MADISON — Peggy Lyons’ win over two-term incumbent Republican Thomas Banisch means that, for the first time in more than a decade, a Democrat will serve as Madison’s first selectman.
And for the first time since the 1970s, a woman will hold the town’s top office. (The last woman to serve as first selectman was Vera Dallas, according to Lyons.)
Lyons, who won by a margin of about 300 votes, thinks it was a “message of change and progress” that resonated with residents, she said. “I think that people felt like we were stagnating.”
Though voters and campaigners alike gave a litany of reasons for supporting Lyons, the need for change was a common thread.
“I voted for Peggy Lyons because Madison needs a new leader with a new prospective and broader vision. Her ideas regarding the school facilities, community center, and beaches, among others, are just what Madison needs to move forward!” wrote Madison resident Jaime Dietz in a Facebook message. “For quite some time, I’ve been really following a lot of town happenings and it’s time for change.”
While Dietz typically votes in local elections, this one was especially important to her, she said.
That feeling was reflected in voter turnout, which topped 48 percent Tuesday, according to unofficial results from the secretary of the state’s office. Lyons supporters cited issues such as beach passes and the improvement of school facilities as ones that influenced their vote.
Another issue brought up repeatedly was the future of the Academy School, an unused town property. Banisch’s view that the building was best sold to developers caused a lot of push-back from folks who wanted to keep it in town hands.
Richard O’Sullivan, who has lived in Madison for almost two decades, spoke generally about preservation in town. He has been concerned with whether Madison’s “small-town feel” is being sacrificed for business development, he said.
During her campaign, Lyons emphasized wanting to create a strategic plan that reflects what residents want for Madison’s future.
O’Sullivan feels Lyons will “[think] positively for the future” and “[ensure] things are preserved.”
“Her interest is really what’s best for Madison,” O’Sullivan said.
Lyons’ allies, including Democratic Selectman Scott Murphy, said Lyons’ decisions will be inspired by the opinions of the townspeople.
“I think ‘leadership that listens’ was a very strong campaign message,” Murphy said, adding that Lyons campaign focused on all voters rather than a single party.
Julie Ovian, who has been involved with the Democratic Town Committee, believes Lyons will “listen to the community, take what they want and come up with an action plan,” she said.
John-Michael Parker, Lyons’ campaign manager, said her style is “to let the voters choose.” He described Lyons as “process-oriented.”
“That’s going to help move the process along and let the voters decide.”
Folks also added Lyons’ credentials — including a 17-year career in corporate finance — to the list of reasons she made a good candidate.
“She’s incredibly smart and competent with her finance background,” Parker said, adding that it may have assuaged fears over tax increases.
A bigger change
Given Madison’s history of putting Republicans in its top office, some were surprised to see Lyons win.
“It’s just unbelievable,” said Adrienne Smaller, who has lived in Madison for nearly four decades. “I just feel it’s a breath of fresh air. ... I just think it’s historic, you know, for this town.”
Smaller, who had a number of reasons for voting for Lyons—including issues being tabled and problems with beach passes — also was excited that a woman, and a Democrat, would be first selectman. Madison, she said, can sometimes feel like an old boys’ club that’s hard to crack.
Though allies cited a multitude of factors in Lyons’ win, some believe a trend toward more Democratic politics may have helped set the stage.
“I think it represents a larger change,” said Joan Walker, chairwoman of the Democratic Town Committee, when she reflected on Tuesday’s win.
For the first time in a long time, the town has more Democrats than Republicans, according to Walker, who added that unaffiliated voters outnumber both parties.
And two years ago, Democrats took the majority on the Board of Education, Walker continued.
Parker, who lost the race for state representative to Republican Noreen Kokoruda by 18 votes in 2018, said Madison picked Democrats in 10 of 11 state races that year.
The only Republican who won Madison, he said, was gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski, a local resident.
Politics aside, Lyons has a job to start next week. And by Wednesday she was already thinking ahead.
Lyons has several larger goals she wants to work toward during her term, including forming a strategic plan, addressing problems with school facilities and improving transparency.
But there are also items Lyons thinks can be addressed more quickly, including a fix for the beach pass system, the implementation of an ethics commission and coming up with a plan for Academy, she said.
More generally, Lyons intends to spend the start of her term listening to the opinions of people from various town departments.
“It feels great, I’m very excited,” Lyons said of her win. “I’m really eager to get to work next week.”