Now the job is 'his,' Tetreau ready to call the plays

First Selectman Mike Tetreau, left, goes over some files with Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller Wednesday morning.
First Selectman Mike Tetreau, left, goes over some files with Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller Wednesday morning.Genevieve Reilly

When Michael Tetreau walked into Sullivan-Independence Hall on Wednesday morning, it was different than the other mornings that he'd walked into the first selectman's second-floor office for the last five months.

This time, as Fairfield's newly elected first selectman, he could shed the "interim" tag and settle into the challenges of the job that now was truly "his."

Tetreau, a Democrat, easily defeated Republican challenger Robert Bellitto Jr. and Independent Hugh Dolan for a four-year term as the town's chief elected official in Tuesday's municipal election and will be sworn in Nov. 21.

He was installed as the interim first selectman in June, after then-First Selectman Kenneth Flatto resigned to take a job with Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration.

But Tetreau is not exactly breathing easier.

"If anything, there's a greater burden of responsibility," he said. "You now have an even stronger obligation now that the voters have voiced their opinion."

The 59-year-old former member of the Board of Finance, Representative Town Meeting and Town Plan and Zoning Commission stressed during his campaign the differences between a Tetreau administration and the Flatto years, in part, by pointing to his revelation of millions in cost overruns at the Fairfield Metro train station and how he addressed the ensuing months of controversy.

He said he believes the voters recognized those differences during what he called a "five-month-long job interview" as he filled out the remainder of Flatto's term.

Tetreau will be joined on the Board of Selectmen by his running mate, Cristin McCarthy Vahey, who most recently served as minority leader on the Representative Town Meeting.

"I'm glad that we will be able to get back to work and focus on all the issues," Vahey said. "We've got a lot of problems to solve or at least make progress on."

Rounding out the board is Republican Selectman James Walsh, who was appointed to the board in 2010 to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Selectman Ralph Bowley. This will mark the first time in about two years that all members of the Board of Selectmen have been elected in their own right.

Even with the new regime, Tetreau has no plans for wholesale changes in appointed town jobs. "There won't be any dramatic changes," Tetreau said. Rather, the changes will be seen in how the town operates, he said.

"We'll continue to make changes in the process, in how we do business," Tetreau said, "and how we approach things like the budget." Those changes, he said, will be based on what's been learned in the last five months.

As for the blank walls in his corner office, Tetreau said he will soon begin to make it his own.

"I've got a lot of stacks of papers to get through and clear away first," he said. "Now that the campaign is over, my weekends are freed up so I should be able to get it cleaned up in here."

The former Roger Ludlowe High School quarterback has sprinkled the sports metaphors into the conversation whether thanking supporters gathered Tuesday night at the Fairfield Cafe or talking about what's next.

"I came to realize more than ever that a campaign is truly a team sport," Tetreau said. "It literally involves hundreds of people working together to get your message out."

And like any good athlete, Tetreau said he didn't let himself think about the next game, until he was finished with the first one. Asked when the official oath of office ceremony will be held for the victors in Tuesday's election, Tetreau was only sure about the date -- Nov. 21.

"You take it one play at a time," he said. "You don't worry about what you're going to do for the extra point until you actually score the touchdown."