First Selectman Mary Bylone is running for a second term in office, facing off against Republican challenger Andreas Bisbikos, a member of the Colchester Board of Finance and high school social studies teacher. Bylone unseated two-term Republican First Selectman Art Shilosky in 2019, winning with 54 percent of the vote.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Bylone about her goals for a second term, and what she’s proudest of from her tenure so far.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Your opponent has said that Town Hall has been “toxic,” and described you as a “bully.” I’d like to start by giving you a chance to respond, and hearing your perspective on how the race is going so far.
I’m a national speaker and published on healthy work environments, so if anyone understands the importance of communication and collaboration, trust me, it’s me. I’ve been brought in as a consultant to healthcare organizations to help them overcome toxic environments, and my opponent is propagating accusations that are just plain not true.
When I ran against Republican Art Shilosky, the day I filed the paperwork, I came up to him and said I wanted to run a clean campaign, and he outstretched his hand and we shook. We said we’d focus on what we could bring to the office, and promised that there would be no personal stuff or name calling. Art never broke his word, and respected that through to the final moment when he shook my hand to congratulate me on my election.
Now, the individual I’m running against is doing nothing but putting lies out there. I knew that in politics, there would be people who didn’t agree with my decisions, but I didn’t realize they would be so vicious. It bothers me that people go after you as a person and a human, as opposed to what you do in office. I just didn’t think that would be in municipal government. He even bought my old URL from my campaign website from two years ago, and created a fake website with lies about me. It’s appalling.
You entered office just before the pandemic began. With hindsight, how do you feel you handled COVID-19 in Colchester?
I’m proud of the work I did managing the global pandemic and communicating information to residents. I never anticipated that I would use so many of my nursing skills to run the town, but they have come in handy at every turn. My role was to make sure people understood the “why” behind the restrictions coming down from the government.
In the beginning, I did Facebook Lives twice a day every single day to give people the numbers and demonstrate a sense of urgency, and used my nursing background to explain why we were asking people to social distance and wear masks to flatten the curve.
What’s something that surprised you when you entered office?
Unless you’re on the inside, you don’t realize all the red tape and hoops that you have to jump through to get stuff done. I was a little naive.
Take the fire equipment. For years, the fire department has been asking for replacements to outdated equipment, and I’m the first first selectman who sat down and talked to them about it. I put together a bipartisan group of people, looked at the current fractured and broken equipment, and got a program together, passing a referendum to fund it. We have a fire engine from 1982. It should be in a parade or a museum, not responding to fire at your house. Our computers in the police department were running Windows 7, which was going to shut down in January. The computers were no longer going to be able to talk to state police, but no one wanted to fund replacing them. You can kick the can down the road to an extent, but at some point, you’d think a government in 2020 would be fixing this stuff.
What are some of your bigger policy priorities for another term?
I want the town to grow, and I know that we can’t continue to put the cost onto taxpayers and make them pay for it.
So what’s the alternative? We need to increase revenue, and I want to do that by increasing manufacturing in our community. We have a wonderful manufacturing program at Bacon Academy, and a lot of large manufacturers around us that need products made. Alpha Q makes jet engine parts for Sikorsky, so what about getting more that supply Electric Boat and Pratt & Whitney?
There’s been hesitancy to start new businesses during COVID, but that’s the goal and it’s what I want to get back to for Colchester. I’ve successfully run hospitals as a chief nursing officer, so I understand finance, budgeting, and marketing, and I bring those skills into the First Selectman role, and want to help Colchester grow and develop.