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By one popular definition, a change agent is anyone who helps an organization transform by improving business processes and interpersonal interactions.
This definition could also sum up a major campaign goal of Democratic first selectman candidate Dan Rosenthal.
During a 40-minute sit-down with The Newtown Bee October 3, much of what Mr Rosenthal talked about was how he is campaigning for the opportunity to lead a contingent of change agents that would include not only himself and other elected leaders, but town employees — and what he believes are countless untapped resources in the form of dedicated and talented residents — all working to make Newtown a better and more affordable place to live.
On face, it may seem like a simple plan. But Mr Rosenthal believes those who are considering supporting his endorsed Republican opponent, Selectman Will Rodgers, would endorse a status quo — and position Newtown for at least two more years of the same type of governmental leadership style and departmental practices the community has been subject to for at least the past eight years.
“As I go around to the many events I’ve attended in the past few months, I’m being told there is something in my message that is resonating with people,” Mr Rosenthal said.
That response from constituents today is exponentially greater, but no different, than what Mr Rosenthal said he was hearing from his family and closest personal, professional, and political acquaintances late last year when he first began considering whether to try and campaign to be his hometown’s top elected leader.
“There’s a lot of creativity here in Newtown, and we need to tap into it. The more you ask for peoples’ input, the more connected they become,” he said. “I want to be the person to do things differently.”
Mr Rosenthal said as he has been visiting residents around town to meet and inform them of his candidacy, “I’ve been humbled by the number of random people I don’t even know, who have taken me around their neighborhoods introducing me, and who have been approaching us asking for lawn signs to put up at their houses.”
That sentiment helps the candidate muster on through the busiest part of the campaign in these few remaining weeks before the election.
“Everything has sort of gone warp speed since Labor Day,” he said. “I think my family and I were always busy, but in the last few weeks I have been amazed at the amount of places to go and things to do around town.”
The candidate said the support also justifies that he made the right choice.
“We know what election turnout is traditionally like in town, so we were initially wondering if my announcement to run for first selectman would be like a tree falling in the forest,” he said, only half-jokingly.
Three Generations Strong
If Dan Rosenthal is ultimately successful, he will become the third in as many generations of Rosenthals to seek and win that post.
The candidate has clear memories of accompanying his grandfather Jack Rosenthal during both his campaigns, and throughout his years of service. And Dan Rosenthal is grateful that his family is equally willing to stand with him during canvassing and other campaign appearances.
“My kids going door-to-door with me reminds me of my childhood. At that time I was very close with my grandfather,” he said.
During those years, and Jack Rosenthal’s various campaigns, as well as during campaigns waged by his father and former First Selectman Herb Rosenthal, Dan Rosenthal witnessed the negative remarks and campaign tactics that were occasionally employed by opponents. As a result, the current candidate has vowed to ensure “my campaign is kind.”
As such, he avoids talking negatively about his endorsed Republican opponent Will Rodgers and Republican petitioning opponent Andrew Clure, or even referring to them, unless asked.
“How I conduct my campaign matters,” he said. “So I’m keeping my campaign focused on what I plan to accomplish as first selectman, and I’m keeping it positive.”
That does not mean he avoids drawing distinctions between himself and his opponents, however.
“Will and I are different people,” he said of Selectman Rodgers. “We had a nice chat at the Labor Day Parade, there is no question that he has contributed to the community, but I believe it’s time for a fresh set of eyes. I believe the longer you serve in government, the more likely you see things from an established government perspective.”
When Mr Rosenthal learned about a number of campaign positions Mr Clure is promoting, his response was: “I want to make it clear that I was entertaining running for first selectman, and discussing ideas about a campaign, months before Will or Andy’s name surfaced. And it’s interesting that Andy is mirroring some of my ideas.”
During his adolescent and teen years, traveling around with his grandfather, Dan Rosenthal said he began to get an idea of the capacity an individual in the first selectman’s position has to do good.
“When someone was in trouble, I saw the power of the job to help people and make lives better,” he said.
Mechanics Of The Job
By the time his father, Herb Rosenthal, decided to run for first selectman, Dan Rosenthal was in his 20s, so he was able to better understand the mechanics of the job from an adult perspective.
“By the time my father was campaigning for first selectman, Newtown was much larger, but the power to influence, and to help make lives better, never changes,” he said. “So you could say I learned about the power of the position from my grandfather, and about the mechanics of the position from my father.”
Returning to the agent of change theme, Dan Rosenthal believes he has the personality and practical experience, working with two innovative hedge funds, to not only take the community to a new level of positive functionality, but to rally its elected representatives and employees to make it happen.
“It’s all about having people around who want to show up and who want to be part of something bigger,” he said. “I took office [as a Police Commissioner] the day Police Chief [James] Viadero was hired. But I have witnessed how good leadership can turn workplace culture around,” he said. “I think we can do this as a town.”
Mr Rosenthal believes his experience serving on the Police Commission, the Legislative Council, Planning & Zoning Commission, and Board of Education, as well as volunteering as a local Lacrosse coach and league board member, a member of and Rotary Foundation leader, and a member of the board overseeing the Newtown Center for Support and Wellness, as critical puzzle pieces that all can come together to form a complete and progressive first selectman.
That, along with his creative energy and self-described “non-confrontational style.”
The Democratic candidate also believes to make Newtown better, he and his team of supporters need to look beyond the community, and even beyond the borders of Connecticut, to examine how other communities grappling with the challenges Newtown is facing are crafting a better way.
“That is how we are going to be able to affect change,” he said, adding that one of his first plans if elected will be to schedule a series of “pop-up” community meetings.
“These are opportunities for people to share ideas,” Mr Rosenthal said. “I want to seek people out where they are, and bring their ideas back. You might be very surprised at what we could accomplish from the ideas solicited from people who may have never thought they could have a voice.”