The Wilton Democratic Town Committee (DTC) met Tuesday evening, July 25, at Comstock Community Center to endorse its slate of candidates for the 2023 municipal elections. While the Democrats nominated the maximum number of candidates possible in races for Wilton’s three main town governing boards (Selectmen, Education and Finance), it’s the first time since 2011 the DTC did not nominate a candidate to run for First Selectman.
Democratic leadership was disappointed to not field anyone to run for the town’s top office, although not for lack of trying.
“That doesn’t shake out exactly as we’d like,” DTC Chair Tom Dubin said. “We met with several superb people. For different reasons, either because of their life circumstances or, in some cases, how the [first selectman] job has changed slightly, it was not something anybody felt he or she was in a position to accept this term.”
He’s not done holding out hope, and said the DTC still has until very early in August to bring forward candidates in races where they have no nominee.
“Anybody’s thinking about it, you’ve got some friends you want to call up and say, ‘Hey, by the way, … ‘ it’s gotta be ASAP,” Dubin said toward the meeting’s end.
Nonetheless, he was excited about his party’s candidates.
“We have a tremendous slate. One of the things I’m most excited about is how many who have not been engaged in politics at all are stepping up to get involved,” he said.
Board of Selectmen
For the two open Board of Selectmen seats, the DTC nominated Farah Masani, a political newcomer most recently visible in town as president of Wilton Pride; and current BOS member Ross Tartell, who’ll now aim for a second term.
Masani, who attended Tuesday’s nominations with her husband, Wilton Police Officer Shawn Frendt, heads up purchasing for Barcelona Wine Bar and has lived in Wilton since 2009.
“I love this town. I came here as probably the only single woman without kids to be a farmer and stayed here. I continue to farm and I continue to love Wilton. I live in downtown and I love the vibe of ‘Eat, Play, Work, Live’ in Town Center. And one of the things that I’m most passionate about is to connect Wilton, not only the physical space, but also the people, organizations, and businesses,” she said. “That’s my hope and vision for Wilton.”
Tartell told the group that he was “honored” to be renominated.
“I’m really excited to run for another term. I really care about the town and work, and will take the hits necessary to make this town a top tier town and keep it in the top tier in Connecticut,” he said.
Both he and Dubin directly addressed the recent controversial complaint filed against the town by Wilton Social Services Director Sarah Heath accusing Tartell of discriminatory behavior. Dubin said it was important to “put a flashlight directed at this issue” before the DTC voted Tuesday evening.
Dubin called GOOD Morning Wilton‘s original reporting about the complaint “accurate” and noted that Tartell brought the story forward publicly himself.
When Dubin added, “I personally am absolutely comfortable supporting Ross for another term on the Board of Selectmen,” the room erupted in applause.
“I truly appreciate the support in the room, and I felt ethically bound that it should be a transparent process. And it’ll play out and it’ll work and it’ll be transparent,” Tartell said.
Board of Education
The Democrats nominated two candidates for the Board of Education: incumbent Board of Education Chair Ruth DeLuca and newcomer Patrick Pearson.
DeLuca, who has lived in Wilton since 2016 and has three children in Wilton schools, addressed the meeting about running for re-election.
“I am really looking forward to starting the next term … from a place of new beginnings. I think about the beginning of the school year and all the promises that that holds. And I think of all the promise that our town has to offer our children. Our schools are an amazing place and I want to keep them an amazing place and I want to move them to a place that fits the needs of our kids that are growing up in an ever changing and quickly, rapidly evolving world,” DeLuca said.
Pearson, who was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting, has lived in Wilton for two years and has children who attend Miller-Driscoll School and the Children’s Day School. He’s a vice president at MasterCard, a volunteer with the First Tee of Connecticut and raises funds for Ronald McDonald House of NY, and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Board of Finance
With current DTC Finance Board members Michael Kaelin and Chris Stroup choosing not to run again, the Democrats were able to endorse three completely new candidates — something Dubin said he was thrilled to do.
“It’s people who have not served on other committees. It’s people who are engaged, it’s people who are well-informed and who bring expertise. It’s new blood and opportunity for Wilton to move forward,” he said.
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One of those new people was David Tatkow, an investment advisor to several multi-billion dollar public and private pension funds who has lived in Wilton since 2014. He says as a parent of two children in Cider Mill, the public schools are “very important to me right now.”
“I started attending some of the Board of Finance, Board of Ed meetings this past year, listening to some of the budget process, hearing plea after plea after plea from the town. It seemed like overwhelmingly the town people pled for fully funding the Board of Education budget. It seemed like it was a very thoughtful, well put together and considerate budget, and the Board of Finance voted differently. That motivated me to want to get more involved in the process,” Tatkow said.
Newcomer Slavah Servello watched the town’s budget process this year as the treasurer of the Miller Driscoll PTA, a role she said motivated her to get more involved and run for the BOF.
“We moved here particularly for the schools. We believe in the value of public education. And we love how the Wilton school system is set up and how it functions and what value it provides,” she said.
As Controller for North Sails Group LLC in Bridgeport and Sisley Cosmetics in Danbury before that, Servello has overseen all facets of strategic financial planning, including budget management and financial reporting.
The third DTC nominee, Tim Birch, was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting. As executive vice president for legal and corporate development for NorthStar Memorial Group, Birch manages all legal functions as well as mergers and acquisitions for a funeral and cemetery company with approximately 100 businesses in 13 states. He has served on the boards of the Wilton Soccer Association and Ridgefield Academy and currently serves on the committee administering the opioid settlement in Connecticut.
Planning and Zoning Commission
Dubin said he had hoped to have more than just the one Planning and Zoning Commission candidate the DTC nominated on Tuesday evening. The person the Democrats did back is Mark Ahasic — the same person who was appointed the night before by P&Z itself to fill a recent vacancy.
Ahasic runs his own business consulting to the airline industry. “My specialty is airport planning, so I work for airports and airlines, helping them do master planning for airports and requirements for airports. So I figure, if I could plan JFK and Paris Charles de Gaul for work, I could do a little bit to help plan the future of Wilton,” he said, adding, “I have a lot of views and thoughts on what we can do to make the town a little bit more vibrant and really of supportive of young families like ours.”
In the other races, the DTC endorsed the following candidates:
Board of Assessment Appeals: Robert Zsunkan (incumbent) is the current chair of the Board of Assessment Appeals, on which he has served since 2020. He is the former vice president and audit manager for Partner Reinsurance Group, an international company offering life, casualty and property insurance.
- Bo Mitchell (incumbent), founder of 911 Consulting, which manages corporate emergency and crisis planning, and a former Wilton Police Commissioner (1985-2001) who has served as a constable since then. He helped develop Wilton’s Community Emergency Response Team.
- Ernie Ricco (incumbent), is a three-term Wilton constable who has owned a property, construction and management firm since 1988, and has coached college and high school football for 25 years. He has served in municipal, state and national elected and appointed positions for the past 38 years.
- Jane Rinard is a retired financial consultant with a 40-year career, most recently as a consultant to tech start-up companies. She was a competitive cyclist and has been active in local politics with the Democratic Town Committee.
The candidates were approved unanimously by 27 DTC members in attendance (out of 38 total) at the meeting.
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Dubin ended the meeting by saying it wouldn’t be an “easy peasy” election.
“The Republicans have a number of strong candidates, who look at things a little bit differently. I think that, to a person, they care about Wilton, but they look at how to make Wilton succeed in a slightly different way. So we will be working hard,” he said.
Editor’s note: some biographical information has been provided by the DTC in a press release.