Guilford Selectman Sandra Ruoff, a Democrat, is running for re-election on the ballot alongside Democratic incumbent Louis Federici, incumbent Republicans Susan Renner and Charles Havrda, and Green Party candidate Justin Paglino.
CT Examiner spoke with Ruoff about her bid for reelection, thoughts on Guilford’s Board of Education race, and goals for another term.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
How did you decide to run for another term on the Board of Selectmen?
I worked at the Guilford Library for 40 years and was director for 30 years, and in 2017, I was turning 70 and knew I was going to retire. That year also happened to be an election year for the Board of Selectmen, and as library director I’d worked with various Boards of Selectmen over the years on the town budget. I am a member of the Democratic Town Committee and talked to some of the other people involved who thought it would be a good idea for me to run and thought I had the credentials. I ran for election and won resoundingly, and that was four years ago, so now I’m up for reelection again.
I love being on the Board of Selectmen. I’m somebody who doesn’t mind going to meetings. In all of those years as library director, I sat through so many budget presentations and got to hear what issues were facing the fire department or police or schools, and became familiar with that process. All five of us on the Board work together very well as a team. Out of all of the votes we’ve taken in the last four years, there have only been two times when it wasn’t unanimous.
What are you especially proud of from your time on the Board so far?
There are a number of projects that we initiated in my first four years that I’d really like to see through. There’s the work with safe streets and sidewalks,the sustainability award we’re pursuing from the state, and the environmental efforts, like for conservation and for coastal resiliency. We’re a shoreline town, and we have to be mindful of floods and rising sea level.
My favorite thing is something I got involved with before I got elected, and that’s affordable housing. As a suburban town, we’re supposed to have 10 percent of our housing apartment stock in the affordable range for 60 to 80 percent of the median income, and we have about two percent. It sounds low, but it’s higher than some other towns. We’re currently developing 20 new apartment units on town-owned land that will be managed by an outside, not-for-profit developer. We’re also looking at other ways we can encourage the building of homes or apartments that can be affordable, but that’s a process that doesn’t happen overnight.
How has the critical race theory debate in the Board of Education campaign affected your perception of local government and politics in Guilford?
This year, the first selectman and four members of the Board of Selectmen are all up for reelection, and at the end of spring, it was looking like we’d all run unopposed. We never took it for granted, but it was looking like we’d basically continue with the same composition we had previously. So at the Republican caucus when the incumbents didn’t get as many votes as the group of people calling themselves the Truth in Education candidates, it suddenly became a much more stressful election. Even though I’m not really worried about my own race, I really don’t want to see the Board of Education turned to that extreme, right-wing point of view. We have always had a good working relationship between the three boards, the Board of Finance, Board of Selectmen, and the Board of Education, so if these candidates get elected, it would definitely have an impact on us.
It seems like it doesn’t matter how many times the superintendent says that we’re not teaching critical race theory, we’re just teaching some history that hasn’t been taught previously. When I was in school, I learned about the Civil War, but the emphasis was always on the slavery in the south. There would be passing references to slavery existing in the north, too, but it made it sound like it was not very impactful, when of course, it was. I never learned that the United States took people of Japanese descent who were American citizens and moved them to internment camps that were like prisons. I never learned that in high school, and I’m horrified I didn’t learn it.
Has it made you think differently about the voters of Guilford?
No, I think it’s a small group of people, and I think most of the population of Guilford is going to vote in a way that isn’t going to allow this extreme group to be elected. People have been saying that this is tearing Guilford apart, but in other ways, it’s helping bring people together who realize that they need to speak up for what they believe in, and not just take it for granted.
What are you hoping the Board of Selectmen focuses their work on next term?
A personal success for me will be to see that affordable housing complex completed and people living in it. We have made some progress already, but this Woodruff project is my personal baby, and I will feel very thrilled when the ribbon cutting happens for that. We also had to borrow a lot of money to build the high school, and we bonded that money and re-bonded it several times to save interest, but we’re finally on the downward side of that, so it’s starting to level off which will allow us to take some of the money raised by taxes to do some other things with parks and roads. The high school was a worthy project, but now we can think about some other projects that we can work on without raising taxes any further.