“Conflict Of Interest” Charge Roils Baron’s South Debate

As the RTM prepares to vote this Tuesday (April 28, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) on whether to overturn the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision to designate the Baron’s South property as protected open space, legislators have another issue to contend with.

Westport resident Valerie Seiling Jacobs sent this “open letter” to all RTM members:

As many of you know, I have been opposed to the proposed senior housing project on Baron’s South for many years. My view has long been that the deal proposed by The Jonathan Rose Companies was unfair to taxpayers since the town will get too little in return for donating such a valuable asset. And it has always puzzled me that Ken Bernhard, who co-chaired the Baron’s South Committee and is one of the project’s prime cheerleaders, seemed so determined to push ahead with the project—even in the face of growing evidence that the project was seriously flawed and could not meet the town’s needs.

I learned today [Friday] that Mr. Bernhard has multiple conflicts of interest that were never disclosed. First, Cohen & Wolf, the law firm in which he is a principal, is counsel to the Jewish Home of Fairfield, which stands to gain a lucrative contract for services if the Rose project goes forward. In fact, in a bulletin last summer, the President of JHF touted how great the business would be for the JHF. Second, Martin F. Wolf, another senior attorney at Mr. Bernhard’s law firm, sits on the Board of Directors of the JHF.

Mr. Bernhard’s failure to disclose these connections and conflicts is especially egregious given the sensitivity of this issue and Mr. Bernhard’s past behavior. At a Board of Finance meeting in October 2012, a number of members of the public complained that the RFP process appeared to have been rigged in favor of The Rose Companies—a suggestion to which Mr. Bernhard took extreme umbrage, demanding an apology. Nevertheless, in response to concerns about conflicts of interest, the members of the Baron’s South Committee were specifically asked to stand and state whether they had any financial interest in the Rose Companies. Mr. Bernhard did not stand. His failure to reveal his firm’s interest in this project may have been technically correct — since the financial interest was in another entity — but it was still materially misleading. As an attorney and a former elected official, Mr. Bernhard should know better.

A path in Baron's South. (Photo/Judy James)

A path in Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)

For Mr. Bernhard to have served on the Baron’s South Committee without disclosing these connections, which fatally compromised his ability to objectively evaluate the responses to the town’s RFP, violate fundamental principles of justice and fairness. This is the equivalent of a judge owning stock in a corporation that appears in a contested matter in the judge’s court. And I note that this is not the first time that Mr. Bernhard’s ethics have been called into question. In 2010, he was forced to pay a $3,500 penalty after his improper campaign contributions were discovered.

All of these facts bolster the conclusion that the Rose Companies’ proposal is a bad deal for Westport and its taxpayers. The Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to designate Baron’s South as open space was the right thing to do. I hope that you will decide NOT to overturn that decision.

Thank you.

——————————————————————–

I asked Ken Bernhard for his side of the issue. He said:

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Ms. Jacobs’ letter to the RTM. It distresses me that the discussion about a project designed to address the needs of hundreds of Westport seniors who require affordable housing options has devolved into the kind of ugly debate endemic in Washington — specifically, don’t discuss the issues; unleash a personal attack on your opponent.

Curiously, Ms. Jacobs appears to be guilty of the very offense that she charges me with, i.e. an undisclosed bias.  She does not divulge in her letter that she is the co-chair of a political party, Save Westport Now, whose agenda appears to oppose development in town regardless of its merits. Apparently, the unanimous consensus of the RTM sub-committee to overturn the vote of her party’s candidates has given rise to her invective.

I have lived in Westport for more than 40 years and for most of that time, I have been actively engaged in the community’s affairs. I have given of my time by holding positions on the ZBA and the Board of Selectmen. In addition to serving as town counsel for 3 administrations, I have represented Westport in Hartford. Throughout this time I did, and still do, provide free legal services to many of the non-profit organizations in town. I sit on multiple boards providing my time and energy helping our friends and neighbors. It’s all been a labor of love.

The risk, of course, in being so active is that occasionally there are instances where the roles may overlap. These instances are part of life in a small town and are not considered conflicts in the forums in which these things are adjudicated. A community cannot function without this reality of professional and personal overlap of its citizens’ talents and interests.

Early springtime at Baron's South. (Photo/Judy James)

Early springtime at Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)

Five years ago, I was asked by First Selectman Joseloff to give more of my time to Westport by sitting on the Baron’s South Committee. The 8-person committee was made up of volunteers serving in a private capacity. None of us had, nor did we ever have, any decision-making authority.

Since that time, I have donated at least 300 hours serving on this committee, a large portion of which was spent long before there was a proposal to do anything. When a concept for providing affordable housing for seniors was ultimately advanced, the town sent out a request for a proposal. Our committee of volunteers reviewed the proposals and made a unanimous recommendation to accept the proposal submitted by Jonathan Rose. The decision to work with Jonathan Rose was made by elected officials.

The substance of Ms. Jacobs’ letter is that she claims I have a conflict of interest in serving on the Baron’s South Committee because she has learned that one of the 50 lawyers at my law firm does work on totally unrelated matters for Jewish Senior Services, an organization that has joined with Jonathan Rose to provide services if and when the project is approved and built at some time in the very distant future. (Ms. Jacobs is incorrect when she asserts that Attorney Martin F. Wolf is a senior attorney at Cohen and Wolf in that he is “of counsel,” retired from active practice years ago, and has no financial interest in it).

Ms. Jacobs would argue that I should have conducted a conflicts check with my law firm. This would have been appropriate had I been serving as legal counsel or in any other professional role — but I was not. I was acting as a private citizen in a private capacity doing volunteer work for my community. Ms. Jacobs can spin the facts and connect the dots any way she pleases, but there is no legitimate substance to her point.  Her criticism is inflammatory and its purpose is more about advancing the political agenda of Save Westport Now than anything else.

We have an important issue confronting our community, i.e. whether to preclude the use of Baron’s South for any municipal purpose, even the expansion of the senior center, or to leave open the discussion on how best to use this valuable town asset for affordable housing or otherwise. Reasonable people can disagree, and Westport deserves a respectful exchange on this issue.

——————————————————————-

In a related development, RTM moderator Eileen Lavigne Flug will recuse herself from leading Tuesday’s discussion. She is of counsel to Cohen and Wolf. In a comment on a previous “06880” story, Flug wrote:

While Cohen and Wolf does not represent Jonathan Rose Companies, it has come to my attention that Cohen and Wolf represents the nonprofit Jewish Home for the Elderly of Fairfield County, Inc. on certain matters, although not on the proposal for senior housing at Baron’s South. While I myself have no connection with the Jewish Home for the Elderly of Fairfield County, Inc., and while I believe the connection to be attenuated since the matter before us is a zoning issue and not directly related to the proposed senior housing project, in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict and any concerns about the RTM’s process and deliberations, our deputy moderator Velma Heller will be running the meeting.

Baron's South, with the baron's Golden Shadows house in the distance.

Baron’s South, with the baron’s Golden Shadows house in the distance.

Maker Faire: Westport’s Greatest Collection Of Nerds, Geeks, And Way Cool People

Westport’s 4th annual Mini Maker Faire is in full swing today. Up to 6,000 creative, inventive folks of all ages are expected to flood Jesup Green and the library. They’ll spend the day building, designing, creating, hacking, learning, connecting, eating, drinking, listening and playing.

And that’s just at one of the hundreds of interactive, interdisciplinary, interesting exhibits.

The Maker Faire runs till 4 p.m. today (Saturday, April 25). The inspiration will last forever.

“The Great Fredini” is constructing an entire scale model of Coney Island, with a 3D printer. Faire-goers could have their own body scanned — and printed — to be included.

Anyone can play regular foosball. It takes a certain type of person to be part of a human foosball game.

Anyone can play regular foosball. It takes a certain type of person to be part of a human foosball game.

Getting set for the Nerdy Derby: a Pinewood Derby with no rules.

Getting set for the Nerdy Derby: a Pinewood Derby with no rules.

A scavenger hunt includes -- naturally -- QR codes. As noted, this event was developed by the Kids' Committee.

A scavenger hunt includes — naturally — QR codes. As noted, this event was developed by kids. Participants earned a free download of digital goodies; the randomly selected 1st prize was a gift certificate to robotics camp.

Where can you find a real live violin-maker? At the Maker Faire, of course.

Where can you find a real live cello-maker? At the Maker Faire, of course.

But sometimes it was fun just to play with a low-tech toy: the sculpture outside the library.

Sometimes it was fun just to play with a low-tech toy: the sculpture outside the library.

NY Times: “The Builders Are Back”

It’s hard to hide a 12,000-square foot house.

But for anyone living under a (very heavy) rock — with no idea that some very large homes are going up all around town — the secret is out.

Tomorrow’s New York Times real estate section splashed us all over Page 1.

The story is headlined: “In Fairfield, The Builders Are Back.”

“Fairfield,” of course, is Fairfield County. And — just as we’ve taken the lead with some big-ass houses — Westport leads the article too.

It begins:

On a recent Sunday afternoon here, anyone visiting open houses might have thought the recession never happened. At one new multimillion-dollar colonial after another, real estate agents were eagerly waiting to show visitors high-ceilinged kitchens anchored by immense white-marble islands; fireplaces hefty enough to offset mega-size flat-screen TVs; exercise rooms with saunas and steam showers; and marble bathrooms with freestanding tubs and heated floors.

En-suite bathrooms for every bedroom are “really big right now,” said Lisa Watkins, an agent with William Raveis, who was showing a $2.699 million house on the outskirts of the sought-after Compo Beach area.

The Times used this photo of a new house on Turkey Hill Road South to illustrate its story on Fairfield County real estate ... (Photo/Douglas Healey for the New York Times)

The Times used this photo of a new house on Turkey Hill Road South to illustrate its story on Fairfield County real estate … (Photo/Douglas Healey for the New York Times)

So are “fabulous outdoor spaces,” said Todd Gibbons, an agent with William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty, who was holding an open house at a $4.35 million home (since reduced to $4.199 million) with multiple stone terraces that incorporated a pool, a spa and a fire pit.

Builders’ expectations for the spring market here are clearly high. After a recession-induced lull, new construction catering to wealthy buyers is back in a big way in Westport and a few other select areas of Fairfield County, particularly New Canaan and the neighborhoods around the beach. And the voracious demand for teardown properties where that new construction can be built is raising the already-high bar for first-time buyers, pitting them against builders looking for older homes on decent-size lots.

The piece notes the pressure put on owners of older homes. “It’s not uncommon for builders in Westport to pay upward of $1 million for a teardown, and $2 million or more near the water,” the Times says.

... and this one, on Charcoal Hill Road. (Photo/Douglas Healey for the New York Times)

… and this one, on Charcoal Hill Road. (Photo/Douglas Healey for the New York Times)

The story adds that while construction dropped nearly 60% during the recession, it’s zoomed since 2012. The driving force: “demand for new homes for well-to-do buyers — many of them from the city, agents say — who want the latest in design and technology, and aren’t willing to renovate existing homes.”

So it’s no surprise that there were 103 demolition permits issued during the fiscal year ending last June. The tough winter has driven the recent number down slightly, but more permits are expected this spring.

Life is good for new-home buyers — and realtors. The Times‘ look at Westport noted:

Earlier this month, a remarkable 93 new homes in various stages of completion were listed for sale in Westport, said Jillian Klaff, a broker specializing in new construction. About 40 of them were priced over $2.5 million, which, as she observed, is “a lot of houses.” Especially given that in 2014, only 25 sold in that price range.

The story briefly touches on other towns, including Fairfield and New Canaan. But I’ve summarized the most important points.

Now you don’t have to read it. Why waste time with the Times, when there are so many new homes to buy?

(Hat tip: John Karrel)

Bye Bye, Barn

Like many Westporters, alert “06880” reader Wendy Crowther has been watching the departure of Geiger’s with sorrow.

Unlike most of us, she’s done more than just drive past the former garden center property. Yesterday she wrote:

What you see in the photo below represents about 3 days of work, done in fits and starts.

(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

This morning I saw some people on the roof of the main barn. They appeared to be removing roofing tiles. By noon today they were gone.

Several days ago, guys in hard hats removed a small portion of the roof from the smaller, east addition. Yesterday they removed the rest. Now you can see the supporting rafters.

They appear to be going at a turtle’s pace, which could be a good sign. Hopefully they’ll index/mark everything as they remove it (a good deconstruction process).

I’ve put out feelers to Coastal Development a few times (via P&Z hearings and your blog) in hopes of getting answers to 2 important questions.

1. Have they hired a barn expert to guide them through the deconstruction process? Ordinary builders make terrible mistakes if left to their own devices.

2. How is Coastal Development planning to store the deconstructed pieces until new uses are found? Hopefully it won’t end up  in a giant pile under a tarp somewhere.

The Geiger barn in 2013. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Geiger barn in 2013. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

My heart sinks as I see this barn come down. It has sat in that exact spot for at least 150 years.

Only a few owners lived or worked on the site during all that time. Those owners ranged from the Coley/Burr family (who farmed in the area), to 2 pastors of Greens Farms Church, to the Winterton/Harris family, who lived on the property for 100 years (long enough that the corner was once known as the “Harris Switch” – a trolley stop). Then came the most recent proprietors: Parsell and Geiger.

Westport loses another part of its history as this barn comes down. For some it was an eyesore. For others it was a treasure – a reminder of Westport’s evolution from the days of early settlers and farmers, to those who left New York City in summer and on weekends to escape the heat and crowds, to budding entrepreneurs who, in quaint ways, brought flowers and shrubs into our own backyards.

Today, commercial developers are the “new entrepreneurs.” Some care nothing of the past and seek only to build their own profit margins. Coastal Development did at least try to save the barn, but zoning regulations made that hard to do.  I hope our zoning regs might change in the future to better encourage preservation.

The former Geiger's Garden Center, just south of the barn.

The former Geiger’s Garden Center, just south of the barn.

I hope that Coastal will treat this barn with care as they dismantle. For me, it is one of their biggest litmus tests. Will they walk the talk?

Whether they do or don’t, my heart will continue to break a little bit each time I drive by. The corner will look drastically different next year at this time.

Westport is losing another piece of its rural, agrarian past. Some will forget that soon enough as they pull in to do their banking.

Not me.

PS. When I pulled in to take this photo, I noticed that all of the glass was removed from the greenhouse. Does anyone know whether someone took advantage of the “free greenhouse” offer? Perhaps those who took the glass are coming back for the structure? If anyone knows, please let us know.

 

Big Toot

The other day, an alert (and noise-sensitive) “06880” reader asked:

Do you have any idea how long the trains are going to blasting their horns through Westport? It started before we went away March 1st. I’m sure they must be getting a lot of complaints.

Though I live a couple of miles from the tracks, I’ve actually heard the horns myself. Well, maybe they’re car horns from drivers trying to navigate the increasingly chaotic Playhouse Square parking lot. Whatever.

I sounded out (ho ho) Aaron Donovan. He’s an MTA spokesman, and — because “06880” is “where Westport meets the world” — a 1994 Staples graduate.

He reported back:

This is a result of the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s long-term project to replace all the New Haven Line overhead wires, which were first installed in 1907. These original wires use antiquated “fixed termination” technology, which unfortunately allows the wires to sag ever so slightly during periods of high heat (it isn’t visible to the naked eye) or contract during periods of extreme cold, causing operations problems for trains. The DOT is updating the wires, more formally known as catenary, with a state-of-the-art “constant tension” system that will better accommodate the extreme temperature that can impact our region.

catenary lines

The good news is that this is the very last leg of the project. The DOT recently completed the section between Southport and Bridgeport, and are now turning attention to the section between Norwalk and Southport. In the current phase of the project, DOT’s contractors are out on the tracks digging holes to sink foundations for the gantries from which the new wire system will be suspended. For the safety of all personnel who are on or near the tracks, trains are required to sound their horns when approaching work zones.

The project is scheduled to be completed in September 2017.

Thanks, Aaron! That’s a lot more information than those signs that say “Good Service”!

(To learn even more about the DOT project, click here and here.) 

Sycamore Sidewalk

The handsome sycamore that sits just inside Compo Acres Shopping Center — right near the Post Road/South Compo entrances — has been the subject of “06880” stories before.

In December, owner Equity One declared the tree to be a “defining aspect” of the property. Representative Michael Lai said that Equity One “takes its stewardship seriously.”

Just how seriously has come into question recently.

Compo Acres sycamore

The ongoing renovation project — very ongoing — has entered its sidewalk phase. Concerned Westporters wonder if the sycamore — which has already survived a construction-related “mulch volcano” (a potentially tree-killing layer was mounded against the trunk), and bark damage (a woman attached an advertising sign for a fitness center) — can withstand all the cement that will soon be poured around its base.

 

Listen, My Children, And You Shall Hear…

…of the Minute Man statue we hold so dear.
Not any one man is now alive
Who remembers back to 1775
Or the march of the British from Compo’s shore
To Danbury north, and its arsenal store
Or the days that followed, as they marched back south
And ran right into our militia’s mouth
The Battle of Compo Hill became quite a story
And Westport’s Minute Men earned all their glory
But seldom today do we give any thought
To all that our patriot ancestors wrought
We pass by the statue with ne’er a glance
For far more concerned are we with the chance
To sunbathe and swim, go boating and grill
Or enjoy yet another modern-day thrill
As the Minute Man stands, a sentinel silent
To a long-ago chapter so bloody and violent
But hark! For on Sunday we look back and praise
The remarkable heroes of those valiant days
(Click here for the details of all the events
Then read further this poem; ’twill make much more sense).

Minuteman statue 2

In 1906 Daniel Webster moved here
Though just 29, his sculpting talent was clear
Four years later he was asked (in part by the state)
To design, develop, cast and create
A sculpture to show a patriot kneeling
With flintlock in hand, and a strong steely feeling
‘Twould be placed near the beach, at the same exact spot
Where the Battle of Compo Hill had been fought.

Robert Penn Lambdin's

Robert Penn Lambdin’s “The British Landing at Cedar Point, April 25, 1777″ oil painting is part of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Lewis P. Wakeman is a name from the past
He’s the model from whom the Minute Man has been cast
In bronze, where he sits on a mound of green grass
From his perch now he’s watched a full century pass
The Westport statue is one of just four
Saluting a Minute Man to remember that war
Feelings were stronger in the year 1910
The unveiling was quite an event way back then
A clambake, parade, music and speeches
Made June 17 a red-letter day at the beaches.

The Minute Man statue, around the time of his 1910 dedication.

The Minute Man statue, around the time of his 1910 dedication.

In the 10 decades since then, much has been seen
The Minute Man’s patina turned brown to green
Rain storms eroded the earthen knoll’s contour
The fence fell into disrepair even more
But now, thanks to a passionate, hard-working team
The Minute Man once again shines with a gleam
His hill is restored, his fence now is steady
And once again with his flintlock he kneels at the ready
To remind us that once upon men, bold and brave
(Some of them buried in a near shallow grave)
Defended this land with a spirit so strong
That to forget their sacrifice must surely be wrong
So this Sunday — and all days — think, if you can
Of the saga of Westport’s beloved Minute Man.

(To learn more about this Sunday’s Minute Man celebrations, click here.)

(Photo/Katherine Hooper)

(Photo/Katherine Hooper)

Missing A Life-Changing Meeting At Mario’s

Teri Schure was 14 when she moved from Bridgeport to Westport. A 1971 graduate of Staples High School, she went on to Brevard College. In 1997 she founded Worldpress, an online site offering readers a first-hand look at international issues and debates that the American media often ignores.

Teri still owns Worldpress. She lives now in New York state, but the recent news about Mario’s closing awakened some important memories. After much soul-searching, Teri wrote an intensely personal story on her blog, The Teri Tome. She graciously agreed to share it with “06880” readers.

It’s long. But it could be the most remarkable story I have ever published. It deserves to be read all the way through.

My father was AWOL. He was absent from his post without, (or perhaps with), official permission (from my mother), but without intending to desert. This is how I choose to describe my elusive father.

Mario's (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Mario’s (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

On a side note, Mario’s Place, the legendary restaurant and bar in Westport Connecticut, and a mainstay since 1967, served its last meal on April 4. Unfortunately, I missed the memo about the last supper, until this past weekend. Another blown opportunity.

Mario’s was across the street from the train station, and the place to be, starting around 6 pm every Monday-Friday. Mario’s was frequented by the original Mad Men, their wives, their kids, and pretty much everyone who lived in Westport and beyond. The “beyond” is the story I want to share with you.

In my 20s, my favorite night was Wednesdays. I would jump off the train after a grueling day at the office, and treat myself to a Mario’s dirty martini with bleu cheese olives — considered by many to be the best martini in Connecticut. Several old high school friends had the same idea. We met there every hump day for martinis, laughs and some much needed sidekick therapy.

I know you’re asking yourself what Mario’s has to do with my father.

Because he was right there at Mario’s.  And I was so close to living out my father dream.

According to my not-so-long-ago-discovered 5 paternal half-siblings and 2 aunts, my elusive father followed me via private detectives my entire life.

At my first meeting they explained to me that “our” father, the man I assumed deserted me, had a “Teri suitcase” full of newspaper clippings, photos, investigative reports, and returned letters and cards he had sent to me over the years.

One of the investigative summaries was about Mario’s—and my Wednesday martini run.

According to my new-found family, I was an urban legend. And this is the story that my father often told to my half-siblings and aunts, in their words:

In December of 1978, Mike hired a detective to find Teri just after her 25thbirthday. “Bingo. Right around the corner two towns over,” the detective told him. “She gets off the train and goes to Mario’s across the street. She has a drink with her friends and eats dinner there every Wednesday. She usually gets there around 7, 7:30.”

Teri Gatti, in 1975.

Teri Schure, in 1975.

So Mike pains over the decision. Should he go to Mario’s? Introduce himself? “Hi, I’m Mike Mahigel–your father. Nice to meet you,” he tells my siblings and aunts sadly. It had taken him 25 years to get to this point. Now he didn’t know what to do. 

It was close to 6 p.m. one random Wednesday. As he gazed at his little girl in her crib, his answer was clear. He held Georgette close, said, “Daddy needs to do something very important,” and drove to Mario’s. 

He got there at 6:50. The place was packed. He found a seat at the bar, took out his wallet, and ordered a shot of scotch. He needed it badly.

He asked the bartender to make it colder in the place. He felt hot and nervous. The bartender tried to make small talk but Mike was too distracted to engage. He had a couple more shots, and was feeling no pain.

Soon Mike heard the train whistle. His heart pounded out of his chest. 

When she walked in, tears welled in his eyes. “She was tall, thin, and simply beautiful,” he recalled to his family. As she walked by her scent left him weak.

She was practically standing right next to him, talking to her friends. It had to be her – she was the spitting image of him. It was unmistakably Teri, even though the last time he caught a glimpse of her, she was 6 years old.

Mike watched her as she laughed with her friends. She walked to the bar and ordered a dirty martini, with extra bleu cheese olives. “A martini drinker,” he proudly told my siblings, “a real man’s drink.”

Mario's matchesShe opened her purse, took out a Marlboro, and asked the bartender if he had a light. Mike looked at her and said, “I have a lighter. Let me light it for you.” Mike said it a little too loudly, hoping to beat the bartender to the punch. As he fumbled in his pocket for his lighter, Teri turned to Mike. Her deep brown eyes met his.

They looked straight into each other’s eyes. “Dark Syrian eyes,” he told my siblings. “Just like mine.” She smiled at Mike and said “thank you” as she leaned close in for him to light her cigarette. Her scent drifted softly around him.

“Beautiful smile, beautiful teeth,” he told my siblings. After Mike lit her cigarette she looked in his eyes once more, thanked him again, and walked to the end of the bar to hang out with her friends. Just like that, she was gone.

He was devastated, he told my family. He was stunned–and intimidated. He felt like he had been punched in the gut. He ordered shot after shot, while trying to drum up the courage to introduce himself — and explain everything. He watched her for another hour. 

But he was a chicken—a coward. So he left Mario’s wondering if he would ever see her again. He also left behind his wallet, and never went back for it. He drove the rest of his life without a license. And he never saw Teri again. But he never forgot her face, their encounter, or her scent.

That was their story. He never saw me again. I had looked straight into my father’s eyes, and did not even know it was him. He lit my cigarette.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

I sat at the table stunned. I thought about so many scenarios that could have happened. How I wish he would have put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Can I talk to you for a sec?” He told my siblings and aunts that I was a high class girl, and he was just a nobody.

He didn’t know me at all. I was just a poor girl from the streets of Bridgeport. Just a nobody in desperate need of a dad.

I thought that was all my new-found family had to say. Hadn’t they said enough? I fought back tears, and wanted to get the hell out of there.

But they weren’t done with their story. Or me.

Around September of 1991, Mike learned he had stage IV lung cancer. Doctors gave him 6 months to live.

According to my aunts, all he wanted was to fulfill his dream of meeting me before he died. He wrote and rewrote his letter to me numerous times. Finally, in late 1991, he mailed it to the last known address he had for  me. Then he waited, and waited, for my response.

After a couple of months he figured I either wasn’t going to respond, or I never got the letter. He hoped it was the latter.

And then one day, to his surprise, in early March of 1992, a letter arrived from me. He was unsettled and troubled. It took him 2 days to open it.

The contents of the letter devastated his already fragile state. “Don’t ever contact me again,” I wrote. “I have no interest in ever having a relationship with you.” It was simply signed, “Teri.”

He put the letter in the “Teri suitcase,” along with all the other data he had accumulated. And he never spoke of me again.     

“Why did you not want to meet your father?” my aunts asked. “His heart and spirit were broken.”

My father passed away on March 24, 1992.

Teri Gatti Schure

Teri Schure

I wrote no such letter. It is beyond my comprehension why anyone would be so callous as to write such cold-blooded words to my father in my name. But it had been done, and now he was dead.  Even worse, he died thinking I wanted nothing to do with him. He actually believed that I had so cruelly written to him in his hour of death.

Today, as I finally finish up this blog, I’m depressed, and weary.

So to push away the darkness, I’m taking stock of what I have. I’m feeling pretty grateful.

But I sure could use one last dirty martini at Mario’s in my father’s honor.

And the Teri suitcase?  Oh, that went missing years ago.

Maserati Rolls Into Town

Weston Magazine threw a welcome-to-Westport party tonight for our new Maserati dealer. The site — across from Carvel — is the former J. McLaughlin (which in turn replaced the original Hay Day).

It was a great evening, with plenty of fine art, food and drinks.

And of course, fine autos.

Among the folks admiring the handsome cars were longtime Westport artist/icon Miggs Burroughs, and Liz Beeby.

Miggs and Maserati

This just may be the push I need to upgrade from my Toyota Camry.

Nah.

Happy Earth Day!

After a gorgeous start, Westport’s skies turned menacing this afternoon.

Alert “06880” reader Matt Murray was at Compo Beach, just before a brief but gusty storm rolled in.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

(Photo/Matt Murray)