Category Archives: Local politics

10 Questions For 1st Selectman Candidates

Anyone can ask the 1st Selectman candidates what they think about taxes, traffic and the future of Main Street. Their answers may not be surprising.

But “06880” wants to know more. We’d like to know what makes these men (and woman) tick. And what makes them Westporters, as opposed to politicians.

So we asked each candidate the same 10 questions. Here are their replies. I chose the fairest way to post them: alphabetically. But — since as a “W” I’m always last — they’re in reverse order. Hah!

What got you to Westport?

John Suggs:  My wife and I were looking for a community in which to raise our newborn twins, with great schools, friendly neighborhoods and unique community character. A place that our kids would always be proud to call home. That is Westport.

Jim Marpe:  Our family moved to the New York City area 30 years ago at the request of my employer, Accenture, following a lengthy expatriate management assignment. By coincidence 2 of our best friends had moved to Westport while we were overseas, so we had already visited several times and gotten a preview of the community. Our daughter was entering elementary school, so the world-class quality of the school system was the primary attraction. But the other attractions were the physical character of the town, the cosmopolitan atmosphere and the wide variety of activities that did not exist in similar places we had lived.

Melissa Kane: I began coming here as a child and have loved it ever since.

TJ Elgin:  My grandparents helped save me from a dark path with my father.

John Suggs and his dog Monty. The photo was obviously taken between October 1 and March 31.

What kept you in Westport?

Suggs: The friendly people, the community ties and the schools which have become a second home for our children.

Marpe:  The Westport public schools are the primary reason we stayed, but by then we were involved in leadership roles with a variety of interesting community service organizations that help a wide cross-section of Westport, including Homes With Hope, the Westport Weston Family Y, Green’s Farms Congregational Church, the Rotary Club, Westport Country Playhouse, the Young Woman’s League, and Neighbors and Newcomers of Westport. My wife, Mary Ellen, was a successful small business owner for over a decade (Westport Academy of Dance). Moreover, we had come to appreciate the wide variety of high quality amenities that Westport offers (Library, beaches, Longshore, performing and visual arts, attractive open spaces) as well as proximity to New York City. In the end, it’s the great friendships we have developed with an amazing array of interesting and involved Westporters that will keep us here for many years to come.

Kane:  My husband proposed to me way out on a sandbar at Old Mill Cove. We love this town and wanted to raise our children here. The overall character, roots in the arts, and the people make it an easy place to love.

Elgin:  My family and friends.

Favorite place in Westport to relax?

Suggs:  Golden Shadows back porch in Baron’s South.

Marpe:  Compo Beach (South) on a summer evening with friends and a picnic dinner. Certainly not Town Hall!

Kane:  Walking on the beach.

Elgin:  Compo Beach.

Favorite place to go when you’re NOT in Westport?

Suggs:  Cape Town, South Africa.

Marpe:  Any place that has small, family-owned vineyards and wineries and a small, quiet inn.

Kane: Hiking in the White Mountains with my family.

Elgin:  Stratford Pyramid Shriners.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, in the 2013 Memorial Day parade. Behind him are State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, 3rd Selectman Helen Garten and 2nd Selectman Avi Kaner.

Musical group you’d most like to see at the Levitt?

Suggs:  The Boss, Bruce Springsteen.

Marpe:  The Rolling Stones.

Kane:  Ben Folds.

Elgin:  Lights, she is from Canada.

Favorite annual event in Westport, and why?

Suggs:  Staples High School Candlelight Concert. The music by our talented students together — during the holiday season — makes my heart soar.

Marpe:  Memorial Day parade. Truly a local event with a family focus that reflects our small town character, honors our residents who fought for our freedoms, and marks the unofficial beginning of summer.

Kane:  Memorial Day parade. It’s the most wonderful small town, magical event one could imagine. It really captures the spirit of the town like nothing else.  My children have been in it; I love to watch and participate in it. I am also always humbled by the sacrifices that were made by our servicemen and women.  

Elgin:  Fireworks because it’s my first real date with my soon-to-be wife, and Lobsterfest because of old friends I never get to see.

Melissa Kane (right) with her mother, Judith Orseck Katz.

If you could wave a magic wand and change anything about Westport, what would it be?

Suggs:  The traffic congestion.

Marpe:  Traffic would flow easily and freely through all our intersections. The Waze and  Google Maps apps would cease to divert traffic from I-95 and the Merritt Parkway onto our local streets. Our drivers would obey all speed limits and traffic regulations, and observe safe driving etiquette. And our streets would magically widen to become “complete streets” with sidewalks, pedestrian- friendly crosswalks and bicycle lanes, along with plenty of room for cars to pass.

Kane:  Making it a place our children could come back to and our seniors can stay in.

Elgin:  The entitlement. We live in a world where we all need to help each other and our surroundings, to have a brighter future for our planet.

Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts?

Suggs: Neither. The Sherwood Diner.

Marpe: Dunkin’ Donuts. But my real choices are Coffee An’ and Donut Crazy.

Kane:  Coffee An’.

Elgin:  Neither. I don’t drink or eat from places that I don’t know where their products are from.

TJ Elgin and his fiancee, Denise Bahr.

5 words to describe Westport?

Suggs:  Compo, Cribari Bridge, beautiful, home.

Marpe:  Cosmopolitan, active, creative, caring, innovative.

Kane:  Forward-thinking, beautiful, engaged, active, community.

Elgin:  Historical, environmental, artistic, educational, proper.

5 words to describe yourself?

Suggs:  Persistent, dedicated, devoted, father, husband.

Marpe:  Hardworking, proactive, principled, optimistic, collaborative.

Kane:  Collaborative, optimistic, determined, down-to-earth, objective.

Elgin:  Generous, knowledgeable, noble, wolfy, strong.

“06880” Endorses…

No other candidate for kayak commissioner has such a great Abba-esque slogan.

Or a Swedish flag.

Of course, there are no other candidates for kayak commissioner.

Because the post doesn’t exist.

But if it did, we’d definitely vote for Magano.

(Hat tip: Dana Kuyper. She took this photo at the Spicer/Rayfield Road intersection.)

 

Selectmen Candidates’ Debate On Thursday

If you were underwhelmed by the presidential debates of 2016, your long national nightmare is over.

On Thursday (October 12, 11:30 a.m. to 1:3o p.m., Westport Library), the 4 candidates for 1st selectmen face off. It should be informative — and substantive.

Republican Jim Marpe, Democrat Melissa Kane and independents John Suggs and Timothy J. Elgin will discuss business-related issues. There’s a good reason: The debate is sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.

Moderator Jay Sandak will lead the discussion in areas like the town’s business environment, jobs and taxes.

The event begins with a chance to meet the candidates. At that time, attendees can submit written questions for the debate.

Selectman Candidates Truly Serve The Public

Political candidates often talk about “serving the public.”

This Friday (October 13, 6 p.m., Design Within Reach), all 4 first selectman candidates — and the 2 who are running for 2nd selectman — will absolutely do that.

They’re celebrity bartenders at the Westport Historical Society‘s “Tomorrow’s History Gala.”

The event — which coincides with the current “06880 + 50: Visions of Westport in Fifty Years” exhibit — includes our current and (possibly) future leaders serving past, present and future-style cocktails.

The old-time drink: an Old Fashioned (naturally).

The present drink: draft beer from Veracious Brewing Company.

The future drink: the Miggs. It’s blue and it glows — and is named for one of the WHS’ favorite volunteers, Miggs Burroughs.

Also on tap: a Prosecco bar (including the very rare 130th anniversary Cuvee), live music, an auction and (of course) fortune telling.

In addition to the political celebrities, other famous names will be at the gala: Melissa Joan Hart and Cynthia Gibbs, for example. Photographer Larry Silver is the guest of honor. Retiring executive director Sue Gold will be feted too.

But they won’t be serving drinks.

Only the candidates will “mix” politics, history and fun.

(For ticket information, click here.)

“Friends Of Compo Beach” Seek Fair Solutions — And Swift Action

It started one Saturday this summer.

Traffic backed up near Compo Beach. Ed and Leslie Gallant waited a while to enter. Once past the gate, they had to hunt for a parking spot.

On the boardwalk, the couple — who moved to Westport in 1978, and enjoyed the beach all those years — noticed a non-stop stream of people. They wondered if a special event they had not heard of was going on.

The next day, Compo was even more crowded. Cars, people — it was crazy.

The line of cars waiting to get into Compo Beach was long this past summer.

They mentioned the situation to their neighbor, Geralyn Breig. She’s been here 20 years — and she too noticed a change.

Breig and her husband own a Hobie Cat. But so many cars parked on the gravel lot where it was stored — while other vehicles blocked the boat ramp — that they could not get their boat in the water.

One of Breig’s sons works at Joey’s. He said the concession stand was packed too.

Nick Sadler is a more recent arrival in town. But he also thought Compo changed this summer. The friends all talked, and wondered what to do.

The Gallants and Breig attended a Parks and Recreation Commission open meeting at Town Hall. Breig read a statement, noting the interrelationship between increased crowds and more trash, messy bathrooms, drunkenness and more.

“All of those things impact the quality of the beach experience, including peace and courtesy,” Breig said. She urged the commission to look at Compo “holistically.”

This was the fireworks crowd. Some weekend days seemed almost as crowded. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

The meeting grew divisive. The Gallants and Greig were discouraged.

As they talked, they and Sadler devised a plan. “We thought, ‘Let’s focus on goals,'” Breig says. “Let’s find a way to send feedback to the town leaders. They’ve got experts and lawyers. If we communicate our expectations in a friendly but strong way, they should be able to fix the problems.”

The ad hoc group went to work.

On Sunday, September 25, their website — Friends of Compo Beach — went live. Within days, it had thousands of views.

And hundreds of subscribers.

The site has 6 goals:

  • Reduce crowds
  • Fix the traffic problem
  • Ensure parking for residents
  • Enforce rules for public behavior and courtesy
  • Ensure that services like boat ramps are accessible
  • Restore a safe, clean, environmentally sound beach.

There are 3 steps to an “action plan”:

  • Meet with town leaders to raise concerns
  • Provide them with feedback on any of their solutions
  • Organize residents to keep up activity until the situation is fixed.

“People care,” Leslie Gallant says of the near-instant positive reaction to the website.

The goal is for everyone to enjoy Compo –and obey the rules. (Photo/Tom Cook)

While the internet can be a place of tangents, invective and ad hominem attacks, Gallant is pleased that “the vast majority of comments are on point about what we listed.”

Some of those comments came from Weston residents. They pay more for their beach sticker than Westporters, but less than other out-of-towners.

“Weston residents have long been welcome at Compo,” Breig notes. “We’ve never had a crowd problem before, so they’re probably not the issue.” Besides, she adds, “it’s not for us to answer how much they should pay. That’s for Parks & Rec to decide.”

“I feel so sorry for the Parks & Rec people at the front gate,” Gallant says. “There’s such a bottleneck there. They take all the heat. It just shows the strain on all our resources, when the numbers exploded this year.”

“We don’t want to be divisive,” Breig emphasizes. “We want to be constructive. We hope our voices are heard by the powers that be — town officials, Parks & Rec.”

It’s October. The beach opens officially — with Parks & Rec employees checking stickers and collecting fees — 7 months from now.

“We’re looking for fair solutions — and swift action,” Gallant says.

(Click here for the Friends of Compo Beach website.)

Everyone’s favorite beach. (Photo/Dave Dellinger)

[OPINION] Cynthia Gibb: Idle No More!

This month’s devastating hurricanes got Cynthia Gibb thinking.

The 1981 Staples High School graduate — a noted actress (“Fame,” “Search for Tomorrow”), now a vocal coach back in her hometown — is concerned about the worldwide impact of climate change.

But she’s a firm believer in the adage “think globally, act locally.” She writes:

America has just experienced 2 historic storms back-to-back, and I am feeling frustratingly helpless. Climate change is here.

Cynthia Gibb

I have known this was coming for a long time. I learned about global warming back in the mid-80’s when I joined a group called Earth Communications Office, a Hollywood group with the mission of educating Americans about the changes in our climate.

Everything I learned back then has unfortunately been coming to fruition. That means that still ahead are horrific droughts, fires, floods, the extinction of many animals and insect species, the movement of our tree line north (affecting farming and quality of life for all who live in the south) — among other catastrophic events.

Last spring, at the Staples High School science awards ceremony, a scientist told the audience that we could expect to see Miami underwater in the foreseeable future. I wonder if he knew it would happen so soon?

I get overwhelmed by this knowledge. Climate change deniers sit in the White House, and run the EPA. Trump has said he will pull us from the Paris agreement. Pruitt wants to roll back environmental laws. It’s terrifying and infuriating.

Yet one thing that gives me hope is that there are forward-thinking folks, making a difference. Some of them are right here in Westport.

Our RTM recently passed the Net Zero in 2050 Initiative. We’ve joined the  governors of Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, California, Colorado and Washington in pledging to exceed the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. In fact, the northeastern states have already reduced their carbon emissions by 37% since 2008.

Earthplace has screened the documentary “Idle Threat.” These are great starts.

Wakeman Town Farm is evidence of Westport’s strong environmental concerns.

But the solution has to come from citizens, as well as government.

I’ve been asking myself, “What can I do?” Cash donations to flood victims won’t stop future disasters.

In his new book Climate of Hope, Michael Bloomberg encourages everyone to do their part. I have finally figured out what mine is: I am making a conscious choice to obey Connecticut’s Do Not Idle Law.

I recently learned it is illegal for all vehicles — including buses, trucks and passenger vehicles — to idle for more than 3 minutes in our state. After just 10 seconds of idling, we waste more fuel than stopping and restarting our cars. Even in cold weather, engines need only 30 seconds to warm up.

The law is clear.

So I no longer idle in the school pick-up line, or the Starbucks or bank drive-through. If I want to continue a phone call or listen to the radio, I turn off my engine and turn on my battery.

If it’s hot, I roll the windows down. If it’s cold, I leave them up! It’s really easy and simple, now that I’m in the habit — like remembering to bring my reusable bag to the grocery store!

I feel better now that I am doing my part and setting an example for my kids that we can change our behavior, even if it’s inconvenient. It’s a small gesture, I know. But if 26,000 of us do it in Westport, we can set an example to the rest of the nation — where every day we waste 17 million gallons of fuel due to idling.

This is also important for children in our town, who can suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases due to car emissions.

This is a call to action, fellow Westporters! I invite anyone reading this to join me in turning off your engines whenever you can. After all, there is only one ozone layer.

And we all share the same air.

 

(Click here to sign Westport’s no-idle pledge.)

 

Political Battles On Front Porch

Facebook teems with local groups. With names like Westport Moms, Westport & Fairfield Parents and What Up Westport, they’re great places to ask questions, share tips and (virtually) hang out.

But Jane Green was tired of reading about strollers and nursery schools.

So a year and a half ago — hoping to shine a light on local businesses, events and goings-on of interest to an audience broader than just kids’ parents — she started Westport Front Porch.

The front page of Westport Front Porch.

It wasn’t like she had tons of time. She is that Jane Green — an internationally known novelist, TV/radio personality, chef/entertainer — but she was passionate about using social media to create community in her adopted hometown.

Westport Front Porch has over 3,800 members. Most of the posts, Green admits, are “anodyne.” Recent discussion topics included bat removal, orchards and TV installation.

Green monitored comments carefully. She did not want the “discord and drama” so often found online these days.

But moderating comments is time-consuming. Gradually she pulled back. Jerri Graham took over day-to-day operations of the Porch.

In between writing, being a mother, running a household — and appearing on TV — Jane Green finds time to run Westport Front Porch.

As election season approached, some Porchers posted about politicians. Green began monitoring comments closely again.

“It felt fine to have the type of political discussions neighbors might have once had on their front porch,” Green says.

“I thought, let’s open the Porch up. There are real political issues in towns — about traffic, pedestrian safety, water towers. Let’s have those conversations.”

She posted guidelines. Civility topped the list. “Call me Pollyanna,” says Green.

Throughout that first day, Green moderated the comments. She removed some. She tried to keep the group “safe and comfortable.”

That night, Green woke up at 2 a.m. She took a quick look on Facebook.

“It was a nightmare,” she recalls. “Threads had exploded. People were duking it out. Insults were flowing. It was absolutely inappropriate.”

She does not point fingers at any one political party. Supporters of Democratic, Republican, independent — probably Whig and Know-Nothing — candidates fired away.

Green closed the Porch to all political comments.

“I love Westport. I believe in this community,” Green says.

“But in this age, we’re all locked behind technology. We hide behind screens. It’s become too easy to be nasty, in a way we never would be face to face.”

Green adds, “These are contentious times. We’ve forgotten how to communicate politely, and how to connect. But as humans we long for connection.”

She feels badly that Westport Front Porch devolved into a politically toxic site overnight. She is sad that she had to cut off comments about important town issues.

But she has not given up.

Jerri Graham proposed a political meet-and-greet. Now she and Green have partnered with Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post — founders of the Westport Moms group — who had already planned a political candidates event for October 18 (Westport Country Playhouse, 7:30 p.m.).

Politics as it should be, Westport style: Republican First Selectman Jim Marpe and his challenger, Democrat Melissa Kane, enjoyed the “06880” party in July. Two others are running for first selectman: John Suggs and T.J. Eigen. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

It’s a chance to talk with office-seekers, ask questions — and, presumably, do so in a polite, up-close-and-personal way. First selectman candidates will offer a few words; those for all other offices will be available to mix and mingle.

“Westport is a small town,” Green says. “We’re all friends and neighbors. But I’ve seen friends and neighbors no longer talking to each other.

“I’ll listen to anyone, so long as they talk about what they think is best for the town  without blaming or shaming,” she says firmly. “If we come together for the greater good, and are willing to listen, great things can happen.”

Consultants Plan. Candidates And Readers: Respond!

On Monday, “06880” gave a nod to the Westport Historical Society’s “06880 + 50” exhibit. It’s an intriguing look forward, at how our town might look and act 5 decades from now.

Yesterday, Saugatuck Center Transit Oriented Design consultants unveiled their latest master plan.

Looking forward themselves — but only 5 to 10 years — they presented a vision for the area bounded by the train station, Saugatuck Avenue and Riverside Avenue.

The landscape looks beautiful — filled with trees, sidewalks, a realigned park and improved lighting.

There are also over 200 new residential units. Plus more than 40,000 additional square feet of retail space. And new deck parking.

Colored areas show possible development of Saugatuck over the next 7-10 years, based on a presentation by the Transit Oriented Design group.The railroad station is at the bottom; the intersection of Riverside and Saugatuck Avenues is at the top.

The development of Saugatuck is exciting. It’s also challenging and controversial.

It comes at a time when downtown Westport grapples too with new development — on both sides of the river.

Many plans for the future look great. Many blend our town’s history and heritage with the reality of today, and the promise of tomorrow.

Sometimes they miss things. Traffic — as anyone who has crawled through Saugatuck or sat on the Post Road can tell you — is central to all aspects of life here.

Our infrastructure is aging. Our public services are stretched thin.

The future of the William Cribari (Bridge Street) Bridge is key to any discussion of the future of Saugatuck. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

This November, voters will elect a first selectman — and 3 Planning & Zoning Commission members.

Four Westporters are vying to be chief executive. Five are running for the P&Z spots.

All will face issues involving preservation of historic structures and open space. They’ll weigh in on amorphous subjects like town image and character, and concrete ones like personal property rights versus property development.

All candidates are invited to chime in on those topics right now, in the “06880” “Comments” section. Of course, readers can pipe up too.

But here’s something we can all agree on: Let’s keep it civil. Discuss the issues in a positive way. Don’t bash others; no ad hominem attacks.

After all, this is Westport, not Washington.

Our future is in our hands.

(Click here for the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Design website. As of yesterday evening, the most recent presentation had not yet been added to the site.)

Pic Of The Day #154

There’s a new addition to Town Hall: a fountain in front. (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Sign Here!

Fall is (nearly) here.

You know what that means: Colorful leaves! Apple cider! Tons of candidate signs, cluttering every traffic island, right-of-way and piece of property in town!

But the cops are on it. Here is a (very welcome) press release, concerning election signs AND all others, promoting galas, benefits, you name it:

With election season upon us, the Westport Police Department would like to remind its citizens of the regulations pertaining to temporary signs in town.

Unfortunately we have experienced vandalism and theft regarding temporary signs in the past. This type of behavior will not be tolerated. These crimes may lead to criminal charges such as trespassing, criminal mischief and/or larceny.

The following policy has been established by town officials, in order to provide coordination for the placement of temporary signs by Westport non-profit organizations wishing to advertise one-time-only charitable events.  Signs placed on public property advertising a private business or company will be removed. (Bold italics are mine!)

General Guidelines for ALL Temporary Signs

  • Town property includes traffic islands and road rights of way.
  • The town may not approve, nor is it responsible for, any signs erected on State of Connecticut property. It is not advisable to place signs on State of Connecticut property (including rights of way and islands along Routes 1, 136, 57, 33, and the Sherwood Island Connector, nor on the exit or entrance ramps of I-95 or the Merritt Parkway), as the state may remove them.
  • No sign may be placed on any school property without the prior permission of the superintendent’s office.
  • No sign may be placed within the interior of Compo Beach or Longshore.
  • No sign may be placed on Town Hall property.
  • No sign may be placed on trees or utility poles.
  • No sign may interfere with traffic visibility.
  • Signs on private property require property owner approval. Signs on private property shall not extend beyond the property line or into the town right-of-way and is suggested they be removed within 2 days after the publicized event or election.

Temporary Signs for Political Purposes

Political signs are considered an expression of free speech and are allowed on public property. The General Guidelines noted above apply to temporary signs for political purposes.

(Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

Temporary Signs for Advertising Charitable Events

The placement and locations of temporary signs on Town property for the purpose of advertising a charitable event requires review and approval by the Westport police chief, director of Planning and Zoning, and director of Parks & Recreation, or their designated representatives. Qualifying organizations (i.e. local non-profits) may send the attached request, including proposed locations, for the placement of temporary signs to: Selectman’s Office, Westport Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880 or selectman@westportct.gov.

The following conditions will apply to charitable events:

  • A maximum of 15 signs are allowed for each such event. This includes directional signs.
  • The signs may be erected not more than 2 weeks before the event and must be removed within 2 days after the publicized event.
  • The size of the sign cannot exceed 2 feet by 3 feet.
  • Non-compliance may result in the removal of signs.

Please note that this press release pertains to Town of Westport roads, and not state roads, like Route 1, Route 33, Route 57 and Route 136.