[OPINION] 3rd Selectwoman: Riano Nomination “A Departure From Responsibility”

Before being named 3rd Selectwoman, Democrat Candice Savin served as Board of Education chair. She writes:

In the wake of the Republican party’s nomination of Camilo Riano as a candidate for our Board of Education I am left shocked, disappointed and, as the former chair of the Board of Education, highly concerned about what this means for the future of our top ranked school district.

Camilo Riano

The Republican Town Committee’s nomination of Mr. Riano marks a departure from a longstanding tradition of responsibility and civility in Westport in more ways than one.

Already, one of the 3 sitting elected Republican BOE members, Robert Harrington, has objected to Mr. Riano’s long and highly public record of incivility and extremism.

(You can click here to see what Mr. Harrington said. And you can click here for a taste of Mr. Riano in his own words.)

Particularly objectionable and out of bounds is Mr. Riano’s irresponsible use of the terms “groomer” and “child sex grooming” in reference to Superintendent Scarice and other members of our world-class educational staff.

Will the Westport schools continue to attract top talent in an environment where members of the BOE falsely disparage professional educators?  Will our well-liked and highly respected superintendent of schools stay in Westport under such conditions?

Here’s another question: Where are the voices of other Republican leaders in town?

Of course, the typical response to candidates one might find objectionable is to simply not vote for them. But elections in Westport are different.

Due to our town charter, both the Republican and Democratic Town Committees have outsized power in determining who will serve on our governing boards.  The dharter requires a certain balance of party representation, regardless of how people vote. A Republican candidate, even one as objectionable as Mr. Riano, can lose the popular vote by a wide margin and still be seated on the BOE.

This is how things work in Westport. It is virtually impossible for the voters to truly reject candidates they find unacceptable.

This arrangement places a significant responsibility on the political parties when they nominate candidates. Historically, both parties have put forward candidates for the BOE who were committed to working constructively with the superintendent and fellow Board members.

Candice Savin

I served on the Board of Education for 5 years. And although I sometimes disagreed with both my Republican and Democratic colleagues, my experience was that we treated each other and our educators with respect, and worked collaboratively to create the top school system in Connecticut.

As we all have learned by now, Mr. Riano is not cut from that mold. As Election Day approaches, we can only hope that the community speaks loudly and clearly with their votes to place more constructive candidates on our BOE.

Thus far, aside from Robert Harrington, the members of the RTC and local Republican leaders – the people who nominated Mr. Riano — have been silent as to why they think he is an appropriate candidate, and whether or not they support his many outlandish and divisive positions. We need to hear from more Republican leaders of good will.

No doubt there will be commenters to this article who will try to normalize Mr. Riano and engage in a whole lot of “what-about-ism.” Having witnessed many of Mr. Riano’s broadsides as I chaired the BOE, I know firsthand how outside of the norm his comments have been.

It is not character assassination to call out someone’s incendiary public remarks and accusations.  Quite the contrary, it is exactly what decency requires.

The nomination of Mr. Riano marks a turning point for our community, a turn away from civility and towards extremism, enabled and encouraged by the Republican political machine in Westport.

Let’s work together, Democrats and Republicans and Independents of good will and good sense, to stop it.

39 responses to “[OPINION] 3rd Selectwoman: Riano Nomination “A Departure From Responsibility”

  1. So that’s it? It’s done and there is nothing we as the voters can do to stop or change this?

  2. maga is present in 06880. I have been commenting on this for years

  3. If you don’t want to elect any person nominated, you don’t vote for them.  That’s called an election.

    • Her point is that parties are limited to a certain number of seats. Even when a candidate receives far fewer votes than the top vote getters, they can still win a seat if the winning party has already filled the maximum of 4 seats, which could happen here.

      • Yes, exactly, Becky. No one can vote for him and he will still get a seat. So what can be done at this point? 

    • true. that’s not the point. why would you want to have extremism as a choice? extremists can get elected. people are misled and lied to using false information. just look what happened yesterday in House of Representatives.

    • Hmmmm.. related to Kathy Ruggiero by any chance?

  4. Savin asks: “ Where are the voices of other Republican leaders in town?”

    On every level voice of Republicans are absent and atrocious behavior and abhorrent beliefs are condoned.  The question is:  Are the “good” Republicans too weak to stand up or too sympathetic to these positions?

  5. Michael Mossman

    For those of us with intelligent and sober members of both parties among our families and friends it’s so disturbing to see the weakness of the GOP leadership to standing up against the descent of the party into a MAGA cult. We’ve always found productive debate on issues important issues an essential part of reaching reasonable consensus on policy. But that was when the debate was based on facts, not conspiracy mongering and witless attacks on public officials (including attacks on Republicans by MAGA extremists). Clearly, the present GOP leadership is not up to the task of reigning in this destructive cult. So it’s up to the members of both parties to stand up to this poison ourselves. 

    We see the beginnings of this happening on the national stage with some Republicans standing up for bi-partisan cooperation and accountability for attacks on our electoral process. Let’s do our part here, locally.

    Please show up and vote for civility and sober professionalism in the face of non-stop conspiracy based MAGA radicalism. Let’s bring the conversation back to seeking common ground on actual problems, like traffic and budget, not invented MAGA “talking points,” lest we see Westport descend into the chaos we see in the House of Representatives.

    • well said Michael. thank you. We need more outspoken articulate people to stand up and speak out

  6. Thanks for writing this, Candice. Certainly concerning. What do you propose doing about it other than calling on Republicans to speak up??

    • Not answering for the Third Selectwoman, but changing the “bare minimum majority” (my words) requirement for elected Town boards would require the amending of the Town Charter. That process is laid out in State law and (I *believe*) ultimately requires a Town referendum.

      (Unlike what you may have heard from the RTM Moderator and Town Attorney last night, nobody in Town can arbitrarily change (or ignore) the Town Charter and remain within the law.)

      A work-around (I believe) might be running a third-party candidate – but we are a little late in the process for that, this election.

      Chris Grimm

  7. Thank you Candice. I could not agree more.

  8. So informative, thank you. 

  9. Patra Kanchanagom

    Thank you, Candice.  Whether or not you agree with Mr. Riano’s positions or his choice of words when speaking at past BOE meetings, I think it’s fair to say that his candidacy is controversial.  As a non-affiliated voter, parent and active member of my school communities, I am genuinely interested to understand the rationale for putting him forth as a Republican candidate.

  10. Westport’s Republican Town Committee is our own little Chaos Caucus. The RTC never fails to appall.

  11. Thank you Candice. Wondering if the Town’s elected Republicans plan to comment?

  12. Catherine Lewis

    Thank you Candice – I was shocked and disturbed to learn who was being put forth as the Republican candidates for school board.  I naively thought Westport was better than that

  13. Tooker and all the other Republicans who believe in Democracy, the constitution and the rule of law, are goddamned cowards for not trying to save our town and schools from this intellectually challenged monster.

  14. Thank you Candi. You have given words to something that has left many of us upset. Our town is far too small for all the nasty discourse that has been spewing. Westport is a good place to live and we should all be working together to preserve that.

  15. There is something voters can do.  There are three seats to fill and four candidates.  I intend to vote for the two Democrats and the other Republican (Fitzgerald). Normally I would just vote for the two Democrats, but will in this case, since the three candidates with the most votes win.  If enough voters vote for these three, it would be pretty hard for Mr. Riano to win….

    • Susan you are correct in your analysis of course BUT to hold hold up a mirror – using this logic if all the folks on the other side vote for GOP candidates and no Dems you may end up with a GOP majority on the BOE – I’m not a conspiracy theorist but I suspect that this may have been part of the calculation by the RTC to nominate an extremist candidate like Riano in the first place – In particular given how silent they have been on his nomination thus far. 

      Besides, even if he is the leading GOP candidate there is very little real chaos he can cause in the minority, particularly when Robert Harrington is there as a voice of moderation and reason representing most mainstream Republicans. Paraphrasing Tom Selleck in that stupid TV reverse mortgage commercial  – I trust him (Robert) and I think you can too!

      In fact if Riano does get elected on his own bring your popcorn – BOE meetings will become “Must Watch TV” as he invites town wide ridicule for his extreme views. I do feel quite badly for his children and their teachers however.

      I used to feel as you do about voting strategically but I have been persuaded that the only sensible strategy is to vote for Lee and Neil alone and let the rest of the chips fall where they may.

      • But if you consider Mr Riano to be a danger on the BOE, the only thing you can do, as an individual, is vote for the two Democrats and the other Republican.  Those votes going to Fitzgerald would normally not be cast – giving him extra votes from Democrats – so he can be the Republican to win.  I’m sure many Democrats are like me and normally only vote for the Dems.  By voting for the other Republican, they can ensure that Mr Riano does not win the third opening.  Last time I heard, there were more registered Democrats than Republicans in town.

        • Right again of course – but in an off year election will they show up?

          Remember that over the past couple of years the population of Westport has changed dramatically as long time Westporters have cashed in on sky high property prices and the complexion of the electorate may have changed. Behind my street alone more than half of the housing stock has turned over in that time. 

          This is our first look at the new voter patterns – I’m personally not willing to roll the dice and bet our #1 school system in CT as table stakes – please file under friendly advice however – candidly I wouldn’t presume to condescend your well conceived analysis.

          I would encourage you to speak to someone on the DTC to take their counsel on this? I can out you on touch if you don’t know anyone. 

          For the record we are on the same side on this in case that isn’t obvious?

        • Patra Kanchanagom

          What gives me pause about this strategy is that Ms. Fitzgerald seems to be in lockstep with Mr. Riano re: book bans (as evidenced by statements in another publication). This, for me, is a dealbreaker. But, what troubles me even more is that I don’t know much about her or her positions on other issues.  I’ve been looking but can’t seem to find information.  Would gladly be corrected if I am wrong.

        • Michelle Mechanic

          Hi Susan, This is Michelle Mechanic – the Chair of our Democratic Party here in Westport. Please vote for our Democratic candidates and do NOT bullet vote for Jaime Fitzgerald. 1) It will give her extra votes which gives a false impression of public support that doesn’t really exist, and it could compromise Lee and Neil’s victory. 2) Let the Republicans speak for and save their own party. It’s not our job. I’m confident Westport’s REAL Republicans will make the better choice for our town, even if they’re afraid to speak out publicly. 

  16. Sharon Horowitz

    Thank you, Susan. That is the information people have been asking for, and should be communicated to those who ask. 

  17. Robert Harrington

    Candi – thanks for this clear and articulate statement. You and I have agreed on things and passionately disagreed on things. 

    Your words stating that, “This arrangement places a significant responsibility on the political parties when they nominate candidates”, could not be more important.

    Sadly, I think my local party has failed in this regard.

    I am a Republican, not a Democrat. I am very excited about my parties slate of candidates for other boards and commissions. I will work to ensure their success.

    However, I simply can’t do that here.

    Words and actions matter. 

  18. Do the Magnificent Seven (you know who they are 06880’ers) the same seven who comment here and in the Westport Journal all day long, do they work, run businesses, or whine 24/7?

    You’ve become total bores.

  19. So, I have some hypothetical questions.
    First- If no one votes for Mr Riano to keep him off the Board – do we then wind up with a Republican Board of Education member, Ms Fitzgerald, that no one really knows anything about (except possibly the RTC committee that nominated her)? 
    Second- What happens if Ms Fitzgerald drops out of the race at a late date and the only Republican candidate left is Mr Riano? Does Mr Riano then automatically sit on the Board as the required third Republican member?
    Third- Can a politically Independent person, not affiliated with either party, run for a Board of Ed seat and if they get the appropriate number of votes – could we end up having a Board of Ed with 4 Democrat, 2 Republican and 1 independent Board of Education members?

    Fourth- To guaranteed the two DTC candidates win seats on the BOE shouldn’t Democrats just note for the two DTC candidates since it looks like Westport is going to get either Mr Riano or Ms Fitzgerald no matter what??
    It seems without any additional information being shared by the RTC, even to the Republican Board of Ed member Harrington and most Republican voters of Westport, there is the distinct probability of Westport waking up one morning to newspaper accounts of how the liberal Town of Westport got a far right Board of Education member who is in favor of book bans, thinks “Westport is a communist haven”, called out superintendent of schools as a “groomer” and stated that “our teachers are making kids trans”.
    Does anyone, Republican, Democrat or Independent have any information they would like to share or answers to the three questions answers?”

    • Michelle Mechanic

      Hi Steve. This is a longer conversation but I’m happy to answer your questions. Dan Woog – can you please give Mr. Stein my phone number?

    • 1. Yes
      2. Yes (and their jointly signed op-ed on Westport Journal does suggest that they are running lock-step, so it likely would make little difference)
      3. I believe so (if I am reading your question correctly) though I imagine it is too late to get another candidate on the ballot. 4. Depends on how much worse you think one would be from the other. (Mr Riano’s supporters – however many there may be – may only vote for his candidacy, using the same approach.)
      Let’s be honest – a lot of things are happening in Town right now that none of us voted for. Mr Riano should blow-up the election by endorsing the protection of the Community Gardens from the BOE! (Though he admittedly expresses no public interest in any issues outside of cultural grievance!)

  20. I can’t decide what is more egregious, the nomination of Camilo Riano or the one-can-only-assume intentional lack of information available on Jamie Fitzgerald. Either way, the lack of respect the RTC is showing towards the Westport community with regards to the BOE nominations is unacceptable. And, as so many others have said, the silence from so many of our town’s prominent Republicans speaks volumes about what little respect they have for the people in this town. This behavior, in a town of this quality, is nothing less than shocking. 

  21. The costs of this act by the RTC will be seen in educational outcomes and declining home values.  This is the top school district in the state and ranked very high on the national level. Nominating people who want to disrupt our success is an act of sabotage against our kids and our quality of life. 

  22. Just checked – 4,184 voters in Westport voted to re-elect Donald Trump, so don’t think there isn’t a constituency that Mr Riano represents.

    In 2021, it only took 4,237 to elect a MAGA First Selectwoman.
    The Democrats are understandably concerned that even fewer will show up for this year’s election, without an FS race on the ballot. The Long Lots debacle is surely alienating some reliable Democratic constituents (I’m a Democrat, but certainly can’t support what has happened there). I’m cynical enough to believe this is about scaring voters into protecting the Democratic majority on the BOE, more than anything else, in an off-off year race when so few will vote that anything can happen.

    Chris Grimm

  23. Stephanie Frankel

    Thanks to Moms for Liberty, Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump, this is where we are and it is sad and pathetic! People want school board meetings like Florida?! Oh boy!
    Camilo is literally just a parrot and blowhorn for all of the above. He is a follower, not a leader. His goal is to destroy, not build up. I suggest that people really investigate what he is doing.
    I am shocked that Liz would not respond to me as to if she supports Camilo and his awful rhetoric. She came up with one excuse: she is too busy to be transparent. That is scary to me. Actually, frightening.

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