Kane Names Simmelkjaer As Running Mate

Democratic First Selectman candidate Melissa Kane has completed her ticket.

This morning she announced that Rob Simmelkjaer will join her, in the 2nd selectman slot.

A member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Democratic Town Committee, Simmelkjaer jumped into local politics soon after moving here in 2013.

Rob Simmelkjaer

His face may have been known to Westporters even before he arrived. He’s been an on-air contributor for NBC Sports, where he is also vice president of NBC Sports Ventures. He previously worked at ESPN and ABC News, where as anchor and correspondent he covered such events as the Virginia Tech shootings and President Ford’s funeral.

At Dartmouth College, Simmelkjaer majored in government and philosophy. He also holds a law degree from Harvard University.

He is a volunteer coach with the Westport Soccer Assocation, and a vice moderator at Norfield Congregational Church. He and his wife Kathryn — a physician at Bridgeport Hospital — are the parents of 2 young daughters.

When NBC Sports moved from 30 Rock to Stamford, the Simmelkjaers looked to move out of Manhattan. They had friends here. The town’s friendly vibe, opportunities for children and excellent schools made it a no-brainer.

“This is the place I wish I grew up in,” says Simmelkjaer, a New Jersey native.

Always politically engaged, he volunteered with the Barack Obama campaigns in 2008 and ’12, and Hillary Clinton last year.

When Kane asked him to be her running mate, he was quick to say yes. “She’s a terrific leader, is passionate about the town, and knows we have to invest in our assets,” he says.

He is eager to face the budget issues “coming down from Hartford.”

Rob Simmelkjaer with his wife Kathryn, and daughters Julia and Annika.

He also is running because, he says, “with the big picture in today’s country, more people need to stand up and answer the call to serve.”

Believing in the adage “all politics is local,” Simmelkjaer says, “if we want to solve problems at the state and national level, we need to show we can do it here, in a civil way.”

If elected, he hopes to leverage his day job — working with entrepreneurs and tech people — to focus on “better uses of technology as a town, and with partners, to solve problems like traffic, parking and communications.”

Simmelkjaer also says that — though they’re not the Board of Education or Finance — the 3 selectmen have a role to play in “maintaining our top-quality schools. Whether you have kids or not, that’s important for us all.”

Ratatouille Serves Up Empowerment For Women

Four months ago, a recent Syrian refugee helped cook and serve a delicious Middle Eastern dinner in a private home.

She was eager. It was a chance to gain a foothold in a new country, one that really does offer the possibility of building a new life far from the the horrors of war.

Hong Thaimee

Hong Thaimee saw the hope in the woman’s eyes. She too is an immigrant. She came to the US from Thailand 10 years ago. Now she’s the chef/owner of Ngam in New York (with 2 more restaurants opening this year), a cookbook author, global speaker and humanitarian activist.

Thaimee is also co-founder — with Westporter Evelyn Isaia — of Ratatouille and Company. A “sophisticated catering company with a social purpose,” the intriguingly named business helps women who face difficulties and challenges become self-sufficient through hospitality.

Thaimee comes from a family of chefs. Isaia spent 30 years in wealth management.

But ever since she was a teenager, Isaia volunteered for social causes. She’s a longtime partner with Social Venture Partners Connecticut, and a board member of the Women’s Business Development Council of Connecticut.

Evelyn Isaia

Last month, Isaia retired. Thanks to meeting Thaimee 2 years ago through mutual friends, a new career — and business – was born.

Both share a passion for culinary arts, and a desire to help others “bridge the opportunity gap.”

“Women often get the short end of the stick,” Isaia explains. “They can be empowered only by knowledge.”

With her ability to organize — and Thaimee’s passion for cooking — the new business is a natural.

It gained steam even before Isaia formally retired. Last September, they organized a black-tie tasting event in Paris. Thaimee’s cooking class and book-signing — and a gala dinner — raised €80,000 for the American Church of Paris.

Three months later in Greenwich, the Women’s Business Development Council was the beneficiary of a sit-down dinner and auction.

Now, with the opening of a commercial kitchen, Ratatouille is ready to partner with other organizations, including Building One Community in Stamford and the International Institute of Connecticut. Those refugee resettlement programs provided the path for the Syrian woman to start finding her new way in America.

Ratatouille’s owners are full-service. Thaimee works with the women on cooking; Isaia teaches them to make beautiful table decorations, serve at a cocktail party or 4-course meal, and organize the flow of a gala event.

Last month’s Middle Eastern dinner — a private party — was a triumph. Miriam Fawez made the delicious food, and learned how to present it artfully. Nervous at the start, by the end of the night — after hearing diners’ compliments, and seeing their smiles — she felt confident and happy.

“Mirian just wanted a job,” Isaia says. “Now she’s got a stage.”

(From left): Hong Thaimee, Fufu Fawez, Evelyn Isaia and Miriam Fawez, with food Mirian prepared and presented for last month’s Middle Eastern dinner.

The co-founders look forward to working with other non-profits, like domestic violence centers in Bridgeport and New York.

The word will spread quickly. Ratatouille is delicious.

(For more information on Ratatouille and Company, click here.)

Pic Of The Day #73

Last night’s sunset, featuring the Compo palm tree — Westport’s newest icon. (Photo/Dave Dellinger)

Pop-Up Pyrotechnics

Westport has welcomed pop-up outdoor dining.

A pop-up Halloween shop.

Now — just in time for July 4th — we’ve got a pop-up fireworks stand.

It popped up in the parking lot of the Rio Bravo/Julian’s shopping center — the one near Maple Avenue that was once anchored by Pier 1.

Of course, this being Connecticut, you can’t get the real, big, honest-to-goodness finger-losers here — not in the parking lot, or anywhere else in the state.

For those, you have to go to Pennsylvania.

You know: the Keystone State.

Pavilion Progress

Midway through the Compo Beach pavilion roof removal project, here’s what’s happening:

The view is certainly different — a lot lighter. But where will the seagulls perch?

Meanwhile, the picnic tables had to go somewhere. They’re outside the pavilion, on the cannon side.

At midday today, they got a bit of use.

Unsung Hero #4

Most of us don’t know our trash collectors.

They arrive before we’re awake, or when we’re not home. If we do see them, we seldom interact.

But Bill Malone is special. According to Jo Ann Davidson — one of his 82 customers at Harvest Commons — he takes care of everyone, in all kinds of weather.

“He is always cheerful and helpful,” she says. “He lets us know if the holidays change the schedule. A real pro.”

Jo Ann is a retired 1st grade teacher. She is proud of all her former students — especially her recycler, Bill Malone.

Bill Malone

Mike Rea Suspends 1st Selectman Campaign

Jim Marpe’s route to re-election as first selectman just got easier.

Last night, Mike Rea announced he was suspending his potential run for the town’s top post.

The vice chair of the Board of Finance formed an exploratory committee in March.

Now, he says, business commitments prevent him from dedicating the time to the effort. Rea serves as vice president of corporate services and global real estate for Gen Re.

Mike Rea (left) after his first Board of Finance victory. On the right is current 2nd selectman Avi Kaner.

Rea notes that he was “overwhelmed with the support and encouragement from Westporters across the political spectrum.” He looks forward to serving out his finance board term.

The lifelong Westport resident, 1970 Staples High School graduate and 35-year volunteer in town government believes that the challenges Westport faces today “require new thinking. The state of Connecticut has thrust financial issues upon Westport. Residents should and are expecting more, requiring new creative thinking from our town leaders.”

He adds, “This is a good time for new and younger people to step forward and volunteer to serve our community. Contact the political party of your choice and sign up to run for office. Westport is counting on you.”

Pic Of The Day #72

Tubing off Compo Beach (Photo/Kristina Bory)

Tuesdays @ The (T)rain

Call it a “dry run.”

Except a sudden, unexpected thunderstorm sent dozens of commuters, parents, kids and random Westporters scurrying for the safety of tents set up by food vendors, local organizations and the sponsoring Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — while knocking out the live music that had just kicked in.

And except for a storm-related Metro-North overhead wire problem that created delays of up to 30 minutes, and caused trains to shuttle back and forth between Westport and Rowayton.

Apart from those glitches though, the 1st-ever “Tuesdays @ the Train” event went swimmingly, at Luciano Park next to the station.

The sun came out. There were games and eats. Everyone relaxed, went with the (still-wet) flow, and had a great time.

Mark your calendars for the next 2 Tuesdays @ the Train: July 18 and August 8.

First Selectman Jim Marpe checks out the “Tuesdays @ the Train” tents in Luciano Park.

Kids played in a variety of ways.

Meanwhile, all around town, a rainbow lit up the skies. Here’s a sampling:

Compo Beach (Photo/Rich Stein)

Burying Hill Beach (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

The downtown view, from iFloat (Photo/terry Stangl)

Compo Pavilion Roof: The Sequel

According to initial reports from Westport Parks and Recreation, the Compo Beach pavilion roof is being removed and replaced.

Like Republican promises about Obamacare however, that might not be exactly what’s happening — at least, right now.

In fact, this week the roof is only being removed.

For a while now, Parks and Recreation director Jen Fava has been on the Board of Finance July 5 agenda, to ask for funds for removing and replacing that roof.

However, when a consultant reported that the roof was structurally unsound, Parks and Rec decided to remove it ASAP.

That project began yesterday.

The Compo Beach pavilion — including the soon-to-be-removed roof.

Fava will still go before the moneymen next month. If approved, a new roof will be installed before next summer.

But for the rest of this season, the pavilion will be open to the sky. Unless, Fava says, another type of roof solution is found.

The rest of the structure — brick walls and cement floor — is not being worked on at all.

The roof removal is expected to be completed before the July 4th weekend crush.