Category Archives: Politics

Trump And Hillary: JP Vellotti Compares The Rallies

Alert “06880” reader/photographer JP Vellotti is an equal-opportunity political rally-goer.

On Saturday night, he attended the Donald Trump rally at Sacred Heart University. Afterward, he sent photos and a report to “06880.”

Here’s Part 2 of his journey to Election Day:

There was a lot to process after the Trump event. Having never been to a political function, I wondered if his rally was a normal state of affairs.

The next day I checked out Hillary’s website, to see if she had any events planned nearby (other than the $34,000-per-person dinner in Greenwich).

To my surprise, there was an event Monday in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I clicked the link, and got a ticket. I don’t have $34K, but I do have enough for a tank of gas.

At 5:30 a.m., I headed 150 miles west on I-84. It’s a nice drive. I was early, but that helped me get a great spot close to the stage.

The same type of vendors were there as at the Trump rally, selling pins, hats and t-shirts. They seem to be price-fixed, no matter which party (all overpriced and low quality). Bernie Sanders merchandise was marked way down.

Hillary pins - JP Vellotti

There were about the same number of protesters in the parking lot — all peaceful. I’m not quite sure what the people with the giant inflatable spliff were protesting (or supporting).

It was really interesting to see both sides. I don’t think a lot of people can say they did that, especially in a 48-hour span.

Part of the anti-Hillary protests.

Part of the anti-Hillary protests.

I’d be interested to hear what Hillary said at the $34K event, versus this free one in Scranton. I especially wonder how she can tell the people of Scranton certain things will be done with money that comes in from the wealthiest 1% paying their fair share of taxes.

I imagine some of that 1% paid to see her in Greenwich. Are they ok with her plan? Maybe she laid it out in greater detail during the dinner? I’ll never know.

Unlike the Trump event, there were no vulgar t-shirts or pins — or chants of the same, from the crowd or candidate.

The arena was much larger, but it was closed off to nearly the same size as the SHU Pitt Center. Both events were hot, but nothing beats the Trump rally heat.

Hillary’s event had a live, local coffee shop-type band. They played mellow songs like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” then funk like “Superstition” and “ABC.” They did not repeat anything.

The Trump rally blasted mostly the Rolling Stones (who asked him to stop using their songs) and Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend” (an odd choice). His playlist repeated 3 times, and the crowd noticed. He also had an opera tune in the mix.

The crowds were almost equal in size — about 5,000. The demographics were again very similar — a bit younger in Scranton, predominantly white, but with more outward signs of diversity (buttons, pins, hats for various causes).

Hillary crowd - JP Vellotti

Much of the same speeches from both sides were snippets from the primaries. The Scranton one had a bit of hometown flavor, because of Hillary’s and Joe Biden’s roots there. Both told funny anecdotes.

Biden was a dynamic speaker. He made his speech feel personal, like your uncle was telling you something important. He also gave direct facts and statistics about consequences of things like dismantling NATO. He said he was off to Kosovo immediately after the rally, to assure them of America’s support.

Vice President Joe Biden.

I thought the talk in Scranton would be more about factory workers and old mills. Not at all. There was no relishing in the past for the American worker, which is the sense I got from Trump’s speech.

Hillary outlined her agenda at a high level. There was no badgering of the press, no name calling, and no Democratic version of “Lock her up!” She did wonder if Trump will ever release his tax returns.

Hillary speaking - JP Vellotti

Both Clinton and Biden came to the front row, and worked the crowd for a very long time. I was amazed at how close I could get. I believe Trump left as soon as he was finished, but I couldn’t see that side of the stage so I don’t know for sure.

Hillary after event

After the event, I walked over to Sonic to get something to eat. I met an 83-year-old Korean War vet named Daniel. He had been undecided, but will now vote for Hillary.

JP Vellotti's new friend, a Korean War veteran named Daniel.

JP Vellotti’s new friend, a Korean War veteran named Daniel.

I bought him lunch, thanked him for serving our country decades before I was born. And then it was back on I-80, to Westport. Without a limo.

Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden leave Scranton. (Photos/JP Vellotti)

Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden leave Scranton. (Photos/JP Vellotti)

Trump’s Thunder

Alert “06880” reader JP Vellotti graduated from Sacred Heart University in 1994.

When he heard that Donald Trump would speak at his alma mater — just 9 miles from downtown Westport — he decided to attend. His role, he says, was solely as “an observer.”

The rules were strict: No posters, banners, signs, professional cameras with detachable lenses, tripods, monopods, selfie sticks or GoPros. There was also “no dress code,” whatever that means.

JP was impressed with the professionalism of the Westport Police Department, part of the very tight security detail.

He also was surprised at the diverse demographics represented — including many folks he knows from Westport.

As Trump finished, JP says, thunder boomed. An announcement urged attendees to stay inside. JP took his chances with the weather, and sprinted through the downpour.

Here’s some of what he saw:

Plenty of vendors sold wares outside the Sacred Heart arena. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Plenty of vendors sold wares outside the Sacred Heart arena. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Part of the crowd, estimated at 5,000. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Part of the crowd, estimated at 5,000. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

A Donald Trump -- and Israel -- supporter. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

A Donald Trump — and Israel — supporter. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

The Republican presidential candidate speaks. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

The Republican presidential candidate speaks. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

This woman's shirt reads "HIllary You Suck." (Photo/JP Vellotti)

This woman’s shirt reads “HIllary You Suck.” (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Despite the sign, there was not a lot of respect inside Sacred Heart's William H. Pitt Health & Recreation Center, says JP Vellotti.

Despite the sign, JP Vellotti says there was not a lot of respect inside Sacred Heart’s William H. Pitt Health & Recreation Center.

Meanwhile, outside the Sacred Heart arena, a small “Love Trumps Hate” demonstration took place. Roy Fuchs took this photo:

(Photo/Roy Fuchs)

(Photo/Roy Fuchs)


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Ev Boyle: Reporting From 2 Conventions

If you’re like me, you spent the past couple of weeks processing everything you saw and heard during the Republican and Democratic conventions.

If you’re like Ev Boyle, you did that too — but with a special perspective. The 2001 Staples High School graduate was on the scene — including the floor — in both Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Ev’s official title is associate director, University of Southern California Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. He organizes programs and events in government, journalism and technology.

Ev Boyle (left) never knew who -- or what -- he'd see next. This was outside the Republican National Convention.

Ev Boyle (left) never knew who — or what — he’d see next. This was outside the Republican National Convention.

But he’s also a political junkie. So working with Annenberg professors like David Eisenhower (Ike’s grandson, Nixon’s son-in-law) and Geoffrey Cowan (former director of the Voice of America, author of a recent book on presidential primaries) is a dream come true.

Ev brought 6 student-journalists to the 2 conventions. “We pushed our students to go in with open minds and hearts. We wanted them to talk to as many people as they could.” They — and Ev — did exactly that.

They reveled in breakfasts with delegates, the controlled chaos of floor sessions, and random sidewalk meetings with everyone from Katie Couric and Samantha Bee to Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson and UK Brexit leader Nigel Farage (who knew either of them were at the conventions?).

Ev realized that being on the floor was interesting and special — but it was also cramped, hot, and hard to know what was happening. “You could see and hear a lot better on TV,” he notes.

Marjorie Margolies — a former Pennsylvania congresswoman, and Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law — helped arrange a meeting with former presidential candidate John Kasich. The Ohio governor famously stayed away from the convention in his home state — but he met the Annenberg group for a long, insightful conversation.

Ev Boyle (3rd from right) and David Eisenhower (next to Ev) heard political insights directly from Governor (and former presidential candidate) John Kasich (4th from left).

Ev Boyle (3rd from right) and David Eisenhower (next to Ev) heard political insights directly from Governor (and former presidential candidate) John Kasich (4th from left).

Texas Republican congressman Pete Sessions — chair of the House Rules Committee — was especially “kind and accommodating” to the group, Ev says.

Delegate breakfasts were particularly intriguing. At California’s — on the 1st day of the Democratic convention — Ev and his students heard the thunderous boos from Bernie Sanders supporters that greeted Nancy Pelosi and others. That incident did not get a lot of press, but it presaged the California delegation’s actions through the rest of the week.

Ev and his group learned something everywhere they went. In Cleveland, 100 congressional pages — ages 15 to 24, from all 50 states — gathered. When asked how many had supported Donald Trump from the beginning, no hands were raised.

Two other questions: How many were Trump supporters now? How many were “Never Trump”? Ev says they were split 50-50.

Republican and Deomocratic symbolsEv helped his young student journalists seek out interesting stories. They interviewed hotel workers, female Trump supporters, a delegate who at 17 years old was younger than they, and Democratic officials who switched parties to vote for Trump.

The 2 conventions provided “an eye-opener into the process of politics,” Ev says.

And stories he can tell through the 2020 election.

“Hey, Hillary! Can Tony Come Out And Play?”

From 1955 to ’58, Jeff Schon lived in Westport. He moved back in 1998. He’s now a well-known executive, specializing in software, internet, TV and publishing.

Jeff left here when his father — an oil executive — was transferred to Beirut. But every other summer, Jeff visited his grandparents back in the States.

They lived at 230 Wisner Avenue in Park Ridge, Illinois — the town where Jeff’s mother had grown up.

Jeff Schon at 13, in 1965. He thinks it was Flag Day -- and his family flew both the American and Lebanese flags.

Jeff Schon at 13, in 1965. It was Flag Day — and his family flew both the American and Lebanese flags in front of their home.

The Chicago suburb was like many early-’60s towns. Kids played touch football in the streets, under a canopy of elms. They caught fireflies at night. They wandered in and out of each other’s homes.

During their time in Park Ridge, Jeff’s parents got to know the neighbors across the street, at 235 Wisner. They had a boy — Tony — the same age as Jeff.

Occasionally, Jeff rang their doorbell. Tony’s older sister would answer.

“Hey, Hillary! Can Tony come out and play?” Jeff asked. He didn’t pay much attention to her.

“As a 10-year-old boy, a 14-year-old sister hardly exists,” he says. “I just wanted Tony for touch football.”

By now you’ve figured it out: Tony was a Rodham. Today, his sister — who occasionally babysat for Jeff’s younger sister Christine — is known as Hillary Rodham Clinton.

From left: Tony, Hughie and Hillary Rodham with their parents, Hugh and Dorothy.

From left: Tony, Hughie and Hillary Rodham with their parents, Hugh and Dorothy.

Jeff has not kept up with his summertime friend Tony. But years later, he remembers Tony’s older sister.

“This just shows you how small the world is,” Jeff says.

“Traveling from Beirut to a small suburban street, I’m connected to possibly the next President of the United States.”

In 1992 -- when her husband Bill was running for president -- Hillary Rodham Clinton responded to a letter written by Maggi Schon, whom she once babysat for. In 2008, Maggi was at the Democratic convention -- as chair of the Democrats Abroad delegation.

In 1992 — when her husband Bill was running for president — Hillary Rodham Clinton responded to a letter written by Maggi Schon, Jeff’s mother. In 2008 Jeff’s sister, Christine Schon Marques (whom Hillary once babysat for) attended the Democratic convention — as chair of the Democrats Abroad delegation.

Jeff Schon today.

Jeff Schon today.

Compo Guards Save Lives, Offer Life Lessons

Westport’s lifeguards are superb. They’re well-trained, well-skilled, friendly and fun. (They’re also very tan and quite fit.)

Compo Beach-goers know that the guard shack offers more than first aid. There’s tide and temperature info; warnings — and an always intriguing Quote of the Day.

Yesterday’s was particularly noteworthy:

Compo lifeguard sign

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Marc Lasry Is With Her

Marc Lasry — the billionaire hedge fund manager/Milwaukee Bucks co-owner — is a noted Hillary Clinton fan. Just 3 months ago, the prodigious fundraiser opened his Beachside Avenue home for an event featuring the Democratic presidential candidate’s husband, a guy named Bill.

Last night, Lasry talked up Clinton’s candidacy with PBS interviewer Charlie Rose.

Alert “06880” reader JP Vellotti watched his fellow Westporter with interest.

But one subject did not come up.

“I wonder what Lasry thinks of her line promising to make the ultra-rich pay their fair share of taxes,” Vellotti says.

Mark Lasry and Charlie Rose talk about Hillary Clinton. (Screenshot/JP Vellotti)

Mark Lasry and Charlie Rose talk about Hillary Clinton. (Screenshot/JP Vellotti)

 

David Loffredo And The Donald

Longtime Westporter — and frequent “06880” commenter — David Loffredo was invited to speak at an event at the Trump Doral.

Intrigued, he accepted. He’d never been to a Trump resort before.

“It’s everything you’d expect — lots of gold,” David reports.

Last night, there was a buzz that the Republican presidential candidate was coming.

After David spoke, he headed toward the lobby. Bam!

Donald Trump - by David Loffredo

“His employees — mostly minorities — love this guy,” David says.

He also talked to Secret Service members. “They said he’s a ‘rock star.'”


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Town Fights 8-30g — And Wins

A real estate developer buys suburban land. He announces plans to build a massive number of housing units on it. Citing Connecticut’s 8-30g statute, 30% will be “affordable,” according to state guidelines.

Townspeople — worried about the impact of such a massive development — rise up to oppose it.

Sound familiar? It happens all over — including Westport.

Here’s the unfamiliar part: The townspeople won.

The town is not Westport. But it’s nearby.

Easton residents and officials just got big news. A 5-year battle against a 99-unit, 31-building townhouse complex, on 124.7 acres of watershed bordered by Sport Hill, Westport, Silver Hill and Cedar Hill Roads, has come to an end. An appellate court declined to hear the developer’s appeal of a January decision by Hartford’s housing court, which upheld Easton’s Planning and Zoning Commission and Conservation Commission’s 2011 denial of that plan (and a previous one for 105 units).

Part of the Easton property proposed for a 99-unit 8-30g housing development.

Part of the Easton property proposed for a 99-unit 8-30g housing development. (Photo/Google Earth)

How did they do it?

Ira Bloom explains. He was legal counsel for the town commissions. He’s also Westport’s town attorney, so he knows something about 8-30g.

Unlike most zoning applications, Bloom says, if a town commission turns down an 8-30g application, the burden is on them — not on the developer — to prove they made the right decision.

There are a couple of ways to do that, Bloom says. One is to show there is “substantial public interest” in the denial. “Mere traffic congestion” does not work, Bloom notes. Traffic safety, however, may. “Substantial public interest” must clearly outweigh the need for affordable housing in that town.

Another way is to show that no possible modification of the proposal would satisfy the requirements.

Ira Bloom

Ira Bloom

“That’s a heavy burden of proof,” Bloom says. In fact, last year 9 8-30g cases were decided by Connecticut courts. 7 were won by developers. Towns prevailed in only 2 — including Easton.

Bloom argued that because the 99 units would be built on public watershed — serving most of the Easton — the town had a substantial public interest in denying the application. He cited Department of Energy and Environmental Protection guidelines that no more than 1 unit be built on every 2 acres of watershed.

In Westport, officials used the “substantial public interest” argument in denying a proposal for a large 8-30g complex on Wilton Road, near Kings Highway North. The fire chief testified there were severe safety concerns, about the ability of his department to access the proposed complex.

Westport is now writing briefs for that case. They’re due August 12. The developer — Garden Homes — then submits their own briefs.

Easton has very little affordable housing. Westport has more.

But when it comes to 8-30g, no town is out of the woods.

And, Bloom notes, the Easton developer still owns that property. A new proposal may be in the works.

Life In The Westport Bubble

This weekend, my biggest worry is the cloudy forecast. It’s summertime. I love the beach. Will my cookout be canceled? If not, will I still be able to enjoy a lovely Compo sunset?

I do not worry about being shot at a barbecue grill.

Compo Beach: long a place of joy, peace and safety.

Compo Beach: long a place of joy, peace and safety.

I have an excellent relationship with the Westport police. I grew up with some officers. The chief is a great guy, and a good friend. I know our cops’ jobs are complex and sometimes dangerous. Of course, I do get the usual twinge of anxiety when I see a patrol car in the rear view mirror.

I do not worry about being shot by a policeman.

I own my own home, and a car. I have savings for retirement, and health insurance. I am on the low end of the Westport income scale, but that is the high end for virtually every other community in the country. I am not in the 1%, but — in a town filled with haves and have-mores — I have everything I could possibly need or want.

I do not worry about where my next meal comes from, whether the roof over my head will disappear, or if I am one doctor’s visit away from ruin.

Most Westporters feel safe and secure in our homes. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Most Westporters feel safe and secure in our homes. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

I am a minority — a gay man — but I have never been treated differently because of it. On the contrary, I am surrounded by straight men and women who affirm their support for same-sex marriage, for my right to hold any job I want, for my dignity and worth as a human being.

I do not worry about being murdered in a nightclub. And I certainly do not have to worry about issues like which bathroom I use.

Walking around town, and especially at the beach, I enjoy hearing so many different languages being spoken. I drive across the Post Road bridge on jUNe Day just to see so many different flags flying proudly. I am proud to be an American, and proud to be a global citizen of the world.

I do not worry that some people do not want me here. I do not worry that because of the way I look or dress or talk, some people will make assumptions about me. And although I worry about the consequences of a wall being built on our border, that worry is for all of us. I do not worry that I will be on the other side.

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

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

In the comfort of my home, I watch the news on my flat-screen TV. If the images get too depressing, I can change the channel. I can order up a movie on demand, go for a walk in beautiful Winslow Park next door, or do anything else I please. If the political rhetoric gets too heated, the voices too shrill or the idiocy and hypocrisy too dismal, I can read a book on one of my many devices. Or even a real one.

But — because I am an American, and a global citizen of the world — I do not change the channel. I do not watch a movie, go for a walk or read a book. Instead — fascinated, horrified, frightened, angry, sad — I stay tuned to the latest episode of the reality show that is “America.” Every day, the plot line gets crazier and crazier.

And — in the bubble that is Westport — I worry. I worry for me. I worry for you. And I worry for all the people outside our bubble.

Because, after all, they really are all of us too.

Police Lives Matter

(Photo/Chip Stephens)

(Photo/Chip Stephens)