DARIEN — Despite his two years on the Board of Selectman, Rob Richards does not consider himself a politician.
Or, at the very least, he does not consider himself a typical politician.
“I was always a rogue,” Richards, a Democratic candidate for First Selectman, said on a recent Friday.
“The more I do this, the more I feel this town needs somebody like me to question people. I bring a unique perspective. I would probably call it an outsider’s perspective.”
Richards brought first brought his “outsider’s perspective” in 2015. He is not from Darien — he grew up in Canada and moved with his family to Darien roughly a decade ago — and, at the time of his Board of Selectmen campaign, had never before been involved in politics.
In fact, it wasn’t until his mother died, also in 2015, that a family history steeped in political involvement was revealed to him. Going back 200 years, his ancestors had been active in Canadian politics, including a great-uncle who served in the parliament. According to Richards, his political “fate” became apparent to him at that point, and he set out to explore the political impulse that apparently motivated his forebearers.
On Nov. 7, Richards, along with unaffiliated candidate Chris Noe, will challenge Republican candidate and three-term incumbent Jayme Stevenson. It’s the first time a Democrat will challenge for the position since 2011.
“I feel I’m building the Democratic party from the ground up, all over again. It’s important for the Democratic party to have someone run for First Selectman,” Richards said.
Richards not only has his sights set on rebuilding his party. He’d also like to see a more collaborative governing process, the alleged absence of which has been a recurring complaint of his about Stevenson.
“Jayme’s all about process, and I’m all about community involvement,” said Richards.
“If you have elected officials that have preconceived ideas about the way things should be, then a public hearing isn’t going to make a difference,” Richards continued. “I put principle before politics and that’s what I’m doing. I don’t care that someone’s telling me I’m not following the process. I’m trying to do something that unites our town around an idea.”
Richards’ approach has, at times, ruffled feathers in his first term as a selectman.
In an attempt to ease the concerns of neighbors of the Darien High School football stadium who had long opposed the addition of lights to the field, Richards struck out on his own and brokered a compromise with the opposing parties.
Richards alleges that he told his fellow selectmen, the Planning and Zoning Commission and others about his intent to engage the neighbors. Others on the board disagreed, and many who had been involved in negotiations since before Richards joined the board worried that he had jeopardized the deal or made promises he couldn’t keep to neighbors. The result was a sort of public reprimand of Richards for circumventing his colleagues.
The lights, however, were installed ultimately installed and Richards, though rebuked, said he did not regret his actions.
“I’m going to keep doing what I think is right,” Richards said.
Despite the partisan politicking that has emerged during campaigning, Richard to note that his complaints were not personal.
“Jayme and I work great together. This needs to be very clear — we mostly agree on what needs to be done. We disagree on how to accomplish that. That’s the head-banging thing that I keep running into,” Richards said.
Among his priorities, Richards expressed a desire to balance the need for open space and for more athletic fields that have emerged since the release of the parks master plan survey. He wants to employ creative methods of improving parking and increasing funds available to the town to improve transportation infrastructure.
One idea would transform eight seldom used 15-minute spots at the Noroton Heights train station into permit spots that would be awarded via a lottery system. At $50 per ticket, and with roughly 2,000 residents on the waiting list, Richards estimates generating a significant pool of money.
Additionally, Richards would like to see Darien take a leading role in the pursuit of green energy, host more outdoor events downtown to attract shoppers to local businesses, and explore the possibility of a municipal swimming pool at the high school.
“I’m judged by the people who vote for me, and I’m just going on gut,” said Richards. “So until they vote me out, I’m gonna keep doing what I’m doing.”