With the 2020 presidential election largely in the background, Stamford residents are now focused on a new and more consequential election. This year, Stamford will hold municipal elections to elect a mayor and members of the Board of Representatives. This year’s municipal election will feature a full ballot that will include issues such as the upcoming City Charter revision, urban development and the future of Stamford’s public school infrastructure. Given these fundamental questions, the 2021 municipal election will be one of the most important elections in the city’s history and all Stamford residents should participate.
This year’s municipal election comes at the start of Stamford’s second decade of unstoppable growth. In the past decade, the city has added over 10,000 new residents and thousands of rental units and jobs to accommodate them. In fact, investment in the city reached a record $6 billion last year. This growth in economic activity and population has been mostly driven by a spillover effect from the overwhelmed real estate market in New York City as well as more recent trends triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though consistent growth has kept Stamford more viable than any other city in Connecticut, not all Stamford residents believe that the city’s growth has been handled responsibly by Mayor David Martin’s administration. As a result, Mayor Martin will face a challenges from members of his own party, including State Representative Caroline Simmons. This means that in November, Stamford residents will be able to choose between different candidates as they seek to answer fundamental questions such as how urban development can be sustained and how deteriorating city services such as public education will stay on pace to serve thousands of new residents.
The issues that will be on the ballot this year are bigger than any candidate or political party, but nonetheless elected officials at the municipal level make decisions on issues that directly impact Stamford residents such as property taxes, school budgets and city services. For example, the mayor can make appointments to important boards such as the Zoning Board, which has jurisdiction and latitude to approve urban development projects. The Board of Representatives has checks on the mayor’s power and is tasked with overseeing school and city budgets as well as voting on resolutions that include a plethora of issues. More importantly, the next Board of Representatives will form a commission that will handle the City Charter revision process, which is the governing document for the city.
In recent years, there have been disagreements between the mayor and the Board of Representatives over the scope of development in the city. Many of these disagreements have gone unnoticed by the public, or they have been disregarded as isolated incidents. This was the case in the Harbor Point boating yard debate and the controversial proposal to build two apartment buildings on the former B&S Carting site. However, Stamford residents should pay more attention to this discourse because it is indicative of a deeper issue in city leadership: the lack of a cohesive vision for the city. The lack of a cohesive vision is not the result of partisan politics but rather the lack of tough conversations within leadership and with the community at large. There have been different neighborhood reports and public hearings, but it is still unclear where the municipal government plans to take the city.
Stamford residents will be voting in November to create a vision for the city that addresses development, school infrastructure, property taxes, the City Charter and above all the direction of the city for the coming years. In order to create a cohesive vision, all Stamford residents eligible to vote should participate in selecting the next mayor and Board of Representatives. Otherwise, an incohesive municipal government chosen by a few voters will create an incohesive city where some residents enjoy the benefits of development and other residents struggle to stay.