Jim Marpe grew up in Canton, Ohio. After earning a BA from Case Western and an MBA from Wharton, he embarked on a career with Accenture that took him to Chicago and Copenhagen.
Transferred to New York in 1989, Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen were attracted to Westport by the quality of education, amenities like Compo, and the beauty of Longshore. They also appreciated the town’s arts heritage. A performance at the Westport Country Playhouse sealed the deal.
They joined New Neighbors. The very first person they met was from the country they’d just left: Denmark.
That story illustrates everything Marpe loves about Westport. It’s also a reason why — as he completes his first term as first selectman — he looks forward to running for re-election.
When he ran 4 years ago, Marpe — who had retired from Accenture as a senior partner — believed he could use his business skills, his experiences on the Board of Education (interim chair and vice chair) and Town Plan Implementation Committee, as well as his leadership roles with the Westport Weston Family YMCA, Homes With Hope, Westport Rotary Club and Greens Farms Congregational Church, to help his town.
“I love this place as much as anyone here,” he says.
He cites his accomplishments: improving town finances; keeping property taxes flat; upgrading Compo and Longshore; beautifying downtown; promoting Westport as an attractive place for business; updating tax policies for senior citizens, and improving the Senior Center; creating a Commission on People with Disabilities, ensuring the town remains inclusive for all residents (and their families).
He’s running again, he says, because there is still work to do. “Hartford has placed problems in our laps. We’ve made great strides in creating a budget to address the lack of any significant revenue coming from the state, and any new bills or taxes we can try to mitigate.”
Marpe adds, “Hartford’s problems are huge. They won’t get solved in one year. We’ll have to keep our own financial house in order for many years. We’ve been conservative in dealing with town finances. We have to work even harder at that, so Westport continues to be an attractive place to stay in, or move to — one of the most active and exciting communities in the country.”
For example, the first selectman says, a public hearing next month will examine rehabilitating the Compo bathhouses in a way that is “acceptable to all, at a cost we can afford.” Similarly, while the Longshore golf course rehabilitation has made it one of the top 8 public courses in Connecticut, the Inn and other parts of the property can also be improved.
Marpe says he is in “total agreement” with his potential challenger, fellow Republican Mike Rea, about the need for continuous improvement. “That’s what I’ve built my professional career on,” Marpe notes. “We can never rest on our laurels. We have to keep what Westporters hold dear, and make sure this is a town we’re all proud of.”
Personally, he is proud of his administration’s non-partisan approach to problem-solving. Marpe says he has “staffed committees and given assignments to the best qualified people, regardless of party. That’s how Westporters like to address issues.”
Second selectman Avi Kaner will not run for re-election, due to increased demands of running his family business. But he’ll chair Marpe’s campaign, and will continue to work on special projects.
Marpe lauds Kaner’s work, and is “thrilled” that Board of Finance member Jennifer Tooker joins his ticket. “With her background, which also includes the Board of Education, she understands the financial challenges, and the important impact education has in Westport.”
Third selectman Helen Garten was Marpe’s Democratic opponent in 2013. “We’ve worked together as a team,” he says. “All three selectmen play to our strengths. That’s helped make our administration a success.”
He looks back on the past 4 years with satisfaction. Little moments stand out: thank-you notes sent after he attended local events; Memorial Day parades and ceremonies that honor individual citizens, the town and our country as a whole.
Nearly 30 years after moving here, Marpe, his wife and his daughter Samantha — a product of the Westport school system — appreciate more than ever all that Westport is, and does.
Right now for instance, he’s preparing for a panel on April 1 about Syrian refugees.
“Not many communities this size would have that discussion,” he notes. “But in Westport, we have debates like this. Some of them are heated. But when they’re over, we all go to the Black Duck together.”
(Democratic State Representative Jonathan Steinberg has set up an exploratory committee to examine a run for first selectman. He declined an interview, citing his state legislature commitments on the budget.)