Category Archives: Politics

Paris Tragedy A Reminder Of Past Horrors

Last week’s horrific events in Paris touched every Westporter. We wondered how such things can happen. We talked about religion, freedom and humanity. We thought about France, and looked in new ways at America.

The news hit Westport’s Bart Shuldman and his wife wife Sue especially hard. In 1996 they were eyewitnesses to an IRA bomb that demolished a London bus.

Bart helped save the driver’s life. Nearly 20 years later, he remains haunted by the event. He calls such violence “truly devastating. It is worse than any picture could portray.”

That February day, Bart and Sue had just arrived in London. They boarded a taxi to their hotel. At a red light, a bus traveling from a different direction turned, then exploded right in front of them.

The taxi driver screamed. Bart and Sue watched in horror as the bus continued to travel, while opening up like a can.

The taxi driver asked what they should do. Bart said, let’s go help.

The aftermath of the 1996 IRA bus bombing in London.

The aftermath of the 1996 IRA bus bombing in London.

Not knowing if there were more bombs, they followed the bus until it stopped.  The taxi stopped. Bart and the driver jumped out.

The driver grabbed a fire extinguisher, and went to one side of the bus. Bart went to the other side.

He heard noises. It was the bus driver, who had been hit from behind by the blast. The taxi driver, meanwhile, said he’d discovered a body in 2 parts, on fire. It was the bomber.

Bart got the driver out from the rubble, and carried him to the sidewalk.  His head was bleeding badly. Bart knew the victim could not hear him, so he had the man focus on Bart’s mouth. Bart wanted to keep talking, so the man would not pass out and die in his arms.

It took a while for an ambulance to arrive. Police and medics waited a long time, as people screamed there were more bombs.

Finally, Bart was escorted back to the taxi. Sue was there, scared. Bart at been gone nearly an hour.

The bus driver survived. But he never worked again.

“These acts are more violent than any TV news report can show,” Bart says. “The destruction is horrible. The impact to a body is something you cannot imagine.”

Nearly a decade later, he is not sure why he jumped in to help. Perhaps — just as the entire world is trying to make sense of the news from France — it takes a horrible tragedy for each of us, individually, to find out something about ourselves.

 

 

Westport’s Cubans React To Thaw

Yesterday’s announcement by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro of a new relationship between their 2 nations surprised Americans and Cubans alike.

The news was particularly stunning for the small number of Westporters with Cuban heritage.

Yvonne Sabin Claveloux

Yvonne Sabin Claveloux

Yvonne Sabin Claveloux is a 1983 graduate of Staples High School. She grew up here, but her parents are Cuban. She says:

I think it’s time, but I have very mixed feelings. On the positive side, this gives hope that it will open dialogue to address issues in a diplomatic level.

On the negative, it will give the Castros a lifeline at a moment when they are desperate due to Venezuela’s crash due to decline in oil prices. There are also no concessions regarding the human rights of the Cuban people.

Tony Hernandez is 80 years old. He was born and raised in Cuba, but left in 1960. He says:

I feel that President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba’s communist regime is a very positive step. It ends 53 years of isolation, and simultaneously eases all the vicissitudes and misery the Cuban people have been suffering.

His daughter, Maite Hernandez, says:

I  just read that 7 million tourists are expected to visit Cuba, as opposed to 2 million in the past year. On the one hand, the flow of visitors and the money they bring will definitely boost the economy of Cuba, at a time where they have run out of countries to support them. I just hope this will translate to a better economic level for the local Cubans.

It remains to be seen whether  human rights issues will be addressed. There can be no compromise regarding this matter. Otherwise this move by President Obama will be seen as political, with the only purpose of securing himself a place in the history books.

Maite Hernandez and her father Tony.

Maite Hernandez and her father Tony.

Josh Koskoff Takes On The NRA

In 2005, President Bush signed into law a bill pushed by the NRA. It shields gun manufacturers from most forms of civil litigation.

But yesterday — the day after the 2nd anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre — 10 Newtown families sued Bushmaster Firearms, the maker of the gun used in that rampage.

Josh Koskoff

Josh Koskoff

Josh Koskoff represents the victims. Last night, the 1984 Staples High School graduate and longtime Westport resident talked to Rachel Maddow about that wrongful death suit.

It’s a tough case, he admitted. Gun manufacturers have broad immunity.

“This is an industry that makes the world’s most dangerous product,” he said. “But you can’t sue them.”

However, he told the MSNBC host, he’s undaunted. His clients are “so worthy.” He and his colleagues at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder believe they have found a way to win.

“We’ve got a case here,” the attorney told Maddow.

Josh Koskoff on "Rachel Maddow" last night.

Josh Koskoff on “Rachel Maddow” last night.

It’s clear he feels a personal stake in this battle.

“If we didn’t take this case — in our own backyard — we might as well just fold up,” he said.

Maddow said that Bushmaster refused to comment.

(To see the Koskoff interview, click on “The Rachel Maddow Show.”)

(Hat tip to Peter Propp)

 

 

Post Road Protest

In the 1960s and ’70s, the Post Road bridge was the site of anti-Vietnam War protests.

In the 1990s and ’00s, that spot — now named the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, in honor of the longtime UN volunteer — was where demonstrators railed against other US incursions.

Today, a few dozen people — and a couple of younger ones — again protested. This time the catalyst was the failure of grand juries to indict police officers in the deaths of 2 unarmed black men, in Missouri and New York.

(Photo/David Vita)

(Photo/David Vita)

 

 

Jean Donovan, Remembered

More than 3 decades after her brutal murder, Jean Donovan is back in the news.

The Westport native was 1 of 4 American churchwomen killed on December 2, 1980 by Salvadoran national guardsmen.

Jean Donovan

Jean Donovan

Jean — a junior high and Staples High School classmate of mine — was a lay missionary working in El Salvador, helping the poor.

She and 3 nuns were beaten, raped, shot in the head, then dumped by the roadside.

Now, the New York Times reports that 2 Salvadoran generals — defense ministers during the “blood-soaked” 1980s — may be deported.

The Times says:

They were allowed to settle there during the presidency of George Bush, who, like his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, considered them allies and bulwarks against a Moscow-backed leftist insurgency.

But administrations change, and so do government attitudes. Over the past two and a half years, immigration judges in Florida have ruled that the generals bore responsibility for assassinations and massacres, and deserve now to be “removed” — bureaucratese for deported. Both are appealing the decisions, so for now they are going nowhere. Given their ages, their cases may be, for all parties, a race against time.

Longtime Westporter John Suggs says that in progressive Catholic social justice networks, “Jean Donovan is considered a saint.”

A Jean Donovan Summer Fellowship at Santa Clara University — a Jesuit school — supports students interested in social justice, while in Los Angeles the Casa Jean Donovan Community Residence houses members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

A tribute to Jean Donovan  and fellow churchwomen, near the spot of their murder in El Salvador.

A tribute to Jean Donovan and fellow churchwomen, near the spot of their murder in El Salvador.

But, Suggs says, “in Westport she is all but forgotten.” The few who remember her, and mourn her passing each December, believe she has been forgotten by her town, her school and her parish. (There is a brief mention of her, he says, in the back vestibule of Assumption Church. And Staples graduate Cynthia Gibb played a character based on Jean in Oliver Stone’s “Salvador.”)

The New York Times has shed a new light on Jean Donovan’s murderers. Perhaps next month, she will not be mourned by so few.

(The New York Times story includes a fascinating 13-minute video.)

It’s Election Day. Have You Voted Yet?

People all over the world have fought — and died — for the right to vote.

They still are.

There is no excuse not to vote. None.

Especially not knowing where to cast your ballot. If you’re not sure, click here.

The polls are open until 8 p.m. But do it now!

Both the sun and Election Day signs were up early this morning, at the Westport Library polling place.

Both the sun and Election Day signs were up early this morning, at the Westport Library polling place.

 

This Tuesday: A Vote On Voting

Many Connecticut voters — well, all those who don’t think Andrew Cuomo is their governor — are focused on the gubernatorial race between Dan Malloy and Tom Foley.

Some know that state legislature seats are up for grabs on Tuesday too.

Very, very few folks — myself included — had any idea that a ballot initiative could change the Connecticut constitution. If passed, legislators and the governor could change how and when we vote.

VoteAlert “06880” reader Bart Shuldman passed along a message from Toni Boucher. She notes that right now, absentee ballots can be used only by people who will be out of town, are on active military duty, are sick or physically disabled, or cannot vote on Election Day for religious reasons.

A “yes” vote could lead to broader absentee balloting, multiple voting days at polls, voting by mail and online voting.

A “no” vote would keep the rules as they are.

You’ll have the opportunity to vote on this ballot initiative on Tuesday. Even though you haven’t seen any lawn signs, for or against.

Westporter To Lead UN Ebola Response

In more than 25 years as a peacekeeper and emergency management expert, Anthony Banbury has served the United Nations — and the world — in crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake and 2004 Japan tsunami.

From 2003 to 2009 he was Asia regional director for the World Food Program.

Anthony Banbury

Anthony Banbury

Now the Westport resident has a new — and crucial — job. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has named Banbury as special representative and head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response.

Banbury leaves tomorrow for Africa. Under his leadership, the mission will provide the operational framework to treat infected patients, ensure essential services, preserve stability and prevent the disease’s spread to other countries.

Before joining the UN, Banbury worked in the White House with the National Security Council, and at the Department of Defense.

Governor Malloy’s Visit To Staples On Monday NOT A No-Brainer

Governor Dannel Malloy will be in the Staples High School fieldhouse next Monday (September 29) at 1 p.m.

He’ll sign a bill passed by the legislature earlier this year regarding concussion treatment and education in youth sports. A group of Westport mothers spearheaded the effort.

Here comes the governor.

Here comes the governor.

 

The Future Of Westport: Don’t Say You Weren’t Asked

With 2 major planning projects underway — for downtown and the beach — town officials are urging Westporters to make their wishes known.

Sure, you can click on the “Comments” section of “06880.” But nothing beats showing up in public, and opening your mouth.

The Downtown Steering Committee holds a “charrette” this weekend (September 20-21) at Town Hall. Satellite events are set for other downtown locations too.

your-downtown-logoCharrettes are collaborative work sessions in which design professionals, residents, merchants, municipal experts and others discuss and draft solutions to address specific opportunities and challenges.

This weekend’s charrettes follow a kickoff event on Monday. A couple dozen people heard about, and saw visuals of:

  • A park-like walkway along Parker Harding Plaza, with a footbridge leading to the former Save the Children property on Wilton Road.
  • A new 2-story retail shopping center between the relocated Kemper-Gunn House on Elm Street, and Brooks Corner — effectively hiding the Baldwin parking lot.
  • A redesign that cuts Jesup Green in half. All parking would face Matsu Sushi; half of the current lot becomes an expanded green from the river to the police lot (with gazebo and paths). At the top of the green is a new “community arts space.”
  • An area in front of the current Y will force Church Lane traffic heading to Main Street to turn onto the Post Road first.
  • New buildings on the Imperial Avenue upper parking lot.
  • Possible relocation of the police department, and construction of — yes — a new retail shopping complex.
The west side of the Saugatuck River is also part of the new downtown plan. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

The west side of the Saugatuck River is also part of the new downtown plan. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

The charrette begins this Saturday at 8:30 a.m., at Town Hall. A “walking tour” of downtown follows at 9 a.m. From 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.  back at Town Hall, there are work sessions, panels and discussions. From 3:30-6 p.m., “open studio workstations” allow discussions with experts about specific ideas and plans.

Sunday features more open studio exhibits and workstations (9:30 a.m.-1 p.m.), followed by a closing presentation (1:30-3 p.m.).

JP Vellotti — a longtime Westporter who attended Monday’s kickoff — says, “This is our chance to define how we want our downtown to look, and how we interact with that space.”

The charrette will also include a special aerial video of downtown, produced by Staples freshman Rick Eason. For more information on the charrette, click on www.downtownwestportct.com.

Rick Eason's video shows downtown from an angle never before seen.

Rick Eason’s video shows downtown from an angle never before seen.

Then, on Monday, September 29 (7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee presents its recommended draft master plan to the Parks and Recreation Commission. Public comment is invited.

The Commission will make formal recommendations to the committee at a future public meeting. “It is important that the commissioners have sufficient time to digest the recommendations of the committee and the public input,” says Parks & Rec Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh.

The full draft of the master plan is available at www.compobeach2.com.

Both downtown and the beach are important, and vital, parts of Westport. The changes to one (or both) may be large (or small).

How close they come to what you want may depend on how clearly (and strongly) you (and your neighbors) express yourselves.