With Darien’s longtime First Selectman Jayme Stevenson deciding not to run for another term in November, Monica McNally has jumped into the race as the Republican candidate.
IN 2019, Stevenson ran for reelection without Democratic opposition, and garnered 90 percent of the vote against a petitioning candidate. In 2017, she beat out a Democratic challenger with more than 70 percent of the vote.
McNally, who received the Republican nomination in July, was appointed to the Board of Selectmen earlier this summer and is an eight-year veteran of the Representative Town Meeting. She will face off against Democrat Tara Ochman, a town’s former chair of the Board of Education.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with McNally about her campaign and policy priorities if elected.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What inspired you to run for First Selectman of Darien?
I’ve lived here for 27 years, and I really love this town. I think that probably the best thing about this town are its volunteers, and that’s how I myself got started, volunteering at nonprofits, then in schools when my children were in school, and then in town government. People in Darien step up to help, and I feel like it’s my turn to step up.
What experience has prepared you to run Darien?
Before getting into town government, I worked for eight years as a financial consultant for EF Hutton, where I helped people build nest eggs and achieve goals like putting their children through college or preparing for retirement. It gave me a good background in finance, and I left that to start my own family, volunteered, and as my children finished up with school, I started to get involved in town government. I served for eight years on the Representative Town Meeting, on a variety of committees including Public Health and Safety, Planning and Zoning, Public Works, and Rules, and I’m currently on the Board of Selectmen now. My combination of public and private sector experience will be very helpful, and my experience in this town government in particular will help me hit the ground running.
What sets you apart from your opponent?
I’m not going to say what differentiates me from her, I’m going to say what I believe. I want people to look at me and see a person that will work hard and is truly able to work across the aisle, and already has the experience doing that. As chair of Public Works, I worked on the plastic bag ban, and to do that, I worked with people on my committee that were diametrically opposed with what they wanted to have happen. That started on the committee level, but people in town also had a variety of opinions. Passing this required working with a large group of people who had different opinions, and pulling all of those opinions together. It led to a product that was voted almost unanimously by the Representative Town Meeting for support. It’s given me the experience to actively listen to people, but then, get the job done.
What do you see as some of Darien’s biggest challenges?
Right now, we’re dealing with a very big flooding issue. Over the last 20 years, things have really changed as far as climate goes for our town, and flooding is an issue that is not going to go away. I would form a flood erosion committee with experts from in and out of town, and would look at studies that have been done to see what we can do as a town to mitigate this for the people who are impacted on an immediate basis when a storm happens.
We also have a lot of growth, and managing our growth is something we’re going to have to work on. Over the next few years, we’ll have almost 300 new units of housing, and managing those developments that have been in the works for a long time will be a priority. We have to help the public manage expectations and side effects of growth, like traffic, unattractive demolition sites, and demands on infrastructure. These developments are a lot at one time, and my inclination would be that we should work through this before we promote even more growth. I want to make sure we’re prepared.
Do you see a world where, if you were first selectman, Darien residents might see a raise in local taxes?
Because I have a finance background and am aware of markets and cycles, I think that it’s always prudent to plan for a change in fortunes, and I definitely see interest rates going up. We have a lot of big, multimillion dollar projects going on right now, building schools and redoing libraries, and if interest rates tick up, that could have a material impact on projects like that going forward. Could that have an impact on our town budget that would trickle down into higher property taxes? It could, but I think that I am very fiscally responsible, and that we have done a good job in Darien being prudent about our financial decisions, and I see that continue going forward.
How are you hoping Darien uses new funds from the American Rescue Plan?
I’m on the committee that was just formed to determine how Darien will spend the $6.43 million that it will receive from the federal government. We have a little bit of time to determine how we’re going to spend the funds for COVID relief, like addressing impacts from lost public sector income or providing premium pay for essential workers. I want to listen to the community and get community input on how they want to see us spend this money. It could be one project that everybody is galvanized around, or separating funds into different groups, but that’s a discussion that has to be made with the whole community.
To what extent would you hope to follow in Jayme Stevenson’s footsteps? Are there any decisions she made that you would have handled differently, had you been in office?
I have a lot of respect for Jayme. I know her personally, and I’ve found her decisions to be very thoughtful, consistent, and inclusive for all citizens, and I think that’s a model that I will try to follow. After ten years of somebody who’s provided really thoughtful, solid leadership, I really look forward to continuing that tradition.