Write-In Candidate Enters Board Of Ed Race

The Board of Education election just got even more interesting.

Jill Dillon — a well-known former PTA president, St. Luke religious school teacher and community volunteer — has launched a write-in campaign.

Her goal is to prevent the election of at least one — or possibly both — Republican candidates to the board.

The Town Charter prohibits any political party from having more than a bare majority on the Board of Education — in other words, no more than 4 of the 7 seats.

Three seats will be filled next month. The Democratic and Republican Town Committees picked 2 nominees each. Before Dillon’s entry, that meant that at least one of the Republicans — Jamie Fitzgerald or Camilo Riano — would be guaranteed a seat.

Riano attends most BOE meetings, where he often criticizes the board. Little is known about Fitzgerald, who has never run for office.

Dillon has been an unaffiliated voter since she and her husband John moved to Westport in 2012. Raised in Virginia by Republican parents, she says she has voted for candidates from both parties in local elections.

Party labels, she says, “can put people in a box. That does a disservice to everyone. As an adult, I look at issues critically, and on my own.”

Jill Dillon

Dillon had not liked Riano’s confrontational tactics during BOE public comment time. She says she withheld judgment about Fitzgerald, hoping to learn more about her stands.

But after watching two “fireside chats” produced by the RTC, she became concerned about the future of the Board of Ed if even one of the pair was elected.

As PTA president at both Kings Highway Elementary and Coleytown Middle Schools, she has watched the BOE operate.

“The current board is excellent,” Dillon says. “They are congenial and collaborative. They get things done. They work well together, and they have a good relationship with the administration.”

As she learned more about Riano and Fitzgerald, and talked with friends who were also concerned, she considered a write-in campaign.

Last week — just before the League of Women Voters debate with Riano, Fitzgerald and Democratic incumbent candidates Lee Goldstein and Neil Phillips — Dillon got a call from a man she did not know.

He’s a Saugatuck Elementary School dad, he explained. He heard she might be running, and urged her to do so — to “keep the Board of Ed moving forward.”

That night, she attended the LWV debate. She wore a t-shirt with a logo a college friend had quickly designed. She attracted plenty of interest — and encouragement.

Jill Dillon’s logo

As she listened to the debate, her decision to run was solidified. She had served as a PTA president the same time as both Goldstein and current Republican BOE member Dorie Hordon. Dillon realized she could help them both keep the Board functioning in a forward-looking way.

“Debate Camilo and fireside Camilo are not the Camilo who shows up at Board meetings,” Dillon says. “He’s combative. He comes at issues in a way that makes people not want to engage.”

Fitzgerald, meanwhile, “did not show depth of understanding about our schools.”

Neither Republican candidate, Dillon says, “seemed to care about the mental health of our kids. Jamie talked about her 30-year-old daughter who was bullied in 6th grade, but didn’t seem to think we should focus on bullying and mental health.

“Camilo said his kids are happy. I’m glad. But I’ve seen a lot of kids who are struggling. Your kids may not be, but others are. And kids who seem happy may not always be.”

Dillon’s professional career was in public opinion research. Moderating focus groups, she led discussions and helped leaders make informed decisions.

She had her first daughter at 35. After CMS, she is now a freshman at an all-girls school.

“As parents, we all make the best decisions we can,” Dillon explains. “We thought that environment was the best fit.

“I love our schools. Not continuing to Staples was hard for her, and me. I’ve known the (current) freshmen since they were in kindergarten.

“She still sees her friends every day. And her school has been really good for her.”

Dillon’s other daughter is a 7th grader at Coleytown Middle. “She wants to go to Staples. Every kid is different. We’ll see what works for her,” Dillon says.

Running as an unendorsed candidate is a challenge. The bottom of the ballot has space for write-ins. Dillon will register with both the Secretary of the State and Town Clerk, so they will understand the intent of voters who write not the preferred “Jill Dillon,” but something like “Jill D,” or misspell her name. Voters must also fill in the circle next to that write-in name.

Dillon has not spoken with the Republican or Democratic Town Committees. She has heard that Democrats are pleased there may be an alternative to Fitzgerald and Riano, if both Goldstein and Phillips are re-elected.

She and her “scrappy team” will spend the next 3 weeks knocking on doors, making calls, and educating voters on how to write her name on the ballot. “Fill in Dillon” has a nice ring, she laughs.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, October 17, 7 p.m.) she will meet voters in Westport Library Room 215.

On Friday (October 20, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.), she’ll host an informal gathering at the Compo Beach pavilion.

“Our town boards operate wonderfully,” Dillon says. “Party affiliation hasn’t meant much here. Local issues haven’t fit neatly into a political box. This is the first time where an election might impede progress.”

But local issues are important. On the Long Lots Elementary School renovation project — which has become tied to the fate of the Westport Community Gardens — Dillon says, “we need a new school, full stop. And the gardens are gorgeous. They’ve provided so much. They’re part of the fabric of Westport. We have to try hard to find a way to build both.”

Regarding the display of LGBTQ-themed books challenged at Staples (which Riano and Fitzgerald have criticized, and Goldstein and Phillips supported), Dillon says, “It’s a difficult needle to thread. I understand parents’ objections to the display, and to the pictures and content of some of the books.

“But it goes back to mental health. When kids feel different, they can’t learn well. If one child needs those books, I want them available. There can be a happy medium between banning books, and exposing kids to content their parents don’t want them to see.”

Candidates at Thursday’s League of Women Voters debate. From left: Lee Goldstein, Jamie Fitzgerald, Camilo Riano, Neil Phillips. (Photo/Mia Bomback)

Of her decision to run, Dillon says, “I have immense respect for all members currently serving on the Board of Education, regardless of their party affiliation, and I hope that Lee Goldstein and Neil Phillips are re-elected.

“I think it is imperative that the third seat go to a candidate with a moderate voice who has publicly demonstrated collaboration, been an active leader in the community, and who cares deeply about the continued excellence of our schools. I am that candidate.”

She adds, “Westport’s schools are our crown jewel, and it’s the BoE’s responsibility to lead the way. Our schools offer unparalleled access to learning, athletics, and the arts, while fostering community.

“Our children’s education is the foundation from which they are launched to achieve success in a broader world.”

58 responses to “Write-In Candidate Enters Board Of Ed Race

  1. This is such welcome and exciting news! I look forward to voting for Jill (Dillon for the bubble fill and write in), Lee, and Neil on Tuesday, Nov 7. Local elections, especially this one, are important and matter.

  2. Go Jill!

  3. I will “Fill in Dillon” on November 7, along with Lee and Neil!

  4. Great slogan Youn Su Chao!

  5. Happy to see you are giving us a real third choice, Jill Dillon.

    On your community gardens comment, we do not need to build it. We already have it. We need to preserve it. Build the school; save the gardens.

    Thanks for running!

    • Toni’s right, Jill. Replacing the Gardens with a professional-sized baseball field would be an ecological disaster, in so many ways. And the students at LL Elementary know that.

  6. Bert S. Twombly

    All I can say is: What Tooker so long?

  7. I am so excited that Jill is running for BOE. I have worked with her in both her PTA Co-President positions and she is laser focused on educational excellence. Jill has the ability to work both respectfully and collaboratively to bring people together on differing issues. I will be voting for Lee, Neil and Jill on Nov 7th.

  8. Blake Schnirring

    Go, Jill!!! Thanks for running!!

  9. Thank you, Jill, for stepping up with a voice of calm, competent, and compassionate reason.

  10. This is incredible news for our community. Over the years, I have witnessed Jill get up and speak effectively on divisive issues at town meetings. Her greatest strength, that our community will benefit from, is her ability to distill issues and provide direction for the group. She would be a wonderful addition to our BoE. “Fill in Dillon”

  11. What a relief! Thank you Jill for stepping up and continuing your dedicated support of our kids and our schools. I think we can all agree that our kids deserve calm, measured and thoughtful minds when it comes to the adults working together on their behalf, regardless of political affiliation.

  12. Marjorie Donalds

    Thank you Jill for running, and for your supportive comments re: the WCG. Let’s get that school built without needlessly destroying Westport’s Community Garden and new Preserve.

  13. There is no better advocate for our children and our community! Thank you for stepping up, Jill! FILL in JILL!!!

  14. Thank you, Jill, for running for the sake of our children, schools and community. Westport thanks you!

  15. Thank you for stepping up to the plate and running! This isn’t going to be easy – what can I do to help?

  16. As an Independent voter I welcome the Independent write-in candidacy of Jill Dillon.

    Sadly, the RTC nominated candidates do not appear to have the qualifications I am looking for to help lead our top rated school system.

  17. Christine Phillips

    Ms Dillon, I can only hope that you put as much time and energy into supporting Lauralton Hall, which is a very special place in its’ own right, not just as an alternative to Staples.

    • Hi, Christine. A little over a month into the school year and I can already tell it IS the special place we thought it would be. I’m going to let my teenager get her footing there before I jump in and cramp her style. And I’m sure there will be lots of eye rolls from when I do, but she’s used to my energy. I look forward to meeting you and your family!

  18. What an amazing read to start the week!! Thank you, Jill, for stepping up and giving Westport voters an excellent option to fill the third seat on the BOE.. You have already done so much for the Westport schools and now this! We are so lucky. I can’t wait to Fill in Jill!!

  19. Jennifer Seymour

    Thank you Jill!! Your service to the Town and its schools has always been vital but never more so than now. I’ve really enjoyed working alongside you on the Kings Highway PTA and I’m certain that the Board of Ed will welcome your input with open arms.

  20. I’m an Independent voter and don’t know Ms. Dillon. Just thought it was interesting you quoted her …”Party labels,” she says, “can put people in a box”. However, “Her goal is to prevent the election of at least one — or possibly both — Republican candidates to the board.” Looks like Ms Dillon will fit right into the political scene where everyone has an agenda, yet claims not to!!

    • I don’t think she is claiming to not have an agenda. Her electoral agenda is pretty clear. And one which I wholeheartedly approve of.

    • Hi, Mark. Just have to point out that I, personally, don’t feel like MY views fit neatly into a box which is why I didn’t attach a label to ME. The two candidates I do not want on the Board are Republicans, yes, but I don’t like THEIR particular views. I think the sitting Board, both Republicans and Democrats, have done an excellent job representing our schools and the vast majority of their decisions have been unanimous. I would not be running if Liz Heyer were still the Republican nominee, period. I don’t understand why the RTC put forward the current candidates that they did, and I think a lot of people, Republicans and Democrats and Independents and unaffiliateds, feel the same way. That’s why I’m running. If you’d like to chat more I welcome you to come to one of my meet and greets.

      And the box that everyone IS welcome to put me in is 5E on the write-in ballot line. 😉

    • I think Ms. Dillon is pretty clear about her agenda. Not based on their party label, but rather based on their words and actions, Mr Riano and Ms. Fitzgerald will do damage to the Westport school system if they are elected.

  21. I will Fill in Jill!!! We are so lucky to have you as a candidate. You would be an amazing addition to the BOE. Thank you for stepping up.

  22. Happy to Fill in Dillon! Thank you for running & thank you for your MANY volunteer hours for this school system & town!

  23. Margaret Freeman

    Thank you for stepping up to the plate. You’ve got my vote!!

  24. Thank you Jill!!!!

  25. Caroline Hendley

    Thank you JILL DILLION for giving us a legitimate 3rd vote. Thank you for your service to our kids and our town that we love!

  26. Thank you Dan for covering Jill Dillon’s candidacy, which is welcome news to many, irrespective of party affiliation. I am grateful to learn of her history of service, her views on the accessibility of “banned books” and her family’s educational choices for her own children. This transparency is refreshing and, while I have yet to meet Jill I align with her expressed views.
    I am especially grateful that you included an image of what a write in ballot including Jill’s name will look like for those of us who have not written in a candidate before.

  27. I fully support Jill Dillon’s effort. The concept and the reality of having a one person majority party concept for our elected boards is faulty and inconsistent with the fact that almost no issues affecting Town and School decisions turn on party affiliation. That is true for the P&Z Commission, for example Joe Strickland is an excellent candidate this year. It should arise more often and used to occur more when SWN nominated a candidate. I would like to see this occur with the BoF, the ZBA and even the BoS.

    • I agree with that, Don – I think that opening of the charter for revision would be an opportunity to remove that anachronistic approach to Town Boards.

      That said, I find myself troubled, NOT by Jill Dillon’s effort to get elected to the BOE (I applaud that), but by the Democratic candidates’ efforts to tie her to their own candidacy on their social media pages and in some campaign events, as that seems like an attempt to usurp the one-person-majority rule. I would be curious what the Connecticut State Election Enforcement Commission thinks? (It is one thing to *casually* support a candidate, but more formal “linking” is dubious.)

      In a Town that debates the meaning of “shall,” I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this.

  28. Jill has a big hill to climb. bring water. good luck.

  29. Jill Dillon has my vote! It’s truly astounding to me that the RTC put forward their current candidates.

    • I hope voters will ask their Republican RTM candidates if they support Riano and Fitzgerald. The RTC lists as members the following RTM candidates: James Izzo, Andrew Colabella, Alma Sarelli, and Brandi Briggs. If they don’t support Riano and Fitzgerald, why not change the way the RTC does things? If they’re a “different” kind of Republican, why not shout that from the rooftops?

    • I would love to know what the RTC was thinking when they decided to put these two candidates on their BOE slate. I’m all for having different perspectives on the BOE, IF the candidate is otherwise qualified. After listening to their interviews/debates/”fireside chats”, these two seem to have no understanding of how the Westport schools — or any public schools, for that matter — work.

  30. thanks a million Mrs Dillon I will be chillin and thrillin. your competition is feeling ill in

  31. Thank you Jill for stepping up when you saw something wrong.

    Lee Goldstein + Neil Phillips + Jill Dillon = Dream Board of Ed

    Fill in Dillon…and don’t forget to color the dot too!

  32. Rebecca B Martin

    Thank you Jill! Let’s keep excellence, not extremism our priority for our schools. Excited to vote Goldstein, Phillips and to FILL IN DILLON!

  33. I can no longer even vote in Westport but am encouraged to see this additional choice!

    • I will Fill in Dillon along with Lee & Neil. Thrilled to support these three very experienced candidates!! I’ll take a yard sign when available.

  34. I am so glad to hear there is an independent common-sense voice willing to serve on the school board. I will FILL IN DILLON on Nov 7!

  35. How can I donate to her campaign?

  36. Yes, how to donate, but also an email address for supporters to send their contact information and availability to help. Lots of voters to reach in a short period of time.

  37. I just had the pleasure of meeting Jill Dillon while we were both waiting on line at the Post Office. I would like to encourage everyone eligible to vote and those who are just interested to continue and open dialogue to support a debate between Jill and the Republican candidates, Jamie Fitzgerald and Camilo Riano—a real debate, not just a presentation and posturing behind a long table. It could be at Town Hall, the library, any place where there is enough room for an audience.

    We need a serious discussion about the issues not just the vile proclamations of Camilo Riano who, when challenged, at least on 06880, to present proof of child grooming by Superintendent Scarise, the Board of Ed, teachers, counselors, and librarians, refused to even bring up the subject during the LWV presentation. He also did not refute Board of Ed Chair Goldstein when she said the books were available for Staples Students, not assigned, and not in the lower schools.

    There is much to discuss about student mental health and well being, including drugs, drinking, social media abuse and academics. In considering the use of AI, as Ms. Fitzgerald suggested, for teaching different styles of writing border is thoughtless. We have teachers, librarians, and books in a combined and coordinated effort to do so. This is why students go to school—to make learning worthwhile, enjoyable, and interactive with non-AI creations: human beings. The students should also be allowed to judge and understand the difference between the 1st Amendment and accusations of child grooming by educators through a discussion with substance, research, and background—James Joyce, are you turning in your grave?

    The diatribes by Mr. Riano and anger of Ms. Fitzgerald are useless except in their effort to incite people to react, not to think.

  38. Stephanie Frankel

    The above comments make me so proud to live in Westport! Thank goodness the M4L cult only lives loudly on the back channels of Facebook conspiracy theory groups.
    Way to go Jill!

  39. Best news out there!!!!

  40. I have known Jill for 20 years and I was thrilled to learn that she is running. She will be an outstanding member of our School Board. Jill is smart, hard-working, respectful of others and collaborative. Her focus will be doing the right thing and doing it in the right way. Go Jill! You are the best.

  41. Very excited to see Jill run. She has been so involved in CMS and is an advocate for all parents.

  42. Jill you have my vote!!! And not just because you’re a fabulous karaoke partner in crime!! 🤗

  43. Jill Dickson Dillon

    I am not a local resident, but want to state as Jill B. Dillon’s mother-in-law and namesake Jill would be an outstanding member of the Board of Education.

What do you think? Please comment! Remember: All commenters must use full, real names!