Category Archives: Politics

Bruce Kasanoff: “Fix This Bridge, Or Connecticut Dies”

Bruce Kasanoff is a Westport-based ghostwriter and former Planning & Zoning  commissioner who works with entrepreneurs. He is also — most importantly for this story — a Metro-North rider.

Well, he rides when the trains are running. Which is not as often as he — or the rest of us — would like.

Yesterday, Forbes.com published his opinion piece: “Fix This Bridge, Or Connecticut Dies.” Bruce began:

Bruce Kasanoff

Bruce Kasanoff

I’m a big fan of bringing out the best in others, but even an optimist like me knows that when people act like they have rocks in their heads, to make progress you might have to bang some heads together.

Commuters who live in Connecticut and work in New York City are all in favor of banging some heads together. Most depend on the Metro-North train system to bring them in and out of the city. Over the past two years, service has gone from pretty good to consistently horrible – and it’s about to get worse.

Bruce described the issues, like fatal accidents that led (via additional safety requirements) to longer train rides and the stuck-twice-in-8-days South Norwalk bridge. He continued:

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy  was outraged by the latest failure, which I know because his office immediately issued a press release that said, “Let me be clear, this is outrageous.”

Remembering Lucie Cunningham McKinney

Lucie Cunningham McKinney — a longtime resident of Greens Farms, who followed her family’s great tradition of philanthropy and civic involvement — died Saturday night, of complications from cancer. She was 80 years old.

Lucie Cunningham McKinney

Lucie Cunningham McKinney

She was the great-granddaughter of Edward T. Bedford, a director of Standard Oil, founder of the Westport YMCA and the namesake of Bedford Middle School; the daughter of Lucie Bedford Cunningham Warren (who died 2 years ago at 104) and Briggs Cunningham (victorious World Cup skipper, Le Mans race car driver and heir to the Procter & Gamble fortune); the widow of US Congressman Stewart McKinney, and mother of 5, including State Senate Minority Leader and current Republican gubernatorial candidate John P. McKinney.

First Selectman Jim Marpe called Lucie Cunningham McKinney “a valued citizen in our community.” He added:

I salute her activist role in working with people with AIDS following the death of her husband, former Congressman Stewart McKinney, from that disease in 1987.

She was also a strong proponent of protecting the environment as well as a major supporter of her church. As a member of the Bedford family, Lucie McKinney continued a 100-year tradition of the Bedford family providing major support to the Westport Woman’s Club, the Family Y and Norwalk Hospital. On behalf of the Town of Westport, I extend my deepest sympathies to her family.

For all her wealth and good fortune, Lucie McKinney was not immune to life’s misfortunes. She spoke openly of a daughter’s drug addiction and rehabilitation, and the day after her husband died of AIDS, she started a foundation to help victims of the disease.

Though Stewart McKinney was elected 9 times to Congress she remained in Connecticut, raising their 5 children.

“I was very proud to be Mrs. Stewart McKinney,” she said. “I adored the campaigns. I hated the social junk.”

In an interview with the Associated Press in 1987, she said, “Nothing has ever been an embarrassment to my family. If you can turn a bad situation into a good one,  why not do it?”

Lucie Cunningham McKinney, enjoying a car show at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.

Lucie Cunningham McKinney, enjoying a car show at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.

Wanted: Town Operations Director

The “help wanted” sign is out at Town Hall. Westport is looking for its 1st-ever operations manager.

A press release says the new guy (or gal) will report directly to the 1st selectman. He (or she) “will work with all Town departments to achieve operational efficiency, improve government effectiveness, enhance and expand communications, develop strategies to accomplish disaster recovery objectives, and seek out and develop economic development opportunities.”

Westport sealCandidates must have “considerable knowledge of the principles and practices of municipal administration; knowledge of public personnel and finance methods and procedures; ability to perform research and prepare technical reports on all aspects of municipal government operations; and knowledge of Emergency Management methods and procedures.”

An MBA, masters in public administration or a closely related field, and 5 years of “progressively responsible municipal experience, or any equivalent combination of education and experience,”  is preferred.  Candidates should also have a “strong knowledge of Westport and town government operations.”

A 5-person committee will interview candidates, and make a recommendation to 1st selectman Jim Marpe. The chair is Pete Wolgast, former 1st selectman executive assistant. Other members include Westport personnel director Ralph Chetcuti, communications specialist Karen Hess, former Board of Education chair Don O’Day, and senior corporate executive Steve Parrish.

Marpe calls the operations director “an extremely important member of my team, whose work will directly benefit the town of Westport and its residents.”

For more information or to apply, email personnel@westportct.gov, or go to Room 208 of Town Hall. The application deadline is May 20.

Mr. Cory Goes To Washington

Dave Stalling is a native Westporter. He served in a Marine Corps Force Recon unit, earned degrees in forestry and journalism, and has worked for several wildlife conservation organizations.

Dave is also the proud father of a young man named Cory. This is Dave’s guest post, on “06880.”

Although he grew up in Westport around the same time I did, I never met Peter Weisman. He had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and died at the age of 15. It was 1980 — just a year after I graduated from Staples.

Mary-Lou Weisman bookI learned about Peter nearly 30 years later when another Westport friend, Bill Handley, gave me Intensive Care: A Family Love Story. Written by Peter’s mother Mary-Lou Weisman, it described her family and son’s struggle with Duchenne. (The book was made into a 1985 movie, “A Time to Live.” It earned Liza Minnelli a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Mary-Lou.)

When I read her book in 2009, I had lived in Montana for 23 years. My own son, Cory, had just been diagnosed with Duchenne. He was 9.

I was devastated. I felt a need to talk to Mary-Lou. So out of the blue, I called her.

At first she thought I was a solicitor and said she was busy. I quickly said, “My son was just diagnosed with Duchenne.” After a bit of silence she replied, “For you, I have all the time in the world.”

She has indeed given me a lot of time, and helped me through the tumultuous journey of coming to terms with my son having a fatal disease. Her advice and encouragement inspires hope. A lot has changed since Peter died: New treatments are available; scientists feel they are close to a potential cure, and clinical trials are underway with promising results.

But more awareness, support and money is urgently needed to turn hope into reality.

Cory and I recently traveled from our home in Missoula to Washington, DC. We participated in an advocacy conference organized by Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, a national nonprofit leading the fight to end Duchenne. Cory met collectively and one-on-one with the entire Montana congressional delegation: Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh, and Congressman Steve Daines.

Cory hangs with Senator Jon Tester of Montana.

Cory hangs with Senator Jon Tester of Montana.

Congressman Daines took Cory onto the House floor, let him cast votes, and introduced him to other representatives. One was Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. She lost her legs while serving as a helicopter pilot in the Iraq War, and uses a wheelchair.

Cory befriended an assistant clerk to the Supreme Court. He took Cory into the courtroom (off limits to tourists). Cory met Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who is leading Congressional efforts to increase awareness and support for fighting Duchenne. We also had plenty of time for to visit various monuments and museums.

Cory stands proudly at the US Capitol.

Cory stands proudly at the US Capitol.

More importantly, Cory persuaded both Montana senators and our congressman to co-sponsor re-authorization of the Muscular Dystrophy Care Act. It could provide funding and support for further research and development of treatments, therapies and a cure that could help save not only his own life, but those of nearly 350,000 boys around the world who have Duchenne.

The trip was paid for entirely by donations from generous, supportive friends and family members, including numerous people from Westport.

Thanks to all who made this trip possible.  Special thanks to Peter Weisman, whose strength, courage and memories are kept alive by his amazing family. Peter continues to inspire boys like my son Cory to fight Duchenne, while enjoying life to the fullest.

(Last year, Dave’s Staples Class of ’79 donated leftover reunion money to help Cory and other boys with Duchenne. To contribute, click here.)  

Cory at the memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both used wheelchairs; neither was  bound by them.

Cory Stalling at the memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both used wheelchairs; neither was bound by them.

If your browser does not take you to this video of Cory’s trip, click here.

 

 

 

Westport’s “Tall Mountain” Towers Over Chinese Music Scene

You may never have heard of Clay Garner. But hundreds of millions of Chinese have. They adore him.

Well, they adore 高山. That’s Clay’s stage name. Pronounced Gaoshan, it means “Tall Mountain” (though he’s hardly Yao Ming).

Clay Garner -- aka "Tall Mountain."

Clay Garner — aka “Tall Mountain.”

Like Justin Bieber here, Clay is a huge pop star in China. Unlike the Canadian heartthrob/thug though, Clay — a lifelong Westporter who graduated last spring from Greens Farms Academy — records and uploads all his own songs and videos.

Unlike Bieber, Clay’s career is totally at the whim of a government halfway around the world.

And of course, Clay does not get into regular alcohol-infused legal difficulties. After captaining GFA’s soccer team for 2 years, he is now a freshman at Stanford University.

Clay walks around Westport unnoticed, but in China his face, voice and guitar are easily recognized. Singing his own songs — a combination of traditional styles, R&B and pop – in both English and Mandarin, he’s all over the Chinese versions of YouTube and Facebook.

He has a gigantic following on Weibo — the Chinese Twitter — and appears regularly on Beijing TV, China Radio International, Youku.com and 56.com. He has been to China 5 times, though one trip was just 48 hours long. (He had to get back to school.)

Not bad for an 18-year-old American who, when he began, could not find the “upload” button on Chinese YouTube.

Clay Garner, on Beijing TV.

Clay Garner, on Beijing TV.

Clay’s unusual path to fame began nearly 5 years ago, when he took his 1st Mandarin class at GFA. (He already spoke Spanish.) He liked the sound of Chinese pop — “sad love songs and ballads,” he says, not unlike the Carpenters’ music — and soon was writing his own tunes.

The next step was recording them, in his grandmother’s attic. He did all the arrangements, production and editing himself. Then came — why not? – uploading them for the enormous Chinese audience.

Clay Garner, at work.

At work.

But the government blocks many sites, so China’s version of the internet is quite different from the rest of the world’s. Clay had to figure it all out on his own.

Three years ago, he had a small group of followers. They left comments saying his Chinese was good, and he should keep going.

One day in 2012, a video received “thousands and thousands of views.” He was — literally — an overnight sensation. He still does not know what caused that song, at that moment, to go viral.

His channel has now been viewed 50 million times. Hundreds of millions may have seen him on CCTV — the country’s major network. “I have no way of knowing,” Clay says.

“It’s the oddest fame I know of. I don’t feel famous, but millions and millions of people know me.”

Clay Garner, aka Gaoshan.

Gaoshan.

With strict government control of websites, and no Chinese iTunes — though piracy is rampant — Clay makes no money from his music. He does it strictly for fun. “It’s my contribution to international relations,” he says.

He thinks it’s important for Chinese people to see an American trying to learn their culture. For years, it’s been the other way around.

Seeing firsthand the power of social media, he’s become interested in using it to promote openness and political movements. While the Chinese government encourages Clay’s work — it’s a validation of their culture — he realizes he could been regarded as their puppet.

Once, in China, he was made to sing “Red Song” — a communist anthem. He vowed never to do that again.

“Chinese entertainers are not taken seriously,” he says. “Someone wrote somewhere that I sing ‘harmless love songs.’ I want to do more than that.”

Clay Garner, on a previous trip to China.

Clay Garner, on a previous trip to China.

At the same time, he knows, officials could “cut me off in a second. All my videos, all my views could be deleted in an instant. I’d have no access to my fans, to the internet, to anything. I’m walking a fine line.”

This summer, Clay hopes to make his 6th trip to China. There’s a new indie scene there, which he’d like to be part of.

Millions of Chinese would love to see 高山 return.

Millions of Americans could not care less.

(Click here for Clay’s English-language website. Click here for an interview with Clay on CCTV, the Chinese national television network.)

ADD AUDIO LINK FROM WEBSITE

Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree…

…at least, not the towering one at Town Hall.

Alert “06880″ reader JP Vellotti has long admired the apple tree at the foot of the old Bedford Elementary School, just above the Myrtle Avenue stone wall.

Town Hall 1

In fact, he picks apples from it every year, and makes a pie.

This year, he may have to go to Stew’s.

Yesterday, JP spotted a fresh new sign on the trunk of the old tree:

Town Hall 2

The notice — posted by the tree warden — says that “this shade tree, the property of the Town of Westport,” will be removed in 10 days, or thereafter.

“Any person or organizations” objecting to the removal must appeal in writing within 10 days. The address — 110 Myrtle Avenue — is the very same building at the top of that handsome lawn.

How do you like them apples?

 

 

 

Video Promises Explosive Postal Service Expose — With A Westport Link

“06880″‘s tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.”

This story takes both the zip code and blog motto literally.

Nicolette Weinbaum is a former Inklings school newspaper editor, and 2012 Staples graduate. Now a Villanova University sophomore and activist, her Nicolette Post website offers insights into culture, politics, trends and entertainment.

In a few days, she’ll post an explosive video she hopes will gain national attention. Today, she offered “06880″ a world premiere. (The link to view it is at the end of this story.)

Nicolette Weinbaum stands near the post office, for her video.

Nicolette Weinbaum stands near the post office, for her video.

The video starts with an overview of the US Postal Service‘s financial woes. But she quickly zeroes in on her local post office — well, the building that served that purpose for over 70 years.

Nicolette’s “eye-opening” finding that “should concern all Americans” includes a look back at the limestone and brick building at 154 Post Road East. Designed as a New Deal project by a former World War I flying ace, the post office cost $35,000 for the land, $108,000 to build.

Nicolette offers 2 very intriguing facts.

One is that although the building was appraised for $3.6 million, it was sold a couple of years ago for just $2.4 million. The purchaser — an Atlanta developer — turned it into the Post 154 restaurant.

The Westport Post Office, near the end of its 70-year run.

The Westport Post Office, near the end of its 70-year run.

Westport is not the only place where a historic post office was sold. (Full disclosure: I’m a talking head in Nicolette’s video. I say the new Playhouse Square location “looks like a military recruiting center, not an 06880 post office.”)

Just a few miles away, Stamford’s  1916 post office on Atlantic Street will soon turn into a twin-building, 21-story residential-retail complex. Greenwich, Hartford, Fairfield, Bridgeport and Norwich have also lost post offices to private investors.

Nicolette says that across the country, historic, taxpayer-funded post offices are being sold to private interests at prices below their appraised values.

USPS logoThe other stunning fact: According to the video, in 2006 Congress mandated that the Postal Service pre-pay retiree health care benefits, at a cost of $55 billion over 10 years. That created a $5.5 billion annual deficit, for an organization that had been in the black.

Nicolette calls the USPS a victim of “toxic Congressional politics.” It is not, she says, truly broken.

Nicolette ends the video with a word about “shocking conflicts of interest that go all the way to the top of the US Senate.” Part of the information comes from investigative reporter Peter Byrne, author of the book Going Postal.

What are those conflicts of interest? You’ll have to wait for part 2 of the video to find out.

Now that may really PO you.

(Click above to see the world premiere of Nicolette’s video.)

CL&P: Trim We Must

Down here in our little corner of Connecticut, we don’t always pay attention to Hartford. But decisions in the state capital can have big effects on us — for better or worse.

CL&P, at work.

CL&P, at work.

Earlier this month, Connecticut Light & Power participated in a public hearing in New Britain. The subject was tree trimming. It’s an important subject, following weather events like hurricanes and snowstorms that caused widespread power outages.

Under the utility company’s “Enhanced Tree Trimming” plan, it would trim or remove trees — including healthy ones — that could fall on their poles or wires. Trees on private property were included, within 8 feet of power lines.

Not many Fairfield County residents trekked up to New Britain. But plenty of citizens throughout the state spoke up. They were not pleased with CL&P’s plan.

Citing environmental and property rights concerns, the speakers vehemently opposed the CL&P plan (and a similar one proposed by United Illuminating).

Speakers (and those sending written comments) noted there was no commitment to plant lower-growing trees to replace healthy ones that had been cut down. Nor was there any plan to grind tree stumps, or remove potential tripping hazards.

Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority took note. On Tuesday, the agency asked CL&P to voluntarily curtail its “Enhanced” program, pending a final ruling.

PURA

“We need a timeout to balance competing needs,” said PURA chairman Arthur H. House.

“One — as established by law — is Connecticut’s demonstrated need for more aggressive tree trimming to secure the reliability of vital utility services. The 2nd need … is to avoid unnecessary eradication of trees and instead proceed with selective trimming.”

CL&P said it would “of course comply” with the request to cut back the tree cutting.

On Thursday, though, the utility told PURA it has 65 local tree crews, with 170 employees, currently trimming trees. CL&P is concerned that a suspension of the program may cause  contractors to leave the state, “adversely impacting the Company’s ability to respond to a major weather event.”

Late Friday, PURA allowed CL&P to continue its tree work.

In related news, this weekend marks the 4th anniversary of a windstorm that knocked out power to thousands of Westporters — some for over a week.

One of the many power lines brought down by trees during the March 2010 windstorm.

One of the many power lines brought down by trees during the March 2010 windstorm.

Saturday Vigil

Every Saturday, 87-year-old Estelle Margolis stands vigil on the Post Road bridge. Here she was on February 1:

(Photo/Robert Baldrich)

(Photo/Robert Baldrich)

The other day, she wrote “06880″:

The sign breaks my heart. These “kids” are coming home with no way to deal with normal life. Their “family” is the troops they served with, and many want to go right back. We are not paying attention in this society to what I consider drastic social problems.

The Veterans Administration is overwhelmed by the needs of the returning vets. Not only the physically harmed, but the psychologically damaged. I saw a stat that the Department of Defense is dealing with over 400,000 vets in need, and they cannot handle it. There are many more now.

Where are we putting our money?  “Petty cash” on Karzai’s desk every week?  Making new weapons to kill people?  Over 8,000 vets a year killing themselves, and those are only the ones we know about. Add that to the troops still getting killed in Afghanistan. Tragic!

I don’t feel like I can do enough to make a difference. The message does get out to some motorists passing me on the bridge every Saturday morning. But only between 11 and 11:30 a.m. I can do better, but only in good weather.

Where are the college kids protesting?  Where are the Mothers for Peace? Where are the news stories about these hideous statistics?  Where are the debates in Congress?

I am the mother of every one of those incredibly courageous troops. They never could believe they would die in their 20s. Better believe it!

John Hartwell Has Been Working On The Railroad

John Hartwell knows trains.

A longtime — and satisfied — commuter from Dobbs Ferry on Metro-North‘s Hudson Line, he was chagrined to find, after moving to suburban Boston, dirty trains without platforms, stations or parking.

The New Haven Line does have platforms, stations and (limited) parking. There are some new (lower capacity) (sometimes unheated) rail cars. Metro-North has slipped a notch or three from its better days.

And though Hartwell — who long ago moved from Massachusetts to Westport — is no longer a rail commuter, he plans to do something about the railroad mess.

In 2008 he ran for the State Senate. Transportation was a huge issue. He lost to Toni Boucher, but the next year earned an appointment to the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. Created by the state legislature, it’s an independent advocacy board for the Metro-North and Shore Line East railroads. When the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line is operational, that will be represented too.

During his 2008 campaign, John Hartwell (left) often met with commuters.

During his 2008 campaign, John Hartwell (left) often met with commuters.

Hartwell — now the council’s vice chair — admits that his major concern at first was the railroad’s economic impact on Fairfield County. But he quickly realized that in addition to maximizing Metro-North’s assets, the railway needed plenty of work — at many levels.

The basic infrastructure — tracks, bridges, catenaries — is 100 years old. An upgrade will cost between $3 billion to $7 billion. But no one — not politicians or taxpayers — wants to pay for it.

Senators Blumenthal and Murphy want to help, Hartwell says. Yet both lack clout. Their very senior predecessors — Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman — “did virtually nothing.”

The railroad “is vital to the economy of Fairfield County, which is vital to the economy of the state,” Hartwell says. “But we always go begging, hat in hand. Hartford sees Fairfield County as an ATM. They want to get money from us, not give it to us.”

The Westport train station -- one of many important stops on Metro-North.

The Westport train station — one of many important stops on Metro-North.

Metro-North’s management is aging too. Formed 30 years ago from the ashes of Conrail, many of its top managers are retiring. Strong replacements don’t seem ready to take over, Hartwell claims.

“Clearly, Metro-North is failing,” he says. The woes of the past month — a 2-hour stoppage just east of the Westport station, in 2-degree weather; a long delay caused by human error that shut down the entire system — have just put a spotlight on a railroad that has been sliding downhill for a long time.

Trains run slower than in the past. There are fewer seats. “There’s a lot of frustration,” Hartwell notes.

Connecticut Commuter Rail CouncilHe wants the Rail Commuter Council to establish “a much stronger relationship” with the state legislature than now exists. Local representatives Boucher and Gail Lavielle have been “very supportive,” Hartwell says. Many other legislators are far less receptive.

The Council has heard plenty of complaints. But they are always looking for constructive ideas. To voice your opinion directly, email johnhartwell@gmail.com.