Election 2017: Republican second selectman candidate hopes to continue in public service
WESTPORT — Jen Tooker got involved with local government as an antidote to corporate life.
“What I find most challenging and most rewarding about public service work versus the corporate world is that the core of public service is really to find and build consensus around solutions,” the Republican second selectman candidate said.
Tooker is in good standing to compare the corporate world and public service. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame, Tooker took her first and only job off campus at Gen Re, a reinsurance company, where she worked for 22 years.
Gen Re took Tooker and her husband, Morris — who she met in the company’s training program — all over the world, including New York, Chicago and London, where all three of the pair’s children were born. In 2008, Tooker and her husband were transferred back to Gen Re’s global headquarters in Stamford, but soon decided to settle in nearby Westport.
“He found the house and fell in love, and I found the town and fell in love,” Tooker said, referring to their historical mid-1700s home. “When we arrived here, I knew this was it, we were going to be done. We were going to be here, this was our home. Then I thought, ‘Now I can start, now I can start to build this path.’ ”
The path Tooker hoped to build was one in public service.
“To serve the public as an elected official is something I have been interested in for a very long time,” she said. “I am 100 percent Catholic educated and a huge piece of my Catholic education is the concept of ‘serviam,’ to serve, and for me, the way I always wanted to serve was through public service.”
Shortly after her arrival in Westport, Tooker went to town hall and said she wanted to pursue public service. Within six months, she was appointed to the Conservation Commission, where she served for two- and-a-half years.
Early on in her career, Tooker worked on the property side of the reinsurance business, which she called “a lot of gritty details of property plans and understanding natural disasters.” In particular, her work dealt with wetlands, which translated well when she joined the Conservation Commission in a town made up of 45 percent wetlands.
Tooker said she was very comfortable with the work on the Conservation Commission, but stepped down in 2011, opting to run for a seat on the Board of Education, which she won. Then in 2013, Tooker won a seat on the Board of Finance and decided to retire from her full-time job at Gen Re.
Tooker chairs the Board of Finance’s audit subcommittee, which oversees the town’s financial reporting.
“For others it may feel like watching paint dry on the wall, but for me, that’s where you really learn how things work,” Tooker said.
During her time on the finance board, Tooker has had to deal with added pressure, thanks to Hartford, including an elimination of state aid. She said the budget debacle reminded her “nothing gets done in government unless you build coalitions and try to find common ground on issues that are difficult and find solutions where common ground exists.”
At this point, Tooker is hoping to solve the town’s problems with her running mate, First Selectman Jim Marpe.
If elected, Tooker said she would combine her experience on the finance and school boards to tackle school funding.
“I was a fierce advocate for our schools as a Board of Finance member and I would be the same as a sitting selectman,” Tooker said. “Philosophically I am very committed to our public schools and I spend a lot of time on other boards around the state doing work to close the achievement gap.”
If the Marpe-Tooker ticket is elected, Tooker said she will take a leadership position focused on improving Westport’s economic vitality using a “differentiated” approach. Tooker said she “would love to see more pop-up stores where people rent space for a couple months,” but would also like to see more small-to-medium-sized service-oriented and technology-oriented businesses.
Tooker would like to invest more in town assets and infrastructure. As a member of the Board of Selectmen, Tooker said she would focus on helping women launch their own businesses in town, work she has already done as a volunteer since retiring from Gen Re.
With many issues at hand, whether Tooker’s path in public service will take her to the Board of Selectmen is now in voters’ hands.