Weston's new first selectman makes herself at home
It took more than a month, but Weston's new first selectman, Gayle Weinstein, finally brought two items to her office Monday morning that had long been absent from Town Hall's central office: a desk and a desktop computer.
"It's great, I needed one with filing cabinets," she said, rolling open an empty bottom drawer.
That drawer will be crammed with papers soon enough.
Weinstein, 45, and Weston's Democratic Party pulled off what few of their counterparts across the state found possible in November: victory at the polls. For the first time since 1985, the Democratic party in this town now controls the Board of Selectmen, Board of Education and Board of Finance.
"We were a little bit of an enigma," she said. "But the election was very close, and to me that says that both parties got their people out."
Indeed, the election was very close. Weinstein won by just a 64-vote margin. The contest lacked an incumbent, as Woody Bliss, who served as first selectman for the past eight years, opted not to run. Weinstein, a former selectman, had the experience edge.
She ran for first selectman two years ago so that Bliss wouldn't run unopposed. She said that, without a competitor, important issues wouldn't have become topics for discussion in the town.
"Someone said to me, `How can you run against Woody? He's such a nice guy,' " Weinstein remembered. "My response was: `You're right -- he is a good guy. But this is how I would handle things differently.' "
Over the past two years, she said, she's stuck her nose into everything that's gone on in town, so that she's well informed of the issues the town's now facing.
Her top priority now is to ensure there is no increase in the next fiscal budget. She was elected on Nov. 3, she said, and sworn into office on Nov. 10. On Nov. 17, she said, packets went out to the town's department heads about the budget.
"It was my No. 1 issue and we need to take it head-on," she said. "I wanted to send a clear message: every dollar that goes in will be scrutinized."
Weston's budget for this past fiscal year totaled $63.23 million. The Board of Education's budget is $43.98 million and the town's operating budget is $10.79 million. The debt service is currently $7.25 million.
Two other priorities she listed for the upcoming year: a town-charter review, which could push the first selectman's term from two to four years, and repairs to the Weston Middle School building.
Outside of work, Weinstein calls herself an avid tennis player and skier. In the coming months, she expects to spend most weekends at her family's house in Stratton, Vt., hitting the slopes.
She is the mother of twin 14-year-old boys, who are eighth graders at Weston Middle School. She grew up in Morganville, N.J., and lived in New York City for seven years prior to moving to Weston. When she became pregnant with her sons, she and her husband moved to town in 1995.
She and her husband, Seth, were attracted to the town's rural feel, excellent schools, and 2-acre zoning that forces new homes to be built on lots at least that large, she said.
She added that she first entered politics by "mistake and circumstance." She was already doing advocacy work for Hadassah, which is a woman's organization, that took her to Hartford, when a proposed high-tension wire started being strung through Weston. As she got involved in that issue and started listening to and working for her community, her interests shifted to politics. It's snowballed from there.
Reflecting on her short time in office already, Weinstein is upbeat. "It's been crazy busy so far but it's been terrific," she said. "I got a nice warm welcome from the staff and from the community."
A guest pointed out that her salary -- $43,000 a year -- is low for the town head in this corner of the state. Weinstein laughed. "Well this is supposed to be a part-time position," she said. "But it's a lot of work."