Greenwich First Selectman 2019 Election: Camillo Vs. Oberlander
GREENWICH, CT — As Fred Camillo and Jill Oberlander square off in Greenwich’s first selectman race, one thing has become evident: both have deep roots in town. For Camillo, his history in Greenwich dates back centuries, as his family has lived in town for four generations.
Though he has served six terms as state representative for the 151st house district of Greenwich, Camillo has held a number of positions in Greenwich’s town government system too. He served on Greenwich’s Representative Town Meeting from 1995 to 2001, and was chairman of the Greenwich Board of Parks & Recreation from 2000 to 2002.
He subsequently served as chairman of the Republican Town Committee from 2002 to 2006, shortly before shifting gears to the state level in Hartford.
Conversely, Oberlander was not born in Greenwich. She moved to town 13 years ago with her family and they have been active community members ever since.
Oberlander served on the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting for six years, where she served on the finance, budget overview, labor contracts and plan of conservation and development implementation committees.
After serving on the town’s board of estimate and taxation for four years, Oberlander was unanimously elected BET chair in January 2017, a position she still holds today.
“When I moved to Greenwich with my family, we were so excited. The beautiful surroundings, beaches, parks and excellent schools made it an easy decision,” Oberlander said during a debate held on Oct. 10. “Though we weren’t born here, we’ve put down roots and love it more every day, just like so many [residents].”
Both Camillo and Oberlander are running to be named Greenwich’s new First Selectman, a role that has been filled by Republican Peter Tesei for over a decade. Earlier this year, Tesei announced he would not seek reelection, leaving the field wide open for the top elected spot in town.
Who is Fred Camillo?
Camillo said he has seen the town from a number of different perspectives. He has lived in Cos Cob and Byram, and currently resides in North Greenwich.
At the age of 19, he started his own waste disposal and recycling businesses. He later graduated from Manhatanville College with a bachelor’s degree in political science and history, then received a master’s degree in education.
“I went to school late in life,” Camillo said during a debate. “I know what it’s like to get up in the morning and work, I know what it’s like to deal with people, I know what it’s like to not take vacation and I know what it’s like to struggle…I know people.”
Camillo said one of the most important things to him is maintaining Greenwich as a premier community to live, work, and visit through the “three R’s:” revitalization, reformation and reinvigorating project funding.
Who is Jill Oberlander?
Prior to making the move to Greenwich, Oberlander worked in New York City municipal government for two decades, and also served on some non-profit boards.
A graduate of Cornell University and the University of Chicago Law School, Oberlander practiced law at a number of law firms, including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Alliance for Downtown New York.
“My father was a doctor, an OBGYN, and he worked all the time,” Oberlander said. “My mother was a school teacher, and we grew up with the philosophy of work; if anything is wrong, work harder. If you didn’t get a good grade, then work harder. If the girl next door to you is mean, work harder. Work harder was the ethic in our house.”
In addition to her legal and BET background, Oberlander cites her familiarity with the town’s budget, departments, operations and needs as aspects that qualify her for the First Selectman position.
Greenwich Plaza Debate
Over the last few months, both candidates have been asked how they will protect the town’s interest while negotiating for a new train station.
When the Greenwich Plaza train station redevelopment project was announced in July, town officials said the $45 million project would be launched through a public-private partnership between the town and Greenwich Plaza, which is owned by the Ashforth Company.
The town’s original plan for funding the project, which involved giving up the air rights to the developer in exchange for a number of improvements, has caused much debate among local officials and residents over the value of those air rights.
During a Board of Selectmen meeting on Sept. 26, First Selectman Peter Tesei put the project on hold in light of a new administration taking the reigns on it soon.
“To educate people on the merits of [the project] and have an honest and civil discussion…it was evident that was not going to happen,” Tesei said during his state of the town address on Oct. 11.
Regarding the project, both Camillo and Oberlander agree the project is a good idea, though they have some issues with it.
“I have a downtown vision of connecting Greenwich Avenue to the waterfront, and that actually fits right into that,” Camillo said. “I love what they’re proposing…certainly it’s a great idea to make that the best transportation center between New York and Boston.”
His biggest issue with the project, in its current state, is that the air rights are “too valuable” to give up to the developers. Camillo said he would work with the Ashforth Company, who he called “great partners,” to come to a deal that did not involve giving them away.
“We’re in a position of strength right now. We don’t have to do anything,” Camillo said. “So we could be a good partner, but under a Camillo administration we will hold strong and not give up those air rights.”
Oberlander cited her experience working for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and as a contract negotiator as strengths she would bring to project negotiations, and said she was “very glad” to see Tesei put a pause on the deal in September, as she felt it was negotiated without enough input from the community.
“That would not happen under my administration,” Oberlander said.
She contended that town officials need more information and expert advice regarding the air rights, and would work with the BET to hire experts to determine those values. She also wants to put together a committee of representatives from the RTM, BET and the Planning and Zoning commission to work with town departments, such as public works and parking, to deal with all the issues involved in this type of development project.
Most importantly, she wants to work openly and transparently with the public on the deal.
“When it comes to negotiations with the developers, I will bring all my legal skills and economic development expertise to the table,” Oberlander said, “and we will reach a deal that the community will be proud of.”
Camillo said Greenwich has never had a problem bringing in new businesses before. He also pointed out there are less vacancies on Greenwich Avenue compared to three years ago, which indicates a step in the right direction.
He contends that town government needs to “think outside the box” to make Greenwich more attractive to businesses.
One possibility he raised was getting some satellite businesses into the backcountry area of town, housed in small areas and subtle buildings, as opposed to a large “ugly commercial building.”
He also said that many businesses end up leaving Greenwich due to issues with the state’s policies rather than those of the town.
“When I speak to friends and constituents who own businesses that have left,” Camillo said, “it’s almost always because of the policies of the state of Connecticut and not the policies of the town of Greenwich. That doesn’t mean that we can’t do better.”
Oberlander said people are concerned about their property values, and the town wants to have a local economy that thrives. If elected, the first thing she plans to focus on in this area is business retention.
“My husband’s had a business in Old Greenwich for 25 years,” Oberlander said. “In that time period, not once has the town reached out to him and asked how it’s going. That’s not going to happen under my administration.”
She said she has already started reaching out to businesses to find out how they are doing and what they need in order to stay in town.
“If they’re ready to move, you’re behind the curve,” Oberlander said. “I want to be ahead of the curve.”
She also thinks Greenwich needs to have a town-specific economic development plan that can help “bring vitality back” to the town without changing its character.
Concerning the Parking Services Department, Oberlander said she believes in “active management” of the department and will be taking “a close look” at its ability to manage the needs of the town.
Some aspects of the department she plans to take a look at are inventory, strategic planning, collection of revenue and management of permits.
“It’s one of the places where I think we have to do something differently,” Oberlander said. “We haven’t been doing something differently for the last 10 years, and it’s about time.”
Camillo said he plans to look at the department, along with every other town department, on the first day of his administration and see what changes and restructuring are necessary.
He said the department could be a good candidate to outsource, citing municipalities like Atlanta, Ga., who have implemented similar solutions and seen good results.
“While we have, I believe, a great workforce in the town of Greenwich, that department has had some issues,” Camillo said. “You don’t want to keep making the same mistakes.”
Oberlander pointed out there are a number of public-private partnerships (P3s) in town, including the Greenwich Library and the Bruce Museum, all of which are “critical parts of [the] community.”
She also said it is one of the big differences between her and Camillo, who has indicated that P3s “have to be a part of every project that the town approves.” Though she agrees they are fantastic and both supports and encourages them, she also believes they should be supplementary to government.
“Government needs to be the primary seat at the table,” Oberlander said. “There needs to be accountability and transparency; we can’t outsource government.”
She also thinks there needs to be “some common ground” between big and small projects when it comes to P3s.
Camillo clarified he would ask that every project proposal be accompanied by a P3 if appropriate.
“There are many different types of public-private partnerships,” Camillo said. “We absolutely have to do that.”
He also countered “move ahead full speed” with them, but make sure they are transparent and open.
“Maybe there is a little bit of difference here in our philosophy. I believe in government, but I believe in small government,” Camillo said. “You don’t want more government than you need.”
Energy Commission and Conservation Efforts
Oberlander said the town should have an energy commission, as there has not been enough activity concerning energy conservation in Greenwich.
Though it is something her administration intends to tackle, she also acknowledged that energy conservation requires long-term projects with long-term benefits. As an independent entity, the commission could ensure those types of goals are protected as leaders change.
“We all benefit from energy conservation services,” Oberlander said. “We benefit both environmentally and economically.”
Camillo agreed that the town “has a lot of work to do” in regards to energy conservation. He said he would make sure there are sensor lights in town buildings, and would also like to start seeing solar panels on public buildings wherever possible.
He also said he has reached out to both Republicans and Democrats to take part in a sustainability committee that would be “a committee in action.”
“It would be a big part of a Camillo administration,” Camillo said, “so that we could see some tangible things being done a year from now. I think we should be farther along. We have started, which is a good thing, but we will pick up the pace.”
Oberlander countered that she supports the commission, as it will “last beyond our own committees.”