Yesterday, Deborah McFadden announced her candidacy for the office of Wilton’s first selectman. GOOD Morning Wilton had the opportunity to speak with her about deciding to run for office.
GOOD Morning Wilton: What made you decide to throw your hat in the ring and run?
Deborah McFadden: I discovered, after serving on the Board of Selectmen for a little bit, how much I really love doing this work. There is a profound sense of satisfaction as I serve the community.
Second, I have had numerous people come to me—some of them multiple times—asking me to run. Initially, I told them no, but as I was repeatedly asked over and over, I began counseling with my family, and we began to seriously discuss what it would look like if I ran. After much soul searching and prayer, with the support of my husband, Jack, and my son, Joey, we agreed it was the right thing to do and this was the right time.
GMW: When you say people asked you to run, who?
DM: Without giving any names, I’ve had friends, town employees, Democratic leadership, rank and file Democrats, it hits a lot of categories. I was genuinely surprised how many people asked me.
GMW: What makes you qualified to be first selectman?
DM: Having served on the BoS briefly, I’ve viewed the job close up and know I can fulfill the responsibilities of this important office.
I have always been a very engaged citizen, and I have substantial political experience at the community level—here in Wilton and in other places. I’ve been active in partisan politics for over 35 years.
I’ve served on the Wilton Democratic Town Committee as vice-chair since 2003. And in the past I have served for the Salt Lake City mayor’s office for two different mayors, and learned a great deal there.
I have strong organizational discipline, a drive to achieve meaningful results, and I basically get things done. You put me in a situation and I figure out what the task is to be done and I do it. I’m not beholden to any special interest group, I have no hidden agenda.
I also listen to people. In fact one of the things I want to do initially, as I start my campaign, is have a listening tour, and listen to what people have to say. I know that there are different sectors of the community I may not have had exposure to and I want to hear what different people think. I want to learn from those citizens. It doesn’t matter what their party affiliation is.
I also have a passion for contributing to the town that I live in and that I love.
GMW: How long have you lived here?
DM: About 18 years.
GMW: So you’ve had a chance to see the changes that Wilton has gone through over that time. Right now, what do you think is the most pressing needs that Wilton is facing and that you think you’ll focus on as first selectman?
DM: As I did mention, I do plan on doing a listening tour to hear the issues citizens are concerned about that I may not have on my initial list, so I’m willing to modify that list as I progress, based on feedback from citizens.
But I certainly would like to maintain a proper balance between Wilton’s past history and its values and the need for further economic development. So economic development will be a big priority.
I would also like to demonstrate a greater sensitivity to the needs of Wilton seniors, including new programs for seniors and the establishment of another task force to evaluate and make recommendations regarding tax relief to seniors.
Citizen engagement, citizen participation—I am concerned about our low voter turnouts and how to improve communication with the citizens, and regain voter trust after Sensible Wilton‘s campaign of disinformation.
I’d also be addressing the delicate balance of taxes and the services they provide, mindful that many residents feel our taxes are high, but understanding the majority of our taxes go to the schools which is not controlled by the first selectman.
And working with others to improve transportation, particularly train service on the Norwalk–Danbury line.
GMW: You talked about a listening campaign. Where are some of the place you’ll go to listen to people?
DM: Well, the 4th of July will be a big opportunity. I plan on walking around there. But also, knocking on doors and literally going door to door. I’m putting up a website, where there’ll be an opportunity for input. So I’m hoping it will come from a variety of places.
GMW: Wilton’s a heavily Republican town. What will you do to win the seat out from the Republicans and what do you say to people who typically vote republican—why should they switch parties to vote for you?
DM: I think it’s about voting for the person they believe will do the best job for Wilton, it’s not about parties. Quite frankly, the largest group in Wilton is not Republicans—it’s unaffiliated [voters].
I think running as a Democrat, I’ll use my affiliation to better connect with state leadership, because historically, this is a Republican town and they don’t connect well with Hartford.
I also am hopeful to appeal to the large segment of Wilton without a party affiliation. They have a tendency to turn out less on municipal elections than presidential or gubernatorial elections, so I’m hoping we can motivate the unaffiliated to come out for a municipal election.
Really, let’s make this about issues and performance, not about party politics.
GMW: What do you think will get those unaffiliated voters out to the polls?
DM: The first thing is, they’re going to have a choice! It’s been 10 years since we’ve had a choice for the first selectman race on the ballot. It’s been 42 years since anybody has held that office as a Democrat. So I think giving people a choice.
We’ve had years where, if there hasn’t been something on the ballot such as whether we have a liquor store or beer in the grocery stores, people haven’t had anything to vote for.
GMW: Let’s get some of your thoughts on Wilton’s economic development. There’s been talk recently with people complaining that there’s not an overall plan, a big or different vision to shake things up. With the GAP closing, and other stores closing…what needs to be done?
DM: We’ve taken a small step. As a citizen, I was a strong advocate for creating the economic development commission. I’m glad that they’ve finally, recently created a website. As first selectman I would work with them and our local Chamber of Commerce.
I plan to be an extremely proactive first selectman in working with businesses to discuss how we can work together as a team. I do think that we need a clear vision, because I don’t think that we have one now.
One of my first priorities is to sit down with management of local businesses—those who are committed to Wilton as well as those who might be considering leaving–to discuss what are the determining factors in their decision-making. I think we’ll need to take a long-term view and explore a lot of different considerations on how we can work together.
Let me be crystal clear economic development is a high priority for me.
GMW: One thing people have expressed is a lack of town amenities, that beyond the school, what else is there? What do you say to people who have that complaint?
DM: We have a first-rate award-winning library, which I think the town can be very proud of. We have the YMCA, we have Weir Farm—we’re the only place in CT where you have a national monument. We’re in the process of building the NRVT system, which will connect Norwalk all the way up to Danbury, and I think that’s going to be a strong influence.
But I think we have a distinctive character here as well. Historically we’re an agrarian community. Our Historical Society has done a good job of highlighting what our history is. We’ve evolved from that agrarian community to a suburban bedroom community to Manhattan. We’re going to continue to transition, and I’d like to be part of those who are leading us in a positive direction and where we’re going next.
GMW: What else would you like voters to know about you, personally?
DM: I’ve been involved in the periphery for a long time because I am a mother, and my priority is my family. But now that our youngest, Joey, is 16 and very independent, I have the ability to focus more on community service, and I’m excited about that.
I’m really looking forward to doing more and I think that I bring a lot to the table.
I don’t know if everyone is aware that in front of the YMCA, there’s the Melissa McFadden bench, in memory of our Melissa who passed in 1999. All four McFadden children have attended Wilton schools. Melissa didn’t graduate because she passed of leukemia in her senior year of high school, but Andrew and Rebecca graduated form Wilton High School. In memory of Melissa, we do the annual Melissa McFadden Scholarship at WHS. We have strong ties here to the community and want to find more ways that we can contribute.
GMW: Any inkling who your Republican competitors are going to be?
DM: My understanding is that there is a number of Republicans considering a run. I don’t know if any of them have made a final decision. A couple have told me directly that they’re thinking about it and a couple have shared that they are pondering it. I’m anxious to see who comes out.
Historically, the last couple of elections what’s happened is the Republican nominating committee has selected their candidate, that then goes to the Republican Town Committee. That’s the process, so you have a group of seven people in a closed room picking who has ended up as our first selectman. I’m excited to be part of the process where the citizens are actually going to get a choice. So I can’t wait to see who I’m going to wind up running against.
I am running. I’m in this to win it. It doesn’t matter who the Republican is, I’m in all the way.
And I am not the party’s nominee yet; I am seeking the Democratic Party endorsement. We have a DTC meeting on July 7, and then there’s a caucus that’s going to be held on July 22, 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall. I hope that Democrats who would like to support me come to the caucus and support me at the caucus. They have to be a registered Democrat in the town of Wilton to come to caucus, but I would be thrilled to have people come and I will look forward to them come and talk to me there.
So the Republicans and Democrats in Wilton have slightly different processes.