AP NEWS

Former tax collector weighs run for Greenwich first selectman

May 7, 2019

GREENWICH — The Republican race for first selectman could become more crowded as former Tax Collector Tod Laudonia ponders a run for Greenwich’s top elected position.

State Rep. Fred Camillo, R-151, and Board of Estimate and Taxation member Michael Mason have officially launched campaigns for the Republican nomination, setting up a race of two GOP heavy hitters to replace First Selectman Peter Tesei, who is not running for another term. It could become a three-person race for the GOP nomination if Laudonia takes the plunge.

“I’m thinking about running,” Laudonia said Monday, which has been his position for the last few months. “I think there’s a lot of things that need to be said.”

He has completed an interview with the Republican Town Committee’s search committee, which is evaluating possible candidates. And Laudonia said he has been encouraged by residents to make a run for the top office.

Laudonia served as tax collector from 2009 to 2017 and previously served as a member of the Representative Town Meeting. In 2017, he lost in his re-election effort to Tax Collector Howard Richman. Some speculated that Laudonia might seek tax collector position again, but he is focusing on a possible first selectman run.

Laudonia said considers it a “50-50 chance” that he will run.

“I’m enjoying my life right now, and I’m not sure I want to get back into the political fray yet,” he said.

Laudonia said he believed his interview went well with the RTC search committee, which is overseen by Stephen Walko, a former RTC chair and former state representative. The committee won’t make recommendations, but it is expected to report back to the RTC about who has been interviewed for positions.

If he enters the race, Laudonia said he wants to focus on issues of town governance, including the BET, which he said has taken on too broad of a role in recent years.

“The BET is acting more like a town council,” Laudonia said. “They’re not there to make policy.”

During his tenure as tax collector, Laudonia clashed several times with members of the BET over management of his department. In 2016, BET Democrats, joined by Republican James Lash, attempted to cut Laudonia’s salary by 50 percent but were blocked from doing so by town charter. Instead they approved budget cuts to the department in both 2016 and 2017, which ultimately caused the transfer of two full-time employees out of the department to other town positions.

But Laudonia said that his issues with the BET date to his time on the RTM, when he said the BET’s role was far more narrowly defined. The BET’s role should be to pass guidelines for the first selectman to follow in developing the budget, he said, and then to make sure the money is there.

“If the first selectman brings in a budget within those guidelines, the BET should say, ‘Great job Mr. First Selectman,’” Laudonia said. “Instead we have several weeks of inquisition every year for all the town departments. I remember when I was coming in for questioning and they were asking me what kind of postage I was using. That’s not what their job should be.”

Additionally, Laudonia said he wants to look at town government, saying it has become “bloated” in terms of size and number of employees.

“You obviously need to still provide the services that our residents want, but we need to take a look at how those services are being delivered,” he said.

The RTC vote to endorse candidates at its nominating meeting in July. However, that will likely not be the end of the GOP race. A candidate who fails to get the party nod can force a primary by gathering signatures from 5 percent of the town’s registered Republicans. A primary would then be held Sept. 10 to determine the final slate of candidates on the November ballot.

Camillo was not surprised to hear of interest from multiple candidates for the first selectman position. He, Mason and Laudonia have been friends for years, Camillo said, and he expected that to continue, even if there is a primary challenge.

“I am focused on the RTC (endorsement) but certainly I’m committed to seeing this through,” Camillo said.

On Monday, Mason expressed his commitment to the November election. Mason said he has not talked to Laudonia recently about the election but said Laudonia should run if he chooses.

“I wish him the best,” Mason said.

Facing a potentially crowded field, RTC Chair Richard DiPreta is remaining neutral in the lead up to July’s RTC endorsement.

“I don’t think having many candidates will fracture the party,” DiPreta said. “We’re trying to make sure that the Republican values of government are represented in Greenwich, and finding the best candidates to run for office are how we are doing that.”

As for the Democrats, announcements could be coming soon about its election slate. Selectman Sandy Litvack, who challenged Tesei in 2017, is expected to make a formal announcement within weeks about his political future. Democratic Town Committee Chairman Tony Turner said candidates have been coming forward and there will be meetings this month to look at the potential slate.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com