Category Archives: Politics

In Tough Times, Himes Has Hope

A large crowd greeted Jim Himes with a standing ovation at last night’s Bedford Middle School “town hall meeting.”

The congressman handled a host of questions — about healthcare, the environment, taxes, trade, immigration, infrastructure, Connecticut’s economy, Nancy Pelosi and more — with poise, humor and plenty of policy knowledge.

It was a friendly crowd. There was one skeptic – a man who challenged the House Intelligence Committee member about Russian collusion in the presidential election — but he was countered by a Westport Republican who thanked the Democratic representative for doing “a beyond admirable job.”

The man added, “There are Republicans who stand behind you 100%.”

Congressman Jim Himes, last night at Bedford Middle School.

But the most intense moment came almost at the end of the 90-minute event.

A Jewish Romanian woman with a special needs son fought tears as she said that America today reminds her of “a police state.”

Describing “an atmosphere of doom and gloom,” she called propaganda “very powerful and subtle.”

Why, she asked, “can’t anyone call this administration on dismantling our government as we know it?”

Himes replied, “I’ve been in politics long enough to know that fear and division are very powerful tools — and that we Americans are susceptible to it. We respond to it.”

But, he added, “We also respond to hope and aspiration.” He used President Kennedy’s “ask not…” quote as an example.

Himes noted that people who are swayed by fear are “decent people.” Those of us in Fairfield County may not recognize how “hollowed out” other Americans may feel, he said. In those situations, placing blame on others is easy.

“It is incumbent on people like me to offer aspiration, so we don’t succumb to fear,” Himes continued.

He disagreed though with the Romanian woman’s assertion about the “dismantling” of our fundamental government institutions.

Himes cited the judiciary branch’s strong, quick and aggressive stand against President Trump’s “garbage” immigration ban. He also praised the role being played by the media.

“Each and every one of us needs to stand up and say ‘No, you won’t,'” Himes said.

Fairfield County has been exceedingly lucky, politically. For over 30 years we’ve had superb representation in Congress.

Stewart McKinney, Chris Shays and now Jim Himes. Republican or Democrat — it doesn’t make a difference. Our congressmen look out for all of us in this district.

Last night at Bedford, an audience of Democrats and Republicans said “thank you.”

A young Westporter asked Congressman Jim Himes a question about healthcare.

RTM Urged To Join “Net Zero” Energy Effort

Last month, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced that Westport has joined over 1,200 governors, mayors, businesses, universities and others in pledging to exceed the goals of the Paris Climate Accord.

Two years earlier, Marpe announced “Net Zero by 2050”: a target involving energy, water and waste. The goal is to create a sustainable community — economically, socially and environmentally — by mid-century.

Now, a group of Westporters is asking the RTM to endorse Net Zero too.

On Tuesday (July 11), the Green Task Force will present a petition with dozens of signatures. So far all 3 selectmen, and many town boards, commissions and individual committee members have signed the document.

Another petition is also circulating, with a similar request. This one is aimed at non-government Westporters.

Westport has a history of environmental activism. In 2007, we were the first town in Connecticut to include a sustainability chapter in a Plan of Conservation and Development.

Since then we’ve won the Department of Energy’s Neighbor to Neighbor Challenge, helped launch the Solarize Connecticut program, and (with a unanimous RTM vote) became one of the first towns in the state to adopt financing to support energy efficiency and clean energy improvements.

Solar PV power can be the way to go.

Examples of Net Zero include:

  • Signing an agreement to receive electricity credit for 1 megawatt of solar power per year, produced at a site in eastern Connecticut. The town is waiting for approval for an additional 1 megawatt. This program could satisfy 1/4 of the town buildings’ electricity.
  • Implementing the Energy Performance Contract initiative in school and municipal buildings. Reducing energy consumption has the potential to save up to$1 million per year in energy costs for the next 15 years.
  • Installing electric vehicle charging stations at the railroad station parking lots and other municipal parking sites.
  • Applying for an additional 1.2 megawatts of on-site solar power at Staples High School (just shy of 50% of the school’s electricity loads, after a separate building efficiency improvement program).
  • Preparing to break ground on an efficient renovation of the Westport Library, including 70 kilowatts of solar power.
  • Installing another 100 kilowatts of solar capacity as part of the planned expansion of the Senior Center.
  • Initiating a new program with support of the town, Downtown Merchants Association and the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, encouraging businesses to keep the doors closed this summer when using air conditioning.

That last goal may be the toughest of all.

(To sign the Net Zero petition, click here.) 

Ratatouille Serves Up Empowerment For Women

Four months ago, a recent Syrian refugee helped cook and serve a delicious Middle Eastern dinner in a private home.

She was eager. It was a chance to gain a foothold in a new country, one that really does offer the possibility of building a new life far from the the horrors of war.

Hong Thaimee

Hong Thaimee saw the hope in the woman’s eyes. She too is an immigrant. She came to the US from Thailand 10 years ago. Now she’s the chef/owner of Ngam in New York (with 2 more restaurants opening this year), a cookbook author, global speaker and humanitarian activist.

Thaimee is also co-founder — with Westporter Evelyn Isaia — of Ratatouille and Company. A “sophisticated catering company with a social purpose,” the intriguingly named business helps women who face difficulties and challenges become self-sufficient through hospitality.

Thaimee comes from a family of chefs. Isaia spent 30 years in wealth management.

But ever since she was a teenager, Isaia volunteered for social causes. She’s a longtime partner with Social Venture Partners Connecticut, and a board member of the Women’s Business Development Council of Connecticut.

Evelyn Isaia

Last month, Isaia retired. Thanks to meeting Thaimee 2 years ago through mutual friends, a new career — and business – was born.

Both share a passion for culinary arts, and a desire to help others “bridge the opportunity gap.”

“Women often get the short end of the stick,” Isaia explains. “They can be empowered only by knowledge.”

With her ability to organize — and Thaimee’s passion for cooking — the new business is a natural.

It gained steam even before Isaia formally retired. Last September, they organized a black-tie tasting event in Paris. Thaimee’s cooking class and book-signing — and a gala dinner — raised €80,000 for the American Church of Paris.

Three months later in Greenwich, the Women’s Business Development Council was the beneficiary of a sit-down dinner and auction.

Now, with the opening of a commercial kitchen, Ratatouille is ready to partner with other organizations, including Building One Community in Stamford and the International Institute of Connecticut. Those refugee resettlement programs provided the path for the Syrian woman to start finding her new way in America.

Ratatouille’s owners are full-service. Thaimee works with the women on cooking; Isaia teaches them to make beautiful table decorations, serve at a cocktail party or 4-course meal, and organize the flow of a gala event.

Last month’s Middle Eastern dinner — a private party — was a triumph. Miriam Fawez made the delicious food, and learned how to present it artfully. Nervous at the start, by the end of the night — after hearing diners’ compliments, and seeing their smiles — she felt confident and happy.

“Mirian just wanted a job,” Isaia says. “Now she’s got a stage.”

(From left): Hong Thaimee, Fufu Fawez, Evelyn Isaia and Miriam Fawez, with food Mirian prepared and presented for last month’s Middle Eastern dinner.

The co-founders look forward to working with other non-profits, like domestic violence centers in Bridgeport and New York.

The word will spread quickly. Ratatouille is delicious.

(For more information on Ratatouille and Company, click here.)

jUNe Day: When Westport Welcomes The World

It’s one of the longest-running, most enjoyable, most visible — and yet least remarked upon and little noticed — events in Westport.

For more than half a century in early summer, our town has welcomed guests from the United Nations. It’s called jUNe Day — clever, no? — and the 2017 version takes place this coming Saturday (June 24).

Over 300 folks — ambassador types, embassy and headquarters workers, and their families — arrive at the train station. (Whether they come from a 1st or 3rd world nation, they’ve probably never seen anything quite like Metro-North.)

On jUNe Day, the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge brims with flags from around the world. Cohen originated jUNe Day in 1965. (Photo/Jeff Simon)

Having overcome that initial hurdle, they’re shuttled to Saugatuck Elementary School for a 10:30 a.m. welcome.

The UN is known for speechifying, but these are short. Then comes the real fun: a tennis tournament and golf at Longshore, tours of Earthplace, a visit to Wakeman Town Farm — you get the idea.

There’s a soccer match between a UN team and the Westport Knights men’s side. It’s not the World Cup, but some years tensions are nearly as high.

Many guests head straight to Compo, or the Longshore pool. They shop. They enjoy Westport.

Sometimes we forget what a day in “the country” can do. Many UN folks and their families don’t get many chances to leave New York.  jUNe Day is an opportunity for them to do just that — and for us to show off our town.

We may not be a “typical” American town. But this is our chance to offer typical American hospitality.

Volunteers are needed to serve breakfast and lunch, help out at Longshore, and clean up. “Tour guides” on buses are also needed. If interested, call 203-526-3275, or email andreasusa@yahoo.com.

Or just give a big hello on Saturday to anyone wearing jUNe Day hats, and an orange bracelet.

Melissa Kane Enters 1st Selectman Race

Jim Marpe has an opponent.

This afternoon, Melissa Kane announced her candidacy for 1st selectman of Westport. The Democratic activist opposes the Republican incumbent.

Kane currently serves as chair of the Westport Democratic Committee, and is a member of the non-partisan RTM from District 3. She is also co-chair of the Downtown Implementation Committee (appointed by Marpe).

Previously, as chair of the Downtown Steering Committee, she helped create a new Downtown Master Plan.

Melissa Kane

Kane recently received the Democratic Women of Westport’s first scholarship to the Yale Campaign School for Women.

She has been a Westport Library trustee, a board member of the Green Village Initiative and A Child’s Place, and active with Earthplace, the Westport Arts Center and PTA.

After moving to Westport in 2003, Kane launched and ran a floral design company, MKK Designs. She began her career as a columnist for Hearst New Media’s online publications, before becoming a publicist in the recording industry.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a B.A. in international relations, she is married to Jonathan Kane.  Their children are George (18) and Lily (14).

In her announcement, Kane said:

First, I’ve loved Westport since I was a little girl. I spent my summers at Beach School and fishing in the currents off the bridges at the Mill Pond. Today, I love this town for all that it offers, and for its extraordinarily active community involvement.

Westport’s inclusive values, the importance of community, the integrity and beauty of our open spaces and beaches, and the quality of our schools, led my husband and me to choose to raise our family here.

Second, I have a vision for our infrastructure, public safety and economic sustainability that is critical to our future. We can do much more to protect the fiscal strength of our schools and to enhance our home values, to attract future generations, and support local businesses. As your first selectman, I will have a clearly articulated economic development plan. Times require more than just hoping to come in on budget each year without clear priorities.

At the women’s march on Washington the day after President Trump’s inauguration, Senator Richard Blumenthal posed with Connecticut protesters. Among the crowd was one of the state organizers, Melissa Kane.

Third, every Westporter deserves to have a leader who is willing to stand up for our most important priorities and values.

If you are concerned about maintaining excellence in our schools, know that I will advocate forcefully and effectively to make sure our schools are fully funded.

If you are a senior or have aging parents, know that I will work proactively with our P&Z officials and developers to make sure seniors have access to affordable, centrally located housing, or that they have the tax relief and support they need to be able to age in place.

If you are a commuter, know that I will work to make sure our traffic issues are finally addressed. I will improve mobility throughout town by working more collaboratively with DOT and the Citizens Transportation Commission on innovative solutions, and I will commit to investing in multi modal public transportation options as alternate ways to get around town.

If you are concerned about public safety, know that I will work with our local, state and national officials on responsible gun protection measures, and I will always stand up to hate in any form.

In this election we have an exciting opportunity to move Westport forward and to ensure that our town’s leaders represent the values we believe in.

 

Marpe Signs Gun Control Pledge, Backs Paris Climate Accord

More than 2 months ago, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe addressed Westport’s “Democracy on Display” demonstration.

“Sign the pledge!” chanted many in the crowd of nearly 1,000, at Veterans Green.

This morning — at a board of selectmen meeting in Town Hall, overlooking the same spot — Marpe announced that on Monday, he did just that.

Westport’s chief executive joins more than 1,000 current and former mayors, from nearly every state. They’ve committed to fight for “common sense gun laws,” through the Everytown for Gun Safety initiative.

Here’s the pledge, with Marpe’s signature:

Marpe — a Republican running for re-election this fall — also affirmed Westport’s support of the Paris Climate Accord. Over 1,200 governors, mayors, businesses and universities nationwide have made similar statements, in the wake of President Trump’s decision to pull the US out of that 195-nation pact.

Pledging the town to meet and exceed the Paris agreement goals, Marpe said: 

Westport has a proud and extensive legacy of environmental leadership, and we believe in doing what’s right for our residents and the environment. 

In 2015, we announced a target of “Net Zero by 2050″ across energy, water and waste. Our goal is to create a sustainable community — from economic, social and environmental perspectives — where future generations will choose to raise their families.

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe.

Jim Comey: A Friend Reflects

For nearly a year, James Comey has been in the headlines. First, the FBI director upended the presidential election. Now the former director may upend the president.

Before all that, Comey lived inWestport. Residents knew him as a neighbor, and a Greens Farms Academy parent.

One Westporter knew him long before that. He’s asked for anonymity, in order to talk about his friend. But it’s clear he thinks very highly of a man who may determine the course of American history. In fact, he already has.

The “06880” reader writes:

I met Jim Comey 32 years ago. We were law clerks in the federal courts in New York’s Foley Square. My $26,381 salary was stretched thin because I was supporting my young child.

Money was tight for Jim too, but he convinced his friends to let me be a free rider at a group beach house in Spring Lake, New Jersey on the weekends I wasn’t with my daughter.

James Comey, Class of 1978 at Northern Highlands High School in New Jersey.

We played basketball at area courts on most Saturday and Sunday mornings. Jim could take an elbow or a hard screen without complaint, but later made that opponent pay with a nifty inside move that allowed us to stay on the court for another game in the absolute meritocracy of playground basketball.

Okay, it’s just basketball. But Jim earned another game on the court playing fair and square with skill, tenacity and drive.

Life off the court was no different. Jim flourished in his career – first at the United States Attorney’s Office in New York, then later at the Department of Justice by taking on the toughest cases, working long hours, and, with skillful trial advocacy, gaining the convictions of criminals. Jim didn’t inherit his place in the world – he earned it.

Living in Westport, I’m sure many “06880” readers have experienced the acquaintance who looks over their shoulder during a function or party to see who may be more notable in the room.

James Comey

Not Jim. He looks you in the eye and speaks to you. You are the most important person in the room.

Many law clerks in the Southern District knew the judges at Foley Square. How many knew the janitors and the elevator operators by name? Jim did. And they all knew him. Maybe that was because he’s 6-8. I think it was because his character was and remains 10 feet tall.

A fair bit has been written about Jim’s time at Bridgewater Associates – the large hedge fund located in Westport. What hasn’t been written is that Jim and his family believe that Jim’s work at Bridgewater was the least impressive thing that was accomplished during their time here.

Jim Comey and his family. (Photo/Facebook)

Jim’s wife Patrice took on the profoundly selfless duty of caring for an infant whose mother, because of drug addiction or other serious problems, was incapable of caring for her newborn.

Patrice couldn’t take on that task alone, because it impacted the whole household. It meant a baby’s cries at any hour, dinners at home, and feedings and lack of sleep at night. All was fine with Jim, Patrice and their wonderful children – because they gave a child in need a chance to thrive.

Jim has spent a good part of his life in the halls of power, but Jim and Patrice have never sought to cater to the rich and powerful. They’ve spent their lives fighting injustice, righting wrongs and making life better for those in need.

The Comeys’ former Westport home. They sold it in January. (Photo/MLS)

Artemis Society Reacts To “Feminism Wall”

The Artemis Society — which calls itself “a feminist organization that aims to empower women, and encourage and teach gender equity to Westport’s future generations” — took note of yesterday’s “06880” post about reactions to a project undertaken by Staples High School’s Women in History class.

In response to the students’ open letter to the school community, Artemis posted its own open letter to the class:

We are the Artemis Society. We are your mothers, your sisters, your parents’ friends. We are the women you see every day. We will not go back.

We will not stay silent while any person attempts to silence the voices, or impede the rights of trans or cisgendered women, or their allies. We believe in intersectional gender, religious, sexual, and racial equality. We aim to bring awareness to our children, and to educate them through peaceful activism and protest. For your future. For these reasons, we are compelled to state the following in response to the sexist, degrading and misogynistic response to the “Feminism Wall” in the Staples cafeteria.

The Artemis Society posted its own message to Staples’ Women in History class, outside the cafeteria.

To the “Women in History” students and those students who made and contributed to the Feminism Wall: You are courageous. Social progress is often the natural consequence of struggle and discomfort. Don’t be afraid, and don’t back down.

Gender inequality is real. Congress is comprised of 83 congresswomen out of 435 representatives, and 21 women out of 100 senators. Women earn 23 cents less for every dollar earned by a man who has the same job. Women who work in the household earn $175,000 per year in imputed income, which is neither recognized nor valued by the majority of society.

This is insufficient. Shout it from the rooftops. You have the power to change this, and you have already begun to do so. Your “Feminism Wall” will eventually help dismantle the institutional walls of sexism in Westport, and wherever your voice takes you.

It has already started a townwide conversation. Be proud. Speak up for more marginalized groups who do not share some of your privilege.

And despite the common misperception that it must have been girls who made this wall, Artemis acknowledges there are strong male feminist allies who may have contributed as well. Your wall was defamed with vile comments, defaced, and sexualized. You have them on the run. Go get ’em!

Westport is filled with dynamic, intelligent and educated women. Don’t buy into the sitcom stereotype, because underneath our white jeans and our yoga clothes, we wear armor! We are your sisters, and we stand beside you.

The “Feminism Wall,” Phase 3.

To the students who defaced the Feminism Wall: You proved sexism exists at Staples.

There is still time to learn and change. Don’t be afraid. Be better. Ask yourself why this wall made you so uncomfortable. Was it fear? Was it social pressure? Do you truly believe the things you wrote?

To the boy who wrote the girls in his engineering class are not his equals: You are correct. They are your superiors. But you can be equals if you conquer your bias and insecurity.

When we tell young feminists to fight, it is not to fight against you; they must fight for themselves. You must fight to learn for yourselves.

To the students who sexualized the wall by simulating body fluid with moisturizer: Women and girls are not objects for the benefit of your gaze or pleasure. We vow to remind our daughters they will not be subjugated or intimidated by such acts. Feminism is not a dirty word.

Some of the earlier Post-Its on the Feminism Wall.

Some of you wrote that feminism is “retarded” and “gay” and “autistic” and “cancer.” There is nothing bad about being delayed, gay, autistic, and seriously  — cancer?

These are your peers. These are your equals. Respect them! If feminism is a waste of paper, you would not have wasted the paper to say so.

Our young women of Westport will “go back to the kitchen,” for a lovely meal you prepared to congratulate them on earning that promotion, winning that election, and shattering that glass ceiling.

Finally: If you are a parent or guardian, talk to your children about the importance of social equality. The Westport schools should absolutely teach gender equality and gender studies at every age level, in age-appropriate ways. The Westport schools vow to teach emotional and social awareness; kindness with sincerity; principled thoughts and actions, and a love of learning.

Let’s do this!

“Women In History” Class Learns Powerful Lesson

This year — for the first time in almost a decade — Staples High School offered a social studies course called “Women in History.” As students learned about the many roles and perceptions of women in US history, they also considered their own experiences.

Motivated by International Women’s Day, Women’s History Month, and their experiences discussing feminism and sexism at school, class members created an interactive exhibit outside the cafeteria. Their 3-part “feminism wall” provoked many reactions.

In response, the class wrote an open letter to the Staples community:

It was shocking, we know. No warning. Red paper, black paint. We asked you to complete the statement: “Feminism is…”

From our perspective, we created a space for opposing opinions. We expected it to reveal the complexities and stigmas surrounding a broad movement. We were not looking for a particular response. We hoped that offering anonymity would lead to visible juxtaposition, contrasting ideas side by side.

Things played out differently than planned.

Phase 1. First, we stuck our own Post-its to the wall. “Feminism is… intersectional.” “… not just for women.”  “…empowering.” “…relevant. “…something I thought I didn’t need.”

The first phase of the “Feminism Wall.”

People noticed the sign. Some smiled. Some were angry. Most were confused.

‘When the period ended we walked away, not realizing the wall could not be left alone. While many people offered valuable insights across a broad spectrum ofo perspectives, others had written: “Feminism is… for fags.” “…retarded.” “…gay as fuck.” “…a waste of paper.” “…cancer.” “…autistic.” “…go back to the kitchen.”

Some of the Post-Its on the wall.

Someone squirted moisturizer on the banner, an uncomfortable suggestion.

In phase 2, we asked people to complete this prompt: “Feminism isn’t…” An army of students, using their spare time to mass produce hateful and mocking Post-its, went so far as to claim it “property of the Staples meme group.”

Post-its cover Phase 2: “Feminism isn’t…”

All of this happened even though the wall was in a heavily trafficked public space — outside the cafeteria — with ourselves and administrators regularly monitoring it.

People told us we were stupid for doing this again. They pleaded with us to try something else.

But we left it up — on purpose. We wanted people to think. We wanted them to be uncomfortable. To be confronted with feminism and its varied reactions. That was the point. 

Phase 3. As we hung a new banner, we were surrounded by students. We were bombarded by voices. “HOLD THE BANNER UP SO I CAN READ IT!” demanded one boy. “Where are the Post-its?” asked another.

“It’s not interactive anymore,” we countered.

“I’ll just get my own paper then.”

We tried to hang our exhibit as the crowd — mainly boys — desperately shouted their feelings, trying to speak louder than that one, big word. 

The “Feminism Wall,” Phase 3.

The most common question we were asked during this process was, “What did you expect?” This was a subtle denigration of our hard work — as if the resulting disrespect, vandalism and disorder were inevitable. Clearly, we should have tried something else, presented our ideas in a way that wouldn’t create a hostile environment. But we didn’t.

To those who genuinely participated in our galleries: thank you. We don’t care if you are a feminist or not; we value your opinions. Thank you for offering your ideas, thoughts and quotes.

To the administrators, teachers and coaches who took the time to come into our class and discuss the many issues surrounding the installation and the condition of all students at Staples: thank you for your time, insight, candor and support.

To the many teachers who had open conversations in your classes: thank you. When the wall became a target of hatred, you gave people a safe outlet for further conversation.

To those who supported our exhibits but never participated: we wish you had. 

More reactions to the “Feminism Wall.”

To those who participated in the vandalism, the hatred, the bullying: please reflect. If there is one question we want the answer to, it’s this: Why did you react this way? People recognized that their behavior was shameful; they said that they were doing it “just to be funny.” Is that the reason for reckless apathy?

Do you think we were asking for it? Do you think that it’s our fault that other people responded inappropriately? Don’t you think we should address the real problem here?

We didn’t create a hostile environment. We exposed what already existed at Staples. And from this experience, we began to ask ourselves an important question: Are males and females equally supported in the community?

So even if you aren’t a feminist, that’s okay. We thank you for taking the time to read this. Really, we just want to know: Are you ready to have a respectful conversation about gender equality?

When you are ready: 

  • We would like to see gender equality studies taught at elementary and middle schools
  • We would like to see Staples become a more inclusive environment of different perspectives and ideas across the spectrum
  • We would like to see students, parents, teachers, administrators — everyone — engaged in conversations about real life issues in and out of the classroom.

We need to see a change.

Sincerely,
The Creators of the Feminism Wall

Westport Climate Accord Protest Goes National

A few dozen folks stood downtown for half an hour Sunday evening. They held signs and sang “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” The goal was to draw local attention to President Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris Accord.

Now the entire nation can see them.

NPR illustrated this morning’s story about American mayors and businesses’ reactions to Trump with a large photo of the Westport protest.

The caption does not mention Westport specifically. It reads:

Connecticut residents at a rally for the environment against President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. Connecticut is one of twelve states and Puerto Rico that formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, all committing to uphold the Paris Accord.

But clearly our town — and state — have tapped into widespread anger. The story begins:

Days after President Trump announced that he would be pulling the U.S. out of a global agreement to fight climate change, more than 1,200 business leaders, mayors, governors and college presidents have signaled their personal commitment to the goal of reducing emissions.

In an open letter, the signatories vow to “continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement,” even “in the absence of leadership from Washington.”

Click here for the entire NPR piece.