Category Archives: Politics

Persona Of The Week: Nancy Wyman

The Westport Library’s Forum is quickly becoming the place to be seen — and see some very intriguing folks.

CBS correspondent/podcaster/author Mo Rocca was there the other night. This evening, Titanic discover/undersea explorer Dr. Robert Ballard comes to town.

On Monday evening, Nancy Wyman was the featured guest. In the midst of a chaotic political week, the head of the state Democratic Party spoke to Westporter Rob Simmelkjaer about national and Connecticut issues.

It was the first in a series of live interviews at the Library. On Monday, February 24 (6 p.m.), former ESPN anchor Lindsay Czarniak and fellow Westporter Marysol Castro, the in-stadium voice of the New York Mets, talk about their careers in journalism.

Click below for the Nancy Wyman interview:

Jonathan Stumps For Joe

In December I posted a very inspiring story. For his bar mitzvah, Bedford Middle School 7th grader Jonathan Costello made a heartfelt video about his stutter.

It went viral. Stutterers of all ages found they had a voice.

Among those who saw it: Joe Biden.

His staff reached out to Jonathan. The former vice president — a stutterer himself — wanted to meet the young Westporter.

It happened a few days ago — in New Hampshire.

Jonathan and his dad Sean knocked on more than 30 doors for the campaign, before heading to a rally.

Jonathan Costello, on the campaign trail.

The presidential candidate was excited to meet the 13-year-old.

“They had a very heartfelt and touching conversation,” Jonathan’s mother Lauren reports.

The meeting …

“It ended with Biden asking for Jonathan’s phone number. What a moment!”

… and the hug, captured by C-SPAN.

No word on whether Jonathan heads now to Nevada or South Carolina to help in the next caucus and primary.

Or whether he’ll just give advice by phone.

Don O’Day: Report From New Hampshire

For most Westporters, winter in New Hampshire means skiing.

Don O’Day packs a camera and a note pad.

Every 4 years — when the quirky New England state commands the national political spotlight — the former chair of the Board of Education, and self-described “Joe Lieberman of the Westport Democratic party” (he supported Jim Marpe for 1st selectman) heads north.

He takes a first-hand look at the men and women who — at this early stage of the presidential campaign — crisscross the Granite State. O’Day is there as they speak to small crowds, mingle afterward, and engage in the type of retail politics that the rest of the country outside of Iowa* can only dream about.

Don O’Day (lower right) with presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

O’Day has been a political junkie since 1968. As an 11-year-old newspaper delivery boy, he was fascinated by stories about Robert Kennedy’s run for the White House.

He worked on Al Gore’s 1988 race. In 2000, when the Tennessee senator ran again, O’Day left Westport for New Hampshire to help. “It was so cool to see how folks there gathered at diners and VFW halls to see the candidates,” he recalls. “They were as engaged in politics as I am.”

He returned in 2004 and ’08. Board of Ed commitments kept him here 8 years ago. But in 2016 he was there again.

His most recent trip ended yesterday (after watching a recording of “Morning Joe”).

The O’Day family, with (rear) “Morning Joe”‘s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

Over the course of a few days O’Day heard 7 Democratic candidates speak. He asked questions, gave feedback, and spoke personally with most.

Some encounters confirmed his earlier impressions. Others altered them.

Here — in alphabetical order — are O’Day’s thoughts.


The New Hampshire primary never disappoints. This year was no different. The crowds and enthusiasm appeared to be much larger and more enthusiastic than in the past.

My wife Toni and I and 2 of our sons (Donny and Mike — plus Mike’s girlfriend, Nicole) set out to see and hopefully talk to as many of the presidential candidates as possible, and as many times as possible.

We weren’t the only Westporters in New Hampshire. Jeff Wieser and his wife Pat also made the trip to see the candidates.

Bottom line: I have no idea what is going to happen today, other than a Sanders win – just like 2016. Second through 5th place is up for grabs, but I got the sense that Joe Biden might be closer to 5th than 2nd.

In alphabetical order, here’s what I saw:

Joe Biden

A true gentleman and the most decent national politician I have ever met.  Letting “Joe be Joe” wasn’t the approach though, and it has hurt him.  Sorry to say that this may not be his time.

Joe Biden with Donny O’Day.

Pete Buttigieg

Much more than the new shiny object in the early contests (see Hart and Dean).   Pete’s crowds were huge, and his answers to every question I heard over 3 events were thoughtful and detailed. He came off as an incredibly intelligent, passionate and gifted politician. If this isn’t his time, I think it will come and soon. Maybe now.

A screenshot of Don O’Day questioning Pete Buttigieg.

Amy Klobuchar

Amy seems to be building momentum, and was my candidate going in. She also got better and better every time we saw her. She has reasonable views that are very progressive, unless they are compared to a Sanders or Warren platform.  Her chances will soar if she finishes in the top 3.

Don O’Day and Amy Klobuchar.

Bernie Sanders

What struck me as a cult following that I mistook for simply an anti-Hillary position in 2016 is now clearly an all-out movement with deep passion. Bernie’s promise of free college, Medicare for all, a strong environmental position, and his “us versus them” message has never wavered. There were more Sanders volunteers than for any other candidate. I’m pretty sure what stopped Bernie in 2016 will stop him again in 2020. Also, Bernie is not a very nice guy. But my son did warm up the Bernie crowd we attended with a mic check.

A Bernie Sanders mic check with Mike O’Day.

Tom Steyer

My favorite event, because the crowds were less intense, it was held in a brewery and Tom bought everyone a beer. He has the most consistent anti-Trump message, and a very strong climate message too. He’s more than a guy with billions; his in-person persona is quite different from what you see on the debate stage. He’s not going away.

Tom Steyer and Don O’Day.

Elizabeth Warren

I only saw Senator Warren once, and that was at a large arena, so it’s harder to form an opinion about her from personal contact. I really admire “and yet she persisted,” and that should never stop. But Senator Warren is not the leader of the progressive movement – Bernie is. As long as he is in the race, she will not win.

Andrew Yang

The candidate who makes everyone think, and thoroughly entertains and engages you while doing it. This is just not his time, but his message is powerful and honest.

Andy Yang and Don O’Day.

There you have it: One man’s opinions. They’re calm and measured. Please respond civilly in the “Comments” section. Overly personal attacks — on candidates, other posters or O’Day himself — will be removed.

*Though probably not in 2024

Let’s Hear It For Caitlin Parton, Esq.!

It’s not easy being an attorney.

Law school professors can be brutal (remember “The Paper Chase“?). Getting hired is no picnic. Arguing in front of a judge and jury is not for the faint of heart.

Now imagine doing all that with a profound hearing loss.

Caitlin Parton has overcome those substantial obstacles, with perseverance, pride and poise.

Back in 1988, she was the youngest person to have cochlear implants.

She faced the intersection of disabilities and law when she and her parents fought for access to computer-assisted technology in the Westport schools.

She earned honors all through Staples High School, where she served as co-editor of the school newspaper, Inklings.

After graduating in 2003, she headed to the University of Chicago. She interned for Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, worked at the Department of Justice and spent 2 years as a paralegal for a Washington civil rights firm, before earning a law degree from City University of New York.

For the past 5 years Caitlin has been a staff attorney at Boston’s Disability Law Center. She fights for full access to accommodations in schools, workplaces, hospitals, nursing homes, group homes and shelters.

Caitlin Parton

Most of her clients are deaf or hearing impaired. Others have physical or mental disabilities.

One recent case involved a veteran with PTSD. Frightened by her landlord’s loud knocks on her door, she asked him to call or email first. He refused.

Caitlin won damages for emotional distress. Just as importantly, the landlord underwent training about disabilities — and now must honor his tenant’s “reasonable request” for contact prior to knocking.

As a member of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association, Caitlin advocates for common-sense legal accommodations. For example, some law school professors don’t want to wear microphones, or won’t allow lectures to be recorded or transcribed.

Group members discuss how to overcome hiring discrimination. (Deaf people may be denied interviews, or judged negatively by the way they speak.)

They offer support, share job listings, advocate for accommodations like closed-captioning at trials, and propose simple solutions like rearranging courtroom furniture to enable lip-reading.

Recently, members of the DHHBA took part in a special ceremony. Ten attorneys — including Caitlin — were sworn in and admitted to the Bar of the United States Supreme Court.

Caitlin Parton (6th from left) with fellow members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association, prior to their swearing in.

The ceremony took place at the Supreme Court. Fittingly — as the newly sworn lawyers watched 2 cases being argued in front of all 9 justices — there were full accommodations for deaf people.

The Supreme Court provided sign language interpreters and real-time captioning.

“It’s a very small space,” Caitlin says. “There’s no room for a big screen. So the Court allowed captioning on phones and tablets.”

Being in the Supreme Court during actual cases is an incredible experience for anyone. For an attorney like Caitlin to be there “in the presence of judges and attorneys, having access to every word,” was even more remarkable.

Caitlin Parton with her parents, Melody James and Steve Parton, on the US Supreme Court steps.

The swearing-in ceremony — which means that Caitlin can now argue cases before the Supreme Court — capped quite a year for the Westport native. Six months ago, her son Orion was born.

“I’m on that special journey now, balancing parenting and work,” she says.

In law — as in life — no one knows what’s ahead.

But — with her passion, experience and, now, her admittance to the Supreme Court bar — Caitlin Parton may one day argue a case before the highest court in the land.

Who knows? She might even be behind the bench.

Nancy Wyman Inaugurates Library “Persona” Series

This fall, Persona introduced Westporters to local political candidates.

Now it will connect leaders from around the state with the world. But there’s still a Westport hook.

Starting Monday (February 10, 6 p.m.), the social media/interview platform — founded right here, by Westporter Rob Simmelkjaer — will host a new, free series at the Library forum. The public can watch Connecticut leaders in business, politics, journalism, sports and more talk abut their lives and careers.

Nancy Wyman

The first interview is with Nancy Wyman. The chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party and former lieutenant governor will discuss state and national elections.

Simmelkjaer is a former ESPN, ABC News and NBC Sports executive and journalist.

In other words: the perfect “persona” to introduce the new library series, and interview this statewide figure.

“We The People” Needs We The Westporters

In 2020, we celebrate the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which recognized the right of women to vote. Despite recent controversy, the Equal Rights Amendment has not yet been ratified. What are the similarities and differences between these two amendments?

“If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate.” (Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)  To what extent has this view influenced American culture?

In the 1793–94 Pacificus–Helvidius debates, Alexander Hamilton contended that the power to declare war was both legislative and executive in nature. James Madison disagreed, saying that this power was exclusively legislative. Whose opinion do you favor and why?

Could you answer those questions?

Staples High School’s “We the People” team is confident they can.

That’s not just teenage we-can-conquer-the-world cockiness.

In December, 23 students in Suzanne Kammerman’s Advanced Placement Politics and Government class were crowned state champs in the annual competition. The momentous win broke Trumbull High’s 8-year stranglehold on first place.

Staples High School’s 2019 “We the People” champions.

Now the students are preparing for April’s national contest, in Leesburg, Virginia.

It’s quite a task. Each team is divided into 6 groups. Each must be ready to answer 3 separate questions on history, politics and law.

Only one will be asked in the oral question round. But all team members must participate. And each of the 6 groups must be strong. If one falters, the entire class score suffers.

Like all schools, the Staples students, teachers and parent supporters will be isolated in one room. They can’t watch anyone else. It’s a pressure-filled day, as judges shuttle in and out to question the teenagers.

Many schools — including Trumbull — treat “We the People” as a separate course. At Staples though, it’s just one part of the AP curriculum.

In the past, Trumbull prepared for the national competition by enlisting a host of townspeople — lawyers, college history professors teachers, politicians — to assist.

The Staples students get help from just a couple of parents. Andy Laskin — an attorney — takes time off from work. He attends class in person, and FaceTimes too.

For example, for 4th Amendment search and seizure issues, he brings in school resource officer Ed Woolridge. Laskin creates hypothetical police issues, then tweaks the conduct slightly to see how that changes the officer’s suspicions and reactions. It’s complex. And exactly the type of preparation the students need.

Another lawyer, Jamie Dockray, works with them in person, during the week and on weekends at the library.

But it’s labor-intensive. Each adult can only be with 4 students at a time, because each group gets separate questions.

So the “We the People” advisors are asking we — the Westporters — for help.

A lawyer in town who offers his or her conference room; former college history majors who love to talk about politics, law and the Constitution; actors to work on presentation skills — all are welcome.

Volunteers could also help as “judges,” during a practice competition before the April trip.

All could be “game-changers,” Laskin says. The key is to help teenagers “look, sound, act and think like lawyers — and learn the skills to do the research and pull off the argument in front of real judges. It’s very cool.”

“We have plenty of brilliant minds in Westport,” he notes. “There are parents of former We the People students, parents who can get involved before their kids are juniors and seniors … this could be a feel-good, come-together Westport story.

“Suzanne Kammerman puts her heart and soul into this. Some kids say We the People was the defining moment of their high school careers. Let’s all support this amazing program any way we can.”

Interested in helping? Email andylaskinesq@gmail.com, or text Andy Laskin: 203-610-7065. For the full text of all 18 “We The People” questions, click here.

TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest Tackles Stereotypes

For 6 years, TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest has considered specific, newsworthy topics.

Westport students have been asked to consider — and write on — issues like micro-aggressions, the “taking a knee” controversy, white privilege, Black Lives Matter, the increasingly diverse demographics of the United States, and self-segregation in school cafeterias.

This year, the town’s diversity action committee takes a different tack.

The 2020 contest asks teenagers to address a broad — but very important — theme: stereotypes.

TEAM Westport says:

A stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a person, frequently based on that person’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or gender-identity. Stereotypes are often unconscious and may be introduced and reinforced — intentionally or unwittingly – by many sources, including family, peers, the popular media, curricula, and society at large.

This year’s challenge states: In 1,000 words or fewer, describe your experiences witnessing, delivering, and/or being subjected to stereotypes focused on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, and describe the impact that such experiences are likely to have upon recipients. Consider steps that organizations, schools, and/or individuals could take to counteract stereotypes—whether as initiator, recipient or witness.”

“In order to dismantle bias, it’s important to first understand the factors that build bias,” says TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey.

“Stereotyping is a first step toward bias in what historians and sociologists call ‘othering’ — behavior that places the stereotyped group outside the normal considerations of society. History has proven that this can lead to dangerously impactful results.”

The entry deadline is February 28. Subject to the volume and caliber of entries received, at the discretion of the judges up to 3 cash prizes will be awarded. The first prize is $1,000; second prize is $750; third is $500.

Any student living in Westport — or attending school here — can enter.

The Westport Library is co-sponsoring the event. Winners will be announced at a ceremony there on April 2, 2020.

(For more information, including full contest rules and an application form, click here.)

MLK

This story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.”

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Halper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

Staples Students Plan Afternoon Of Gun Violence Awareness

The Parkland massacre 2 years ago — and a subsequent assault rifle scare at their own school — affected, then galvanized many Staples High students.

Elana Atlas was just a freshman. But she organized a national letter-writing campaign to legislators, and created a website — Action Against Gun Violence — filled with background information on school shootings; texts sent by terrified students in the midst of gunfire; counter-arguments to the “right to bear arms” clause; links to gun safety organizations; advice on how to start your own movement — and of course, her letter templates.

Elana Atlas, at work 2 years ago.

Two years later, the epidemic continues unabated. But — rather than being discouraged, or overwhelmed by the pressures of being a Staples junior — Elana is committed more than ever to doing what she can to making America’s schools and streets safe for everyone.

In the aftermath of Parkland, she joined fellow Stapleites Audrey Bernstein, Ruby Coleman, Kaela Dockray, Brooke Kessler, Peri Kessler and Eliza Oren in creating a local high school chapter of Students Demand Action. That’s the national organization — affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety — fighting for common sense gun reform and usage.

Now, Elana has helped turned it into an official Staples High School club.

She’s sparked a number of intriguing projects. The group is working on an open letter to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader who has stalled most gun legislation in that chamber. They’re coordinating with student groups around the country — especially in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky — to get viral social media attention.

Staples’ Students Demand Action and the Westport/Fairfield Moms Demand Action chapter presented a panel on gun violence in schools. Elana was one of the speakers.

Next month, and again in June, the students will commemorate Parkland.

Right now, they’re gearing up for their biggest event yet. On Friday, January 24 (3 p.m., Toquet Hall), Students Demand Action sponsors “An Afternoon of Gun Prevention and Activism.”

Toquet will hum with activities. There will be information about local, state and national legislators’ stands on gun laws; signmaking (with photos, to post on social media); voter registration, and speakers, including lawmakers, studens, and Tara Donnelly Gottlieb, whose parents were killed in 2005 during a robbery of their Fairfield jewelry store.

The goal, Elana says, is to show that the Westport gun violence movement remains strong — and help people get involved.

In 2018, Staples High School students stood in the courtyard to demand action on gun violence. They’re still going strong. (Photo/Ali Feder)

“An Afternoon of Gun Prevention and Activism” is open to all. Elana hopes many high school students will attend, and that parents will bring their children too.

“It will be uplifting — not gory,” she promises.

And very, very important.

(Pre-registration is not mandatory, but it helps for planning numbers. Click here to pre-register.)

MLK Celebration Shines Light On Voter Suppression

Carol Anderson teaches African American studies at Emory University. She is one of America’s foremost experts on voter suppression.

Anderson’s research has identified suppression that, she says, could have reversed results in key states during the 2016 presidential election. She also studies voter disinformation (election meddling), and the disenfranchisement of black women voters from the suffrage movement through the 1960s.

Anderson’s latest book is  One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy.

Dr. Carol Anderson

All of which makes her an excellent choice to deliver the keynote address at Westport’s annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. It’s set for Sunday, January 19 (3 p.m., Westport Country Playhouse), with an audience Q-and-A, reception and book signing to follow.

The event also includes performances by award-winning opera soprano Helena Brown, and students from Trumbull’s Regional Center for the Arts.

The importance of voter suppression — as we hurtle toward the 2020 presidential election, and voter registration lawsuits plod through the courts — is why, in addition to the usual MLK Day sponsors (TEAM Westport, the Westport Weston Interfaith Council, Westport Library and Playhouse), Anderson’s appearance draws strong support from the Westport League of Women Voters, and Westport’s 1919 Committee.

That’s a group of library staff and volunteers who have planned events throughout the year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

One Person, No Vote is included in the Westport Library’s 2019–20 WestportREADS program, which celebrates that centennial.

The MLK Celebration on January 19 is free. However, tickets are required. Click here to register.