Category Archives: Politics

Ken Bernhard: Syrian Crisis Is Of “Biblical Proportions”

In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, more than 30 governors have said their states will not accept Syrian refugees.

Connecticut’s Democratic governor, on the other hand, personally welcomed a family diverted from Indianapolis to New Haven.

A former Republican legislator from Westport thinks that’s great.

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard is not just reacting to the news of the day. He’s been concerned with refugees’ plights  since the crisis began several years ago. A noted attorney, he helped found The Syria Fund. That 501(c)(3) provides education, medical supplies, household goods and food to families living in dire, desperate areas underserved by large, mainstream organizations.

Bernhard’s humanitarian efforts began at a typical suburban setting: a cocktail party. A woman who’d studied in Syria told him about the refugee crisis brewing in the Mideast.

Bernhard had taught under a UNESCO program in Jordan. He recalled the “lovely, hospitable, generous people” he’d met, and vowed to help.

The refugees who began fleeing Syria nearly a year ago are primarily middle class, he says. Rich and poor Syrians left a long time ago; store owners and professionals thought they’d be able to “hunker down.” Now they’re leaving their embattled land with only what they can carry. Up to 80,000 are jammed into temporary camps.

Syria Fund logoWestporters have reacted “very generously” to his pleas for help through the Syria Fund, Bernhard says.

The former elected official — he’s been Westport’s 3rd selectman and served 4 terms in the Connecticut General Assembly, including a stint as assistant minority leader — is wary of politicians who “advocate simple solutions to complex situations.”

The US has been actively involved in the Middle East for 70 years, he notes. Our actions — like supporting the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein (“until we turned against him”) — have helped sow the seeds of the current dangerous problems.

“I don’t think we can turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis that’s partly the result of our own actions,” Bernhard says. “We’ve had the advantage of an ocean between here and there. Now we’ve got a choice with these refugees: step up or not.”

He is not naive about the need for security. But, he insists, “the process to get here is so arduous. These are people who have been seeking sanctuary for years. In 2 trips over there, I’ve never seen people hostile to the US.”

He adds, “what are these millions of people fleeing Syria supposed to do? If we don’t help, the problem will migrate. We’ll have to deal with it somewhere else.”

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Bernhard calls the conditions in the migrants’ camps appalling. Families sit idle in the hot (and cold) desert. Children grow up there knowing no other life. “If we don’t educate them, and give them employment and prospects for hope, these are the young men who will turn to ISIS,” he says.

He is proud of what The Syria Fund has accomplished — with help from his fellow Westporters. As long as refugees need aid, he’ll continue raising funds.

“This is America. This is Westport,” Bernhard says. “It’s a mass migration — a crisis of biblical proportions. We’re witnesses to it. We all have an obligation to step up and do something about it.”

(To learn more about The Syria Fund, including how to contribute, click here.)


Tommy Greenwald Hangs At The White House

Tommy Greenwald spent Monday practicing his command to the taxi driver: “The White House, please.”

When he actually got in the cab, he added: “And not for the tour.”

He and his wife, Cathy Utz, were headed for the Alexander Hamilton gate on 15th Street. After 3 airport-like security screenings — and an “unglamorous” entrance through a tent area, rather than “strolling through the front door,” as he’d imagined — the Westport couple entered the White House.

Tommy — a longtime Westporter and Staples Class of 1979 grad — is a co-founder of Spotco. The New York agency specializes in Broadway and entertainment advertising. A client is fellow Westport resident Harvey Weinstein.

Tommy Greenwald invitationThe film executive helped arrange “Broadway Day” at the White House. Students from across the country came together to enjoy performances, and learn about acting, singing and dancing. Andrew Lloyd Webber was there. Kristin Chenoweth served as host.

Michelle Obama welcomed everyone to her home. (Her husband was on a business trip, to Turkey.) Among the guests — thanks to Weinstein — were Tommy and Cathy. He got them tickets, because Tommy had created a pro bono video for the event. It airs Thanksgiving night on TLC (Optimum channel 28, 8 p.m.).

Cathy Utz and George Washington.

Cathy Utz and George Washington.

Neither Tommy nor Cathy had been in the White House before. He borrowed a tie from his son Joe. “I hadn’t worn one in 7 years,” Tommy notes. “That was the most stressful part — figuring out what to wear so I wouldn’t get tossed out.”

After being herded into a holding area — filled with things like “Benjamin Harrison’s dinner setting,” Tommy says — the group filed into the East Room. Tommy says it’s “just like any other small performance space, except for all the military people there.”

Three days after the Paris attacks, he and Cathy felt grateful to meet the men and women who protect America.

Michelle Obama - photo Tommy Greenwald

First Lady Michelle Obama enters the East Room. (Photo/Tommy Greenwald)

The First Lady strode in. “She looked fine!” Tommy says.

She gave an introductory speech; then the hour-long concert began. That was followed by a “big nosh cocktail reception.”

It was like any other social event, Tommy says, “except every room was ridiculously gorgeous, with portraits of presidents and first ladies.”

There was nothing saying “White House” that he could steal, he says — “just napkins in the bathroom.” He took a few, for his office staff in New York.

“I was hoping for better tchotchkes,” Tommy admits. “Still, it was great.”

Being around Broadway and film stars, Tommy says, “I’m usually pretty jaded. But sitting 5 feet from Michelle Obama was pretty cool. My wife said she’s never seen me so wide-eyed.”

Tommy Greenwald at the White House piano. I asked if it was the same one Richard Nixon played. Tommy did not know -- but it was definitely the one Andrew Lloyd Webber sat at just a few minutes earlier.

Tommy Greenwald at the White House piano. I asked if it was the same one Richard Nixon played. Tommy did not know — but it was definitely the one Andrew Lloyd Webber used just a few minutes earlier.

Once the concert was over though, all the “incredible organization” ended. Tommy calls it “an interestingly informal free-for-all.”

Soon enough, it was back in a taxi. I did not ask Tommy what he told his driver on the return trip.

Public Session Set For Bridge Street Bridge

“06880” readers have weighed in — often, and from many perspectives — on what should and should  not be done with the Bridge Street bridge.

Soon, officials will have to listen.

A public meeting on Monday, November 23 (7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) is the first chance for citizen input on the future of the historic structure (also called the William F. Cribari Bridge)

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and Connecticut Department of Transportation officials will offer a progress report on the bridge rehabilitation study report. Citizen participation is encouraged.

The controversial Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Michael Champagne)

The controversial Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Michael Champagne)

First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

While the study report is in its early stages, I believe it will be helpful for the DOT to present its preliminary findings with regard to the bridge’s physical condition. This will provide a forum that is earlier than would normally be scheduled by the DOT. Westporters will have an opportunity to express their views on the bridge’s history, significance to the Saugatuck area, and potential rehabilitation options.  All interested parties deserve the chance to engage with the DOT early on in the process, before the DOT begins the critical portion where rehabilitation options and other recommendations are developed.

I want to insure that DOT staff with direct knowledge of the project, as well as the staff expert on the treatment of historical assets, will be available. Recognizing that historical considerations are a concern of many Westporters, I am grateful that the DOT has confirmed that key personnel with direct knowledge of the RSR will attend the session to address questions and concerns.

The project manager, lead project engineers, the consulting firm leading the report, and DOT architectural historian Mark McMillan are scheduled to appear.

Aunt: I Sued To Get My Medical Bills Paid

Now that the dust has cleared — and we learn that the Worst Aunt in America was really just suing a young boy who broke her wrist because it was the only way to collect $127,000 on his father’s homeowner insurance — how come no one is asking the 2 most obvious questions:

  • Isn’t there something grossly wrong with our healthcare system when it costs $127,000 to fix a broken wrist?
  • And why didn’t she have medical insurance to cover that injury?

Broken wrist

Vanishing Main Street: The Sequel

Steve Edwards — Westport’s public works director — offers this comment on today’s “06880” story, about the new Main Street sidewalk:

Your reader’s observation that in places on Main Street the curb placement has changed is correct.

This is a positive curb re-alignment based on survey measurement and engineering design. As the new granite curbing is being installed, the town  is taking the opportunity to “straighten out the curb line” on Main Street that historically had significant variation.

For example,  in front of Chase Bank a belly in the curb line was removed to create a more visually attractive uniform curb. In a number of places along the roadway the curb line has been corrected. In some cases the roadway got slightly wider, and others slightly more narrow.

At some points, the new curb on Main Street is wider than before.

At some points, the new curb on Main Street is wider than before.

Ethan Zorfas Helps Lead Ted Cruz Crusade

When 10 candidates squared off in the 1st GOP debate earlier this month, plenty of Westporters watched closely.

Republicans searched for the best leader. Democrats anticipated a train wreck.

Ethan Zorfas wanted to see how well his boss would do.

The 2003 Staples High  School graduate is one of Ted Cruz’s senior advisors, concentrating on the Northeast. So when New Hampshire holds its 1st-in-the-nation primary 6 months from now, Zorfas’ work may well determine whether the Texan is on a path to the White House — or back to the Senate.

Ethan Zorfas' job is to help Senator Ted Cruz (3rd from right) break out of the GOP pack. Besides these 10, 7 other Republicans are running for president.

Ethan Zorfas’ job is to help Senator Ted Cruz (3rd from right) break out of the GOP pack. Besides these 10, 7 other Republicans are running for president.

It’s a job Zorfas would never have expected a dozen years ago. His main passion entering Staples was basketball. He played it well — and earned Academic All-State honors.

But in his first few days of junior year, terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Lis Comm’s English class spent days talking about how the world suddenly changed.

“I woke up to the outside world,” Zorfas recalls. “For the first time, I realized that policy matters.”

Social studies teacher Justin Cosell opened his eyes to politics. In class, Zorfas learned how to write a bill.

“He was a huge liberal. I was more conservative,” Zorfas says, of the instructor who happens to be Howard Cosell’s grandson.

But a friendship grew. Today, they still talk often about politics.

After graduating, Zorfas headed to Clark University in Worcester. “That’s another liberal school,” he laughs.

Ethan Zorfas

Ethan Zorfas

He joined with a few non-liberals to reactivate a dormant Republican  Club. And he earned $100 a day knocking on doors in New Hampshire during President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign.

After earning a master’s in public administration from Clark, Zorfas worked on a handful of campaigns. He joined the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2008 — “a tough cycle,” Zorfas admits — and stayed on to organize fundraising for congressmen Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming. He then branched out into political consulting for others.

In 2010 he was hired as chief of staff by New Hampshire congressman Frank Guinta. At 25, Zorfas may have been the youngest chief of staff on Capitol Hill.

When Guinta was defeated in 2012, Zorfas restarted his small firm, MarblePort Consulting. (The name combines Marblehead — where he lived as a child — and Westport.)

Zorfas’ New Hampshire ties made him a hot commodity in GOP circles. After the 2014 election cycle, he examined the wide swath of presidential candidates to find the best fit.

Cruz rose to the top of Zorfas’ list.

“If you really want to change Washington and how things work, he’s the only one in the field who can do that,” the consultant explains.

Zorfas had breakfast with the senator in New Hampshire, then flew to Texas.

“I’d only seen him on TV,” Zorfas recalls. “But I was impressed that he’d been solicitor general of Texas, and a clerk for (Supreme Court Chief Justice William) Rehnquist. His constitutional knowledge blew me away.”

They talked about how Zorfas could help Cruz be competitive in New Hampshire. Then, wham: The 30-year-old signed on as a key advisor.

Senator Ted Cruz (Photo/NH Journal)

Senator Ted Cruz (Photo/NH Journal)

His job now is to develop and implement strategies for Cruz to succeed in the Northeast. Zorfas is helping build the campaign infrastructure, and provides perspective to other Cruz advisors.

He speaks frequently with the candidate. “He’s taking New Hampshire very seriously,” Zorfas says.

Zorfas has worked on local, congressional and Senate races. Yet a presidential campaign is orders of magnitude different. Half a year before the first primary votes are cast, he already feels exponentially more energy and enthusiasm.

This month’s Fox News debate marked a major moment, Zorfas says. He sat with 200 supporters at the carefully chosen Texas Roadhouse in Nashua. Like a true professional, Zorfas says, “The feedback is that the senator spoke well, and had a clear message.”

Zorfas knows that a pro-life, gun-rights, anti-same-sex-marriage, climate-change denying Texan is not the first choice of most Westporters. Especially those Westporters who graduated with Zorfas in 2003.

“I had a great group of friends,” he says with pride. “We still talk on a daily basis. Most of them are probably Democrats. But I think they’re very proud of me and my accomplishments, as I am of them. They think it’s great that I can grow my career like this.”

And, he says, “we always have great debates.”

So if Senator Cruz becomes President Cruz, what job would Zorfas want?

“It’s way too early to think about that,” he says with the ease of a practiced politician. “Right now we’re all just focused on winning a 17-person race.”

He has no desire to run for office himself. “Seeing candidates go through what they do, I’m happy where I am,” Zorfas noted. “I love what I do.”

And Ted Cruz loves having this Connecticut-raised, New Hampshire-tested advisor on his very senior national staff.

Big Day For Adoptees

It flies under most people’s radars. But today marked a big day in Connecticut’s adoption community.

The state presented original birth certificates to 4 adult adoptees. They received them under a new law that requires the Department of Public Health to give adopted individuals age 18 or older whose adoptions were finalized on or after October 1, 1983 — or their adult children or grandchildren — uncertified copies of the adoptee’s original birth certificate on request.

It’s a key to an adoptee knowing his or her family medical history — and the truth about who they are.

John Suggs

John Suggs

The Westport connection — besides its importance to adoptees — is John Suggs. The RTM member works full time as a forensic genetic genealogist, specializing in helping adult adoptees, and birth parents and siblings, find each other.

The search he’s proudest of took 9 years to solve. It involved a birth mother of an abandoned 3-month old — who was now 91 years old.

Suggs found and interviewed an 85-year-old nephew of the missing birth mother. He said his aunt had “disappeared,” and after a lengthy search by her father and brother was presumed to have been murdered.

Suggs finally told the birth mother’s 91-year-old daughter that her mother had never abandoned her — she’d been taken from her. The daughter died a few months later.

Not all his searches are as dramatic. All, however, are unique — and important.

Suggs also volunteers as Westport’s representative on Access CT. The 501(c)(4) organization fights for the right of every adult adoptee born in the state to access his or her true original birth certificate.

This morning Access CT launched a social media fundraising campaign to help all Connecticut adult adoptees — not just those born after a certain date — gain access to their original birth certificates. Suggs says 43,000 Connecticut birth mothers and adult adoptees are still trying to find each other.

He’s doing all he can to help.

(For more information, click here. To contact Suggs directly, email or call 203-273-2774.)

Birth certificate


Dorian Kail Does The White House

Yesterday’s “06880” post about the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act — and the formation of a possible town commission on disabilities — resonated with Dorian Kail.

The Westport native manages the professional wheelchair division at New York Road Runners (including the marathon). She’s been awed by the accomplishments of the men and women who use wheels to run.

One of her top athletes — the fastest wheelchair marathoner of all time — is Tatyana McFadden. She won a lawsuit against her high school to allow wheelchair participants in sports.

Last week, McFadden invited Kail to the White House, to celebrate the ADA’s anniversary. McFadden and Kail met the president; Kail also had a quick conversation with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Bob Dole (who as a senator helped pass the ADA).

Dorian Kail and Vice President Joe Biden.

Dorian Kail and Vice President Joe Biden, at the White House.

Thanks for all you’ve done, Dorian. Keep on pushing — and keep helping these remarkable athletes run.

Dorian Kail and Tatyana McFadden stroll through the White House.

Dorian Kail and Tatyana McFadden stroll through the White House.

Former senator Bob Dole -- now 92 years old -- asked for a selfie with Dorian Kail.

Former senator Bob Dole — now 92 years old — asked for a selfie with Dorian Kail.

Jane Moritz’s Cookies Are So Gay

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states, you’ve probably heard stories of businesses that refuse to serve gay clients.

This post is not about how stunningly hypocritical they are, as they willingly serve divorced people, adulterers, and women who refuse to submit to their husbands.

And it’s not about some homophobes in far-off flyover country, who cannot understand that allowing 2 men or 2 women to wed has no effect whatsoever on their own marriages. Or that marriage, legally, is a civil institution; a religious ceremony is just icing on the cake.

Jane Moritz

Jane Moritz

This story is about a Westport woman, and what happened when she put rainbow cookies on her website to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling.

Jane Moritz owns Challah Connection. Her Norwalk-based company offers gift baskets — not just bread, but kosher meals, deli, fruit and babka — for High Holy Days, housewarmings, birthdays, graduations, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and shivas.

(They also ship baked good, nuts and dried fruit for Ramadan and Eid.)

Last month, when same-sex marriage became legal nationwide, Moritz displayed “rainbow cookies” on her website’s home page. She added a message: “Never have these treasured cookies had such meaning.”

Within an hour, she’d received 3 “hate emails.” She told The Jewish Week that people asked “what was wrong with me, how could I be a Jew, how could I be supporting gay marriage.” They said they would never order from the Challah Connection again.

Moritz responded on a Yeshiva World News message board: “We stand firm in the Jewish values that implore upon us to show compassion and kindness to all beings.”

Rainbow cookiesTo which someone replied:  “Even though the Torah that you pretend to accept calls this behavior an ‘abomination’ punishable by death. I guess when Torah values conflict with liberal politically correct values we know which side you choose.”

Moritz told The Jewish Week that she is proud of what she did. She does not think it’s her place to judge anyone’s celebration of Judaism — or anything else.

She’s not alone. Orders poured in for the Challah Connection’s rainbow cookies.


Westport Businessmen: Connecticut Must Do Better

When Connecticut legislators passed a controversial budget bill earlier this month — which Governor Malloy has not yet signed, and is still being tinkered with — a number of business leaders howled. GE threatened to move.

Two Westport businessmen decided to do more than just complain. Bart Shuldman (a frequent “06880” commenter) and Steve Obsitnik (a former congressional candidate) organized a “business roundtable.” Set for this Friday (June 26, 9 a.m., Norwalk Inn), the aim is to discuss ways to improve the state’s business climate.

Governor Malloy was invited, but declined. So Shuldman and Obsitnik got another governor to speak: Florida’s Rick Scott.

“We need to know what competitive states like his are doing — so we can do better,” Shuldman says. “In business it’s called benchmarking — looking at the market and seeing best practices.”

The roundtable is an invitation-only event. But I’m sure Shuldman will provide “06880” with details.

Florida Governor Rick Scott

Florida Governor Rick Scott