Former Major League Baseball player and manager Bobby Valentine announced an independent run for mayor of his native Stamford last week, challenging incumbent Democrat David Martin and State Rep. Caroline Simmons, D-Stamford. Valentine owns a restaurant and sports academy in the city, and currently serves as athletic director at Sacred Heart University.
What inspired you to run for Mayor of Stamford?
I was inspired by the timing of my life. If I’m ever going to get into public service, which is one of the boxes I’ve always wanted to check, it’s now or it’s never. In the aftermath of the pandemic, my hometown is a city that can shine bright, and it’s going to need some great leadership. I’m hoping to be the person that could provide that leadership.
You’re challenging the incumbent mayor, David Martin. What decisions has Martin made that you would’ve done differently, had you been in his shoes?
The idea that he’s being challenged by someone within his party is something that stimulated me to believe that maybe there were decisions that he made that could’ve been done differently, but I don’t keep score. I definitely don’t ever try to make somebody else look bad so that I look good, so that line of questioning is something that I’ll leave the voters to decide.
What are the policy issues that Stamford voters should be looking at as they consider who to vote for in this election?
Voters should be looking at leadership quality and experience in leading. In our community, of course, we have a population growth situation that is a wonderful situation to have, but it affects our school system, our housing ecosystem, and our transportation systems. I think all of the ideas that surround population growth need to be addressed in a positive way, and that includes all of the different areas of population growth within our city.
What policies would you use to address that challenge?
By the time I’m mayor, there will absolutely be specific policies, but obviously being I’m in a competition, if I start to say what I would do and someone decides that they’re going to do the same thing, I don’t think that’s a prudent thing to do at this time.
You’ve previously been a registered Republican, and campaigned for Republican Tom Foley when he ran for Governor of Connecticut. Why run unaffiliated?
I’ve voted for Democrats and Republicans. Our society right now is divided because of the two-party system. I have gotten tired of hearing both sides use the word hate as though it is the main word in their vocabularies, and I don’t think that national politics has any place in a city campaign. I think that this is about people who live in Stamford, not people who are registered in one party or another. I don’t think my politics align with any party, my politics align with people.
You served as the city’s public safety director back in 2011. What did you learn from that experience?
It was a very short stint, and I did that as a non-paying job because they needed someone to fill the seat and didn’t have a place in their budget to pay for them. I went in with eyes wide open and tried to learn as much as I could about how the 10th floor operates, which is the Mayor’s floor, and how the different aspects of public safety, emergency medical services, fire, the Board of Health and the Police Department need to work with the Mayor’s office in order for the city to function properly and safely. It was a real learning experience. I don’t claim to be the smartest guy in the room, but I claim to be the hardest worker and a guy who learns quickly.
You own a sports bar and a baseball academy in Stamford. What has being a small business owner taught you about the city and its government?
I’ve been a business owner in Stamford for 40 years, so I’ve had to employ people, service the community, and work within a downtown structure which, when I started in 1980, was less than structured. Business is about people — people you’re working with, working for, or people coming in so that you can stay in business. I had to continually learn how to work with people to keep my businesses open.
Your opponents in the race are the current mayor and a current state representative. Do you feel you have the necessary policy experience to lead Stamford?
My experience in everything that I’ve done is surrounding myself with spectacular people who know specific skill sets that I work with. I think one of my greatest skills is, I went to Japan and hired people who didn’t speak my language who had specific skill sets of marketing and teaching and all the other facets of an organization, and I learned to work with them. As I went to higher education, I had to learn to work within the ecosystem of higher education that was foreign to me eight years ago, and I was able to win the Athletic Director of the Year award.
Policy and politics is one thing, and living in a community in a successful way is another. I’m hoping that I can learn as I go through this campaign and govern for years, but I don’t think that this is about policy, I think this is really about people, and I know people. The experience that I have had in building teams of people who get to the goal and understand success is as much experience as I need to do any job, I believe.
You believe you could do any job?
There are a lot of jobs I personally couldn’t do unless I was able to build a team around me. I am not an island unto myself. I’ve learned to trust in people who have skill sets that I don’t have, and I’ve learned to coordinate a system that allows them to be very good at what they do, and reflects on my success also.