Marks, Koons gain GOP endorsement for selectmen
Amid a slew of uncontested races, Darien Republicans chose incumbent Selectman Susan Marks and newcomer Charles Alfred Koons Jr. by a landslide margin at a caucus Monday night to run for office in November.
Marks, who is running for her second term, gained 274 votes after being passed over by the Republican Town Committee two weeks earlier when they endorsed newcomer Spencer McIlMurray, who received only 59 votes Monday at the caucus at Darien Town Hall.
Koons won 231 votes, while Joseph Warren, a fourth petitioning candidate, received 41.
Marks, who is known in the community for more than 20 years of involvement in the schools and Republican town politics, credited her support team for helping turn out the vote on a Monday night in late July.
“There was a great team of people who worked with me to encourage people to come to the caucus,” Marks said. “I’m proud of the number of Republicans we were able to get out.”
Along with other Republican speakers at the gathering, Marks pinpointed a range of challenges for Darien from pushing back against mounting state taxes, the impact of major development projects proposed for central Darien and Noroton Heights, and prioritizing local spending needs.
“I’m just looking forward to the campaign from now until November taking to voters getting feedback from them and listening to them,” Marks said. “I thank everyone for coming out and supporting Kip and supporting me.”
Before the vote, outgoing Selectman Gerald Nielsen urged voters to endorse Marks because of her dedication to getting a well-rounded viewpoint on town issues.
“I believe the continuity she brings is imperative for the smooth transition of the board for the last two years,” Nielsen said. “Susan’s work ethic and commitment has helped steer the town in the right direction for the last two years. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Susan at different levels for many years and confident based on her past experience her ability to be one of the selectman for the next term are unmatched.”
McIlMurray, a long-time resident and member of the Representative Town Meeting since 2009, touted his extensive background in business management and his educational background, including an MBA from Cornell University.
Citing recent legislative initiatives, he said towns such as Darien are at risk of seeing the short end of state-proposed plans to redistribute locally collected property taxes and other funds based on population and other factors.
“As of now it is likely the state’s economy will continue to falter and as a result state level legislation and mandates will have a direct impact on local commercial enterprises, business professionals and property owners,” McIlMurray said. “I ask that you vote tonight for no other purpose than to advance those candidates who are best suited to lead Darien into the future.”
The caucus also endorsed a slate of unopposed candidates for election in November, including incumbent Jayme Stevenson for the town’s top office of first selectman.
Other unopposed nominations were Donna E. Rajczewski for town clerk; Joan D. Hendrickson for town treasurer; Kathleen M. Larkins for tax collector; James H. McLaughlin and James Robert Palen Jr. for Board of Finance; Sarah Schneider-Zuro and Elizabeth Hagerty Ross for Board of Education; Richard P. Dolcetti for Board of Assessment Appeals; Susan Cameron and Richard Allen DiDonna for the Planning & Zoning Commission; and Joseph Tarnowski and Louis J. Calastro for constables.
Elizabeth Mao, the outgoing Board of Finance chairman, spoke in support of Stevenson for a fourth term, telling the gathered Republicans Stevenson has been successful in finding common ground between town board members, commissioners, and other stakeholders when it comes to pursuing Darien’s best interests.
Stevenson has been proactive in spearheading efforts to air concerns about proposed legislation such as creating a statewide transit corridor authority as well as pressing for modifications to the state’s affordable housing statute to make it more workable for Darien and other southern Connecticut towns.
Under the state statute, unless 10 percent of a town's housing units meets “affordable” income guidelines, developers can apply to build housing complexes that set aside a portion of units as affordable in exchange for density higher than would be allowed under local zoning regulations.
Stevenson has supported some proposed projects to help meet a need for affordable housing, with the caveat the state’s affordable housing statute is a problem for towns such as Darien that have limited space for development and want to maintain local control over the density and aesthetic impact of proposed developments.
“I think there is no one I’ve seen more effective than Jayme at shepherding these (efforts) and understanding how all the parts fit together,” Mao said. “… It’s been a delight to work with her. I think she’s terrific and she’s a great leader for Darien. I hope you’ll join me in supporting her wholeheartedly.”
Before the ballots were fully counted, McIlMurray and Warren said they were strongly considering petitioning further for a Republican primary to get elected to office.
Warren, the Darien Housing Authority vice-chairman and town native, said he believes the town is at a critical point in preserving its character as developers propose new projects in Noroton Heights that have to be kept to an appropriate scale to maintain the town’s traditional appeal as a place to live.
“We had better address not just what we want the town to be like in two years, but in 10 years or 20 years,” Warren said.