Newly re-elected First Selectman Jim Zeoli described his nearly 66 percent win – with 3,374 votes over Democrat challenger Jody Dietch’s 1,795 – as “quite humbling.”
“To have more than 50 percent of the town’s registered voters come out and to get over two thirds of their votes was quite an honor,” he said. “I’m pleased to remain sitting in the chair and will do the best I can for Orange as I have been.”
In fact, in the 14 years Zeoli has held the job, he received the most votes in this election. Reflecting on his victory, Zeoli contends his opposition of a plan to merge the town’s elementary schools under the Amity Regional banner may have played a role in his win. “My stance was opposite my opponent’s and I think a large part of the voting population was happy with that,” he said. “I think residents also recognize my hard work on the town’s behalf.”
This year’s turn-out was similar to past years, with barely more than half the town’s registered voters coming out to the polls. Though Republicans swept the election, Zeoli maintains it’s not likely a reflection of the national climate. “The Democrats took a major shellacking in this election, but I think people are starting to understand there is a big difference between local and national politics. Our people here do the best they can for this town,” he said.
For contender Jody Dietch, the fight was an “uphill battle,” beginning with a late campaign start that kicked off in August. Dietch did not earn a seat on the Board of Selectman finishing last among the 8 candidates. “I knew there would be challenges going against a 14 year incumbent but I’m proud that we nominated 11 women to the Democratic slate to the Republican’s four,” she said. “We brought more diversity to the election and to the Democratic Town Committee and I’m proud of that. We got a lot of good people involved and gave the people of Orange choices they might not otherwise have had.” Saying it’s too soon to think about whether she’d make another run for the job in two years, Dietch laughingly added, “Never ask a woman after she gives birth when she’ll have her next child! I guess I’d never say never but I’m not to prepared to say I’d run again.” With the campaign behind her, Dietch’s next role will be as mother of the groom as she helps to plan her son’s upcoming wedding.
At Town Hall its business as usual as Zeoli focuses on several projects already in the works – a state-funded new playground slated for Fred Wolfe Park; dredging the Wepawaug River to help prevent flooding in the Greenbrier and Derby Milford Road neighborhoods; and the construction of a new age-restricted assisted care facility in town. “I was even approached by a developer today about another type of housing project that I can’t say much about, but I look forward to meeting with them,” Zeoli said.
There will be a new face on the Board of Selectmen next month as 2017 First Selectman challenger Margaret Novicki was elected to take the seat vacated by Paul Davis’ resignation. Novicki is looking forward to bringing her previous experience in public service, much of it spent at the United Nations, to her new post. “I feel honored and really grateful for the support I received and I will do my best to represent everyone to the best of my ability. I think together we will do all we can to improve the quality of life in Orange and I think that’s what the job is all about.”
By Laura Fantarella – Orange Town News Correspondent