Category Archives: Politics

Free Sherwood Island!

Overlooked in the blizzard of news following the passage of our state’s last-in-the-nation budget is this:

Starting January 1, Connecticut residents will no longer pay for admission to 24 state parks and 3 state forests.

It’s covered through a new Department of Motor Vehicles charge: $10, paid every 2 years.

If you’re like me, and fail to see a connection between the DMV and the Department of Environmental and Energy Protection, look at the bottom line: The new charge will raise $16 million of the $18 million needed for annual operation of the parks.

Fees collected will be kept separate from Connecticut’s general fund.

Shewood Island State Park: 232 acres of prime real estate, right here in Westport.

What does that mean for Westport?

For one thing, Sherwood Island — the often-overlooked 232-acre gem right inside our borders — might get a few more town visitors.

For another, I’m sure someone will suggest that the solution to our Compo Beach crowds is to shunt more out-of-towners to the state park.

Of course, free admission applies only to Connecticut residents. Whether at Sherwood Island or Compo, New Yorkers still have to pay.

Ras Runs In Bridgeport

From time to time, Staples High School graduates run for public office. Some do it in Westport; others, wherever they’ve moved to.

Few of them want to serve in Bridgeport. Ras Omari does, and for a very good reason: That’s his hometown.

Omari McPherson, Staples High School Class of 2004.

Growing up there — when he went by the name Omari McPherson — he attended local schools. But he was selected by lottery for the Open Choice program. He got up early every morning, and was bused to Staples High.

He nurtured his love for recording, film and web development there. But after graduation in 2004, he majored in mechanical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

He added a master’s in marketing and technology innovation. In 2010 Omari joined Verizon’s Network Leadership Development program as an engineering project manager.

In his spare time, he worked as a photographer and videographer.

Feeling stifled and unfulfilled by his career path, Omari left corporate America. In 2014 — with his wife Juliana and newborn son — he moved back to Bridgeport. His journey of self-discovery and entrepreneurship was underway.

Today Omari is the founder and director of Vizier Media, a digital marketing consultancy specializing in “thought development, creative direction and content engineering.” He’s a dedicated husband, and father of Shiloh and Kaya.

And now a candidate for Bridgeport City Council. His 131st district includes downtown, the South End and part of the West End.

Ras Omari

Since returning to the Park City, he told Lennie Grimaldi’s great “Only in Bridgeport” blog, he’s realized it holds many hidden gems, waiting to be uncovered.

He stayed away from the city’s famously notorious and messy politics. But — hoping for insights into local issues — Omari attended last month’s City Council candidates’ forum. He was “uninspired” by both the dialogue, and the quality of candidates on stage.

He asked himself why Bridgeport is — and has been — run the way it has, for so long. After digging deep into the budget and downtown development projects, Omari realized it was time to step up.

He launched his write-in campaign.

“I believe this city’s turnaround hinges on a new generation of leaders who are thoughtful, productive and can come up with tangible solutions to problems,” he told Grimaldi.

“Politics in Bridgeport don’t have to mean the same ol’ same ol’. The ‘Write-in Ras’ campaign is about putting the power back in the hands of the people, and side-stepping the machine.”

Ras Omari in downtown Bridgeport. (Photo/Gary Pivot)

He does not want to fight “pettiness.” He aims to “inform, include and inspire a new generation of artists, entrepreneurs, and bright young professionals to take an active role in the future of the city.”

Tomorrow, Staples’ former Open Choice student hopes to give Bridgeport voters an open choice too.


2 US Senators, The State Comptroller, 2 Local Candidates And A Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photographer Walk Into Campaign Headquarters…

That was the scene today across from Stop & Shop.

US Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and Connecticut’s chief finance guy Kevin Lembo, came here to boost Democratic 1st and 2nd selectman hopefuls Melissa Kane and Rob Simmelkjaer.

Also on the scene: award-winning New York Times photographer and 1988 Staples High School graduate Tyler Hicks. His sister Darcy is a political activist.

From left: Chris Murphy, Rob Simmelkjaer, Tyler Hicks, Melissa Kane, Kevin Lembo, Richard Blumenthal.

And before folks get all bent out of shape, accusing me of partisanship: Trust me. If the Republicans had rolled out firepower like this, I’d post their shot too.

It’s a great photo op. That’s it.

See you at the polls!

Hanging In There

An alert “06880” reader spotted this, in the window of a Post Road East gallery:

“I realize it’s Halloween,” she says. “And I get the framing reference. But I find this window done in incredibly poor taste. Must be today’s politics.”

What do readers think of the noose and “hangings” reference? Bad taste? An attempted joke that falls flat? No big deal, or an overreaction?

Click “Comments” below. And please be polite. Don’t fly off the (broom) handle.

Unfortunately, Hate DOES Have A Home Here

A “Hate Has No Home Here” yard sign was vandalized last night, on usually quiet Pequot Trail.

The anti-hate hate message was clear. There was damage on both sides of the sign.

There were reports of similar vandalism to a “Hate Has No Home Here” sign on Old Hill Road.

The Pequot Trail homeowner is not deterred. When Baker Graphics opens tomorrow, she’ll order 6 more signs.

Ford Spotted In Weston

As Westporters debate the role of “outside” money and influence in the selectmen’s race, Westonites enjoyed a visit from a big political name.

Harold Ford Jr. — former congressman and chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, frequent guest on “Meet the Press” and “Morning Joe” — came to a fundraiser last night for selectman candidates Chris Spaulding and Brian Gordon.

He was not there in an official capacity. He did not speak publicly. He was just there to say hi to an old friend. Gordon — a Staples High School graduate — was his close friend at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ford circulated among the guests, offering quiet appraisals of the state of the world.

No one asked him about Weston taxes, zoning or what to do about Cobb’s Mill Inn.

Brian Gordon (center), flanked by Harold Ford Jr. (right) and Gordon’s former Staples High School basketball teammate Dave Sweedler.

TEA Talk Sunday Explores Art, Social Change

Everyone knows about TED Talks.

But here in Westport, we’ve got TEA Talks.

The Westport Arts Advisory Committee’s annual TEA — that’s Thinkers Educators Artists — event is set for this Sunday (October 29, 2 p.m., Town Hall).

The topic is timely and relevant: Art and Social Change.

Three 20-minute conversations among Westport arts professionals will explore how artists working in theater, art, writing and music can move popular thought, or sway public opinion.

In a nod to today’s fraught times, they’ll ask (and hopefully answer): “Does it take difficult times or momentous events for artists to create work that is a form of political and social currency?”

In the late 1960s, Naiad Einsel’s “Save Cockenoe Now” posters were a local symbol of the intersection of art and social change.

Carole Schweid (actor/director, Play With Your Food) and Michael Barker (managing director, Westport Country Playhouse) will address theater’s historical role addressing social issues.

Miggs Burroughs (artist/graphic designer/no further introduction needed) and Mark Yurkiw (artist/entrerpreneur) will discuss the influence of visual art on social change.

Haris Durrani (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

And John Dodig (former Staples principal) will chat with 2011 graduate Haris Durrani about the young writer’s fiction novella, “Technologies of the Self,” about the life of a young American Muslim after 9/11.

Durrani will also be presented with the Horizon Award, given annually by the Arts Advisory Committee to a Westport artist under the age of 32 who shows extraordinary accomplishment and potential.

Rounding out the afternoon are professional performances of songs expressing socially conscious messages, from yesterday (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”) and today (Pasek and Westport’s Justin Paul’s “Dear Evan Hansen.”)

A reception follows the intriguing TEA talks, at the Westport Historical Society across from Town Hall.


5 Years After Son’s Drug Death, Jim Hood Asks: “Where Is The Outrage?”

Yesterday, President Trump asked the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

Jim Hood — founder and chief executive of the national non-profit organization Facing Addiction — told the New York  Times that while he was grateful for the president’s remarks, he was concerned they missed the mark.

Hood — a Westport resident — said, “That undercurrent that if all of you just decided not to do this, we’d be in a better place — I can tell you, my son did not decide that he wanted to become addicted, much less die. We might have been much better served by framing this as a very serious illness, a very serious health issue.”

Hood’s son Austin died of an accidental overdose 5 years to the day before Trump’s announcement. On that anniversary, Hood posted on Facebook a poignant letter to his son:

Dear Austin,

I know I don’t need to send this note because I believe in a higher power, which means you received this message before I thought of it. Still, on this 5th anniversary of your sudden passing, I need to reach out within this earthly realm. As a mere mortal, and your brokenhearted dad, it is all I have to stay connected. And I pray sending this might help others.

Austin Hood

I think back on your 6-year journey with addiction. You were such a sweet, loving, talented, gifted, wonderful boy. You surely had no desire or intention to become addicted, but a swirl of influences conspired against you to bring that illness – and it is, irrefutably, an illness – upon you. You fought mightily to overcome the chains of addiction: willing to see endless therapists, endure wilderness, leave your family to go to therapeutic boarding school, and so much more. You gave it all you had.

Six long years later, you were finally on the mend. You were never been more centered, and I never more optimistic. The future was bright. You were ready to conquer the world.

Then, in a heartbeat, you were gone.  My beautiful boy was dead. No more twice-a-day texts, calls about this crazy world, funny messages, or anything. Nothing more. Forever.

At your memorial service I pledged to do everything I can to help other wonderful, loving people like you from losing their lives, and spare other families that anguish.

Since then, many amazing people came together to create #FacingAddiction. We are making a difference. And on days, like this, when I can hardly get out of bed, I am inspired by those astonishing people who, like me, want to turn the tide on this crisis and bring help and hope to tens of millions. And I am humbled that they all know about you, although none ever met you.

Austin Hood

But I still wonder why there is not more outrage. We come together as a nation when there are shootings, earthquakes, and hurricanes — as we should. Yet addiction is the leading cause of death in our country among people under the age of 40. One in 3 households is impacted by this scourge. Somebody, usually a young adult, dies every 4 minutes — the equivalent of a jumbo jet falling from the sky every day, with no survivors. I pray America very soon adds addiction to that list of “disasters” we must care about, and respond to, with our love, concern, help, and money.

Today, for the first time, I re-read my remarks at your service. I said, “I hope you know how much I love you, my son.  And I hope you know how hard I tried to help you.  If you feel I did not do enough, I hope you will forgive me.  And know that I will love you and miss you every day.”

It is even more true today, Austin.  I love you and miss you so much. And I know I will see you again someday.

All my love,

Jim Hood, and Austin.

One Westporter’s Wondrous Cuba

After a welcome thaw in US-Cuba relations, much about the island 90 miles from the Florida Keys is once again uncertain.

Hurricane Irma inflicted severe damage. Mysterious illnesses have afflicted American embassy personnel in Havana. President Trump has pledged to roll back President Obama’s policies of openness.

Which, says Maite Hernandez, makes this the perfect time to visit.

The Westporter’s parents were born in Cuba. When Fidel Castro took over, they fled to Miami. They soon moved to Puerto Rico, which reminded them of home.

Maite Hernandez and her father Tony.

Maite grew up among her parents’ Cuban friends. She learned to love their food, and heard stories about their homeland.

In 1997, she and her siblings visited Cuba for the first time. She felt like she was home. She met cousins who had never left the island. Immediately, it felt as if they’d grown up together.

She returned twice, in 2011 and 2013. Every time she leaves, she feels as if a piece of her heart remains.

Westporters are curious to learn more about Cuba. They’re fascinated by what they hear: the 1950s cars, the art nouveau and art deco architecture, the beautiful beaches.

Cuban architecture …

They tell Maite they want to visit before things change. Yet, she says, they don’t know how to go there, or have concerns about political implications.

She has an easy answer. Her brother Sixto is the founder of Cuba Travel & Scouting; she’s the Northeast representative. Utilizing family connections, the company offers tours that don’t adhere to government-imposed choices of sites, hotels and restaurants. Each tour focuses on Cuba’s rich history, natural beaaty and architectural wonders.

Westporters who have traveled to Cuba appreciate the experience. Emily Blaikie calls it “one of the most magical places I have ever been. The people are lovely. So are the sights and sounds. And the food is delicious.”

“06880”‘s tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.” Maite Hernandez wants her neighbors and friends here to know that — despite all the bad news recently — a wonderful world awaits them, just a short plane ride away.

… and a classic car.

Pic Of The Day #176

Peace at Town Hall (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)