Category Archives: Local politics

Roundup: Holiday House Decorating, Grandparents, More


Okay, so maybe you didn’t win the town’s 4th of July house decorating contest.

Or the Halloween one.

Hey: The 3rd time’s the charm.

Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department is sponsoring its first-ever Winter Holiday House Decorating Contest.

People can decorate the outsides of their homes to show a winter theme, or any holiday they celebrate.

Registration must be done first (click here). Then submit no more than 5 photos or videos of your decorations to mrobbins@westportct.gov by December 20. Prizes will be awarded for the top 3 entrants.

And if you don’t win this time, maybe they’ll do a Presidents Day house decorating contest …

One of the first houses decorated in Westport this year. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)


Congratulations to Westport’s newest grandfather: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

He announced before last night’s RTM meeting that his daughter Samantha gave birth hours earlier at Greenwich Hospital. Charles James Sandor weighs 6 pounds, 13 ounces — and brought his grandparents great joy.

Jim and Mary Ellen Marpe, with their daughter Samantha in 2017.


And finally … happy 59th birthday to Def Leppard guitarist Rick Savage.

Patty Strauss: Westport’s Vital Town Clerk Retires

Patty Strauss loved her career in banking. But in 1997 Westport Bank & Trust — her longtime employer — was in the midst of a dizzying succession of mergers. The “hometown bank in a town of homes” felt less and less like home.

So when she saw heard that Westport Town Clerk Joan Hyde was retiring, Patty called Diane Goss Farrell.

The newly elected 1st Selectwoman phoned right back. “Am I overdrawn?” she worried.

“No!” Strauss replied. “I’m just letting you know: I want to apply for town clerk.”

“Then who’ll take care of my account?” Farrell asked.

Strauss got the job. Farrell got a new banker.

Patty Strauss, in her Town Clerk’s office.

At the end of December – 23 years later — Patty Strauss retires. She’s overseen many changes. Technology has modernized many tasks. But at its core, she says, the town clerk is still in the business of customer service.

Connecticut law mentions several hundred town clerk duties. Strauss breaks them into 4 main categories:

  • Recorder of land records. This includes all property transfers, liens, mortgages and releases, from Westport’s incorporation in 1835 to the present.
  • Recorder of vital records: births, deaths, marriages, etc.
  • Overseer of elections (federal, state and local). This covers petitions, nominations, financial filings and more.
  • RTM clerk: secretary of the town’s legislative body.

“I have dozens of bosses,” Strauss notes. “Jim Marpe, the Connecticut Secretary of the State, the Department of Public Health, and 36 RTM members.

“I’m not the decision maker. I just make sure the paperwork is done correctly.”

Which is like saying Alex Trebek was just a guy who asked questions on TV.

Patty Strauss (center) with state legislators Gail Lavielle and Jonathan Steinberg. She spent plenty of time in Hartford as legislative chair for the Connecticut Town Clerks Association (2008-11) and president (2015-17).

Strauss just completed her last big project: her 6th presidential election. Her Westport tenure was bookended by the 2 that have drawn the most attention for the voting process: 2000 (hanging chads) and 2020 (mail-in ballots).

Thankfully, there has never been a whiff of controversy over any Westport (or Connecticut) votes.

To the surprise of many — from real estate regulars who relied on her for much of their work, to residents with random but gotta-have-an-answer queries — Strauss is not a native Westporter.

Raised in Maryland, with a degree in education from Radford College, she moved here after marriage. Her husband Ed’s family were longtime owners of the Depot Liquor Store.

Strauss opened WB&T’s Georgetown office. She worked in the Saugatuck and Greens Farms branches too, before moving to downtown headquarters (now Patagonia).

That’s how she knew so many Westporters — and all about mortgages and land record searches too. The transition to Town Hall was easy.

Patty Strauss, at one of her many Memorial Day parades.

Farrell valued Strauss’ customer services skills. “People need to be treated well,” the 1st selectwoman told the new town clerk.

That’s still the case. Some of the hometown hominess is gone — a cheerful operator no longer personally transfers each call to the appropriate department, and patrons can get answers to many questions from the town website, not an actual human being — but for many Strauss is still the face of Westport government.

Patty and her husband Ed love the water.

During her tenure, records have become more accessible. She once spent most of her days in an enormous vault. Paperwork from 1835 on — births, land records, maps, elections, RTM minutes, burial permits — is still there.

But gone are the days when people had to make appointments to walk in and search (8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. only, please!). Now 17 different collections are online.

Strauss does it all with a fulltime staff of 4, and 1 part-time assistant. She hires extra help during busy seasons, like elections and springtime (dog licenses).

The staff follows Strauss’ philosophy of treating everyone promptly, with courtesy, and alike — no favors to the famous. However, she says, after years of friendly banter with Paul Newman, one day they asked for a photo with him. He put his arms around the women.

It’s still there, on the wall.

Paul Newman and the Town Clerk office staff, after picking up his 2006 absentee ballot.

When COVID hit last March, Town Hall closed. But, Strauss notes, “you can’t swear someone in, issue a marriage license or notarize a signature on Zoom.”

The Town Clerk’s office relocated to a picnic table behind the building. Bird droppings from a nearby maple tree intruded, so now there’s a tent. Town Hall will reopen soon, but Strauss and her staff never stopped seeing people face to face. That goes with the gig.

The gig ends soon for Patty Strauss. She and her husband are moving to Wilmington, North Carolina.

Like every other property transaction, the  closing will be recorded in the town clerk’s office. It’s a routine — yet vital — task.

For 23 years Patty Strauss handled that job, and so many others. Countless Westporters have been helped by her organizational skills, attention to detail, and knowledge of (and love for) our town.

In-deed!

Marpe Offers Holiday Message

First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Westport is a place where we live by, and teach our children, the values that we cherish — values that embrace equality, inclusiveness, open-mindedness, and mutual respect.

This Thanksgiving, we reflect upon these qualities in light of a tumultuous year that has, quite frankly, brought heartache, anxiety, and turmoil. There are many among us who are isolated and alone. Emotions and situations brought about by an unseen virus and other national events have caused all of us to re-think how we behave and how we react as a society. No doubt, it has taken its toll and has caused significant adjustments in how we live our lives.

However, recent news and guidance from scientists and health officials is very promising. If we continue to stay aware and respectful, actively follow the protocols in place such as wearing a mask, keeping distance and avoiding gatherings, we can see a path to where we can once again enjoy a way of life without fear of harming our neighbors, friends and family.

Masked up, at the Westport Y’s child care program.

And I would like to echo Governor Lamont’s request to please keep your in-home Thanksgiving celebrations to immediate family and to 10 persons or fewer.

Besides COVID, there were other events that caused upheaval, unrest and concern in this country and on the local level. Westporters have historically been leaders in social movements, and this year was no different. We will continue to have the difficult dialogues about social injustice while encouraging and setting an example of mutual respect for all humankind. We remain grateful and thankful for those in our community who have led the way in standing firmly against hate and intolerance, and for those who protect our health and safety.

Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful for our freedoms and our good fortune while recognizing that there are others who are less fortunate. I am personally thankful for our extraordinary teachers, civic leaders, clergy and volunteers of all kinds. They, along with many other residents, work tirelessly and diligently to care for and help meet the needs of those who require additional emotional, family and economic support.

Religious, civic, educational and other institutions are more important than ever. (Photo/Anthony Evans)

COVID has caused us to adjust the manner in which their work is accomplished, but they remain steadfast in their commitment to helping. I want to acknowledge their contributions – they are valued and appreciated.

I wish all the residents of Westport a safe and healthy Thanksgiving Holiday. Thanks to all of you for your ongoing contributions to making Westport an inclusive place where all feel welcome. We are proud to call it “home.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

Marpe Urges Thanksgiving Precautions

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Yesterday, Governor Lamont announced that 145 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities are in the red zone alert level, the highest of the state’s 4 alert levels on the weekly COVID-19 Alert Map.  This indicates municipalities with an average daily COVID-19 case rate over the last 2 weeks of more than 15 per 100,000 population.

This week Westport is calculated at 33 cases out of a population of 100,000, compared to 22.4 cases last week.

According to the CDC, more than 1 million COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States over the last 7 days. This is alarming, and demonstrates that we must remain vigilant. We must anticipate that cases will continue to spread as individuals travel, return home from college, gather and shop in the weeks ahead. Wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding gatherings is a must if we are to control this pandemic.

This year, many traditional activities surrounding Thanksgiving and the upcoming holidays have the potential to threaten our health and safety. I urge all residents to refrain from typical large holiday gatherings.

This Stevan Dohanos Saturday Evening Post cover — modeled on a Long Lots Road home — shows a scene that (for many reasons) will not be repeated this year.

As of November 6, the statewide cap on gathering in private residences is 10, down from 25. Please keep your Thanksgiving celebration to no more than 10, and preferably celebrate at home only with the people with whom you live. Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of contracting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.

Avoid crowds on Black Friday, or prepare for strict adherence to the 50% capacity rule at retail stores. Consider Cyber Monday as an alternative. Always maintain a 6-foot distance from others, and wear a face covering.

Review the CDC and state Department of Public Health guidelines for the Thanksgiving holiday, including traveling, gathering, and alternatives to gathering and protocols for college students returning to or visiting Connecticut:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays/thanksgiving.html

https://portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus/Covid-19-Knowledge-Base/Holiday-Guidance

Testing

For information on testing sites, please click here for a list of local test sites, or click here for the state-wide listing.

If you have a pending test due either to symptoms of COVID or exposure to COVID, please refrain from going out into the community until you have received results.

St. Vincent’s Health Center is one of several places offerin COVID-19 tests. (Photo/Adam Stolpen)

Winter Sports

Much of the increase in COVID cases and the resulting school closures are a result of gatherings, parties and sports team activities. Effective Monday (November 23), the governor has ordered all club and team sports, including CIAC sports, to postpone all organized events until January 19.

Schools

Staples High School, and Bedford and Coleytown Middle Schools, are on distanced learning through the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Westport Public School Superintendent Tom Scarice and I remind everyone that the ability for our schools to remain open for in-person learning depends primarily on the actions of our entire population. We continue to urge all to follow the appropriate protocols so that our community can remain open, but safe.

COVID Alert: Westport Is Now Red

The State of Connecticut has implemented a color-coded map indicating the average daily rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population by town.

Based on a 14-day rolling average, Westport’s rate is 22.4. That places us well within the “red” category, of 15+ cases per 100,000.

Connecticut’s COVID map.

Given this status, the state Department of Health recommends that:

  • High risk individuals stay home and stay safe.
  • Others should limit trips outside of the home and avoid gatherings with non-family members.
  • Organized indoor activities, as well as outdoor activities where social distancing and mask wearing cannot be maintained, should be postponed.
  • Gatherings at private residences are limited to 10 people.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe notes:

“The new COVID cases are primarily a result of large gatherings, parties and organized sports activities. As such, the Westport Public Schools, Westport businesses and restaurants and other public facilities will continue to operate under the State’s Phase 2.1 guidelines.

“The Parks and Recreation Department acknowledges that it is important for individuals and families to get outside and exercise. As a result,

  • Fields, beaches and parks will remain open with reinstituted rules regarding court usage.  Facility users are expected wear a face covering if a 6-foot distance cannot be maintained with those who do not live in the same household. Higher risk sports, such as boys lacrosse and 11-on-11 football, should not take place.
  • The Compo Beach skate park and basketball courts will remain open, but may be closed if proper guidelines are not followed.
  • The Longshore golf course remains open. Beginning Saturday, November 14, golf cart rentals will go back to single rider only (unless in same household).
  • The Parks & Recreation Department has revoked field permits, and will not issue new permits until further notice.

Permits for use at the Wakeman athletic fields have been revoked..

The Westport Library will remain open with its expanded hours and services.  All Library events will continue to be virtual. Click here for details.

Roundup: COVID Spread, Book Sales, Westport Blanket, More


Yesterday, 2 officials advised Westporters about the rapid increase of coronavirus in town.

Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice said that while COVID cases have been discovered in the school population, administrators’ swift response to new cases has resulted in “little to no widespread COVID contamination.”

However, new cases require immediate attention, like quarantining and contact tracing. While the lack of spread demonstrates that the processes in place are working, the schools are continually challenged by new cases resulting from outside activities.

These include recent large gatherings, parties and sports activities involving students or parents. Photos and social media posts caused 1st Selectman Jim Marpe to ask Parks and Recreation director Jen Fava to consider reinstating earlier COVID-related policies at local parks, fields and recreation facilities.

Marpe says: “The ability for our schools to remain open for in-person learning is dependent on the actions of our entire community. I urge all residents to follow the appropriate public health protocols so that our community can remain open, but safe.

“Please refrain from contact sports, wear a mask, social distance, avoid gatherings and practice good hygiene. Residents are strongly urged to avoid gatherings where adherence to social distancing and mask wearing cannot be accomplished.”

Anyone awaiting test results, whether taken because of symptoms or COVID exposure, should not go out into the community until receiving those results.

Staples Players have done most rehearsals for their radio shows remotely. When they do get together, they are diligent about wearing masks. (Photo/Kerry Long)


The Westport Library’s Holiday & Winter Book Sale is always eagerly anticipated by gift givers.

The bad news: COVID-19 has knocked out in-person shopping. This year it’s all online.

The good news: It’s already there.

Fiction, mystery, arts, biographies, photography, cookooks, sci-fi, puzzles, kids’ books, plus CDs, puzzles an games — they’re all available from the comfort of home.

Click here to browse. All books are available for pickup by appointment at the library’s upper parking lot, 7 days after purchase.

New items are added weekly. So bookmark the page, and check back often.


Speaking of holiday gifts: This is my favorite so far.

Savvy + Grace — the wonderful, whimsical Main Street gift shop across from Rye Ridge Deli — sells some very cool Westport-themed items. What stands out is a fleece blanket, featuring an 1890s topographic map of the town.

Click here to check it — and much more — out. In-store shopping, curbside pickup and shipping are all available.

Savvy + Grace’s Westport blanket.


And finally … today is Friday the 13th. Just what we need in 2020!

Jim Marpe: Gordon Joseloff “Exemplified Public Service”

Westport 1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

It is with great sadness that I learned this morning of the death of Gordon Joseloff, former Westport 1st Selectman and my immediate predecessor.

Gordon’s commitment and dedication to Westport, his hometown, was exemplified in so many ways. His first job as a teenage reporter was for the Westport Town Crier, and he founded WWPT, the Staples High School radio station.

Later he served as an RTM member and its moderator for 10 years.

From 2005 to 2013 he served as 1st Selectman, where he exemplified qualities of leadership, transparency, non-partisanship and accountability within his public service.

Gordon Joseloff (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

During his tenure as 1st Selectman he faced a variety of crises that included the Great Recession of 2008-09, and a series of major disruptive storms including Hurricane Irene and Super Storm Sandy, where he led the community’s efforts to recover and to emerge even stronger.

His creation of WestportNow established the national standard for transparent, internet-based community journalism nearly 20 years ago, and it remains a “go to” source of fact-based information in Westport.

Under Gordon’s leadership as 1st Selectman, the construction of the new Levitt Pavilion was begun. He oversaw the initial reforms of the town’s pension plans which have helped to assure Westport’s long-term financial stability. And throughout his public service career, he exemplified a non-partisan approach to governing our community.

On a personal note, he worked directly with me to assure a smooth transition of responsibility when I was elected to the office of 1st Selectman following his announced retirement. Throughout my term in office, I regularly sought his perspective and advice on a number of key issues. I always found his perspective invaluable.

At my request, Governor Ned Lamont has given his permission for Westport to lower its flags to half-staff for the remainder of the week in honor of Gordon Joseloff.

On behalf of all Westporters, I want to express the town’s sincere condolences to his daughter, Anna-Liisa, and his son, Ben, and to his grandchildren who I know he adored.

We will all miss Gordon, and we thank him for his friendship and his service to Westport.

Remembering Gordon Joseloff

If they’re very lucky, people have a career they are good at, and love.

Gordon Joseloff had 3.

For more than 20 years, the Westport native was an award-winning journalist who reported from London, Moscow, Tokyo and other spots around the world, for United Press International and CBS News.

Gordon Joseloff

He served 2 terms as Westport’s first selectman (2005-2013). That was the culmination of his involvement in town affairs. Before that, he spent 14 years (7 terms) on the Representative Town Meeting. He became deputy moderator in his 2nd term, and was elected moderator the next term. His 10 years as RTM leader are matched by only one other person in history.

Joseloff was an integral part of many other organizations, including the Westport Historical Society and Westport Rotary. He was also a volunteer firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician.

Joseloff was also active in other community affairs, including serving as an honorary member of the advisory board of the Westport Historical Society, and a member of the Westport Rotary Club and the League of Women Voters of Westport.

Joseloff’s 3rd career — which both preceded and followed his service as 1st selectman — was as founder, editor and publisher of WestportNow. At its start in 2003, the platform was one of the nation’s first community news sites. It has won numerous journalism awards, and continues to inform and entertain thousands of readers.

Gordon Joseloff died this morning, 3 years after being diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. He was 75 years old.

For a full obituary, it is fitting to click here: WestportNow.

Gordon Joseloff (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)


In May of 2018, “06880” cited Gordon Joseloff as Unsung Hero of the Week. I wrote:

Earlier this year, WestportNow celebrated its 15th anniversary.

Since 2003 the site has provided readers with political news, police reports, coverage of community events like library talks and fundraisers, obituaries, photos of sunrises and sunsets, and the immensely popular “Teardown of the Day.”

The founder, editor and publisher is Gordon Joseloff. He gave up his editor’s post between 2005 and 2013 — that’s when he served 2 terms as the town’s 1st selectman — but he’s been back at the helm ever since.

Joseloff’s journalistic chops are real. He worked for UPI. Then, during 16 years at CBS News, he rose from a writer for Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather to correspondent, senior producer and bureau chief in New York, Moscow and Tokyo.

Joseloff covered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the downing of Korean Air Lines flight 007, the assassination of India Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (for which he won an Emmy Award in 1984), the Bhopal gas leak, and the overthrow of Philippines President Fernando Marcos.

And he’s a Westport native. His family’s roots run deep: They owned downtown property including the Fine Arts Theater, a very popular spot for over 8 decades. (Today it’s Restoration Hardware.)

Joseloff was a teenage reporter for the Westport Town Crier, and helped create the predecessor of Staples’ WWPT radio station, broadcasting at Compo Beach.

Prior to running for first selectman, Joseloff served 14 years on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) — 10 of them as moderator.

A member of Westport Rotary and an honorary member of the Westport Historical Society advisory council, Joseloff is also a volunteer firefighter, and a former Emergency Medical Technician.

Congratulations on 15 years to WestportNow — and thanks to Gordon Joseloff, its founder, guiding light, and this week’s Unsung Hero.

Then-First Selectman Gordon Joseloff (right) praised Tommy Ghianuly, owner of Compo Center Barber Shop, at their 50th anniversary celebration.

 

Unofficial Results: Westport Goes Blue

Unofficial results — but including in-person voting, and absentee and early drop-off ballots — show Westporters favoring Democrats in every contest yesterday.

The Biden-Harris presidential ticket outpolled Trump=Pence, 12,775 to 4,184.

Congressman Jim Himes was re-elected to his 7th term in the 4th District, helped by 11,968 Westport votes to challenger Jonathan Riddle’s 4,881.

In Connecticut’s 26th Senatorial district, Will Haskell won a 2nd term, aided by 10,230 Westport votes to 4,721 for Republican Kim Healy.

Democrat Michelle McCabe outpolled Republican incumbent Tony Hwang 1,198 to 843 in Westport. But results in the rest of the State Senate District 28 came in slowly, and as of 5 a.m. today, McCabe’s lead in the entire district was less than 100 votes. That outcome is uncertain.

Six-term state Representative Jonathan Steinberg beat back a challenge from fellow Staples High School graduate Chip Stephens, with 10,446 Westport votes compared to 5,266 in the 136th District.

Democrat Stephanie Thomas led Patricia Zukaro , 753 to 480, in Westport. Final results from the entire District 143 are not yet in.

Overall, more than 85 percent of Westport’s registered voters participated in the 2020 election, either by mail, drop-off or in person.

 

 

Turnout Steady Throughout The Day

Steady turnout continued throughout the day, at Westport’s 5 polling places.

At 3 p.m., 7,010 voters had cast ballots in person. That’s on top of approximately 8,000 absentee ballots collected earlier.

Greens Farms Elementary School saw the highest turnout: 1,597 voters. Following closely behind were Saugatuck Elementary (1,569), Long Lots Elementary (1,542) and Coleytown Elementary (1,534). All 4 sites include 2 RTM districts.

The Westport Library — where only District 9 votes — saw 768 voters.

Polls close at 8 p.m. To find your polling place, click here.

Coleytown Elementary School, early today.2020  (Photo/Dan Donovan)