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New Canaan Town Council elects John Engel to fill open seat

Updated 4:56 pm, Friday, January 11, 2013

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  • New Canaan's newest Town Council member John Engel, taken shortly after the Town Council's vote Thursday night, Jan. 10 at the New Canaan Nature Center. Photo: Tyler Woods
    New Canaan's newest Town Council member John Engel, taken shortly after the Town Council's vote Thursday night, Jan. 10 at the New Canaan Nature Center. Photo: Tyler Woods

 

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The New Canaan Town Council elected John Engel to fill its open seat in an 8-2-1 vote Thursday night.

Engel, a realtor with Brotherhood and Higley, is a third-generation New Canaanite.

"I feel relieved. I feel great," Engel said. "New Canaan is a great town. I know all of these people on Town Council and I admire what they do and (how hard they work)."

In his opening statement, Engel, a veteran of the first Gulf War, explained his philosophy on decision making, recalling instructions he received by a commanding officer.

"Make a decision, lieutenant. Use what information you have and make a decision because no decision is a decision," Engel recalled.

He said the main attribute he would bring to the Town Council would be to be a good listener. Engel said he is very plugged into the social and business community in town and would continue to ask questions and listen to his constituents.

Improving New Canaan's downtown and fiscal conservatism in a struggling economy will mark Engel's term on the Town Council, he said in his closing statement.

"I will focus on revitalizing downtown. It's important to me as a realtor as a landlord. (I'll focus on) fiscal accountability and lowering taxes. We had 300 home sales the last two years, but you see value of those sales was down 9.1 percent."

Engel, New Canaan born and raised, attended Saxe Middle School and New Canaan High. When asked what subcommittees he would like to serve on, Engel listed Parks and Recreation, remembering that he had swept the tennis courts for Recreation Director Steve Benko when he was 16.

Civility was a touchstone of the night. One of the questions from the council asked if town affairs were conducted in a collegial enough manner. Kevin Moynihan, vice chairman of the Republican Town Council and former corporate attorney at Merrill Lynch, said he felt there has been a breakdown in it in New Canaan.

"I feel that the level of civility has clearly declined over the last few years," he said, citing the Lakeview Avenue bridge project, former First Selectman Jeb Walker's pension, and the 2010 election. "At Merrill Lynch, I was regarded as a lawyer that could handle difficult situations and difficult personalities."

An upbeat Engel said he thinks there is enough civility, chalking up disagreements as a natural aspect of life in a place where people are intelligent and not afraid to speak their mind, but where public discourse can be run through the mud occasionally.

"I don't think we have a civility problem. I think we have a Patch problem ... We are a Type A personality town ... I think for the most part we're just strong-willed individuals fighting for what we believe in."

The issue of civility came into play at the very beginning of the night's proceedings.

Where there had been four candidates running -- Engel, Moynihan, architect Dan Radman and accountant Roy Abramowitz -- Abramowitz removed himself from consideration in his opening statement in protest.

The follow is how the council members voted:

Christine Hussey-Moynihan; Ken Campbell-Engel; John Emert-Moynihan; Joe Paladino-Engel; Penny Young-Engel; Tucker Murphy-Engel; Robert Hamill-Engel; Roger Williams-Radman; Steve Karl-Engel; Kit Devereaux-Engel; Mark DeWaele-Engel.

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews