Westport Activist Wants All Connecticut Votes To Count

As a zoology major Nicole Klein learned that when sea turtles hatch, they instinctively turn to the horizon. That leads them straight to the ocean.

In the aftermath of November’s election, she felt similarly impelled. But it was not until Christmas — when she had a chance to take a break from her very demanding full-time job — that she understood exactly what she had to do.

So she served notice to her employer, McKinsey. Today she devotes herself full time to grassroots political activism.


Nicole Klein

Klein loved McKinsey. The consulting firm encourages personal growth into new areas of the company, and she’d taken full advantage. After 17 years, Klein had worked her way up to global event manager.

But — like those sea turtles — Klein followed her destiny.

She’d been involved in political campaigns from 1992 to 2004. In 2008 she fell in love. “I didn’t care about anything else,” she laughs.

Klein got married, had a child, moved to Westport. In the run-up to this year’s election — as she worked hard for Hillary Clinton — she wanted her 6-year-old son to see what involvement looked like. She brought him to her phone bank shifts.

In the weeks after the election — but before her resignation from McKinsey — Klein grew more active.

She attended Westport Democratic Town Committee meetings. She volunteered as a bus captain for the Women’s March on Washington.

Klein calls that event “one of the 5 best days of my life. It was so powerful to see everyone come together peacefully. It wasn’t a protest — it was a unifying moment.”

Nicole Klein (left) enjoys the Women's March on Washington.

Nicole Klein (left) enjoys the Women’s March on Washington.

Now Klein is putting her event planning talents to work on another project. It’s an informational session on changing the way Connecticut casts its electoral votes for president.

Set for this Thursday (March 2, 7 p.m.) in the Westport Country Playhouse barn, the “State of Voting: CT Debates a New Way to Elect the President” panel includes New Yorker writer Hendrik Hertzberg. It’s part of a move to have our state join 11 others whose legislatures have agreed to let its electors vote for the presidential candidate who gets the most popular votes in all 50 states.

The idea is that all votes cast nationwide for president will count equally — without abolishing the Electoral College. Under the current method, voters in Connecticut — and other almost-certain blue or red states — are easily ignored.

Of nearly 400 events during the 2016 general election, 94% were held in just 12 battleground states. Only 1 was held in the Constitution State.

equalize-the-vote-ct-logoOrganizers of National Popular Vote CT — including Westporters John Hartwell and Rozanne Gates — call the concept one of fairness. Citizens of every state should have their vote weighed equally, they say.

The project’s leaders also point to surveys that show 3/4 of Connecticut’s voters — including a majority of Republicans — believe the candidate who gets the most votes in the country should become president.

Thursday’s event is non-partisan, Klein says. “We want people to hear the issues, and make up their own minds.”

She hopes for a large turnout at the Playhouse. And when that’s done, she’ll turn her attention to the next activity.

“Not one day goes by that I regret resigning,” Klein says. Every day she feels more excited about being part of the democratic — with a small “d” — process.

In her own way, she’s making sure America stays great.

(“The State of Voting: CT Debates a New Way to Elect the President” — at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 2 in the Westport Country Playhouse barn — is co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Westport and National Popular Vote CT. The event is free, but seats must be reserved. Click here, email boxoffice@westportplayhouse.org, or call 203-227-4177. Video of the event will be available on Facebook Live at NationalPopularVoteCT, and afterward on www.npvct.com)

Filling In That Vast, Pizza-less Post Road Void Between Angelina’s And Jordan’s

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

The Oscars: One More Encore

The Westport connections to “La La Land” just keep on coming.

Erik Feig

Erik Feig

In his Academy Award acceptance speech last night for Best Original Score, Justin Hurwitz — who wrote the music that Staples High School graduate Justin Paul helped pen the lyrics for — thanked Erik Feig.

He’s the president of Lionsgate’s motion picture group — and a “La La Land” production executive.

He’s also a Staples High School Class of 1988 graduate.

And … before we finish our Oscar stories (which are taking only slightly longer to post than the ceremony itself), here’s one more.

In a backstage interview last night — held while the awards were still being presented, which is why everyone spoke so quietly — Paul praised Staples Players director David Roth, and Coleytown Middle School director Ben Frimmer by name. That followed his prime-time shoutout to the arts education he received in his home town.

Click here for that video. (And scroll down — it’s the 2nd one).

The Oscars: The Sequel

“La La Land” won the Academy Award for Best Picture last night — until it didn’t.

But the old-fashioned, new-fangled musical about hopes and dreams still picked up an admirable 6 Oscars.

And — in addition to Staples High School graduate Justin Paul — there in Los Angeles to share in the glory was Westporter Joelle Berger. Her son Fred was a “La La Land” producer.

When she flew to California for the 89th annual ceremony, she did not go empty-handed.

Mom brought along a special treat: a chocolate creation of a scene from the movie, hand-crafted by Le Rouge owner Aarti Khosla.

Aarti Khosla's chocolate rendition of "La La Land."

Aarti Khosla’s chocolate rendition of “La La Land.”

Fred Berger had just finished his acceptance speech, when fellow producer Jordan Horowitz announced that, actually, “Moonlight” was the Oscar winner.

Publicly Fred, Justin and the rest of the cast were gracious winners/losers.

I have no idea what went on afterward, backstage. But hopefully they had a chance to drown their disappointment in chocolate.

Hail To The Chief

Andrew Kingsbury took over as chief of the Westport Fire Department in May 2011. Among his many responsibilities: director of emergency management for the town.

At the end of August, Hurricane Irene struck. Two months later, an early snowstorm created havoc.

Just before Thanksgiving, Saugatuck Congregational Church caught fire. Only a heroic effort saved the historic structure from burning to the ground.

Kingsbury’s first months on the job were — literally — a trial by fire.

In the years to come he faced Superstorm Sandy, and several mammoth snowstorms.

Kingsbury managed them all professionally, efficiently and compassionately. And that was in addition to all his other tasks: Handling fires in homes and businesses everywhere in town. Responding to car fires and accidents on I-95 and the Merritt. Overseeing building inspections, compliance issues, safety campaigns in schools and elsewhere. Leading investigations. Developing budgets.

And, oh yeah, serving as headquarters for the Secret Service when President Obama was in the area.

Westport Fire Department chief Andrew Kingsbury, in his office. On the left -- above the windows facing the Post Road -- are souvenir fire helmets.

Westport Fire Department chief Andrew Kingsbury, in his office. On the left — above the windows facing the Post Road — are souvenir fire helmets.

Kingsbury’s last official day is tomorrow. He retires after 30 years with the Westport Fire Department — his only job since being offered a position here one semester shy of college graduation.

New chief Rob Yost — previously an assistant, who was sworn in on Friday — inherits a department in excellent shape. That’s what Kingsbury’s predecessor Chris Ackley did for him, and the retiring chief is determined to continue that tradition.

Last week, Kingsbury sat in his sunny office at fire headquarters, overlooking the Post Road, and reflected on his 3 decades here.

He’d been a volunteer firefighter in his native Trumbull. After starting in Westport on July 1, 1986, he spent 17 years on the line. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2003, and assistant fire chief 2 years later.

Kingsbury is proud of his accomplishments. In the aftermath of each storm or other weather-related event, there is a ton of paperwork. “We work hard to get the town — and individuals — reimbursed,” he says, citing one part of his job that few folks ever see.

One small issue during Superstorm Sandy, on North Avenue.

One small issue during Superstorm Sandy, on North Avenue. Downed wires are always a danger for the fire department.

During Sandy, Kingsbury spent 28 straight days at work. Much of that time was stressful. Some of it was simply “answering phones, reassuring people.”

It’s not in his job description, but Kingsbury goes to every house fire. He’s honored whenever someone calls or emails to thank his department after a call.

Even a dryer fire can be a devastating experience, he knows. His firefighters pay attention to little details — covering up valuables or putting family photos in a drawer, so they won’t be damaged by water from hoses — and when Westporters acknowledge those acts, it’s gratifying.

But the Saugatuck Church fire stands out.

“I knew the history,” Kingsbury says. “I didn’t want to be the new chief who lost the place where Westport was born.”

Usually, he says, firefighters know within half an hour if a structure can be saved. That November night, they battled for hours without knowing the outcome.

Firefighters from several towns battled to save the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Firefighters from several towns battled to save the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Crews from Norwalk, Wilton, Fairfield and Weston helped out. In the middle of the blaze, Kingsbury called retired fire marshal Fred Baker. He’d worked with the church when they put in firewalls a few years earlier.

Baker told Kingsbury what he knew about the fire stops, and construction materials. As a result, a Fairfield ladder was hoisted at exactly the right point above the sanctuary. There was major damage, but the building stood.

Of course, Kingsbury won’t miss budget battles. “I understand that each town board has a job to do,” he says. “They don’t always understand what we do, but they want to be educated. So every year we explain about our personnel and our equipment. We know it’s expensive.”

There is no alternative. Westport is not like many other suburbs. Its population increases by 27 percent every workday, Kingsbury says, as employees of hedge funds, businesses and stores — along with shoppers — pour in. “That’s a lot of people in motion every day,” he notes.

In addition, a river runs through town — and often floods. So does Long Island Sound.

Hurricane Irene flooded downtown Westport, in August 2011.

Hurricane Irene flooded downtown Westport, in August 2011.

Metro-North — the busiest commuter line in the US — passes through Westport. And I-95 and the Merritt are accident magnets. The Fire Department answers 125 calls a year on those 2 highways alone.

Some of those emergencies include cutting people out of vehicles. “Cars are much safer today,” Kingsbury says. “But extrications are tougher. Cars used to be like tin cans. Now there are so many new metals and plastics. We’re constantly educating ourselves in that area.”

The town has more miles of private roads than public roads, the chief notes. Most date from the 1800s. They’re laid out like cow paths, and few conform to modern codes.

“We build our trucks as small and narrow as we can,” Kingsbury says. And after they take care of a call, they have to leave. “We’ve become very good backer-uppers,” he laughs.

fire-departmentDuring his 30 years in Westport, equipment has gotten much better. Breathing apparatuses are lighter; technology and radio systems are vastly improved, and thermal imaging cameras allow firefighters to see right through smoke.

As chief, Kingsbury has worked to standardize policies and procedures with neighboring departments. They assist each other often, and need to be able to communicate and work seamlessly.

Another Fire Department job that few people ever see are walk-throughs during construction. For the past 2 years, his crew has been in and out of the new Bedford Square.

“We need to see what’s being built,” Kingsbury explains. “If we know what’s wood, what’s metal, we’ll know how to handle any emergency.”

And, he adds, “When that crane showed up, we were there. If anything happened, we’d be the ones to get the guy out.”

But one of the biggest challenges the Westport Fire Department faces is large homes. Any call in a house larger than 6,000 square feet requires more manpower than usual. And, Kingsbury says, big houses have a lot of furniture. “These days it’s all foam rubber and plastics. That stuff burns fast.”

A binder on Chief Kingsbury's shelves holds a map of all Westport homes over 6,000 square feet. And there are a ton.

A binder on Chief Kingsbury’s shelves holds a map of all Westport homes over 6,000 square feet. And there are a ton.

He looks at a wall filled with mementos of his 3-decade career. It includes a signed photo with President Obama, thanking him for his help during a presidential visit.

“We protected Sherwood Island when he flew in here,” Kingsbury says. “And the Secret Service was headquartered here. All their vehicles were in the bays — and their guns.”

But Westporters went about their business, without a clue. “Our lips were sealed,” the chief says.

“I’ve enjoyed being here. It’s been a great experience,” Kingsbury concludes. “When I started, I never imagined the diversity of calls.”

There have been tens of thousands. Yet one stands out.

A while ago, firefighters rescued a 3-year-old from a terrible house fire.

Years later, the girl — by then 16 years old — came to a retirement ceremony for one of those men.

Kingsbury smiles when he tells that story. Then he goes back to work, making sure that the department he hands his successor is firing on all cylinders.

The Saugatuck firehouse -- one small part of Westport's superb Fire Department.

The Saugatuck firehouse — one small part of Westport’s superb Fire Department.

Justin Paul Wins An Oscar — And Hails School Arts Programs

Justin Paul and his songwriting partner, Benj Pasek, won Oscars tonight for “City of Stars,” the signature song from “La La Land.” The lyricists were honored for another song — “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” — from the same film. So they had 40% of the category locked down.

The 2003 Staples High School graduate used part of his acceptance speech to give a shout-out to the importance of the arts for young people.

“I was educated in public schools, where arts and culture are valued,” Paul — a product of the Westport school system — said. At a time of pressure from STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) state requirements, as well as the possible elimination of the National Endowment of the Arts, Paul made sure to thank all the teachers who helped nurture him.

He did not mention them by name, but former Staples High School choral director Alice Lipson and current Staples Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long were enormous influences. So were Coleytown Middle School director Ben Frimmer, and Kevin Connors of Music Theatre of Connecticut.

Justin Paul at the Oscars.

Justin Paul at the Oscars.

Paul and Pasek’s Oscar is the latest in a string of awards for the young duo. Earlier this year, “City of Stars” earned a Golden Globe.

And that comes on the heels of the success of Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen,” for which they wrote the music and lyrics.

Congratulations Justin, from all your fans in Westport — this “town of stars.”

Justin Paul's Oscar acceptance speech.

Justin Paul’s Oscar acceptance speech.

Okay, So First You Head Down State Street…

Alert — and confused — “06880” reader Jaime Bairaktaris was looking up an address on Google.

The world’s largest search engine — which supposedly knows everything — took Jaime’s “Post Road East,” and turned it into “State Street East.”

It’s right there on Google Street View too:


That’s the internet search equivalent of your grandmother telling you to close “the icebox.”

Jamie wonders: “Is State Street still the legal name of Post Road East?”

I’m guessing no. That would be “US 1.”

Photo Challenge #113

Some photo challenges can be figured out by current Westporters, and those who lived here many years ago. The anchor by Ned Dimes Marina — installed in 1958 — was a great example, 3 weeks ago.

But you need to live here now — or have visited in the past 2 summers — to know last week’s image. John Videler’s shot showed the tile ramp at the “new” Levitt Pavilion, leading down to the lawn. If you’ve never seen it, be sure to stop by next summer — it’s a beauty! (Click here for the photo.)

Congratulations to Eileen Lavigne Flug, Marc Hartog, Cheryl McKenna, Nancy Wilson, Seth Braunstein, Fred Rubin and Seth Goltzer. If there was a prize, you’d get a season’s pass to the Levitt. Oh, wait — it’s free for everyone!

Today’s photo challenge was inspired by tonight’s Academy Awards. Here’s a hint:  It has nothing to do with the Oscars.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

If you think you know where in Westport you’d find this beauty, click “Comments” below. Winners won’t get a prize that looks anything like this.

They’ll get something better: Their name on “06880,” next Sunday.


An alert — and acoustically assaulted — “06880” reader writes:

Can “06880” start a movement for restaurants that provide a quiet environment?

There’s not a single good restaurant in town where one can go with a friend, and enjoy a meal in an atmosphere conducive to relaxed dining and conversation.

I know this isn’t a problem limited to Westport. I don’t know when “buzz” became the hallmark of success, but it’s time to revert to a more civilized standard. Enough!

This is an issue all my friends comment and complain about constantly. When one decides to skip dessert in order to escape the assaulting noise, something must be really wrong!

Maybe your “voice” will be strong enough to start a successful campaign for change. Maybe there’s a town noise ordinance — or there should be!

So, “06880” readers: What do you think? Is this a real issue? Are there restaurants you avoid — or seek out — because of noise? Where do you go for a “quiet environment”?

Click “Comments” below. Bon appetit!

Yogi Berra once said of a New York restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

Yogi Berra once said of a New York restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”


Nefaire Rejuvenates Downtown

When you work 100 hours a week, you need a good way to relax.

But, Michael Chang found, traditional resort or day spas were not it. They lacked the services, schedules and ease of booking a hard-charging private equity guy like he demanded.

So — even though his firm owned a massage franchise — he looked for a fresh approach.

Which is how he created Nefaire.

The spa — designed for busy people, with a “kitchen” where many oils, masks, cucumbers, and other fresh stuff used in its facial and aesthetic services are produced — opened earlier this month. It’s located on the Post Road, next to Westport Pizzeria.

The kitchen at Nefaire.

The kitchen at Nefaire.

Nefaire — its name comes from an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph denoting beauty and health — offers short, rejuvenating services. They’re convenient enough to fit into busy lifestyles.

Chang chose Westport because he’d worked at Bridgewater. Despite his long hours there — and his need for relaxation — he got out enough to realize downtown is a great destination. He’s excited about Bedford Square, and the new retailers arriving soon.

He likens his new spa’s vibe to the reasons he’s attracted to Westport. “It’s got the aesthetics of a city,” Chang says. “But I’ve never seen any place like it in Connecticut. You can walk around and enjoy it. It’s not super crowded. It’s a special place.”

Soon, Nefaire will launch an app. Clients can book massage or facial services to their home, office or hotel in just an hour.

Then: Back to work!