Category Archives: Politics

Glamping: The Sequel

You know that big wedding last weekend on Beachside Avenue?

The one that featured white tents on Harvey Weinstein’s property, for glampers — “glamour campers” — to shelter on Friday and Saturday night, roughing it with only wooden floors and queen beds?

The one where fireworks lit up the sky after the ceremony, and a ton of security (uniformed cops, plainclothes and more) patrolled the area?

Turns out it was pretty, um, glamorous.

Zach Lasry — son of billionaire hedge fund owner/Milwaukee Bucks co-owner/Beachside Avenue resident Marc Lasry — married Arianna Lyons. They work together in film production.

Among the guests: former President Bill Clinton, and former Senator/Secreatyr of State/presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

President Bill Clinton at the Beachside Avenue wedding…

… and Hillary Clinton. (Photos courtesy of Instagram)

No word on whether they glamped, or decamped after the festivities to Chappaqua.

(Hat tip: WestportNow)

Mark Friedman Fights For Freedom Of The Press

Mark Friedman is not a journalist. He’s not married to a reporter, and there are none in his family.

But the Westport investment advisor is one of our town’s staunchest defenders of freedom of the press.

And — if his side business catches fire — he might become one of the nation’s strongest too.

Friedman runs a website: It’s not fancy, but neither is its mission.

Mark Friedman, at Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

Freedom of the press is “the only effectual guardian of every other right,” said James Madison — it’s right there, on Friedman’s home page — and the site is devoted to recent stories about assaults on the First Amendment.

There are links to organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists, Newseum and the National Constitution Center.

And “I ♥ Freedom of the Press” merchandise, like t-shirts and car magnets.

Friedman’s respect for the Constitution and Bill of Rights was sparked when he practiced law. Then — “called to teaching” — he spent a decade at the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, where as an English and history instructor he gave serious thought to those foundations of democracy.

Now, in Westport, he spends time as an RTM member, PTA and sports volunteer. Starting this fall, he’ll teach Sunday school.

Over the last couple of years, as attacks on the press mounted, Friedman grew concerned. “‘Enemy of the people’ is a Stalinist phrase. It was used to persecute,” he says.

Friedman believes that freedom of the press is important to all citizens, of any political party. He wanted to find a “non-partisan, unifying and positive” way to reinforce the notion.

During World War II, his uncle — past the age of enlistment — nonetheless joined the military. He wanted to help save democracy.

“I’m not putting my life in danger,” Friedman notes. “But the spirit is the same: fighting and honoring those who fought before us, so we could be here now.”

He worked with his wife to refine the website concept. His middle school son helped with the design.

Mark Friedman’s merchandise.

People are noticing. Last week, at a baseball game, an usher noticed Friedman’s shirt. Her son works in media, and she wanted to know how to get one.

Some people scream “fake news!,” Friedman says. But positive comments far outweigh negative ones.

His goal is to get Americans to think about the concept of freedom of the press — and the patriotism and courage of reporters.

The Newseum has a memorial to journalists killed in the line of duty. Most are in far-off places. Now, Friedman says, “it’s chilling that reporters face hostile crowds here. Things could turn violent.”

He hopes not. But if they do, he’ll fully support the journalists who cover that breaking news.

Jeff Scher’s Amazing, Graceful Video

In 2015, a man killed 9 men and women at a Charleston church.

In the midst of his powerful eulogy, President Obama sang “Amazing Grace.” Zoe Mulford wrote a song about that moment. Joan Baez recorded it.

Now Jeff Scher has brought that inspiring song about death and hope to life.

The 1972 Staples High School graduate is a filmmaker and animator. He’s now back in Westport, working in a Cross Highway studio a few steps from his house.

Scher has carved out a compelling niche. His hundreds of drawings in “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm” helped earn the HBO documentary about a Holocaust survivor a place in the permanent display of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

Jeff Scher

He created the official video for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Teach Your Children.” Bob Dylan and Paul Simon hired him to make holiday videos. A short film about summer and water — “L’eau Life” — features many Westport scenes.

But right now, his Obama/Baez is creating the biggest buzz.

Scher’s hundreds of hand-drawn watercolor and pastel images draw viewers in to a story they already know.

The challenge, the artist says, was to convey the intense emotion of the president’s eulogy — but in the end, Baez’s song was about someone else singing a different song. It’s also about murder.

Fortunately, Scher says, the tune is “beautifully written, with a clear narrative. It opens slowly, pulls you in, and has an incredible emotional arc.”

And, he notes, “Somehow Obama, with his humble singing voice, turned grief into grace. With humility, compassion, and a 200-year-old hymn, he made us feel that the evil deeds of a sick individual could not shake the bonds of our common humanity.”

He saw his job as “framing” Mulford’s song, rather than “illustrating” it. “I did not want to get in the way of the lyrics,” he explains.

He told the Atlantic, which premiered the video: “I wanted the scenes to feel like they were blooming from the white of the paper, like a photograph in a developer or a memory emerging from a cloud.”

The song and video are called “The President Sang Amazing Grace.”

Thanks to Zoe Mulford, Joan Baez — and Jeff Scher — the result is both amazing and graceful.

Kerry McGrath: 30 Years In Immigration Law

Growing up in Westport, Kerry McGrath had 2 main influences.

There was her Catholic faith. Assumption Church, she says, provided a strong foundation in social justice.

And there was also Jewish culture. “Tikkun olam,” she explains easily, embodies the concept of repairing the world, and doing good for others.

“My family and I had so many Jewish friends,” she says. “That was instilled in me as well.”

McGrath had the “good fortune” to spend plenty of time with Manny and Estelle Margolis. He was a lifelong civil rights and civil liberties advocate who died in 2011. She continues to crusade for social justice — including maintaining vigils on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

“Their focus and passion made a big impression on a very impressionable teenager,” McGrath recalls.

Kerry McGrath

Though she went through the Westport school system, she did not graduate from Staples High School. Her parents moved to New Jersey when she was in 10th grade (and “thankfully moved back 4 years later”).

After graduating from Duke University and New York University Law School, McGrath has focused on immigrants. Fourteen years ago, she opened her own firm. She continues to work on immigration law.

McGrath’s first job gave her her first exposure to the special needs of immigrants. Working with teenagers and young people at Covenant House, she realized that many ended up on the streets of New York after fleeing violence in Central America. Others were sent to the US by their parents from around the world, in hopes of making money.

That experience opened her eyes to the many complex layers of teen homelessness and world affairs. She moved to Guatemala, to work and learn Spanish.

Then, at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, she started an immigration rights project. At her next job — Amnesty International — McGrath looked at the biggest picture: “the world forces causing oppression, and violations of human rights.”

After working in Washington, she returned to Atlanta and joined Catholic Charities. Her clients were all detainees.

“That was so hard emotionally,” she says. But it inspired her, when she opened her solo office, to concentration on immigration issues.

Many clients are landscapers, roofers and house cleaners. She works with them on family petitions and Dreamer status. Some are victims of crimes, including domestic violence.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, she says, things have changed dramatically. In the past, someone who overstayed a visa, married a US citizen and was put in removal proceedings could have the case terminated by Homeland Security, in order to pursue a green card.

Now, McGrath says, “discretion has been eliminated.”

She understand that this is a controversial issue. “Violating the law is wrong,” she says. “But the consequences far exceed what’s been done. The effects can be felt on children and spouses. And often these are people who are contributing a lot to this country.

“It’s very complicated. Immigration issues are not black and white.”

She also knows that some Americans think immigrants get “special treatment.” However, she notes, “you can’t just come to the US and apply for citizenship right away. Even children of legal residents have to wait a long time.”

One client fled civil war in El Salvador in 1990. She received her green card a couple of months ago — 28 years later.

The president, she fears, is “trying to minimize both illegal and legal immigration. This is not just about a wall to keep people out. It’s about preventing permanent residents from becoming citizens. And preventing others from coming here legally, on temporary status.”

McGrath points to another often-overlooked aspect of immigration.

“I don’t think people realize why Central Americans come to the US. Our illegal drug use fuels violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. If we stop consuming, gangs would not have the money or power to conduct all that violence. We’ve created the push out of those countries to the US.’

She connects her work back to Westport. The schools and town gave her the education and skills for her work.

Westport also taught her “how lucky and privileged” she is. It was here — from her church, and her Jewish friends — that she first heard the saying, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

And where, she says, she also learned: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Don’t Forget To Vote Today!

Turnout was light this morning around town, as the Democratic and Republican parties held primary elections.

The scene at Town Hall earlier this morning. Similar light turnout was reported throughout Westport.

Sure, there’s not the drama of a presidential race. But the offices of governor, attorney general and treasurer are important.

And of course, generations of Americans have fought and died protecting our right to vote.

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

Remembering Hope Berry

Hope Berry — a 1987 Staples High School graduate, and social justice advocate — died in June, from complications of pneumonia. She was 49.

Her death was little noticed in Westport. In national LGBT circles, it was big news.

Hope was the daughter of a gay man and a lesbian. Her father, David  Berry, died of AIDS in 1989. Her mother, Karen Veronica, founded Bread & Roses, the AIDS hospice just over the Westport border in Georgetown.

Her obituary calls Hope “a queer femme, a political junkie and activist, a mom to daughter Lila, a long-time ASL interpreter and active member of LGBT deaf communities, and a hub of the spokes of many communities.”

Hope Berry

She served in many roles with COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere), including advisor to directors and mentor to staff, board members and youth leaders.

The organization called Hope “the keeper of our institutional memory, history and legend. (She) helped transform our nation’s concept of family.”

At a time when children of LGBT parents were ostracized, physically attacked and removed from their homes, Hope was a frequent TV guest, and often quoted in the press.

Professionally, she worked as an ASL interpreter. In 2003 she married Dion Manley, president of the transgender organization FTM International. Their daughter was born the next year.

Shortly before her death, she began a new career in hospitality with Marriott.

A memorial gathering in Hope’s name is set for the Benedectine Grange in West Redding on Wednesday, August 29 (1 p.m.). In lieu of flowers, donations to handle final expenses and provide for Lila can be made here.

Photo Challenge #189

With a primary election coming up this Tuesday, I thought I was pretty clever with last week’s photo challenge.

Grover Fitch’s photos showed a bumper sticker for Lowell Weicker, and one for his A Connecticut Party party.

No, he’s not running for governor. But the bumper stickers are still around from 1990, when he won as an independent candidate. Today, the 1-term governor is best known for instituting a state income tax. (Click here for the photo, and more background info.)

Either everyone was away this week, hardly anyone has ever noticed the bumper stickers, or people just want to forget about Lowell Weicker. Only Alan Puklin knew where they are: on the back of a traffic sign on Cross Highway, on your left just past Roseville Road as you head east to North Avenue.

So it’s a toss-up: Bumper stickers may hang around as long as plastic straws and water bottles. They’re probably even more dangerous to your health.

This week’s photo challenge comes from Amy Schneider.  We’ve all seen these multi-colored kayaks: but where?

(Photos/Amy Schneider)

If you think you know, click “Comments” below.


Photo Challenge #188

There were many ways to describe last week’s photo challenge.

Lauren Schiller’s shot showed a few windows, and beige and tan structures.

Some “06880” readers described them as storefronts on the Post Road, across from Bank of America. Some mentioned current tenants, like Arogya. Others placed them “down the street from old Westport Bank & Trust” (now Patagonia), “between Urban Outfitters and Nefaire Spa,” and where B&G Army Navy and Chroma card store used to be.

All are somewhat correct. Congrats to Fred Cantor, Seth Goltzer, Suzanne Raboy and Bobbie Herman.

But the folks who really nailed it — that’s you Matt Murray, Elaine Marino, Jonathan McClure, Joelle Harris Malec and Michael Calise — knew that the image actually shows the backs of those stores (117-131 Post Road East, as Elaine accurately points out).

The view is from Church Lane — in front of Bedford Square.

The buildings are architecturally undistinguished. Sometimes they fade into the landscape.

But you can’t hide anything from alert “06880” readers. (Click here for the photo, and all guesses.)

Meanwhile, with Democratic and Republican primaries coming this month, now is a good time for an election-related photo challenge:

Photo challenge 2 - Grover Fitch

(Photos/Grover Fitch)

Sure, it’s been 28 years since Lowell Weicker ran for governor (and won) as a candidate of the independent A Connecticut Party.

He’s remembered best for implementing a state income tax — a much-criticized measure that nonetheless earned him the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s Profiles in Courage award for taking an unpopular stand, then holding firm.

The state tax is still with us. So is this sign. Where in Westport is it?

If you know, click “Comments” below. And if you have any memories of Governor Weicker, send those along too!


Haters Gonna Hate

Last year, when political election and Black Lives Matter signs were uprooted, defaced or otherwise damaged, many Westporters were outraged.

A few, though, said: Not so fast. Maybe they were blown over. Maybe the spray paint was just vandalism. Maybe it was kids making mischief.

Last night, this happened on Sylvan Road North:

The message seems unambiguous:

Hate does have a home in Westport.

Lynsey Addario: Power Player Of The Week — Again

Last December, Lynsey Addario  was named Fox News’ “Power Player of the Week.”

This week, she did it again.

It may have been a slow news week. Or maybe Chris Wallace really likes the Staples High School graduate, who has gone on to earn both a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur genius grant.

The “Fox News Sunday” host says that Lynsey Addario takes “riveting photographs that bring the savagery of the front lines into your home.”

Addario claims she is “not brave — just committed.”

Wallace listed the places Addario has worked: Afghanistan. Iraq. Libya. Darfur. South Sudan. Somalia.

She goes there, she says, because it is “fundamental to document” what occurs in those war-torn places.

After photographing skeletons and devastated villages, Addario goes home. There, she tries to explain war — and her work — to her 6-year-old son.

For the full feature, click here.

(Hat tip: Neil Brickley)