In 2008, Gen Re transferred Jen and Mo Tooker from the London office to their Stamford headquarters. The couple hunted for homes throughout Fairfield County.
On a February day, a realtor drove them around the corner to Compo Beach.
It was cold. The marina was empty. But, Tooker said, “We’re done!”
They had not seen any houses here yet. It did not matter. The Tookers soon found one.
Westport has been their home ever since.
Tooker soon became part of her new community. She joined the Conservation Commission; served on the Boards of Education and Finance, and was elected 2nd Selectwoman.
On Monday night at Town Hall, she’ll be sworn in for a new post: 1st Selectwoman. She and running mate Andrea Moore were elected last week to the town’s top 2 spots.
Though Tooker’s first attraction to Westport was its water, what’s kept her here are Westporters.
“The people here are fabulous,” she says. “They love living here. They get involved. They make things happen.”
Tooker has done more than her share of that. Knowing that this would be “home” for many years, within weeks of unpacking she sought ways to help.
With professional knowledge at Gen Re of flooding, wetlands and property maps, she was appointed to the Conservation Commission.
In 2011 — urged by people who said her skillset was a good fit for the Board of Education — she ran for, and won, a seat.
Democratic chair Don O’Day and Republican vice chair Jim Marpe led a “rock solid, bipartisan” board, Tooker says.
Two years later, she was asked to run for the Board of Finance. She retired from Gen Re, to devote time to public service and raising 3 children.
In 2017, when Avi Kaner decided not to run for a second term as 2nd selectman, Marpe asked her to join him. She had a front run seat for all that the job entails — all the departmental collaboration, public meetings, budget deliberations, decision-making on issues like masks, weather-related disasters and more — plus the behind-the-scenes work that few people ever see.
Her skills, experience and goals suited her well for the top job. When Marpe announced he would not run for a 3rd term, Tooker was ready.
She and Moore jumped into campaigning. “Westporters are savvy,” Tooker says. “They want to know their elected officials. This was my 4th townwide race. Every time I’m amazed at how much people want to meet candidates, and ask tough questions.”
The questions came via Facebook, Instagram, texts and calls. They came in person too. Tooker and Moore held a number of public meetings — including the porch at The Porch — to answer the questions.
And to listen.
Tooker learned that “by and large, people are really happy to be here. They feel blessed, connected, and invested in the community. They’re super proud of Westport. Whether they’re new or been here for 45 years, that gives them pride.”
She and Moore “had a message, and it ran all through the campaign. We were very focused on local issues, to ensure that Westport remains the best place in the region to live, work and play.”
The ticket won, she believes, because “we had a message that resonated with a sophisticated electorate. Westporters wanted to know us, and vet our message.”
In addition, Tooker says, “We ran a positive campaign. Westporters care deeply about that.”
Though hard work does not always guarantee a win, “we were out there every day, for 7 months. That was critical for people to meet us, and ask the questions they needed to ask.”
Twelve hours after next Monday’s swearing in, Tooker heads back to Town Hall. Her first task, she says, is to meet with department heads. She’ll hear their priorities, talk about collaboration and communication, and make plans for the immediate future.
“It’s important to be a good manager,” she says. “Employees need o feel supported, to go out and do a good job for residents.”
Every 1st selectperson brings a different style to Town Hall. Though she worked closely with Marpe, Tooker says, “in certain situations I may be less patient than Jim. I don’t fly off the handle, but I may push a process or strive for an outcome a little more quickly.”
She calls Marpe “an excellent listener. He processes information by listening to people. That’s an excellent quality in a leader. In this line of work, where we are here to ensure that democracy prevails, it’s crucial to hear every voice. I hope I can be as good a listener as Jim is.”
She has always worked — professionally and as a volunteer — so that won’t be new. But 1st selectwoman is a full-time, 24/7/365 job. Tooker had many conversations with her family before deciding to run. They understand the demands of the job.
Her husband Mo, and their children — 20-year-old Jack (a junior at Santa Clara University), 18-year-old Riley (taking a gap year before Southern Methodist University) and Nicole, an 8th grader — are “fully supportive” of her, Tooker says.
Also supportive: Tooker’s parents. They moved here to be with their daughter and her family during the pandemic. Her father, 87-year-old Bob “Pops” Salmon, lives in the Tookers’ home. Her mother is in the memory care unit at The Residence.
All are “incredibly proud” of her. And most will be on hand at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Town Hall, to see Jen Tooker sworn is as Westport’s next 1st selectwoman.
(Monday’s ceremony will also include the swearing in of all boards and commissioners. RTM members will be sworn in the next night, Tuesday, also at 7:30 p.m.)
FUN FACT: After 12 years in the public eye, there is little that Westporters don’t know about Tooker. They may be surprised though to find out that she is an ardent fan of Chelsea, the English Premier League soccer powerhouse.