Madison Selectman Bruce Wilson is challenging Democratic incumbent Peggy Lyons for Madison First Selectman. Wilson, a Republican, seeks the town’s top elected job after years serving on the Madison Board of Selectmen and a previous stint on the Board of Education.
Lyons was elected first selectwoman in 2019, upsetting Republican Tom Banisch by a few hundred votes. Wilson sat down with the Connecticut Examiner to discuss what inspired him to join the race.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What are some of the biggest issues facing Madison right now?
We don’t seem to get a lot done in town. We have issues from 2019 that still haven’t been talked about. Take a look at Academy. In early 2019, we were preparing to put it forward as a referendum question, and we had done a lot of discovery work to find out what the community could support as a future use for the Academy school building. That data was pointing us towards a community center, and we were making steps toward putting that question forward for referendum, and it just disappeared. Nothing’s happened, and we had no conversation at all about it.
We have a town meeting form of government, so our taxpayers are our deciders. Our job as a Board of Selectmen is to bring well thought out, actionable questions for the voters to decide. I think we put a lot of work into discerning the idea of a community center, and think that we owe it to the taxpayers to bring that question to them.
What’s necessary to get the downtown project across the finish line?
It takes focus, it takes diligence, and it can’t be a part-time activity. People are really excited for a change in downtown, and the promise of a friendlier environment to bring more visitors, retail, activity and vibrance. When we can’t follow through on projects like that, it’s just disheartening. Look at Academy, look at downtown. We don’t seem to be able to close the loop on these projects. The school district is getting ready to move out of two more schools, so we already have two schools in this consolidation that have an undetermined future, and the school district is getting ready to give us two more. We have to figure this out, and it is absolutely a leadership problem.
Are there any issues that have come up during First Selectwoman Lyons’ tenure that you would have handled differently?
With all the talk in the legislature about zoning, I felt it was important for the Board of Selectmen to stand up for the community and let our elected General Assembly members know where we stood on this issue because it potentially going to have such a local impact. I was really quite shocked when Peggy said that was not in our lane, and that it was not our job to look at what Hartford was doing and comment on it. I think that’s a mistake. I think that’s absolutely what we should be doing.
I think we should also have been talking more about legalized cannabis. I brought up a few months ago that we needed to put together a panel of community stakeholders to evaluate what legalized cannabis would look like in Madison. I think being proactive is better than just waiting until it gets implemented.
When the Passport to Parks was done, had we known the impact it would have on Madison, I would have been much more active with DEEP talking about what to do if and when the park gets to capacity. It’s something we didn’t plan for and now we’re dealing with consequences as people keep getting turned away from Hamonassett.
What’s something First Selectwoman Lyons has done well?
During COVID, she was right to step out of the way and let her professional team manage the emergency. I really give her credit for letting the team do its thing, because the director of emergency services, the public health director, the police chief, and other professional staff members are the ones who know what to do. The correct way to handle that is to stand back and make sure they have the resources they need.
Why did you decide to run?
I grew up in Madison, but like most of our young people, I ran away. I went to college in Chicago with no intention of returning, but then kids came along, and I had the opportunity to move back to town, and thought that Madison might not be such a bad place. I was a traveling salesman on the road all the time, so I was a consumer of Madison’s goodness and not really a contributor. I had a life moment where I said, I need to be more than just someone who goes to work and spends time with family, I need a community aspect to my life.
I began to volunteer for the Rockland Preserve, which progressed into the Board of Education, and then the Board of Selectman in 2015. I’ve done it and continue to do it out of obligation. I benefited from everything good in Madison as a kid, I benefited from everything good in Madison as a parent and homeowner, so it was my time to start paying back.