John Toner says he’s grown into the role he never intended to seek

Photo of Ken Borsuk

GREENWICH — John Toner never thought he would be in this position. A Republican member of the Board of Selectmen, he is running for a second term in office and finding himself in a role he had never sought, that of a politician.

A loyal Republican and former 17-year member of the Representative Town Meeting, Toner accepted the role of selectman after the 2014 sudden death of Selectman David Theis.

He said he believes he has grown into the role.

“I went in thinking that this is my hometown and I will do whatever I could,” Toner said. “Both (First Selectman Peter Tesei) and (Selectman Drew Marzullo) were very supportive of me and this job has been more than I thought it would be. I never thought of myself as someone who would be on the Board of Selectmen or as someone who would run for office. I’m not sure I went in with any expectations because it all happened so suddenly.”

Toner was appointed in January of 2015 to finish Theis’ term and was elected on his own that November.

The duties of selectman are somewhat undefined, and are far less than those of the first selectman. Toner said the main responsibility, to him, is for a selectman to be an ombudsmen — hearing the complaints, questions and concerns of residents. Having retired from his job in the financial services industry in 2001, Toner he tries to be in his office in Town Hall for two to three hours and go to whatever events he is invited to so he can be visible.

“This is my hometown,” Toner said. “I want to be involved in things. I want people to know they can come to me and they have. People come to me with the daily issues they need help with like snow removal or parking in town and their concerns about education and our schools. And although I don’t have the power to say, ‘This will be taken care of.’ I do have influence.”

Being able to use that influence means communicating well with those who work in Town Hall.

“That’s just through talking to people,” Toner said. “That’s so important. Communication is everything. Honesty is everything.”

Toner said he has gone about the job his own way.

“I’m not someone who likes making speeches,” he said. “I like to be short and sweet and to the point. Because I believe people don’t want to listen to a lot of extraneous stuff. They want to know what you think.”

Initially Toner said his intention was only to serve one full term on the Board of Selectmen. But he said in the last two years he has really come to enjoy the job.

“Greenwich is changing and it is changing quickly,” Toner said. “The independent voter is moving up there. Those are people who haven’t declared for either party and I think you’re seeing there is a resurgence of people with more liberal ideas than we have had in Greenwich in a long time. And that’s good. It creates a dialogue. Competition is always good. It keeps you sharp.”

Still, Toner is concerned that the sharp partisan divide in the country at the national level could have an impact on local issues. He recalled in his years on the RTM, representing Districts 2 and 9, he never knew what political party the person next to him belonged to.

“The only thing I cared about was that they, and I, were interested in what’s best for Greenwich and its citizens and its future,” Toner said. “That could be lost. If you see more advocacy for a political agenda in places like the RTM it’s not a good thing. The RTM should be speaking the voice of the people in a non-partisan way.”

While there are disagreements on the Board of Selectmen, Toney said he, Tesei and Marzullo have been able to maintain good relations and work well together.

It was revealed last month that Marzullo, the board’s lone Democrat, had been arrested on a misdemeanor charge following an alleged shoplifting in Clinton. He has remained in the race (Marzullo declined to be interviewed by Greenwich Time for a profile) and Toner said he would support his colleague if the voters chose to re-elect them both.

“If the people of the town of Greenwich elect Drew, I will continue to work with Drew,” Toner said. “It’s important that we work well together (as a board). Although you have different ideas and different objectives, I think everything should be done in a civilized way. It’s nice we’ve been able to do that these three years while still disagreeing with each other.”