Election 2017: Democrats fill out slate to challenge for Board of Selectmen seats
DARIEN — No Darien Democrat has run for first selectman since 2011.
This year, first-term Selectman Rob Richards, a Democrat, will challenge incumbent Jayme Stevenson and, the town’s minority party also has a full slate of candidates for the Board of Selectmen.
Marc Thorne, who is completing his first two-year term on the board, and newcomer Pamela Sparkman, who served previously on the Representative Town Meeting, round out the Democratic ticket and will challenge Republican incumbents Susan Marks and Kip Koons.
“I would say certainly that the electorate expects some opposition in these positions. The electorate, I think, really likes to see a contest,” said Thorne, who has lived in Darien for 40 years and was also a member of the RTM and a chairman of the Democratic Town Committee before becoming a selectman.
Professionally, Thorne worked for IBM until 1995, when he retired. He has a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and an MBA from Sacred Heart University.
Well before his 2015 election, Thorne’s wife, Barbara, served for 10 years as a selectman.
“Barbara’s been a great help to me. We can discuss town issues over the dinner table,” Thorne said.
Among the top challenges facing the town, Thorne said the state budget and the emerging debate between maintaining open space and providing more athletic fields — spurred by the recently released parks master plan survey — are most important.
“I have a strong feeling that the state financial challenge is beginning to be addressed, but not resolved. We know that we have really daunting years ahead of us,” Thorne said about the budget.
As for the park debate, Thorne said, “I’m not interested in a solution that satisfies one set of needs in opposition to the other set of needs. I’m willing to sit tight and keep talking until we find solutions that satisfy both sets of needs.”
His running mate, Sparkman, agreed and said looking at higher-intensity use for existing fields may be necessary. Sparkman said not including Board of Education properties in the survey was a mistake.
Sparkman grew up in Norwalk and, before moving to Darien eight years ago, lived in California, working as an admissions director at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. She has a bachelor’s degree in visual arts from the University of Washington and a master’s degree in education from Harvard University. She works as a child care consultant with Cultural Care Au Pair.
Both Richards and Thorne have stated they favor a more open mode of communication between town officials and residents. Sparkman agrees, though she was not as outspoken as Richards in her criticism of Stevenson.
“A public hearing is a way to stand up and make a statement, but it’s definitely not a conversation. It’s not a way of getting questions answered. I like the idea of town hall meetings, where we would make ourselves available to talk to the public,” Sparkman said. “What I really dislike about politics is pointing fingers and the negative. When I decided to run, that’s the one thing I didn’t want to do.”
Though she doesn’t have extensive political experience, other than her time on the RTM, Sparkman believes her background in education could prove a valuable asset to the board in the coming years, when school funding is not guaranteed.
“As a local, I’m really committed to serving my community,” Sparkman said. “I think having fresh new insight is really valuable. And I think the status quo is not necessarily the best way to go.
It’s conceivable that the board will remain unchanged, because of state minority rules that require a five-member Board of Selectmen to consist of no more than three majority representatives, and because losing first-selectman candidates enter the Board of Selectmen pool.
“The losers drop down to the pool for the Board of Selectmen and the four highest vote-getters in the pool become selectmen,” said Town Clerk Donna Rajczewski.