photo:  Wilton First/Instagram

BREAKING NEWS, June 26–Wilton has an upcoming municipal election this November, but surprising political intrigue on the town campaign trail has already started to happen. GOOD Morning Wilton has learned that resident Michael Richard Powers, a registered Republican and member of the Wilton Republican Town Committee, plans to run for Wilton’s top elected office.

Late Tuesday evening, June 25, Powers confirmed the news in an email to GMW. “Your information is correct and I am running for the Town of Wilton’s First Selectman.”

With that move, he will take on the current officeholder, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice–a fellow Republican. It’s an unusual move for a member of a party to challenge an incumbent of the same party, especially one who is widely seen to be a popular and successful candidate at that.

Moreover, Powers is one of 39 current, elected RTC members (per the RTC website), after being voted in as a member in March 2019. When anyone decides to run for office it’s an example of democracy in action, but it’s still unusual for such an intraparty challenge to happen from within the membership itself, and historically is a rare event in Wilton.

Running for office now is Powers’ first foray into serving the town in any elected or appointed capacity since moving to Wilton in 2015.

Vanderslice declared her intention to run for re-election in early June. She was elected to her first term as first selectwoman in Nov. 2015, after serving for two terms on the Board of Finance.

GOOD Morning Wilton asked the incumbent for a comment about the challenge from Powers.

“I am confident residents support my administration’s thoughtful and pragmatic leadership, which has resulted in reduced costs, a more responsive government, quality of life improvements, and an increase in economic investment,” Vanderslice said.

At the moment no other candidate has tossed a hat into the ring, nor has the Wilton Democratic Town Committee announced whether it will run someone against Vanderslice as well. Traditionally, both the RTC and the DTC choose their endorsed candidates in mid-to-late July.

Powers not only confirmed his intention to run, he also said he “would appreciate the opportunity” to sit for a requested interview with GMW. [Editor’s note:  Powers wrote that he’s recovering from the flu and asked that the interview be scheduled in the coming days.]

One thing that isn’t clear yet is whether Powers intends to challenge Vanderslice in a Republican primary or run as an unaffiliated candidate who petitions to get on the November ballot. He has made preliminary moves that seem to show he’s considering all his options.

Option 1:  Republican Primary Challenge

Bill Lalor, the RTC chair, confirmed that Powers is seeking the RTC’s endorsement as its nominee in the first selectman race; Powers affirms that he has already met with the nominating committee. Lalor says he isn’t sure what Powers’ current status is, as the RTC nominating committee is still currently working on putting the entire slate together.

“I know very little about Mike. He’s been on the RTC for two or three months. I did hear about his interest in doing this. The RTC is in the middle of its process for getting vetted candidates. Anyone who is a Republican is entitled to seek endorsement of the RTC for getting on the ballot. I don’t know the status of Mike’s interest of the RTC,” Lalor said, later adding, “I don’t know what qualifications he thinks he would bring to the position.”

The RTC nominating committee is also considering Vanderslice, says Lalor, “…along with anyone else who wants to do it.”

Lalor was more effusive when it came to Vanderslice.

“I think very highly of Lynne and I know a strong majority of folks on the RTC, almost with unanimity, think very highly of Lynne. We’ll see how the process plays out but I think Lyne is a great candidate, and would be a good candidate on the ballot. I don’t want to prejudge anything and I’ll let the vetting committee do it’s thing. But I do think very highly of Lynne as a candidate.”

He added that he’s “confident that the RTC process will come up with the best candidate for endorsement.”

That endorsement process goes as follows:  when the RTC convenes sometime between July 16-23, it will consider a slate put forward by the nominating committee; if Powers’ name is not on that slate, he tells GMW that he plans to have his name nominated from the floor. At that point it’s up to the voting members of the RTC to officially vote on who they endorse to be on the ballot. If he’s not the endorsed candidate on the ballot, he could choose to force a Republican primary, to be held Sept. 10.

Option 2:  Unaffiliated Challenger

While he may bring the party to a primary there’s another route Powers also seems to be considering. GMW has obtained copies of paperwork Powers filed with the office of CT’s Secretary of State to run as an unaffiliated candidate, without any party designation at all.

The paperwork Powers has filed would allow him to begin collecting signatures on a nominating petition in order to appear on the ballot in November’s general election as an unaffiliated candidate. If he opts to be a petition candidate, state statue would require Powers to collect signatures from qualified electors equal to 1.0% of the votes cast for the same office at the last preceding election for that office.

With 4,321 votes cast in 2015 during the last election for first selectman, Powers would need to collect 1.0% of that, or 44 signatures.

The only thing Powers can’t choose to do is pursue both options at once. He has to decide between forcing a Republican primary or running as an unaffiliated candidate in the general election relatively early–the last day to turn in any nominating petitions to the Town Clerk is Aug. 7, a full month before the primary date.

Powers has adopted the tagline, “Wilton First,” and has registered a website (still in development) under that name; he has Facebook and Instagram pages registered with that name as well. Powers posted an image of himself on Instagram this past Sunday, June 23, at a campaign table outside CT Coffee in Wilton Center, with the caption, “Campaigning in the heart of Wilton, at CT Coffee, for First Selectman, in this November’s election. Thank you to all of you who came out and spoke with me.”