MONROE, CT — Jerry Stevens and fellow Democrats held a meet the candidates event at Monroe Town Hall on Wednesday and Terry Rooney, a Republican, planned to hold a pizza party with voters at High Meadows this Sunday, as the days leading up to Election Day this Tuesday wind down. Both first selectman candidates are in the final stages of their campaigns for the right to succeed incumbent first selectman, Ken Kellogg, who is not seeking reelection.
Since Monroe changed its form of government from a town manager to an elected first selectman there have been three Republican first selectmen — Ken Heitzke, Steve Vavrek and Ken Kellogg —- and three Democrats — Karen Burnaska, Andy Nunn and Tom Buzi, but Monroe voters have leaned heavily Republican for more than a decade.
Ever since Vavrek defeated Buzi in 2009, a Republican has held Monroe’s top office.
Town Councilman Terry Rooney, a former Bridgeport police officer, hopes to continue that string, while Democrats have expressed enthusiasm for Jerry Stevens, a longtime teacher in the Monroe public school system who serves on the Board of Education.
On Thursday afternoon, Stevens sat down with Acting Democratic Town Committee Chairman Fred Martin at Martin’s law office on Main Street to talk about the race. Stevens’ long white hair was pulled back into a ponytail and he wore a beaded necklace.
“When he got the nomination, a person who’s involved with the campaign said, ‘Jerry, now that you have been nominated, you should get your haircut,'” Martin recalled, “and Jerry said, ‘that’s who I am and who I will be,’ and that genuineness is what I see as his biggest draw in the campaign.”
In a telephone interview Friday, Republican Town Committee Chairman Ryan Condon praised Rooney for his work ethic, especially in his role as chairman of their party’s vacancy committee, which vets candidates for appointments to the town’s boards and commissions.
“During my experience of working with Terry over the past few years in support of bettering the town of Monroe, I learned that he is determined to get things done, while working with a team of dedicated individuals,” Condon said. “His time working on the vacancy committee has shown that he is a motivator, who convinces people time and time again to volunteer for Monroe’s boards and commissions.”
A wider appeal
On Friday evening, Rooney met with The Sun over a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts to share his thoughts before Election Day.
“It’s great, everything’s great,” he said of how his campaign has been going. “In real time, not in the social media world, people are excited about the election.”
Rooney, who has coached youth sports, said he has been heavily involved with local sports, attending the championship games for Masuk High School’s hockey and softball teams. He said his support has not been lost on the young athletes.
Rooney said he is feeling “overwhelming” support among 18- and 19-year-olds.
“Just the fact that this election is motivating them to vote makes me very proud,” he said.
Rooney said his campaign is also resonating with senior citizens.
“As far as seniors, the response has been outstanding,” he said. “Many live on fixed incomes, so they don’t want their taxes going up, and they seem happy with what’s going on in Monroe from that regard. I think they’re going to continue to vote that way because we’re going to protect their wallets.”
Knocking on doors
Stevens spent four hours knocking on voters’ doors Thursday.
“Win, lose or draw, this has been a fantastic time,” he said. “I met and re-met great Monroe people. At the door I say, ‘tell me, if you could see into the future, what do you want Monroe’s future to look like?’ Every door I knock on is a learning experience for me. What you’re learning door-to-door is how everybody feels about Monroe, which is looking at the whole picture.”
“I think our slate offers the change Monroe needs, the change Monroe deserves,” Stevens added.
“Listening and being open to the public is what we’re running on,” Martin said of the Democratic Party’s slate, looking at Stevens, he added, “that’s a tribute to you and to the team you put together — and its a tribute to them.”
Stevens said this race opened his eyes to how social media changed the dynamics of campaigning. “Things are shared the way they never were before in an election,” he said.
Stevens said he and campaign manager, Chrissy Martinez, received about 40 questions from residents asking about town issues online through a form called “What’s Up Monroe?”
Stevens and his campaign team have been working together since February, with members meeting at his home every Sunday, so he said he likes his chances this Tuesday.
“Anything can happen,” Stevens said. “It’s what makes it a race. It’s what makes it a contest. For us, it was about coming out with a unified platform like we did and transparent communication.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the level of enthusiasm for a campaign that I’ve seen in this election cycle,” said Martin, who was first involved with town politics in the 1990s. “If there’s a recurrent theme for the candidates we nominated, it’s that they will show up and they will listen if you give them the chance.”
Stevens encourages residents to come out and vote this Tuesday.
“This is your chance as a Monroe resident to say what you want the direction of Monroe to be,” he said. “You need to make your voice heard.”
An important election
Rooney intends to remain visible leading up to Tuesday.
“I’m still out there like I always have been. I’m always in the community,” he said. “I’ve always been that way. I’m constantly out in the community in some capacity. I’ll still be knocking on doors and meeting folks.”
“My biggest thing in this campaign is to stay polite, because the Monroe public doesn’t enjoy a negative campaign,” Rooney said. “This is an important election to come out and vote in, because the current administration has kept tax increases under one percent for the past six years — that is a contrast to the other potential administration, which has historically supported significant spending.”
“When this election is over, I have to look at myself in the mirror and know I ran this as a gentleman, and that the people around me stayed respectful to their neighbors,” he said. “We all live in the same community together, regardless of disagreements. It’s not really that hard to be kind in every situation.”
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