we’re really that divided in town,” she said. “Not really. Sure, we have pretty lively debates on issues. But look at this crowd, everyone is pretty smart and willing to put their opinions out there and discuss it. But we can agree to disagree without being disagreeable. And, everybody in town just wants to be a better town—for themselves, for their families, and more importantly, for their neighbors. And people want their voices heard. They want to be recognized and valued. That’s why I’m running. I’m running to ensure everybody has a seat at the table. I’m running to ensure that everybody in this town, and we don’t leave anybody on the sideline, in terms of their interests, their ability, their skills, to get involved. I’m running to ensure that you have a first selectperson who has 10 years of experience in the Board of Finance, 30 years in municipal finance, and really, really, really respects the taxpayer.”
Perhaps referring to the over-budget Playhouse renovation, Murphy Carroll added: “And also, when we have big projects due, we’re going to get a good team together, we’re going to get a financial plan in place, and we’re going to deliver the best product for New Canaan.”
More than 200 people attended the annual gathering, including many of New Canaan’s local, state and federal representatives. Under a “New Canaan Democrats” banner, they milled about the prized Waveny facility after the day’s heavy rains, dining on barbecue as a DJ played throughout the 3-hour event.
Emceed by DTC Chair Christina Fagerstal, the campaign kickoff BBQ featured addresses by U.S. Sen Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th), Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, state Sen. Ceci Maher (D-26th), state Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142nd) and Democratic State Vice Chair Jimmy Tickey.
Surveying the packed room, Blumenthal and others remarked in addressing the crowd on how large the Democratic base in New Canaan appears to have grown as compared to years past.
Murphy Carroll on Nov. 7 will face off against Republican Dionna Carlson in the race for first selectman. Other Democrats in contested races include Board of Education candidates Brendan Hayes, a two-term incumbent, Lauren Connolly Nussbaum and Josh Kaye.
Referring to the composition of the school board since the last local election in 2021, Hayes said that for six of the eight years he’s served, the elected body has been “pretty much apolitical.”
“We’re all focused on the work at hand of New Canaan Public Schools,” Hayes said. “Maintaining our excellence, getting better. I’d say in the last two years, it’s been a bit more contentious, a bit more political. I’d say most of the time we agree. But what we don’t, it’s really important that we have folks on the board who stand up for what we believe in. Who stand up for the values of our town, who do what’s best on behalf of our kids. That’s what I try to do. That’s why I’m running again for another four years. It’s super important that we support our outstanding administration and teachers, and that they feel supported so they don’t feel second-guessed too often when they’re making decisions on behalf of our kids that they know best. “
The Board of Ed must “dig into the details” to make sure that the district is working on behalf of New Canaan “to make those best decisions” and “really keep politics out of our schools.”
“So that means focusing on what’s best educationally, what’s best from a health and wellness perspective and continue to push that forward so that our schools get better,” Hayes said. “That’s what I’m hoping I’ll do over the next four years. I really hope that Josh and Lauren get to join me, so I hope you support them on November 7th.”
Connolly Nussbaum said she’s learned much from Hayes as well as the other two Democrats on the nine-member Board of Ed, Penny Rashin and Erica Schwedel. Together with them and her fellow Democrats up for election to the school board this year, Connolly Nussbaum said she shares “a vision of hard work, collaboration, integrity and excellence.”
“We can do this, New Canaan,” she said. “Here’s how we do it: We’ve got eight Tuesdays, between here and November 7th. November 7th is the ninth Tuesday. What can you do for the next nine weeks? You can door-knock with us. You can write a letter to the editor of the local paper, expressing your support for our vision for the best New Canaan we can be. The best New Canaan we can be is a strong, safe, innovative, collaborative school system. A terrific public school system lifts an entire community.”
Kaye said that he has a son in the second grade at East School and a daughter in pre-K and that he wants “to make sure that our public schools stay strong and only get stronger.”
“And to do that, we need to have a Board of Education that focuses on the issues that actually matter for our schools, and takes the time to do that,” he said. “And to be short, there are some significant issues that we’re going to have to face.”
Kaye said those issues include: rising enrollment that will require planning for space, favorable student-teacher ratios and competitive pay and benefits to hire and retain top-quality educators; safe schools, which will be helped by new spending packages; and forward-thinking curriculum “so that our graduates are prepared to thrive in the world they’re graduating into, whether that’s in 2024 or 2034.”
“An example of what I’m talking about is the innovation initiative that’s just getting kicked off in our schools, thanks to the leadership of Brendan and Penny and Erica, among others,” he said.
“This is a STEM-focused initiative that teaches kids how to work collaboratively, how to problem solve, how to take risks and learn from setbacks,” Kaye continued. “And those are skills that are really important for our graduates to have. Don’t get me wrong: Reading and writing and arithmetic are vital. They are necessary, but not sufficient. So if we put our minds to it, we can do those and more… if we stay focused and concentrate on issues that actually matter.”