One week after the Wilton Democrats selected their candidate to be considered by the Board of Selectmen for an open spot, the Wilton Republican Town Committee (RTC) has followed suit, officially endorsing Josh Cole as their nominee for the seat. The vacancy opened up when current selectman Michael Kaelin announced he would be stepping down from the BOS effective June 30.
Cole was approved unanimously by the RTC Tuesday evening, June 13. He had been favored to receive the endorsement after last November’s municipal election when he ran unsuccessfully for the BOS as one of four candidates for two open seats. Deb McFadden (D) and Lori Bufano (R) won election, with Cole finishing as the next highest vote-getter.
Now, the decision rests directly solely with the four members of the BOS. They’ll consider Cole along with Ceci Maher, who was nominated by the Wilton Democratic Town Committee last week.
Cole has lived in Wilton since 2007. He and his wife, Melissa-Jean Rotini, have two children (age 6 and 3), and he is an attorney in Connecticut. Cole says both his professional experience as well as his service on other town boards works in his favor.
“My background as a real estate and transactional lawyer is something that could be a benefit to the Board. They have a committee formed to look at all the town-owned properties to figure out a plan of what to do with those in the future. As far as developing potential amenities or potentially selling them to developers, having that kind of background will be a benefit to the board. My skill set, in my day to day practice, I’m negotiating transactions, entering into partnerships, getting various stakeholders on board in developing projects–sometimes with conflicting interests and one of my skills is to build consensus between people of varying and sometimes competing interests to get things done.”
Cole has had a chance to show those skills in previous volunteer experience with the town. He currently chairs the Zoning Board of Appeals and sat on the BOS committee to find a new town counsel in 2016.
Cole says he’s also got a temperament suited for the pressures of what the BOS may face.
“My personality, as someone who’s even-tempered, who really considers all the facts before making a decision, doesn’t rush to a quick judgement, is a benefit as well.”
Those attributes, says Cole, will be important with some of what he says are the most critical issues the BOS is dealing with right now.
“The BOS has done a good job with their budgeting, their budgets are lean and mean. They’ve maximized all the cost-saving they can do by not filling vacancies, by consolidating services. Certain costs can’t be contained, variables like employee insurance, retirement obligations that you can’t really do anything about. For the board, continuing to hold the line on the budget and trying to explore ways to get reasonable development in town that fits with the town’s character and can grow the grand list.”
If the BOS does decide to seat Cole, that would make him the third Republican on a five-seat Board, joining fellow Rs, Bufano and First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice; the other two seats are held by McFadden, a Democrat, and Dave Clune, who is unaffiliated. Observers have raised the question whether that makeup would accurately reflect the makeup of the town.
“Yes, I’m a Republican, but I’m also a father, a husband, I have young children. I think I represent a demographic that’s not currently on the Board. Having young kids in schools, my wife’s aunt lives at Wilton Commons, I think I have a pretty good swath of knowledge of what people are concerned with in town. I don’t know if that’s always the dispositive decision as to who people vote for, strictly by label. People want to connect with someone, that they’re listening to their concerns and that they’re responsive to it. That they’ll do a good job,” Cole asserts, adding, “I like to think of myself as someone who can build consensus and work with people across the aisle. I listen to people, I don’t dismiss people’s viewpoints based on political parties. All viewpoints are important to be considered and you make a decision on what you think is best.”
He points back to what he says he heard from voters of all affiliation at the last election.
“I talked to a lot of people. I know that a lot of people that I met and spoke to were Democrats and unaffiliated. There were quite a few who came up to me after the election who came up to me and said, ‘I’m a Democrat, or I’m unaffiliated, but I voted for you because I like what you stood for, I spoke to you, we had a really good conversation. At the end of the day, I have the ability to attract not only Republicans but Democrats and unaffiliated [residents],” Cole says.
Bill Lalor, who chairs the RTC, says that while the core mission of his organization is to get Republicans elected, he supports Cole for the spot because Cole will do the job well.
“We’re delighted to see Josh get put up. We know him well. He’s been an active member of the RTC and throughout town on many different levels. Everybody on the RTC, as we saw from the unanimous support, has tremendous respect for Josh and his background and his ability to do the job. Whether it reflects to the balance of the voter rolls in 2018? I’ll let someone else address that, but I think Josh will do a good job.”
As for why Cole will do the job of selectman well, Lalor adds, “It’s a difficult job, and Josh has been in a line of work that requires tough decisions, a lot of information gathering, and as he said, consensus building. That’s the fundamental goal of someone on the BOS is to get things done in the interests of the Town of Wilton. I’m an attorney too so I know a bit of what Josh does–it takes a lot smarts and practical know-how, and all of that will undoubtedly benefit him on the BOS.”