DARIEN — Jayme Stevenson drives a Chevy Silverado pickup truck.
She suspects not many people know that about her. She was also heavily involved in musical theater from middle school through college and is a singer. She comes from a Rust Belt-suburb of Reading, Penn., where her father managed a steel factory and her mother worked for a time at the local power company.
After graduating from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where she studied communication management, she worked for a time as a bartender at the Devil House, an establishment that abutted the Phoenix campus.
“That’s the part that I can’t tell you about,” said Stevenson, who is seeking her fourth term as First Selectman this Nov. 7. “But that was super fun.”
In her first three terms in the town’s top office, she’s spoken little of her Pennsylvania upbringing, or her time as a New York City bond analyst at Standard & Poor’s. She took a circuitous path to Darien — where she moved with her husband, John, who is native to town, in 1991 — but considers herself very much a part of the town.
“I’ve now lived in Darien longer than I’ve lived anywhere else,” Stevenson, 56, said.
For the first time since the 2011 election, Stevenson will face Democratic competition from fellow Selectmen Rob Richards. Unaffiliated candidate Chris Noe will also challenge Stevenson for the third year in a row.
Both challengers have been critical of Stevenson. Noe has complained that her administration has not been proactive enough in response to the uncertainty around the state budget. Richards, who is completing his first term on the Board of Selectmen, decried Stevenson’s lack of transparency and unwillingness to listen to outside input.
Stevenson, however, refuted both claims.
“I would say there’s some election season tension because I’m seeing a side of Rob that I haven’t seen in two years that we’ve been working together,” Stevenson said. “I was quite frankly shocked at the debate how partisan some of the commentary was from some of the selectmen candidates. It shocked me because it’s not who we are as a local government.”
“Rob is trying to differentiate himself as a candidate, I get that. But I believe that taxpayers and residents really appreciate experience,” Stevenson continued.
For a time before she announced that she’d seek re-election in the spring, Stevenson said she considered not running on the basis that she believes in term limits, though there are none for the Board of Selectmen in the Darien Town Charter.
“I believe every individual should have their own term limits. You have to feel when you’ve contributed all you can contribute and your community is asking for fresh new ideas. I don’t perceive that right now. I perceive that people are very pleased with how the town is being led. I think it’s not the right time to step away,” Stevenson said.
Among the things she’s most excited for should she be re-elected for a fourth term are the implementation of the town’s OpenGov platform, which allows residents to view budget and financial information, and the beginning of commercial redevelopment downtown and in Noroton Heights.
“People are a little nervous about the traffic, and the housing units and how many children that will bring to our school systems,” Stevenson said. “But we’re good managers. I’m just excited that we’re going to have new restaurants and shops and excitement.”
Like so many others in the area, Stevenson noted her concern surrounding the state’s budget. Though the most recent approval is a brief respite, she said she believes it’ll take three or four more strong biennium budgets to fix Connecticut’s fiscal problems.
In recent years, she’s taken leadership roles in several regional groups, including as Chairman of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments and the Southwestern Region Metropolitan Transportation Organization. Her position on the latter, she said, was hugely helpful in enabling the West Avenue and Noroton Avenue signal upgrade project, Post Road pedestrian safety studies and a $250,000 grant for the Noroton Heights Access Study.
With continued uncertainty at the state level, Stevenson stressed the importance of future First Selectmen to build relationships not just in town, but on the regional and state level.
“Darien deserves leaders who respectfully champion our community’s needs and wishes beyond our borders,” Stevenson said.