'We can do better': Board of Ed member seeks to become Darien's first Democratic first selectman in decade

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Tara Ochman, a Democrat, announced her candidacy for first selectman in front of Darien Town Hall Thursday, July 15, 2021.

Tara Ochman, a Democrat, announced her candidacy for first selectman in front of Darien Town Hall Thursday, July 15, 2021.

Contributed photo

DARIEN — Tara Ochman has her sights set on becoming the town’s first Democrat first selectman in more than a decade.

Ochman, former Board of Education chairwoman, joined supporters in front of Town Hall Thursday to announce her candidacy for the seat that has been held for the past decade by Republican Jayme Stevenson. Last month, Stevenson announced she will not seek reelection.

“This election is about choices ... we can choose to stagnate, to complain, to put off difficult decisions, or we can choose to innovate, invest and build for our future,” Ochman said.

“With strong leadership and energy, we can do better. We can do the hard work necessary to ensure that Darien is a competitive, desirable 21st-century town ... a place where people will choose to come to raise their families,” Ochman added.

Ochman will be heading the Democrat ticket, with incumbent Sarah Neumann and Mike Burke running for selectmen.

“I am excited for this opportunity,” said Ochman, a Board of Education member who served as chair from 2017 to 2020. “I love our small town. We have amazing talent in this town — I plan to leverage that talent to improve our town.”

While Darien has long been considered a Republican stronghold, Ochman said there are more registered Democrats now than in previous years. But in the end, she feels her message goes beyond party politics — it is one of unity for the betterment of the town and its residents.

“We have people that have moved into town … I think they are looking for a first selectman with the best interests of the town at heart … they don’t care about party,” Ochman said, adding that she has received positive reactions from people across the political spectrum about her candidacy.

“Tara Ochman is the most experienced and qualified candidate from any party to run for first selectman in a generation,” Darien Democratic Town Committee Chairman David Bayne said.

Bayne credited Ochman for leading the Board of Education — a panel with a budget and headcount far exceeding the Board of Selectman — through tumultuous times, including the first year of COVID-19.

“She did so with a degree of professionalism and grace that has not been seen from a Darien leader in decades,” Bayne said. “Darien is extremely lucky that Tara has decided to dedicate her time and energy to serve the town as its next first selectman.

Ochman said, while the town has enjoyed success in recent years, she believes allowing more voices in the process will improve the operations.

She said her focus would initially be to improve the town’s infrastructure — mainly roadways, beaches and parks; modernizing the emergency response plan; and upgrading technology community-wide to "honor our workers and step up and make access to town services easier for all.”

Ochman said her goal is to make Darien’s downtown a destination center, highlighting the multiple — and incoming —dining establishments and retail.

“We need to promote our businesses,” Ochman said. “We do a lot right here, need to let people know all the positive things happening in the community.”

Ochman, married with three children, has spent years in public service. Besides the Board of Education, she has served as a board member at St. Luke’s Parish School; the Darien Library Board of Trustees; and the Council of Darien School Parents.

She was also appointed in 2019 to the Connecticut Advisory Council for School Administrator Profession Standards — a board that reports to the governor’s office, the state Board of Education and the Legislature Education Committee.

Ochman was elected three times as chairwoman of the Board of Education as a Democrat on a predominantly Republican board. During her time as chairwoman, she worked with three superintendents and led the process for bringing in an interim before hiring a permanent superintendent, Alan Addley.

“I have always believed in public service … I was taught it was my responsibility to give back to the community, something I hope I am instilling to my children,” Ochman said. “I love Darien. I’ve been there for Darien when Darien needed me. I want to continue to be there.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com