Officials pay tribute to former first selectman

News of the death of former First Selectman James A. Butler was greeted with a mix of sadness and respect from town officials. Butler, 90, died April 18 following a long illness. Butler served four terms as first selectman, first getting elected in 1973.

“A long life can be celebrated, but it is never easy to lose a loved one so dear in the hearts of family members,” said First Selectman Vicki Tesoro.

Butler, a World War II veteran, moved to Trumbull in 1968. Former First Selectman Tim Herbst said Butler’s popularity was clear through his politics.

“Being elected first selectman, and beating a six-term incumbent just a few years after moving to town, is really a great political achievement,” Herbst said. “In a way he initiated a long period of Democrats winning in Trumbull.”

Butler’s popularity extended to political opponents, said former First Selectman Ken Halaby, who credited Butler with getting him into politics.

“I was a politically unaffiliated voter, and they had passed a zoning regulation that would have allowed development up to 12 units on one acre of land, but there was no restriction on combining properties together and build, say, 60 condominiums,” Halaby said.

“So I and some other people went into his office and told him it was a bad regulation and asked, ‘Can we do a new hearing?’ and he said, ‘We don’t give new hearings,’” Halaby said. “He said, ‘You were asleep at the switch, and you should get involved’ and I thought, ‘He’s right.’”

Halaby and some others formed the group Citizens to Preserve Trumbull, and in three weeks collected 6,600 petition signatures.

“Then we went back into Jim Butler’s office and showed him the signatures, and it was an election year, and he said, ‘Let me see what I can do.’ Jim and I became friends after that.”

Former First Selectman Paul Timpanelli also credited Butler with guiding his career, writing a tribute that thanked Butler for his leadership.

“Jim’s legacy will provide comfort, and his friendship to so many, myself included, will be remembered,” Timpanelli said. “I will always appreciate the support and guidance he provided me.”

During his years in office, Butler oversaw the establishment of Trumbull EMS, and also served as a volunteer, according to his obituary. The library and police headquarters, the Tashua Knolls golf course, Trumbull Day, the Youth Commission and Arts Commission all came about during his terms. After leaving office, Butler chaired the Democratic Town Committee and Police Commission.