Category Archives: Politics

Not Funny At All

At first glance, the early morning scene near Old Mill Beach looked funny — a Halloween prank several months early:

Toilet paper in a tree. No biggie. A bit of cleanup required.

Kids will be kids. Ha ha!

But then neighbors read this note, posted to a tree:

Suddenly, things were not so funny.

In fact, they turned deadly serious.

Because here is one of the stickers, on the homeowner’s car:

(Photos/Katherine Bruan)

Heather Hightower: The Charlottesville I Know

Heather Hightower graduated from Staples High School in 1999, and the University of Virginia 4 years later. She’s still in Charlottesville, where she’s the founder and owner of The Center for Vocal Study (and choir director at Field School).

In the aftermath of that city’s domestic terrorism incident — as the world tries to figure out what to make of her adopted hometown — she emailed “06880.” Heather says:

The Charlottesville I know is full of caring, good, hardworking people who actively seek to improve the lives of others.

The Charlottesville I know cares about its children, its small business owners, its food sources, its historical mark on this nation.

The Charlottesville I know is full of people who take the time to read about the issues and who then give careful consideration to how to best support the highest good.

The Charlottesville I know had people attending lectures on historical roots of racism, prayer vigils and other peaceful forms of activism the nights and weeks leading into this past weekend’s events.

Heather Hightower

The Charlottesville I know is committed to the values our nation holds dear, including diversity and freedom of speech.

The Charlottesville I know has the strength and presence of mind in its residents and leaders to tackle major issues and work towards resolution. We have faced some difficult issues in the past few years that have sparked national conversation. The events of this weekend, amplified by participants from out of town, do not represent the heart of Charlottesville. This city is strong, thoughtful, kind and cares about its neighbors and where we are going as a community.

The Charlottesville that will prevail is one powered by good. We have a marvelous opportunity to demonstrate how to lead in a time of crisis. It begins with how we conduct these conversations and how we rise to keep working towards change that builds community. Our community is listening, it is acting, and our artists are shining brightly.

 

Selectmen Sign ADL Pledge

All 3 Westport selectmen — Jim Marpe, Avi Kaner and Helen Garten — have signed an Anti-Defamation League petition. It requests that President Trump “publicly and unequivocally disavow white supremacy.”

The statement reads:

The White House’s repeated failure to stand up to white supremacy and other forms of domestic extremism emboldens and allows its perpetrators to increase their visibility.

Now is the time for President Trump to name the hate and acknowledge that this is not a matter of equivalence between two sides with similar gripes.

The White House’s refusal to disavow white supremacist ideology as a growing source of extremist violence empowers and abets its perpetrators.

President Trump must personally and unequivocally disavow white supremacy and end the White House’s enabling and tolerating its rise.

To truly take a stand, we urge President Trump to also terminate all staff with any ties to these extremists. There is no rationale for employing people who excuse hateful rhetoric and ugly incitement.

 

Hate Has No Home Here

The weekend’s horrific events in Charlottesville shined a spotlight on the despicable, bigoted, anti-American groups and individuals now crawling out from under the rocks where they’ve hidden for years.

It also gave fresh momentum to a no-hate movement that’s been building here in Westport.

Earlier this summer, Bedford Middle School teacher Kerstin Rao visited Evanston, Illinois. She spotted several lawn signs:

Kerstin was staying with her husband’s cousin. Both men were born in India. Like Kerstin, her husband’s cousin is in a mixed marriage.

Pushing a stroller with her relatives’ infant daughter, and seeing similar signs on every street, gave Kerstin a “truly inclusive” feeling.

She vowed to bring that feeling back to Westport.

Online, she found the website for what was becoming a national movement. Organizers laid down a few simple rules: It could not be a fundraiser; it could not be political or partisan; the original design could not be altered, and the yard signs had to be sold at cost.

“This is truly a grassroots effort to show our welcoming hearts,” Kerstin says.

She learned that a few areas in Connecticut already had signs. She bought one from a Milford friend.

When Kerstin wrote about the movement on Jane Green’s “Westport Front Porch” Facebook page, the response was immediate. She organized a meeting at Barnes & Noble.

Baker Graphics offered a great price for printing. Steam Coffee at the Greens Farms train station offered to sell the signs to commuters.

The group that met at Barnes & Noble last week loved that the project is non-partisan. They vowed to include people from a wide spectrum to help spread the “no hate” message.

On Sunday, Kerstin and her husband Vijay brought their red-and-blue sign to the demonstration on the Post Road bridge:

“Peace is non-partisan,” Kerstin notes. “We are not affiliated with any political party, religion or cause. We just want to put a message in our neighborhoods that hate has no home here.”

She adds, “As a teacher, I imagine students of various backgrounds heading back to school, maybe feeling nervous. Maybe this will be their first year in Westport schools. The thought of them looking out their bus windows and seeing so many welcoming signs — well, that is really wearing our hearts on our sleeves.”

(The no-hate group has set up a fundraising page (click here). Donations will pay for printing only. To volunteer for the effort, email hhnhhwestport@gmail.com.)

Fran Southworth: Why I Stood On The Bridge

Fran Southworth has lived in Westport for 29 years. She is part of Indivisible Connecticut 4, and the Facebook Love in Action group.

Last night — saddened and horrified by the events in Charlottesville — she felt compelled to act. Fran writes:

Seeing the images of the University of Virginia students made me think about my own kids when they were in college, and the horror if they had been confronted with such hatred, intolerance and racism. Because of the hateful slogans chanted by the white supremacists, and the physical actions that caused at least 1 death and many injuries, I felt the need to unify as a community. We needed to come together to voice our opposition to hate, and teach our children and grandchildren that what they are witnessing now is not what America is all about.

So I decided to do a pop-up peaceful gathering on our bridge in Westport. I thought I might  be standing there alone with my sign: “Normalize Love Not Hate! Honk if You Agree.”

Getting Darcy Hicks involved was a sure way to gather people.

This morning Melissa Kane contacted me. We chatted about our similar family history. She spread the word as well.

Then a new activist friend, Juliana Hess, told her group. We were off and running.

Juliana wrote beautifully that people in Europe would never have sat back and done nothing if they knew what was coming. My Jewish grandparents ran for their lives from Russia. They and others told me stories of friends and relatives who ran. Many were killed in the Holocaust. Others survived. All taught me: “Never Again.”

Never again — yet Charlottesville just happened. I feel very deeply the pain, destruction and horror it has caused. I also say: “Never Again.”

Fran Southworth (center), flanked by Myra Garvett and Darcy Hicks, on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge earlier today.

I also want to speak out for my close friend and singing partner, an African American woman. Because of the history of slavery and racism in America, blacks have always struggled here. But things are worsening, with white supremacists set loose by the tacit acceptance of our administration toward violence and intolerance.

My friend explained to me that they don’t want to have a separate “Black Lives Matter” presence. Unfortunately they have to.

We have to stop these white supremacists in their tracks. We must make it very clear that they — and their hate and intolerance — have no place in our communities. White supremacists, neo-Nazis and anti-Semites are the antitheses of our American values.

The president said there are many sides to this. There are no other sides to hatred and bigotry. I watched David Duke, a former KKK leader, say that President Trump told them they will take back our country.

No! We will take back our country. We will continue to live up to the American ideals of tolerance and inclusion of all people.

We need to let our politicians know that this is a very important issue for all of us. It’s not about anyone’s political party or agenda. It’s about human decency, compassion and respect.

Bob Powers: The View From Charlottesville

Bob Powers grew up in Westport. After graduating from Staples High School in 1971, then Amherst College in ’75, he headed to med school at the University of Virginia.

He loved life in the college town. His children were born there. He moved twice — to Minnesota, and back to Connecticut. But as Powers — a physician and professor at UVa’s med school — notes, he’s now spent 30 years in Charlottesville. That’s longer than he’s lived anywhere else.

Like any Southern town, Powers says, there’s a history of racial discord dating back to slavery. Though the university has provided an intellectual base, schools there closed in the 1960s rather than succumb to desegregation.

“I have African American friends here who helped integrate the schools,” Power says. “And I have white friends who were pulled out of them.”

One of his patients — an older black woman — was involuntarily sterilized.

“This is not ancient history,” he explains.

Dr. Robert Powers

As a youngster in Westport, he says, “I was blissfully ignorant of all that. It’s part of Southern history. There’s nothing like that in the north.”

When he moved to Charlottesville he noticed rebel flags, and statues of Confederate heroes. He saw “thinly painted over signs” for colored restrooms.

Since then, he says, the town of 45,000 has gentrified. UVa has drawn “carpetbagging Yankees like me” for years.

Much of Charlottesville remains “voluntarily segregated.” There are black and white churches, funeral homes and neighborhoods. “People feel a level of comfort” in separate cultures and identities.

There is little “overt animosity” between blacks and whites, Powers says. The university in particular has made great strides toward inclusion. The dean of the medical school, hospital director and Powers’ own boss are all African American.

What happened this weekend, he says, began with outsiders who seized on the fact that Charlottesville’s officials “dithered” about removing statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from prominent places. Issues like cost, and what to do with them once they were gone, made the city a “fat target and convenient flash point” for alt-right and racist groups.

However, he adds, 2 of the main organizers have ties to the area. White supremacist Richard Spencer graduated from UVa in 2001 (with high distinction in English literature and music), while self-described “white rights activist” Jason Kessler lives in Charlottesville.

A rally last month drew Ku Klux Klan members from North Carolina. It was “nasty,” Powers says, “but not terribly violent.”

A striking image from the Ku Klux Klan’s July 8 rally in Charlottesville.

That led to a national call to action, by a variety of alt-right, Nazi and KKK groups. It also galvanized opposition from around the country.

“It was very clear that people came this weekend expecting to fight,” Powers says. Protesters wore fatigues, and carried helmets, batons and shields. Virginia is an “open carry” state; some brandished civilian versions of AK-47s.

Storeowners boarded their windows. The UVa hospital discharged patients, keeping beds open for mass casualties.

The weekend turned into “much more than the First Amendment right of assembly and peaceful speech,” says Powers.

Mostly, he says, “this was not local people behaving badly. It was people coming in to our city to behave badly.”

A scene from yesterday in Charlottesville.

On Friday night — hoping to “demonstrate opposition” to the march, by “showing our faces and being counted without confrontation or violence” — Powers and his wife Sally attended a large community prayer service. Harvard professor Cornel West gave a powerful speech. Other clergy — including Muslims — spoke too.

Powers was gratified to see that the majority of attendees were white. “This is not about race,” he says. “It’s an outrage of principle.”

A torchlight alt-right procession came close to the church. As a precaution, police kept service-goers inside.

On Saturday morning, Powers and his wife went to a clergy-led march. It ended around 9:30. The couple went home.

Soon, authorities revoked the alt-right marchers’ permit. They dispersed — unhappily — into smaller groups around Charlottesville. Police could not control them. Confrontations ended when a car roared into counter-demonstrators, killing 1 woman and injuring 19.

“I’d be horrified to watch this from a distance,” Powers says. “It’s even worse when it happens in your own back yard, in a city not prone to this.”

Now, he predicts, there will be finger-pointing. Why were demonstrators and counter-protesters allowed to be so near each other? On the other hand, how could a small city be expected to handle so many inflamed people?

Powers is sure of one thing.

“The vast majority of the city — rich and poor, white and black, university-affiliated and not — were unified against this.”

And, he notes, the woman who was killed was from Charlottesville. The driver was from Ohio.

“Someone in our town was murdered by someone from elsewhere,” he says.

Bob Powers grew up in Westport. But Charlottesville is now his home town.

Like many Americans, he grieves for it.

And like many of us — in Westport and elsewhere — he wonders what comes next.

“Honk Against Hate” Fills Downtown Bridge

For decades, the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge — the Post Road span named for Westport’s tireless UN and peace advocate — has been the site of social justice protests.

This afternoon, several dozen folks of all ages thronged the bridge. In the aftermath of yesterday’s horrific anti-black, anti-Semitic, Nazi-infused demonstration and murder in Charlottesville, the group had a united message: Hate has no place here.

“Honk against hate!” they chanted.

Many drivers obliged.

As they did, the protesters cheered and smiled.

Then they chanted even louder.

8-30g Relief? Not So Fast.

It seemed like welcome news last month, when the General Assembly overrode Governor Malloy’s veto of a bill that would loosen restrictions of 8-30g. Part of the state’s affordable housing standards, 8-30g incentivizes municipalities to make 10 percent of their housing stock “affordable.”

Officials in Westport — which has more affordable housing than counts under narrow 8-30g regulations — thought the override meant they’d qualify for a moratorium.

But the devil may be in the details.

According to Partnership for Strong Communities — a statewide policy and advocacy organization “dedicated to ending homelessness, expanding the creation of affordable housing, and building strong communities in Connecticut” — Westport will not qualify for “eligibility relief.”

Hales Court is affordable Westport housing — though it was built before 8-30g regulations came in effect in 1990, and does not count for “points.”

The reasons are complex. The organization says:

Through September 30, 2022 a town is eligible for a moratorium from the provisions of Section 8-30g if it shows that it has added affordable housing units equal to the greater of 2 percent of the housing stock, or 50 Housing Unit Equivalent (HUE) points. Previously, the minimum number of HUE points required was 75. This change makes it easier for the state’s 64 smallest towns to achieve a moratorium.

But Westport is not among those “smallest towns.”

For towns with 20,000 or more housing units, the requirements for achieving a 2nd and subsequent moratorium have been eased by reducing the number of HUE points needed from 2% of a town’s housing units to 1.5%. The term of a 2nd or subsequent moratorium is extended from 4 to 5 years for 6 towns: Fairfield, Greenwich, Hamden, Milford, Stratford and West Hartford.

In other words — according to PSC — Westport is not helped by having 10,000 housing units less than the 20,000.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. It too was built before 1990.

The organization continues:

Through September 30, 2022, restricted family units with at least 3 bedrooms, or in an Incentive Housing Zone (IHZ), receive a 1/4-point bonus. Restricted elderly units receive a 1/2-point bonus, if at least 60% of the restricted units counted toward the moratorium are family units.

However, no 3-bedroom units have been offered in any 8-30g in Westport.

Complex? Absolutely.

What comes next? Perhaps more “affordable housing” proposals.

Stay tuned.

Alisyn Camerota: CNN Anchor, Debut Novelist, Westporter

Three years ago — after 16 years with Fox, including co-hosting “Fox & Friends Weekend” — Alisyn Camerota left the network.

She joined CNN. She co-anchors the “New Day” morning show. She reports on breaking international stories. She’s one of their top journalists.

It’s not easy. Camerota leaves Westport — where she has lived since 2012 — at 3:30 every morning. On the plus side: With very little traffic, her commute is just an hour.

If she was still at Fox, Camerota would be one of President Trump’s favorite TV personalities.

At CNN, she — and the entire network — are in his crosshairs.

That’s fine.

“With some regularity, we report a story in the morning, and a tweet comes out directly correlated to something we or a guest said,” Camerota notes.

“We know the president is watching. And we know he sometimes objects to a question or angle we take.

“It comes with the territory. We’re not there to curry favor. But I don’t see us as the ‘opposition,’ or an ‘enemy of the people.’ Our job is to hold people accountable for what they say and do.”

That’s not to say working at CNN is easy.

“If it’s been a particularly rough day — if we got called out at a press briefing — we’ll remark on it,” Camerota admits.

“But it hasn’t changed how we do our job. I don’t sense any chilling effect. In some way, it’s invigorated us. It’s helped us define our role, and sharpened our purpose.”

Alisyn Camerota

In fact, Camerota says, wherever she is, people thank her for doing what she does.

In Westport, some are friends. Others are strangers.

Earlier this year, she moderated a panel with diehard Trump supporters. One was convinced that 3 to 5 million people had voted illegally. As Camerota pressed her — and the woman’s answers grew “increasingly illogical” — the journalist involuntarily slapped her forehead. A video of the moment went viral.

The next day, while shopping in a local store, a woman approached Camerota, and slapped her own head. Neither said a word.

Camerota’s days are full. But with the publication yesterday of her 1st novel — Amanda Wakes Up — her life is about to get even busier.

The book was 6 years in the making. In 2011 — as the ’12 presidential campaign was getting underway — Camerota was intrigued by the cast of candidates. They included colorful folks like Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry.

“There was no dearth of stories to cover,” the journalist says. She began taking notes.

She did not know her vignettes would become a book. But — because she was a weekend anchor and “could actually have a hobby” — she began writing.

Amanda follows an ambitious young reporter who lands a plum gig at a big-time cable news station — and quickly learns her “dream” job may be a nightmare.

Samantha Bee calls it “a hilarious, eye-opening glimpse into the TV news trenches, from one who’s had to navigate them backwards and in heels.”

Booklist adds, “Camerota’s timely send-up will engross readers from both sides of the political spectrum.”

“It was fun to assign my own ethical dilemmas to a fictional character,” the author says. “I let her figure stuff out.”

So how much of Amanda is Alisyn?

“All of it,” she answers quickly. “But the difference is, she figures everything out in 1 1/2 years. It took me 25 years.” That includes pre-Fox stints with ABC and NBC.

Amanda, it turns out, “is not me. She’s a distant cousin of mine.”

Tomorrow (Thursday, July 27, 7 p.m.), Camerota hosts a book signing at the Westport Barnes & Noble.

As for the rest of the summer, Camerota jokes: “I’m going to take a long nap.”

But, she continues, “My ‘day job’ has a breathless pace. I’m writing furiously during a 2-minute commercial break, trying to update a story or introduce the next guest.

“There’s something therapeutic and relaxing about sitting with my keyboard, trying to figure things out while writing a novel. I’m not sure — but I may have more stories to tell.”

Of course, she will also take time to appreciate summer in Westport.

“It’s stunningly beautiful,” Camerota says. “It’s so green. The flowers are in bloom. I love the beach, and Saugatuck Sweets. This is a glorious time to be here.”

So true. That’s definitely not Fake News.

Stephens, Steinberg Snipe Over Affordable Housing

Recently, the Connecticut General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to loosen the restrictions of 8-30g — the state’s affordable housing standards, which incentivize municipalities to make 10 percent of their housing stock be “affordable.”

(Westport has a long history with 8-30g. Some affordable housing units here were built before the 1990 date on which state standards are based. Developers have proposed large buildings on small lots, marking a few units as “affordable.” Some observers have called those proposals “blackmail.” Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission has denied several such proposals already. They approved one, on Post Road East.)

A proposed 4-story rental property at 1177 Post Road East.

The vote — 30-6 in the Senate, 116-33 in the House — makes it easier for towns and cities to reach “moratoriums,” and in some cases increases those moratoriums beyond the previous 4 years. (For an in-depth analysis of the measure from CTMirror, via WestportNow, click here.)

Governor Dannel Malloy vetoed the bill. The Senate overrode the veto by the closest 2/3 margin possible — 24-12. The House overrode it 101-47.

Local reaction was swift.

Westport Representative Jonathan Steinberg said: “I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up.’ Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path.”

That infuriated P&Z member Chip Stephens.

He emailed an “open letter” to Steinberg:

We got your message.

How dare you grandstand and throw your fellow town officials and residents under the bus last night:

“Steinberg said he plans to take an unwavering message to his town’s leaders — act.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up. Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path,’” Steinberg said. Only after they have been given that chance, he said, can leaders “talk about whether or not 8-30g is working.””

I suggest you consider that your town officials have worked long and hard on affordable housing, both 8-30g qualifying, and more importantly quality affordable housing as Hales Court, Sasco Creek, Canal Park and other IHZ and multifamily components.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

In passing the newest 8-30g complex on Post Road East we will have our first moratorium application ready as soon as the developer completes the project and gets his CO.

Next time you crawl up on that stump and blow hot air directed at your town, think hard before letting your common sense filter down hurling inflammatory and demeaning comments at Westport. We hear and we will remember.

Steinberg fired back:

I have fought for 7 years to amend 8-30g to make it easier for Westport to achieve a moratorium, while you have done very little.

How dare you lecture me on this statute when all I stated that it’s now on towns to take advantage of this new opportunity to get to a moratorium and avoid developer predation.

You have real gall calling me out, given your abject failure as a Commissioner representing Westport’s interests.

I’m responsible for giving you a tool to protect our town. Shut up and get it done.

Like the 8-30 g/affordable housing debate, this political dialogue will continue.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left) and Westport Planning & Zoning commissioner Chip Stephens.