By Joe Shapiro, Chair
After many months of talking and meeting with prospective municipal candidates to recruit a highly qualified and energetic Democratic team for the 2021 election, last week Ridgefield Democrats nominated an exceptional slate of 16 Ridgefielders to continue leading Ridgefield with care and delivering results in our Democratic-led town. These 16 candidates combineexperience and proven judgement as members of our town’s elective boards, with first-time candidates who possess a diverse range of demonstrated abilities in their civic and other activities.
On the critical Board of Finance, the Democrats nominated the Board’s Vice Chair, Mike Rettger, and newly appointed Board of Finance member Andrew Okrongly. When Mike joined the Board in late 2019, he brought many years of experience in senior management and finance as well as tremendous volunteer service in recent years that helped our town improve its treasury function. He has demonstrated leadership and fiscally responsible judgment as a Board member. Andrew, a native of Ridgefield, is 10 years into very strong financial sector career that included serve as a Vice President at BlackRock. He moved back to Ridgefield in 2019 with his nativeRidgefielder wife, and promptly started serving our community as a member town’s Pension Commission and the Treasurer of the town’s Arts Council. Andrew has an innate understanding of the values and aspirations of our town.
The Board of Education candidates are incumbent Tina Malhotra, appointed to the Board in 2020 after years of leadership in our town’s PTAs, former Superior Court Judge Tom Colin, Selina K. Bell, and Amy Casey, all parents of future, current or past RPS students. This team brings freshtalent with an emphasis on evidence-based decision making. Tom, in his judicial and legal career, has been exceptionally talented in bringing people together and making thoughtful decisions. Amy brings years of accomplishment and dedication on the Ridgefield Arts Council, including the founding of an arts-based scholarship. Selina has been a leading advocate of using science and data in making public policy. And Tina brings a deep understanding of how our school system has been governed as well as our community’s needs for future board-level education guidance.
In the areas of land use – planning, zoning, inland wetlands, and zoning appeals – Democrats nominated three candidate teams to make our land use processes, decisions, and results more transparent, accountable, and caring. The Planning & Zoning Commission slate consists of Joe Dowdell, a thoughtful leader who has demonstrated his independent thinking since being elected to the Commission four years ago; Ridgefield-raised Elizabeth DiSalvo, who re-located to Ridgefield the architectural firm that she founded and leads, which focuses on environmentally responsible homes; and Mariah Hutchings Okrongly, a third-generation Ridgefielder with a lifelong love of the town, who works for an nonprofit organization focused on local-level climate change initiatives.
The excellent Inland Wetlands Board candidates are David L. Smith, who grew up watching his scientist dad perform soil analyses and then spent the initial part of his career in environmental conservancy and park rangership; and Chris Phelps, another candidate who grew up in Ridgefield, taught history in middle school for over two decades, and is becoming well knownlocally as a beekeeper.
The candidates for Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), Terry Bearden-Rettger and Joseph Pastore, are experienced ZBA members who well understand the adjudicatory function of the ZBA and how to apply it fairly to the appeals that come before the ZBA. Joe brings his legal training and community involvement to the ZBA, while Terry brings her years of civic engagement.
This year the Democrats are thrilled to bring before the voters two fantastic candidates for the Board of Police Commissioners. Ten-year Ridgefield resident Ralph Money was selected in April by the Board of Police Commissioners to fill a Board vacancy, based in part on his many years of membership and leadership of the Town of Fairfield’s Fire Commission. Sharon Wicks Dornfeld, a practicing attorney for more than 35 years and an Adjunct Professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law with decades of energetic civic contributions to this town in a wide variety of areas, will make an outstanding addition to the Police Commission.
And Jeff Lundberg, the longest serving of the Democratic candidates up for election this year, is the Chairman of the Board of Assessment Appeals, reflecting his now extensive knowledge of that appellate process and how to serve Ridgefielders in that role.
From first to last and every individual in between, this is one of the strongest municipal candidate slates ever presented by any party in Ridgefield, continuing and enhancing the diversity and excellence of the 2017 and 2019 Democratic slates that Ridgefield voters embraced and which have delivered such impressive results for our town.
Joe Shapiro is Chair of the Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee, which provides this column.
Read about our candidate teams for these local boards: