MONROE, CT — Town Councilman Terry Rooney, the Republican first selectman candidate, enjoyed sunny weather for his BBQ Party fundraiser in the parking lot outside MeetMe: Premium Steaks on Main Street one recent Sunday afternoon. Brazilian BBQ Boys did the grilling as Rooney mingled and posed for pictures with supporters.
The Groove Band performed live music on the sidewalk outside the business.
“It’s hard work, but it’s just so rewarding,” Rooney said of campaigning. “People have invited me to their homes for dinner. They want to be involved. Most people know me and the things I’ve done for this town, and that’s why they want me to be first selectman.”
On Wednesday afternoon, The Sun caught up with Rooney’s opponent, Jerry Stevens, at the Dunkin’ Donuts on Route 111. The Democrat, who serves on the Board of Education in town, was going to an Oktoberfest fundraiser at Monroe Social, a restaurant at 494 Main St., that evening.
Stevens was also feeling upbeat about the race.
“This campaign, for me, has been an awakening,” he said. “When you look at the Monroe residents who have stepped up to support me, they cover the gambit of Monroe. I have new families who moved in a year or so ago. I have people who lived here forever. We have 16 people running for different positions, boards and commissions.”
“I felt energy from every door I knocked on, to every person I met around town,” Stevens added. “I’m getting so much encouragement about my platform and my vision for Monroe. Some people say campaigning his hard work, but to me it’s a been a labor of love. I’ve been enjoying talking to people and learning from them.”
Responding to critics
Both candidates responded to questions in the aftermath of the Monroe Chamber sponsored debate at Edith Wheeler Memorial Library on Sept. 13.
Rooney had taken credit for starting Monroe Restaurant Week years ago, which was challenged by Stevens who said he recalled a woman on the Monroe Economic Development Commission saying she started it.
“There were questions about Restaurant Week,” Rooney said. “Yes, I was there at the beginning of that with Chairwoman Donna Verdisco. But that was a small task and something every town has.”
Rooney also responded to criticism from Nick Kapoor, a Democrat running for town treasurer against incumbent Republican, Frank Dutches.
In a Letter to the Editor, Kapoor said meeting minutes for the Town Council’s Planning & Zoning, Public Works, and Parks and Recreation Matters subcommittee, which Rooney chairs, shows its last meeting was in 2022 with the only agenda item being to appoint Rooney as chairman.
“The subcommittees are used at Town Council when there are issues to be discussed at the direction of the chair and there weren’t any,” Rooney said of the lack of meetings for his subcommittee.
Rooney said Parks and Recreation Director Missy Orosz calls him with updates, “but I always left that in the hands of Mrs. Martin, he said of longtime Town Councilwoman Dee Dee Martin.
Kapoor also said Rooney did not attend any of the Town Council budget workshops last February and March, nor in 2022, and doubted he would as first selectman.
“The budget workshops are for Town Council members who have questions for the directors of the departments,” Rooney said, adding he did not have any questions during the last two town budget processes, so he did not go to the meetings.
“I saw solid budgets from Ken Kellogg, so the budgets that came to us were extremely solid and reasonable,” he said. “Some Town Council members had questions, so they attended those meetings to ask questions.”
Rooney also noted that no votes were taken at those meetings.
Asked whether he would attend the workshops if elected first selectman, Rooney smiled and said, “I have no rebuttal on that.”
Stevens responded to a moment at the debate when Rooney shared Board of Education meeting minutes from January 18 of 2022, showing three motions Stevens supported, which Rooney said would have added $275,000 to the budget. Rooney used this to question whether Stevens would actually try to save taxpayers money.
Because it was said in Rooney’s closing, Stevens could not respond that night.
Stevens said the votes were over whether to ask the Board of Finance permission to use a portion of the Board of Education’s $1 million surplus to fund a facilities study for the entire district, to add a position to the Finance Department and to add an administrator position at Fawn Hollow Elementary School.
The Republican majority voted down the motions, so the entire surplus was returned to the town.
“Our finance director is incredible,” Stevens said of Ron Bunovsky Jr., who handles finances for both the town and the school district. “I just wanted to get him more support.”
“Because of the size of Fawn Hollow Elementary School’s population, we were trying to get added support to school administration to deliver the services needed,” he said of the motion to hire another administrator there.
While the school board voted down those three motions, Stevens noted the board recently approved of using surplus funds for a facilities study on district space needs, only one year later.
When Rooney spoke to the crowd of supporters at his fundraiser last Sunday, he made an announcement about Fear World, an event being planned for Z-Topia in Stevenson.
“Monroe is a great small town. I’ve lived here for many years. My family has been here for a couple of centuries and I’m really proud to run for this position,” Rooney said. “In my tenure as a councilman for six years I worked very hard for the town of Monroe, building an EMS building under appropriation, or around appropriation of $4.6 million. All of you trusted me with that money and I did the right job, even in times of high inflation.”
Rooney said he worked hard with current first selectman, fellow Republican Ken Kellogg, and his administration to stabilize taxes in Monroe at less-than-one-percent a year over the past six years.
“We’re very proud of that and when you vote for me, you vote for progressing that great work forward,” Rooney said.
“As much as I care about how the town operates and how things go, I also care about the entertainment sector. I’d really like to see Monroe be a bit more exciting moving forward, and today I just want to announce that we are going to have, because it’s permitted, the very first haunted house in Stevenson this year through the month of October: Fear World,” he said.
Rooney said events like this are needed to attract tourism and business to Monroe.
“Thank you to Fear World and George Zwally. He is a big part of making that happen and thank you to our P&Z for seeing our vision and making that happen,” he said.
Thamima Dias, co-owner of MeetMe: Premium Steaks, told the crowd Rooney helped her to realize her vision for the new business on Main Street.
“When I started my business, Terry was the person who helped support me and believed in my dream,” she said. “He is the first person who believed in me. Right now is a special moment to tell everybody that I’m with him. I believe he’s the best thing for this city.”
“Please get out and vote November 7th,” Rooney said. “It’s very, very important. If you’re happy with where the town is moving and you’re looking for some exciting things to happen in town, I’m the guy to vote for. Vote for Terry Rooney for Monroe on November 7th.”
On Wednesday evening, a group of bipartisan town residents came out to support Jerry Stevens’ campaign at the Oktoberfest fundraiser at Monroe Social, filling the room with a positive energy that was palpable, according to a campaign press release.
The first 20 people to register received a beer stein in keeping with the theme of the event.
“As I knock on doors across my hometown, I hear the concerns of Monroe residents,” Stevens said, while holding the microphone in front of the room. “As first selectman, my door will always be open to all. My administration will be about collaboration between all stakeholders, while bringing fiscal responsibility and transparency back to Town Hall.”
“We will win this election together, so that we can build the brightest future for Monroe,” Stevens continued.
Both candidates are encountering supporters along the campaign trail.
Everton Walker, a retired Bridgeport police sergeant and a former co-worker of Rooney, attended the BBQ Party fundraiser.
“I know him personally,” Walker said. “He was one of the instructors at the police academy when I joined. I can speak for his integrity and honesty. Over the years I ran into him, he was always the same person.”
On Wednesday, Eddie Lui, a town resident, walked into Dunkin’ Donuts and beamed when he saw Stevens sitting at a table.
“Jerry is a stand up guy,” Lui said. “He has the highest integrity possible. That’s what we need in this town, somebody with integrity and morals.”
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