Dee Dee Martin took a bouquet and her name plate with her following her last meeting on the Monroe Town Council last November.

Monroe Democrats celebrate the Council’s longtime minority leader


Dee Dee Martin moved to Monroe in the 1970s and had met Karen Burnaska at a party. Their children were similar ages and their Michigan roots were another thing the two women had in common. Burnaska recalls conversations between her husband Robert and Martin about the Detroit Tigers and Lions.

“Karen is the person who got me into politics, going back way before I was on the Council,” said Dee Dee Martin, who decided not to seek another term last election after a 29-year-run.

The Monroe Democratic Town Committee held a reception for Martin at their meeting in the land use wing of Monroe Town Hall last Wednesday. Burnaska, a Democrat who was the town’s first selectwoman for three terms, could not make it, but sent her friend a letter praising her for her service.

“I loved working with Karen,” Martin said. “She was a force to be reckoned with when you’d see her bustling around. To this day she has so much energy.”

“Dee Dee is a wonderful person,” Burnaska said in a phone interview Monday evening. “She’s very bright. She’s very conscientious. She’s friendly. She’s a wonderful example of a person who volunteered her time to help the people of Monroe and to make it the great place that it is. She has been an integral part of the town and the activities that have gone on here for decades. She really deserves all of the accommodations she receives and probably more.”

Martin taught at the Gingerbread School House nursery school at Monroe Congregational Church in town for many years.

She has two grown children from a previous marriage, Scott and Maureen, and met her current husband Fred Martin through town politics, marrying him in 1988. Together they had a son, Patrick. Maureen gave the couple four grandchildren.

Fred Martin, who grew up in Monroe, is currently serving as acting chairman of the MDTC. He was the party chairman in the late 80s and is a former town attorney.

He said the turnout at his wife’s reception was great for a cold February night, recalling how they had to bring in extra chairs for guests.

Dee Dee Martin, left, and Pat Shea at an award ceremony for Karen Burnaska.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who could not attend due to the Legislative Session and attending a UConn Women’s basketball game, was “gracious enough” to call Dee Dee about her public service that night, Fred said.

“I’m proud of it and her kids are proud of her service too,” he said. “I don’t know what’s in store for her next. Being political junkies I can’t imagine she won’t continue to be involved, but I think she thought it was time to step aside and let someone else take over,” he said of Martin not running last election.

In addition to a call from Bysiewicz, Gov. Ned Lamont will send Martin a proclamation. The MDTC awarded her a check to be given to the charity of her choice.

“It was really nice,” Dee Dee Martin said of the reception and receiving a phone call from the lieutenant governor.

“I like Susan a lot. We go way back to almost when I first ran,” Martin said. “She was always somebody you remember. These things in politics, when you need a name or a presence, when a headquarters is opening, her and Blumenthal come to mind. If they can make it, they will be there. You know people are busy and more important than you are, and they come down to Monroe.”

Martin said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, seems to never miss a parade and she remembers a time when he and Bysiewicz participated in Monroe’s swearing in ceremonies.

Entering Monroe politics

Dee Dee Martin served on the Board of Health and was a member of the Monroe Women’s Club when Burnaska encouraged her to enter politics during a Spirit Week event.

Burnaska served on Town Council and was a member of the League of Women Voters at the time.

Dee Dee Martin takes her oath in a swearing in ceremony.

“She said, ‘listen, are you a registered Democrat? We have a caucus tonight. Just come and see what you think,'” Martin recalled. “Her and Janice Martin were on the Council. Janice and I were involved in clubs. She said, ‘you really should get involved.’ That was my first venture and it was Karen and Janice who convinced me.”

Martin filled a vacancy on the Parks and Recreation Commission and loved the experience.

“One of the most fun things on the Parks and Recreation Commission was serving on the building committee for Great Hollow Park,” she said. “Fred and I walk around the lake and I would remember when they first laid out the trails and the parking lot. That was almost 10 years before the Council,” she said of her time on the commission.

As a Town Council member, Martin said she always “finagled” her way into being on the subcommittee that keeps tabs on Monroe’s parks and recreation issues.

“I had asked for and always was given Parks and Recreation, because I felt a real connection and attachment to them going back to Ron Wallisa,” Martin said of the late director.

The Minority Leader

Dee Dee and Fred Martin with their son Patrick at a political event in 1991.

David Rutkin resigned as a Town Council member and town Democrats tapped Martin to fill the vacancy. The Council approved her appointment to finish his term during a meeting in January of 1995.

After finishing the term, Martin ran in the next municipal election, won a seat on the Council and never looked back.

“I can’t remember a summer or early fall that I wasn’t going door to door and running for reelection,” Martin said. “I put on a lot of miles walking around this town. There are probably new areas I’ve never been in.”

Martin said she liked campaigning in the older areas of town, because the houses are closer together, so it’s not as far to walk.

“Karen was a big ‘in person’. She’s the one that dragged me with her, almost literally,” she recalled of Burnaska encouraging her to go door to door with her for two hours at a time.

“We parked at each end of the street. We’d walk down, then get in one car and drive to the other,” Martin said.

Her tenure ran from 1995 to November of 2021. Along the way she had served during the administrations of all six of the previous first selectmen since Monroe switched from a town manager form of government.

An old newspaper photo shows the Martins and Karen Burnaska at a picnic at Wolfe Park.

Martin served with Republican first selectmen Ken Heitzke, Steve Vavrek and Ken Kellogg and Democrats Burnaska, Andy Nunn and Thomas Buzi.

“She was involved in the town for decades,” Burnaska said. “She has been a stalwart for doing good things for the town, making sure people were recognized.”

Though the six first selectmen were evenly split, the Republicans always enjoyed a majority on the Town Council, whether it was 5-4 or 6-3.

“One year it was a 5-4 Council. We came within about 100 votes of gaining control,” Fred Martin recalled.

Dee Dee Martin said she is proud of her involvement with the Great Hollow Lake project. “That was a really good town acquisition,” she said. “I look back fondly on that.”

She had also served as a Council representative for the building committee that remodeled Masuk High School. “That was really interesting to be a part of, from the nuts and bolts to classroom placement,” Martin said. “Hearing what they wanted in their areas, that I found fascinating.”

Fred said his wife always came to meetings prepared with her notes and questions.

“I would say her biggest strength in serving on the Council was she was inquiring about everything,” he said. “She didn’t take the meeting packet for granted. She asked everyone questions, whether the first selectman was a Democrat or a Republican. She asked questions and she wasn’t afraid to tussle if you didn’t give her straight answers.”

“I enjoyed being a thorn in the side of people sometimes,” Martin said. “In the minority, I was there for some reason. One was to give an alternative view. To some people that was being argumentative, but I vowed that it was my job to ask the questions my neighbors might want to know.”

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  1. What a wonderful story about Dee Dee Martin’ s contributions to our town for over 29 years! It was fun to see past pictures of both Dee Dee and past Selectwoman, Karen Burnaska, two women who gave so much to Monroe.

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