As the July deadline draws close for political parties to nominate their candidate slates for the November election, one potential contender, state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, said this week he is undecided about whether to continue his quest to become first selectman.
Longtime Board of Finance member Helen Garten was recommended in May by a search committee of the Democratic Town Committee to be the party's first selectman candidate in the fall, instead of Steinberg and Wirfel.
Steinberg, however, thinks he is the Democrats' best candidate to defeat Marpe and said that he is conferring with supporters and constituents to decide if he will challenge Garten for the official Democratic endorsement to lead the ticket in November.
"I'm kind of betwixt and between right now. I have a lot of respect for Helen and I've never necessarily been one to create a ruckus," Steinberg told the Westport News. "I still think I'd be the stronger candidate. I think I could beat Jim Marpe in the fall, though he has a ton of momentum at this point."
Steinberg's name could be placed in nomination at the party's July endorsement meeting, and he also could challenge the town committee's nominee in a September primary.
"That's not something I take trivially," Steinberg said of a possible primary, noting the cost it would mean for the town.
Feedback on his pending decision has been split, said Steinberg, who previously was a Representative Town Meeting member for seven years.
"If people had been all on one side or the other, it might have helped me make a decision. There are many people who think I'm the best candidate and would make a great first selectman. And there are others who think it'd create a controversy with the Democratic Town Committee and make it difficult for any candidate to win" against Marpe.
Garten, who had been the chairwoman of the finance panel until Republicans won control of the board two years ago, has been a law professor at Rutgers University. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, she was editor of the Harvard Law Review. She has served on the Representative Town Meeting from District 3 and was first elected to the Board of Finance in 2005.
Steinberg said he's not sure when he'll make his decision. He said the possibility of engaging Garten in a primary and losing is another factor to consider.
"Obviously when you engage in a race and lose, either in a primary or the general level, it will take shine off one's luster as a candidate. Other politicians have lost races and survived, but you have to take that into consideration. If (continuing his candidacy for first selectman) should not happen, my intention is to run for state rep again next year, so all these things factor in."
The race for the town's top elected post became an open contest earlier this year when Democratic First Selectman Gordon Joseloff announced that he would not seek election to a third term.
Marpe, a former Board of Education member, and his prospective running mate, Avi Kaner, the current chairman of the Board of Finance, were backed for the top of the GOP ticket in April by a nomination search group of the Republican Town Committee. The RTC will make its formal endorsements in July, but so far no other contenders have emerged for the GOP nod.
Meanwhile, Wirfel officially withdrew from consideration for the Democratic nomination for first selectmen Thursday.
In a press release sent to the DTC, Wirfel said, "I've come to realize these past few months that I am not prepared to campaign incessantly over the next five months, first to secure your endorsement, and then, perhaps, in a primary and general election fight to win this position. I've tried to run a campaign that is positive and forward looking but I'm afraid as time goes on and the battle becomes fiercer, we may sew seeds of division rather than unity among the members of the Democratic Party. Such an outcome would only hearten our opponents.
"Enough said. I wish Helen and Jonathan well in their continuing efforts to lead our party forward in November," Wirfel added.