Category Archives: Politics

Comey Can’t Come Home Again

Though he now needs a new job, former FBI director James Comey won’t be returning to Westport.

The former general counsel for Bridgewater sold his 3.17-acre, 7-bedroom, Westway Road home in January. The price was $2,475,000.

6 Westway Road (Photo/MLS)

(Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)

“Where Are Your Papers?” A Westporter Reacts

Alert “06880” reader Robert Birge is a marketing professional, investor and entrepreneur. He’s lived in Westport “almost 9 years, non-contiguously.” His activities include “regular consumption of food at our fine restaurants, chasing around 4 children, and trying to drive courteously.”

Last week, his kids’ nanny told him a disturbing story. Robert explains:

Someone she identified as a police officer asked her for her “papers” while waiting at the Westport train station. It happens that she is Latina. It also happens that she is a citizen of these United States of America.

Regrettably, we likely won’t learn who perpetrated this indignity. After a thorough investigation, Westport Chief of Police Foti Koskinas and Deputy Chief Vincent Penna strongly believe that whoever harassed our nanny is not a Westport police officer.

I’m not entirely convinced. However, I believe their view is reasonable, and I respect they have a different vantage point. I can only say it’s unclear who stopped her, and that there are sound reasons to doubt it was a Westport officer.

I find the details uninteresting now. That she suffered this indignity saddens me. Our nanny is a wonderful person. She cares for our 3 young boys as if they were her own. She’s exceedingly competent and industrious, and she always wears a smile. She’s the proud mother of two UConn graduates. Our community is fortunate to count her as a member.

Immigrants, legal and likely illegal, provide significant support to our rarefied town. While our community has time to wage fiery debates over high school essays on white privilege and unearned advantages, hundreds of immigrants make their way to Westport every morning to care for our children, clean our homes, tend our lavish gardens, and help build our beautiful houses. Westport would not be Westport without them. Any view to the contrary is patently false.

I grew up in New Mexico and Colorado. I learned at a young age to treasure the contributions and culture of the Hispanic community, along with every other group that has come to this country and helped make it great.

I’m also a vocal “member” of #TheResistance. I realize not everyone in Westport shares my views, but the voting patterns and my impressions of the typical Westport resident lead me to believe I’m among predominantly like-minded people. Westport is not Maricopa County, Arizona.

Two immediate family members have spent years in the federal criminal justice system. I’m confident this incident would not pass standards for probable cause or equal treatment.

My primary question after hearing this story was: “Is it possible this has spilled over into Westport?” I’m happy to share that Chief Koskinas and Deputy Chief Penna’s actions and words answered that question for me with an unequivocal NO! I also commend them for their responsiveness to a community concern.

I’m told the investigation has not implicated one of our officers, the MTA police or the Amtrak police. That leaves the possibility that a layperson harassed our nanny. I find this possibility more disturbing. I’d rather think that one jerk had a bad day and acted poorly, especially knowing the values coming from Chief Koskinas. If it happens again, I hope the community reports it. I’m confident our police department’s leaders would pursue the culprit vigorously.

I also believe it’s important to discuss a few comments I’ve received asserting that I should have allowed the police to investigate the incident before reporting it on social media. This is a choice we’re all granted as part of our right to speak freely. I respect that others would choose differently, but I stand by my choice. I know my nanny, and I know what she told me.

She was harassed by some racist in my town. I was and remain furious. I also believe the current climate necessitates vigilance toward every incursion on our civil liberties no matter how benign. Further, where should citizens or the press draw that line? If I had recorded a video like the Rodney King incident, should I have withheld the video from the public until a fair trial had been completed? I don’t think so.

Public discourse of wrongdoing and due process under the law are different matters. For example, anyone arrested in Westport will find their name, alleged crime and full color mugshot on Facebook right away. Even if you’re later fully exonerated, the damage done to your reputation would be hard to reverse. While the media surely enjoys the US Attorney’s penchant for high profile perp walks, I feel differently about the Westport police department employing public shaming in our small town. The point is that it’s a choice we all have a right to make.

It’s important to me to close this post with an expression of gratitude toward our police. Like most things in Westport, I believe we’re fortunate when it comes to our police. I’ve always found them to be efficient, extremely present, and friendly. I believe they keep my family safe. My wife Melissa and I intend to raise our children with the same respect for officers of the law that we have, because their position deserves that respect.

Marpe: “Ethnic Ugliness Has No Place In Westport”

1st Selectman Jim Marpe issued this statement, in response to yesterday’s distribution of hate flyers in Westport:

Once again, Westport residents have found flyers with disturbing messages in their driveways, in this case with neo-Nazi and white supremacist content.

This latest incident comes almost 2 years to the day after disturbing flyers appeared in other parts of our town. I am concerned and angry that once again statements like this have found their way to Westport homes. As I said 2 years ago, this kind of ethnic ugliness has no place anywhere, and certainly not in Westport.

I have always been proud to speak of Westport as an open and welcoming community, and I continue to believe that the vast majority of Westporters practice that belief through tolerance, inclusion and everyday civil behavior. Unfortunately, the last few years and months have reminded us that our nation still needs to deal with some serious societal and behavioral issues, and we are again reminded that Westport is not necessarily immune.

One of the flyers that was tossed in Westport driveways yesterday.

Westport must not tolerate the threatening, bullying and hateful messages that are at the heart of these flyers. We must reinforce our commitment to civil discourse and to the tolerance for residents of all backgrounds. Regardless of the reasons behind these intolerant statements, we must create a political and social climate that rejects these kinds of statements out of hand and allows all opinions to be heard in an open and non-threatening manner.

Our police department is working with other area police departments to attempt to identify the source of these latest disturbing and inflammatory messages. The town is also working with the Connecticut region Anti-Defamation League to identify possible sources but also to seek ways to appropriately combat this type of threatening activity.

I will also ask TEAM Westport to again work with the Interfaith Clergy and other appropriate Town agencies and civic groups to lead our community’s response to these outrageous statements and, as importantly, how to deal with the behaviors and beliefs that underpin them.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas added:

Not only do we want to keep our community safe, but we strive to also give peace of mind.  When you combine the content of the flyer and the nature in which this was done, we recognize the concern and alarm it may cause.  We are working diligently to determine who is responsible, and look further into the motive.

 

Neo-Nazis Hit Westport

These flyers — weighted down with stones — appeared in the driveways of Long Lots area residents this morning:

Although the flyer lists neo-Nazi and white supremacist websites — and challenges Westporters to “find the courage to stand up before it is too late” — no individual or organization has the courage to identify themselves as the distributor.

At least one homeowner has taken the flyer to the Westport Police.

 

Art Trumps Politics

A couple of weeks before November’s election, Pulitzer-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan sent Ari Edelson a copy of his new work: “Building the Wall.”

Set in 2019, the 2-person dystopian tragedy imagines that President Trump has carried out his campaign promise to round up millions of immigrants. It’s harrowing.

But Edelson — a 1994 Staples High School graduate who’s earned fame as a director and producer here and abroad — could not imagine anyone staging the show. Hillary Clinton was headed to the White House, Trump to the dustbin of history.

“I was painfully wrong,” Edelson admits.

Attending a reading 3 weeks after the election, he realized “this was a very dramatic, nimble play of the moment. It gives voice to people’s real fears.”

Schenkkan’s agent sent it around. But, Edelson notes, “theater culture moves slowly.” Some houses were booked through 2018. Others worried they’d lose donors if they staged it.

However, Edelson says, “this election upended all the rules. It’s no longer business as usual.”

A few years ago — already a rising star — Ari Edelson was honored with a Westport Arts Center Horizon Award. (Photo/Emily Hamilton Laux)

He helped Schenkkan get the play in the hands of a few theaters that did realize its significance. It’s been booked for stages in Los Angeles, Denver, Washington, Santa Fe, Tucson and Miami. Three productions are already underway; 3 more open between June and September.

But New York is the holy grail of American theater. Now “Building the Wall” is set for off-Broadway, at New World Stages.

With Edelson as director.

It could be one of the quickest roll-outs in New York theater history. The cast and design team were assembled with blazing speed. Rehearsals started last Monday. Previews begin May 12. The premiere is May 21.

“We’re not the pioneers,” Edelson emphasizes. “The Fountain Theatre in LA and Curious Theatre in Denver have done extraordinary work. The script evolves with each production.”

He is excited about his role. “‘Building the Wall’ is a cautionary tale about free will. People can get swept up in what’s happening, and not always act in the best ways,” he says.

The New York Times agrees. Yesterday it called the show one of 5 “must-sees” this month.

Edelson is not the only member of his family motivated to act by the November election.

Like many Americans, Julia Levy — Edelson’s wife — watched with alarm during the presidential campaign, as rhetoric heated up.

Though her son Eliot is not yet 3, he could point at the TV and identify Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. From the tones of voices, he knew when people were not being nice to each other.

“All parents try to set examples for their kids,” Levy says. “We try to model being nice to each other.”

Ari Edelson, Julia Levy and their son Eliot.

As public discourse turned nasty, she searched for a way to help Eliot — and other children — digest what was going on. And, she hoped, to make something good come out of it.

Levy is an educational consultant — and a very creative person. She’d always wanted to write a children’s book. Now she had a chance.

Using bright colors and approachable animals, she wrote and illustrated “Donny the Bully.” With cut paper and catchy rhymes, it tells the story of a bullying bull, and a group of classmates who stand up for a friend.

She got feedback from a child psychologist and teacher. Edelson did the layout and design work, and shot a video.

Levy also created a DonnyTheBully.com website, stickers and t-shirts.

Funding came through an Indiegogo pitch. Last week, the books were shipped. “I hope they get through customs,” Levy said.

She was only half kidding.

(Hat tip: Danya Pincavage)

Tyler Hicks: Finding The Truth

The New York Times‘ “Truth” ad campaign — launched during the Oscars — is unusual.

A variety of spots, in an array of mediums, hammer home one theme: “The truth is hard to find.”

One of the most compelling is a quick video series of photographs. Desperate immigrants, piled on rafts, seek safety and freedom.

A man’s voice says: “I see fear. I see desperation. But I also see hope.”

He continues: “I feel it’s important to take photographs that will make a difference.”

At the end, he says: “I’m Tyler Hicks. Photojournalist for the New York Times.

Hicks is a 1988 graduate of Staples High School. He’s won 3 Pulitzer Prizes. He’s documented wars, tragedies and a few triumphs all over the globe, from Afghanistan to Albania, Kosovo to Kenya.

He — and fellow Pulitzer-winning/Times photojournalist/Staples grad Lynsey Addario — were abducted in Libya, and spent 6 harrowing days in captivity.

In 2012 Hicks was in Syria, when Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid died of an asthma attack. Hicks helped carry his body across the border to Turkey.

The truth is indeed hard to find. Somehow, Tyler Hicks brings it closer to us all.

(Hat tip: Jim Honeycutt)

Tyler Hicks

Raising Children In Trump’s America

President Trump’s crackdown on immigrants had an unexpected effect in Westport.

A few schoolchildren were worried. What, they asked their parents, would happen to their Spanish teachers? Would they be deported?

Other parents heard similar stories, about fears for foreign classmates.

Some parents had their own worries. How, they wondered, should they raise their kids in this “new” America?

They might get answers — or at least, meet similarly fretful folks — this Tuesday night (April 25, 7:30 p.m., Christ & Holy Trinity Church).

The Democratic Women of Westport are hosting a panel. The title — “Raising Children in Trump’s America” — is both timely and provocative.

President Trump, with some American kids.

The DWW says the discussion will “address the needs emerging in our community as a result of the new political landscape.” Panelists will discuss how to talk to children about the political climate in a way that is “authentic, and not fear-based.” The goal is to “use kindness as an act of resistance.”

The panel includes political activists, as well as Marji Lipshez-Shapiro (senior associate director of the Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut) and Claire Dinshaw, editor-in-chief of Staples High School Inklings newspaper.

It will be moderated by Rob Simmelkjaer, a Westport Democratic Committee member and on-air contributor at NBC Sports.

Among the topics they’ll address:

  • How drastic policy shifts are being felt in Fairfield County
  • How immigrant and refugee families are faring locally
  • The social impact of Trump’s rhetoric on our schools and community.

There are sure to be questions from the audience — and comments here, from “06880” readers.

Please be civil.

Please Excuse Eli And Lulu …

This is the time of year when 12th graders suffer serious cases of senioritis.

But Eli Debenham and Lulu Stracher are 2 of Staples’ most politically aware — and active — students.

So this morning — instead of school — they headed to Norwalk Community College.

Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal discussed gun violence. The forum was moderated by Westport attorney Josh Koskoff.

It was an important, informative event. But afterward, Eli and Lulu had a typical high school worry: They needed a note for missing class.

No problem!

They just asked Senator Murphy to write one.

He happily obliged.

Lulu Stracher, Eli Debenham, and the man who excused them from class this morning.

The note read:

Please excuse my friends for their absence. I required their attendance in my forum on violence — under penalty of arrest! — Chris Murphy

You may like Connecticut’s junior senator or not. But you gotta admit: That’s great constituent service!

Lulu and Eli’s note.

The 1968 Presidential Campaign Has Begun!

Spotted on Riverside Avenue. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

“Heart Moms” Pay A Bummer Bear Forward

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) occur in 1 out of every 100 births. The impact on babies — and their families — is profound.

Westporter Britt Sheiber is the mother of twin boys, Evan and James. They turn 1 on April 27 — her birthday.

It’s been quite a year. During Britt’s pregnancy, a 16-week ultrasound revealed Evan’s CHD. His type — “half a heart” — is extremely rare.

The Sheibers searched for the best treatment. They found it at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Evan was in the NICU for a few weeks. Britt drove to Westport every other day for a few hours, to see James and her 2 older children.

Finally, Evan came home. But he caught a cold, and ended up in the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital ICU.

A Bummer Bear.

That’s where he received a “Bummer Bear.” Passed on by the (coincidentally) Westport mother of another boy with CHD, it’s a special teddy bear. His zipper — representing the surgery scar — opens to reveal a tiny red heart, with little white stitches.

The mom sent an inspirational letter too.

The gifts gave Britt hope, and made her realize she was not alone. They helped her through Evan’s first open heart surgery — along with calls and texts from Ali Marcus.

Ali is another Westport mom whose son West was born with CHD. The women had  been introduced by mutual friends right before Britt gave birth to Evan, as West was preparing for his own surgery.

After Britt received her Bummer Bear for Evan, she paid it forward by sending one to Ali for West.

West Marcus loves his Bummer Bear.

Not long ago, the women heard about Fatemeh Reshad. The 4-month-old Iranian child — born with a congenital heart defect — was flying with her parents to Oregon for a life-saving procedure.

But when President Trump’s executive order banned travel from 7 countries, they had to cancel the surgery.

The women were stunned. As “heart moms,” they would go to the ends of the earth to get their children the best treatment possible. They knew Fatemeh’s mother was doing the same.

Britt and Ali posted Fatemeh’s story on social media. They reached out to their contacts at Yale-New Haven and Boston Children’s for help. After Governor Andrew Cuomo and the International Refugee Assistance Project intervened, the federal government allowed Fatemeh and her family into the US.

The women quickly sent Fatemeh a Bummer Bear, plus other gifts: a personalized pillow, cheerful button-up onesies, a pacifier/lovey for her chest, and cozy socks for Fatemeh’s mom. They added encouraging letters too.

Bummer Bear and assorted donations for Fatemeh, thanks to Westport’s “heart moms.”

Today, Britt monitors Evan’s oxygen numbers daily. They see his Boston cardiologist every few months. Evan will need another open heart surgery in a couple of years.

Britt takes care of him — and many others. Realizing the lack of awareness (and funds) for children with CHD, she founded Evan’s Heart Fund. All money goes to single ventricle research. This winter at JoyRide, she raised $27,000. Another fundraiser is in the works.

James (left) and Evan Sheiber today.

As for West: He’s a happy 1-year-old, chasing his 3 big brothers and 1 big sister. He too must be monitored every day for the rest of his life.

“Our family has been changed forever by this,” Ali says. “We are grateful for our hearts every day. What an incredible organ!”

So she, Britt and other moms stand ready to help the next heart mom, and the one after that.

It’s the heartfelt thing to do.