Stamford school board candidates go their own ways, regardless of party

Party affiliations don't mean share campaigns

STAMFORD -- This year's Board of Education candidates may share party affiliations; however, for most of the five this does not mean shared campaigns.

Two Republican candidates, Jerry Pia and Loraine Olsen, have formed a two-name slate, while Republican Fred Pierre-Louis and Democrats Pauline Rauh and Naomi Chapman-Taylor are all running by themselves.

Last year, by comparison, the three Democrats and three Republicans formed two neat, three-candidate slates for the school board. Other city races also have taken a more complex shape, with the Independent Party putting forward one of its own for the Board of Finance and endorsing several Republicans, including mayoral candidate Michael Pavia.

An Independent Party endorsement seems to be at the center of the fissure between Pierre-Louis and the other two Republican school board candidates, who are now campaigning, as well as fundraising, as a separate team.

"The reason for the change is because they found out I was endorsed by the Independent Party," Pierre-Louis said. "It baffles me. I am trying to be the adult in the situation."

Pia, meanwhile, denied any hard feelings over the endorsement.

"It had nothing to do with that," he said, adding later that the situation just worked out this way.

Pia, a member of the Board of Representatives who has also served on the Board of Education, said his past campaigns have varied.

"It depends on the year. I have done it together; I have done it separately," he said.

The other side doesn't look much different. The two Democratic candidates -- Chapman-Taylor and Rauh -- are both waging separate campaigns.

Chapman-Taylor said she and current Board President Susan Nabel had intended to run as a slate until Nabel stepped out of the race.

Rauh, meanwhile, said she had always intended to run separately.

Putting up only two candidates for the three empty seats is unlikely to hurt the Democrats. State law limits the majority party to two-thirds of the seats, and given the current composition of the school board, Democrats can take, at most, one seat in this election.

"The system is really bad, because if you do run together, you are really running against each other," said Ellen Camhi, chairwoman of the Democratic City Committee.

While candidates' personalities affect the decision to run as a slate or individually, the timing of the election also is a factor, she said.

Last year was a national election, and local Democratic candidates benefitted from Barack Obama's presence at the top of the ticket, with a clean victory for the party's three school board candidates. Presidential election years bring a 20 percent to 40 percent higher voter turnout, but these voters are often less familiar with local candidates, Camhi said.

"At mayoral elections, it's a little closer to home. People know the people," she said.

Last year, the Independent Party chose to sit out the election, said Deputy Treasurer Karen Murphy.

"We wanted to really focus on the issues for the city of Stamford," she said. "We were going to be overshadowed with the presidential election."

This year, one Independent Party candidate for the Board of Finance, Kathleen Murphy, Karen's sister, has received a GOP endorsement. In addition, the Independent Party reached out to candidates it was interested in endorsing, including Pierre-Louis.

"We looked for non-politicians and people who had expertise to bring to the city of Stamford's elected boards," she said.

Murphy said she found Pierre-Louis to be well-qualified for the school board because he is a chemistry teacher in Naugatuck and working toward a doctorate in education.

Candidates like Pierre-Louis who receive cross-party endorsements appear twice on the ballot, according to Town Clerk Donna Loglisci. A Republican, Loglisci has received an endorsement from the Democratic Party.

Mary Uva, a candidate for the Board of Representatives, also appears as both a Republican and an Independent on the ballot.

Third-party cross-endorsements aren't unusual, but they are more prominent this year, Loglisci said.

"The Independent Party has taken really gone out and taken a place in this election," she said.

Stamford is a decidedly Democratic city, with Republicans trailing unaffiliated voters. With 605 registered voters as of Friday, the Independent Party is the largest of the minor parties. The Green Party, which has put forward its own mayoral candidate, Rolf Maurer, is the third largest, behind the Libertarian Party, according to the office of the Republic registrar of voters.

Every year, three seats on the city's nine-member Board of Education are up for election.

Staff Writer Wynne Parry can be reached at 203-964-2263 or