When Avi Kaner decided to forgo a 2nd run for 2nd selectman, it did not take Jim Marpe long to name Jennifer Tooker as his running mate.
The Dallas native and University of Notre Dame graduate lived in Chicago and London while she and her husband Mo worked for GenRe. (They met in a training class.)
When they were transferred to corporate headquarters in Stamford, they did the usual: searched for the right town (and commute) in Fairfield County.
Tooker says they fell in love with all of Westport, including historic home on North Sylvan.
“The commitment to public education, the beach — we felt a great vibe right from the start,” she notes.
Realizing this was her family’s final move, she decided to act on her long desire for public service. Tooker was appointed to the Conservation Commission — an excellent introduction to the ins and outs of local and state government.
In 2011 she ran for the Board of Education. Talk of “Westport 2025” intrigued her. She believed that her experience overseeing a global department was a good fit for the 21st-century skills the board was examining. Her financial background could help too.
Voters agreed, and elected her.
“In local politics, it doesn’t matter if there’s an ‘R’ or ‘D’ after your name,” she says. “The goal is to figure out how to get things done for all the people you serve. I’m proud that on the Board of Ed we took a pretty non-partisan view.”
Two years later, Tooker ran for the Board of Finance. She cited her knowledge of the education budget process, and ability to bridge communication gaps between the 2 important town bodies.
Juggling her job, public service and a household with 3 kids was not easy. In 2013 she resigned from GenRe.
“I really enjoyed my government work,” Tooker says. “I wanted to devote all my time and energy to it.”
But she found time to join local non-profits too. She is particularly proud of her work with the Adam J. Lewis Preschool in Bridgeport. “I’m passionate about doing what I can to bridge the achievement gap in education,” she says.
So why is Tooker leaving the finance board — with its important power — to run for 2nd selectman?
“With all that’s going on with the state budget, we’re in for tough times,” she warns. “I think this is the right time for someone with my breadth and depth of experience, and my business principles, to step in and help the town stay vibrant and wonderful.”
And, she adds, “I can’t pass up the opportunity to serve with Jim. I admire his character, his accomplishments and his vision.” The pair worked together on the Board of Education.
She hopes to “help this administration achieve its goals, while navigating turbulent economic times and still maintaining the quality of life in Westport.”
Pointing to the model Marpe used with Kaner and 3rd selectman Helen Garten, Tooker says the 1st selectman can “figure out the best way to use all of our skill sets to keep Westport unique and vibrant.”
There’s plenty of campaigning ahead. But, Tooker says, she loves to kayak, paddleboard and go to the beach with her kids. Those too are parts of her summer plans.