Guest column / Partisan Dems and Tetreau bought into a mess, now they own it

Despite repeated and compelling arguments as to why Fairfield's interim first selectman should be a caretaker and not someone running for the office come November, the inner circle of the Democratic Party in Fairfield now has installed its anointed candidate, Mike Tetreau, to help improve his efforts to get elected in November.

The question all Fairfielders should ask: Does this action best serve the people of Fairfield?

Much has been written about following "tradition" and "process," but few mention the most relevant and controlling factor -- the town charter. Article 6.3 charges the remaining selectmen to fill the vacancy with a person from the same political party within 30 days.

Accordingly, it was the duty of Selectmen Sherri Steeneck and Jim Walsh to find a replacement acceptable to both of them. Indeed, this is the real tradition and past practice, and it explains why the town to my knowledge had never before gotten to the point it reached last week. With the selectmen unable to agree, the choice was made by a small group of Democrats who are pledged supporters of Tetreau's election campaign.

So why couldn't the Democrat and Republican selectmen reach a consensus? Because Democrat Steeneck, the Democratic Town Committee and Tetreau himself could not resist the opportunity to play politics with the vacancy for political gain.

The public deserves to know that Steeneck, the acting first selectman, refused to allow any public discussion about the interim appointment at the three board meetings required by the charter to try to reach agreement. For 30 days, Steeneck remained myopic and single mindedly partisan. She refused to consider anyone except the choice of the Democratic elite, despite Walsh's offering of roughly a dozen names of qualified Democrats he would gladly support to lead our town as long as they were not intent on running for first selectman in November. Topping that list was the departed First Selectman Ken Flatto's highly competent and experienced chief of staff, Tom Bremmer.

Republicans have been accused of playing politics with this issue, however the opposite is true. The town charter calls for the remaining selectmen to take a full 30 days to try and agree on a replacement acceptable to both selectmen.

But the script dictated by the DTC and Tetreau was far from bi-partisan and not in the spirit of what's best for the town. Tetreau and his party faithful took the most politically self-serving route instead of the one that would best serve our town.

By contrast, when Steeneck was selected to replace Denise Dougiello, Republican Selectman Ralph Bowley and the RTC chose not to force a special election. The Democrats' most recent blatant partisan politics is not the tradition in Fairfield and should not be condoned or applauded.

Installing an announced candidate for first selectman into that office just five month's before the election is not a recipe for good governance. Even Mr. Flatto recently conceded he would not have approved Walsh as Bowley's replacement without Walsh's assurance he was not interested in the first selectman's office. Understandably, Flatto did not want to make the first selectman's position any more of a political football than it already is, with the increased risk of distracting and disrupting the board's work. The same concern now clouds the Tetreau appointment. It is not a stretch to think that our unelected first selectman may be more preoccupied with getting elected in November than with the best interests of our town.

If you're a die-hard Democrat, what could be better than having your unelected candidate become the incumbent at the start of the campaign?

If you're a Republican partisan like me, you cry "foul" and cast doubt on the motives for virtually all the actions and inactions of the Tetreau administration insofar as it is now inseparable from his campaign.

And if you're a Fairfield taxpayer who is not dialed-in to the inner circles of either party, you are left scratching your head wondering if this is what you want from the first selectman's office during this brief but important interim period.

If Mr. Tetreau wants the perceived advantages of incumbency and wants to step into Flatto's shoes so badly, then he must run on that Democratic administration's flawed record. That is, after all, the other side of the incumbency sword. Mr. Tetreau cannot hide behind the excuse that he inherited a mess that is not his, because now, it is his. And the voters should remember that he did not ask, but rather he insisted, that it be so.

James Baldwin is chairman of the Fairfield Republican Town Committee.