Herbst reacts to election results, looks ahead to fourth term

First Selectman Tim Herbst believes his challenger in last year's election, Vicki Tesoro, already has her eyes on next year's campaign.
First Selectman Tim Herbst believes his challenger in last year's election, Vicki Tesoro, already has her eyes on next year's campaign.

Elections have consequences.

And First Selectman Tim Herbst knows that his narrow victory at the polls last Tuesday is no different.

Sitting down with The Times on Monday afternoon, the town’s top official spoke about ushering in some changes to Trumbull’s political landscape as enters his fourth term.

“I’m going to make commitments to find common ground with the opposing party,” Herbst told The Times. “I’m going to commit to meet on a monthly basis with the Democratic caucus on the Town Council to understand their legislative priorities and concerns, and what they’d like to pursue in this term.”

“I’m going to support the election of a Democrat to the chairmanship on some of our boards and commissions,” he added, indicating that the Planning and Zoning Commission would likely be one of them. “I’m going to continue my practice of tri-partisanship and appoint unaffiliated voters to leadership roles because they’re the largest part of the voting population.”

Perhaps most important, with the 2016-17 budget season beginning next month at the Board of Education, Herbst said, he wanted town Republicans and Democrats to work hand-in-hand in developing a cost-effective budget.

“I’m going to ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to develop a budget — an alternate budget — that they propose,” he said. “So when I propose mine, they propose theirs and they get to offer suggestions and alternatives that provide more money for public education, while at the same time reducing spending, cutting taxes and reducing the mill rate.”

“And I’m not saying that to be glib,” he added. “I genuinely want to see what they have. …

“I want to put both budgets on the table, because we really don’t know where we disagree, and I want to see where we disagree — I want us to have a starting point going forward.”

Specifically, at the Board of Education, Herbst said, bipartisanship is needed more than ever.

He told The Times that he would like to come up with a long-term plan for districtwide prekindergarten.

“Our schools, our teachers, our kids — they’re not Republican, nor Democrat,” he said. “They’re the future, and the Board of Education needs to develop a budget that finds efficiencies, while at the same time,investing in the things that matter. …

“We need to eliminate redundancies in the budget that have nothing to do with education.”

Problems with speculation

While on the subject of the future, the first selectman said reports that he would enter the 2018 race for state governor were the most damaging to him in his campaign this fall.

He pointed specifically to a reporter for Hearst Media who wrote multiple articles that said he would run to become the state’s top official — a year after Herbst lost an election to become state treasurer.

“I was never asked the question directly, never given the opportunity to answer,” the first selectman said Monday. “It was all speculation, and that carried over into this year’s race.”

Going door to door, Herbst said, he kept hearing the question from voters.

“‘Are you staying or are you going?’ they asked me, and I think a lot of voters voted the other way because I wasn’t going to be here,” he said.

“While running last year had its benefits, it had its impact here,” he admitted. “I think there were some voters who went into the booth asking the question, ‘He’s done a good job, but is he going to be here?’ And I get that, I heard that in front of the polls, but I have a job to do and I’m going to do it and I’m going to continue to deliver on the platform I’ve turned into a reality.”

When asked if he would run for a state office in 2016, Herbst said, unequivocally, he would be in Trumbull throughout the next two years.

As for 2018, that’s a conversation for another day.

“I’m focused on being the first selectman of the town of Trumbull,” he said. I have a lot more I want to do, and I intend to get it done.

“The future is the future,” he added. “I’m focused on the present and focusing on the job I’ve been elected to do over the next two years.”

Voter complacency

Besides speculation over his departure to Hartford, the incumbent said another hurdle he and his fellow Republican candidate faced this election was complacent voters who failed to turn out at the polls.

“This one was an anomaly,” said Herbst of his 5,851 to 5,499-vote victory over Democratic candidate Vicki Tesoro after winning in a 70%-30% landslide election in 2013.

He said that the 2013 election results created a “false sense of security.”

He explained, “70% is not common in this town; 60% is not even common in this town.

“I’ve had at least a dozen people come up to me over the last two days to apologize and tell me they didn’t vote because they thought it was in the bag,” the first selectman added. “I’d prefer to hear them say that they voted for my opponent.”

As a result of more than 800 committed voters who did not turning out on Election Day, Herbst said, town Treasurer John Ponzio is out of a job, losing by 122 votes to Democratic challenger and former state Sen. Anthony Musto, 5,633 to 5,511 votes.

“I think this election sent complacent voters a wake-up call — you have to vote,” he said. “Every vote is important, and I think that shows this year.”

“Angry voters turn out, happy voters stay home,” he added. “Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the business.”

Still proud

Despite losing in the treasurer’s race, the Republican Town Committee won 15 of the 21 seats on the Town Council, five of the seven chairs on the Board of Education, and all three open spots on the Board of Finance.

“If it wasn’t for the job we’ve done over the last six years, I don’t know if we would have been able to get it over the goal line,” Herbst said.

Nonetheless, he’s looking forward to working with all the new candidates who won election for the first time, including Democratic Town Council members Dawn Cantafio, Bill Mecca, Thomas Whitmoyer, Jason Marsh, and Lisa Valenti — who make up five of the six Democrats on the town’s top decision-making board.

“I think they did a great job campaigning and I think we need a fresh perspective,” he said.

Social media revisited

A fan of voting data, the first selectman said that the numbers this year made one message loud and clear.

“When we talk about the tone of the town, it’s significant to point out that the most prolific users of social media, on both sides of the aisle, lost their elections,” he said.

“So the people of Trumbull are smarter than we think, and they read it and they don’t like it,” he added. “We have to stop talking at each other through social media and start talking to each other face to face.”

Herbst said the social media vitriol has gotten progressively worse in Trumbull.

He called the Election Day results “a stunning rejection of those who use social media in a negative context.”

“If you look at the people who won and the people who lost, on both sides of the ballot, voters don’t like it, and it’s pretty obvious,” he said. “Voters sent us a message Tuesday: They don’t like nasty and they won’t tolerate it. …

“They don’t want the politics of Trumbull to be like the politics of D.C.,” he added. “And I’m going to do my part to address it, and I hope the leaders of both parties do the same.”