Barbara Ann Fenton, the wife of Mayor Allan Fung, has filed to legally change her last name to Fenton-Fung – and she continues to leave the door open to a run for office, although she says no decision has been made on that front.
In an email Tuesday, Fenton said she anticipates the name change proceedings – scheduled for Thursday in Probate Court – to be a “very quick matter.”
“We actually decided this as a family earlier this year, but because we were traveling so much internationally I held off as it takes a bit of time to get it properly sorted with passports and visas, etc.,” she said. “As we do not plan to leave the U.S. again until we attend the Smart Cities Symposium in Taiwan this March, the petition was filed now so that the paperwork could be squared away without concern.”
The move has sparked renewed speculation regarding Fenton’s future. During an appearance on The Public’s Radio in August, she noted that rumors had “started flying” about her making a bid to succeed her husband, who is term limited – and acknowledged she has given the idea consideration.
In Tuesday’s email, Fenton said the response she has received since the interview has “literally been overwhelming, from being encouraged by residents in the airport to conversations about policy in the bread aisle at Shaw’s, and I’m flattered by that.”
Fenton said at this point, she and Fung continue to mull various options for their future. She said the next professional move for her husband – a two-time gubernatorial candidate who has also left the door open for a future statewide campaign – is a significant part of the equation.
“This is a great city of immigrants, truly family-oriented, and above all, extraordinarily kind. Our decision this time around is based entirely on internal factors including the incredible opportunities being presented to Allan right now come the end of his term. Not to play coy, but that’s really the major limiting factor here,” she said. “Some positions, especially in the private sector, are not keen on controversy, which many of these roles ultimately bring. Some have no problem with it. Then you have to make sure that there wouldn’t be ethical conundrums. This isn’t me dragging out a decision, there’s literally multiple balls being juggled in the air right now behind the scenes. I think we’ll put the pieces of the puzzle into place rather soon.”
Fenton, who works as a physical therapist, was raised in Middletown and has long been active in Republican politics. She said she believes that experience and her time at Fung’s side during his gubernatorial bids have prepared her for the scrutiny that would come with her own campaign for office – particularly one to succeed her husband.
“For many years, I’ve played more of a behind the scenes role, but most people don’t realize how large that role has been, especially in terms of the gubernatorial races …When some people have conversations with me, I think their perception of ‘a wife running for office’ changes dramatically,” she said.
She added: “I’ve been through two statewide races with people following me, taking photos of me in the gym, leaving horrific messages for me on my car or home, and endless nonsense on social media with things simply being made up about us. At some point you go back to the old Margaret Thatcher mantra: ‘I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.’”
In terms of whether the name change petition is at all related to her political aspirations, Fenton said: “I understand there will be conspiracy theories galore … However, if you’re intimidated by someone hyphenating their last name, you might want to rethink your whole campaign.”
Fung’s impending departure from the mayor’s office after more than a decade has led to wide speculation regarding who will be his successor, and several potential candidates have acknowledged they are considering a 2020 campaign for the city’s top job.
Republican City Council President Michael Farina has all but confirmed his intention to launch a mayoral bid. Other potential GOP hopefuls include former councilman Jim Donahue and Ward 5 Councilman Chris Paplauskas.
Republican Citywide Councilman Ken Hopkins also explored a campaign for mayor before announcing earlier this year that he would instead run for re-election to his current post with the intention of seeking the council’s presidency.
On the Democratic side, Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos, state Rep. Charlene Lima and former mayor Michael Napolitano have all said they are considering a run for mayor.