Category Archives: Politics

Gabe Sherman: The Loudest Voice In The Room

Roger Ailes has been called the man most responsible for making Donald Trump president of the United States.

On June 30 — when Showtime begins a 7-part series about the Fox TV CEO/ media consultant who died in May 2017, a year after resigning following allegations of sexual harassment — the man who may be most responsible for that show is native Westporter Gabe Sherman.

Gabriel Sherman

“The Loudest Voice” — Showtime’s they-said-it-couldn’t-be-made series — is based on Sherman’s 2014 book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News – and Divided a Country.” That too was a book “they” said could never be written.

In both cases, Ailes’ purported wide-ranging, all-encompassing clout was said to forestall any attempt to tell his story.

Sherman knew what he was doing. He was educated through grade 10 in Westport schools. After graduating from Holderness School in New Hampshire and Middlebury College (2001), he spent 10 years writing for New York magazine (including a stint as national affairs editor).

He’s now a special correspondent for Vanity Fair, and a regular contributor to NBC News and MSNBC.

Sherman first began covering Ailes for New York Magazine. The media mogul was not pleased.

“Anything I touched, they waged war at me,” Sherman told The Hollywood Reporter.

When Sherman got a Random House contract to write his book, Ailes hired private detectives to trail him. Ailes also had a 400-page dossier drawn up on the writer.

Sherman’s revenge: In 2016, he got the scoop that Fox owner Rupert Murdoch was orchestrating Ailes’ departure.

Gabriel Sherman covered Roger Ailes — the man perhaps most responsible for making Donald Trump president — extensively.

Three years later, the adaptation of Sherman’s book is set to debut on TV — the medium that Ailes once ruled, and used so powerfully during Trump’s presidential campaign.

Sherman is ready — for both the series, and its ending.

He says, “In addition to the world getting to see our show” — his wife Jennifer Stahl shares a writing and producing credit — “we’re really ready for this chapter of our lives to be over. This is the end of the Roger Ailes story.”

(For the full Hollywood Reporter story on Gabriel Sherman and the Showtime series, click here.)

“Scrappy” Says: The Military Needs Westporters. And Westporters Need The Military.

As graduation looms, Staples High School seniors have one foot in the only life they’ve ever known. The other edges tentatively into the unknown.

Most, however, head in the same direction: college. A few will take a gap year, or go to work. An even smaller number march toward a very un-Westport-like destination: the military.

One Staples grad wishes more would consider the armed forces.

“Scrappy” — his nickname, because he’s “a small dog who loves to fight” — graduated in 2004. He’s not using his real name, because of the sensitive nature of his work.

He thinks only 3 others from his class joined the military: one entered a military academy; one enlisted right after high school, another after college.

Scrappy took the path of “every Fairfield County kid”: he went to college, then worked at a hedge fund.

“It was the most miserable period of my life,” he says.

He searched for something more fulfilling. Air Force Special Operations fit the bill.

He trained for nearly 2 years. His first time back in Westport — after spending 10 months in 4 different states — he realized it was “different” than the rest of the country. His eyes had been open wide.

Yet Scrappy did not realize how different until another visit. He’d been in Libya — not far from Muammar Gaddafi when he was killed — and now sat at the Black Duck bar, with a friend.

They’d shaved their war beards. They looked not unlike the 2 guys sitting nearby, wearing polo shirts with the Bridgewater logo.

“They were talking about how hard their day was,” Scrappy says. “They’d had to endure 4 meetings!”

Years later, he still shakes his head at that image.

“They were able-bodied 25-year-olds. They could have done a lot more to save the world than short the price of copper.”

Scrappy feels he is doing his part. He’s been deployed 6 times — to Afghanistan, the Middle East, all over Africa. Much of his work has been in the intelligence community.

Everywhere, he meets someone from Fairfield County. They’re always surprised at which town he’s from. Very few Staples graduates do what he does.

Their unfamiliarity with the military shows when they ask things like, “Did you kill someone?” (“I’ve been trained to do heinous things,” he admits.)

Air Force Special Operations members serve in hot spots around the world.

They also assume he has PTSD. “That comes straight from the media,” Scrappy says. “But it’s like arguing with a 4-year-old. They can’t believe I’m fine.”

Westport’s disengagement from the military — and what the military does — hit Scrappy hard when he was with some old friends at a restaurant here. They had no idea our troops are still fighting — and dying — in Afghanistan.

“There’s no military base anywhere near here,” Scrappy notes. “Our taxes haven’t risen to fund war. Westport is a worldly town. But unless you know someone who serves, this is a part of American life that people here just don’t think about.”

Scrappy remembers that a previous Staples principal “hated” the military. She banned recruiters from campus, and discouraged students from applying to the service academies.

He believes the military needs members from this area. “Fifteen years from now, there won’t be enough people to fill our ranks. Between obesity, ADHD and drugs, there’s going to be a shortage of able bodies.”

Scrappy calls Fairfield County “a great breeding ground for the military. People here are healthy, intelligent and worldly.” Most members of Special Ops and the intelligence community have college degrees, he notes.

The intelligence community needs intelligent people.

His service has not been easy. Scrappy broke his back. He endured 13 surgeries. He’s deaf in one ear.

The last 10 years have been “the worst experience of my life — and the greatest.” He married a team member — a doctor he met on active duty in England. His combat search and rescue team saved over 120 lives. Their motto — “That Others May Live” — is ingrained in all that he does.

He’s helped rescue Americans — and Taliban and Al Qaeda members. “We try to kill them. But if they’re injured, we try to save them. We need to get intelligence from them too.”

Scrappy has traveled all over the world. He’s seen places few Americans ever go to. He has met “the coolest, greatest, most resilient” people in Somalia and Kenya. “Experiences like those change you dramatically.”

The military has taught him “stress inoculation.” He has learned how to keep his head in the most dangerous situations, engineer a solution, and push on.

“That’s the most valuable tool anyone can have,” Scrappy says. “It goes far beyond how to strip a weapon or jump out of a plane.”

Scrappy says that after being in a dozen firefights — and stabbed in close combat — he was scared only once.

It happened here. He went to Westport Pizzeria — and found it was gone.

Panicked, he called his mother. To his relief she told him it’s still here, around the corner on the Post Road.

Local Zoning Makes National News

ProPublica — the non-profit investigative news outlet — has published an in-depth look at the interrelated issues of affordable housing and zoning laws in Connecticut.

Much of the piece — produced in collaboration with the Connecticut Mirror, and headlined “How Some of America’s Richest Towns Fight Affordable Housing” — focuses on Westport.

It does not paint a pretty picture.

The story begins with the example of the new houses being built on the former Daybreak property, near Merritt Parkway Exit 42:

A dirt field overgrown with weeds is the incongruous entrance to one of America’s wealthiest towns, a short walk to a Rodeo Drive-like stretch replete with upscale stores such as Tiffany & Co.

But this sad patch of land is also the physical manifestation of a broader turf war over what type of housing — and ultimately what type of people — to allow within Westport’s borders.

After a lengthy description of the zoning battles that followed — without mentioning traffic and related issues — the piece notes:

Welcome to Connecticut, a state with more separate — and unequal — housing than nearly everywhere else in the country.

This separation is by design.

In fact, the Daybreak project was never about affordable housing. It was planned as 55-and-over housing.

Construction fence at the Daybreak development.

It talks about Westport’s “affordable housing” stock (as defined by state regulation 8-30g), without mentioning that the statute does not include dwellings built before 1990.

In Westport — where gated residences overlook the Long Island Sound and voters solidly backed Democrats in the most recent state and presidential elections — private developers have been allowed to open just 65 affordable housing units over the last three decades. Public housing rentals operated by the local housing authority have also grown at a snail’s pace, with 71 new units opening in this charming small town of 10,400 homes.

The story implies several times that racism is a factor in local housing decisions.

“I think the vestiges of our racial past are far from over,” said former Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who left office in early 2019 after eight years and regularly butted heads with General Assembly members who wanted local officials to have even more authority over housing decisions. For minority residents striving for safe and affordable housing, the state has “denied the opportunity that we allowed white middle-class aspirants to access,” Malloy said.

It includes quotes from Planning & Zoning commissioners and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — though not always with context.

There are descriptions of zoning battles over developments like 1177 Post Road East (which is already built and occupied) and the Hiawatha Lane project (which has been battled over for years).

An artist’s rendering of the 4-story rental property at 1177 Post Road East.

Particularly striking: A photo of the Community Gardens, next to Long Lots Elementary School. The caption implies that the town bought the land and turned it into gardens simply to prevent construction of “multifamily housing for low-income residents in (that) heavily residential single-family section of Westport.”

There’s much more. It’s a long piece — and it will get people talking.

Click here to read the entire story.

Emma Borys Speaks Up — And Out — About Epilepsy

Last October, “06880” honored the work Emma Borys was doing with epilepsy. The Staples High School junior — diagnosed with the disease in 6th grade — is an outspoken advocate for research and education.

This spring, she was chosen as the Epilepsy Foundation of Connecticut‘s representative for a lobbying effort in Washington, DC.

Emma had been helped by trainers who spoke to her teachers about the myths and realities of epilepsy.

But many students don’t have that opportunity. The DC program brought teenagers to the Capitol, to urge their representatives to approve CDC funding for that educational program.

Emma joined one student from each state. They gathered in a large room, and shared personal stories. The goal was to help them become comfortable speaking the next day with legislators.

“I’d never really talked to another teenager about epilepsy,” Emma says. “It’s great to realize we have similar experiences and hardships.”

The next day, Emma met with her congressman, Jim Himes, as well as 2 other Connecticut representatives: Rosa DeLauro and John Larson. She also spoke with staffers from DeLauro and Joe Courtney’s offices.

Congressman Jim Himes and Emma Borys.

All were very receptive. The mother of a Himes staffer has epilepsy, Emma says, so he seemed particularly interested.

Emma felt empowered and energized by the lobbying day. But her advocacy is not over.

Last weekend, she participated in a fundraising march in Stamford. She was proud of her efforts — and wants “o6880” readers to know that donations can still be made through May 25. Just click here to help.

Alabama Vote Sparks Westport Protest

More than 50 women — and men — gathered yesterday on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge.

Bearing signs ranging from simple (“My body, my choice”) and sharp (“Regulate your dick, not my pussy”) to caustic (“If you ban abortion before you ban military assault rifles that massacre children in schools, you have lost the right to call yourself ‘pro-life'”), they protested the passage in Alabama 2 days earlier of a far-reaching anti-abortion law.

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The group included all 3 selectmen: Jim Marpe, Jen Tooker and Melissa Kane.

Also on the bridge: Firouz Saghri, 22 of Westport, and Hunter Rempe, 21 from Fairfield.

They were headed to happy hour when they saw the protest. They asked for paper and markers, made a sign — and stayed the entire time.

When co-organizer Darcy Hicks thanked them, Firouz said, “This is so much more important than happy hour. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the time.”

Hunter added, “Hey, we have moms and sisters and female friends. This is important!”

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Temple Israel Celebrates 70 Years

Before World War II, most American Jews lived in cities.

Other places did not always feel comfortable. So in Fairfield County, Judaism was centered in Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport.

After the war, suburbs boomed. By 1948, enough Jewish families lived here that leaders like Leo Nevas formed one of the first Reform congregations in the area: Temple Israel.

Members came from Westport, and newly suburban areas of Norwalk. They sought fellowship, community, and the chance to educate their children in the Jewish tradition.

For years they had no permanent synagogue. They purchased land near the current Whole Foods, but it proved not a good place to build.

Coleytown Road was much better. The cornerstone was laid in 1959. Just 5 years later, Martin Luther King preached on the bimah.

Temple Israel under construction, 1959.

This year, as Temple Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary, congregants look both back and forward.

Dorothy “Dood” Freedman remembers much of that 7-decade history. The niece of Leo Nevas, she joined Temple Israel in 1962. There were only a couple of hundred members. Both the sanctuary and religious school were small.

Temple Israel grew gradually but steadily through the early 1980s. The congregation included Conservative as well as Orthodox Jews. It was the only synagogue in Westport.

“But it was quite Reform,” Freedman recalls. “I loved it.”

Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein was a longtime activist in the cause. In June of 1964 — a month after Martin Luther King preached at the temple — the rabbi joined him at a protest in St. Augustine, Florida. Both were arrested.

Rev. Martin Luther King, before speaking at Temple Israel. He’s flanked by Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (left) and congregation president Dan Rodgers.

The Vietnam era was a testy — and testing — time. The congregation was divided politically. But — led by Rubenstein — they were united in their support for civil rights.

In the ’80s, ’90s and early ’00s, Westport’s Jewish population grew rapidly. Temple Israel did too. At one point, there were 900 family units (single individuals, and families of any size).

Today, there are about 750. Members still represent a variety of leanings. But there are now 3 other Jewish congregations in Westport too: the Conservative Synagogue, Beit Chaverim (modern Orthodox) and Chabad Lubavitch.

Freedman served as Temple Israel’s first female president, from 1980 to ’82. A lot was going on. The congregation was building a major addition to the sanctuary, and searching for a replacement for the legendary and long-serving Rabbi Rubenstein.

“The building campaign was a literal — and actual — symbol of the growth of the congregation,” Freedman says. So was a subsequent building project: expandiing the school wing in 2003.

Rubenstein’s legacy was “kindness, teaching and civil rights justice,” Freedman notes. His successor — Rabbi Robert Orkand — presided over great growth in numbers. The education and nursery school programs expanded greatly too.

Rabbi Robert Orkand, surrounded by young congregants.

Orkand was also one of 3 founders of the Westport-Weston Interfaith Clergy group.

He was very active on a national level too, Freedman says.

Orkand retired in 2014. He was succeeded by Rabbi Michael Friedman. It was a time of transition for the temple, as the longtime cantor and senior staff members also left.

The new chapter is “an opportunity to redefine the temple,” Friedman — only the 3rd permanent rabbi in the congregation’s history — says.

“It’s a period of creativity, growth and renewal,” Dood Freedman adds. “There’s a great feeling of the congregation being a family, working and worshiping together. There are lots of people in the pews on Friday nights.”

Temple Israel’s current clergy (from left): Rabbi Cantor Dan Sklar, Senior Rabbi Michael Friedman, Assistant Rabbi Danny Moss.

The 70th anniversary is marked by several events. Orkand came back to Westport for a scholar-in-residence weekend. He, Freedman and others shared stories, and re-examined the history of the congregation.

Volunteers are conducting video interviews with some long-time congregants — including Freda Easton, the longest-tenured member.

“We have not always done a good job of memorializing our past,” Freedman admits. “Now we’re creating a documentary and digital archive.”

Hebrew school students are involved too. They’re studying Jewish life through the years — including the fight for Soviet Jewry and the integration of women into worship — including a focus on Westport.

Of course, there’s a party. It’s this Saturday (May 18, 7 p.m.), and includes honors for all 12 living presidents.

Dood Freedman looks back with satisfaction on 7 decades of Jewish life here.

“I think we’ve got quite a presence in Westport,” she says. “When I joined, it was something just to have a temple here.”

Mazel tov! L’chaim!

Temple Israel today.

Westport Celebrates World Press Freedom Day

Alert “06880” reader Mark Friedman — an RTM representative, and founder of iheartfreedomofthepress.com — writes:

As a child of the 1970s, I watched Superman cartoons. He worked tirelessly for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”

Somewhere along the way (in law school?), I came to accept that people would not soon jump tall buildings in a single bound. But I also developed an abiding gratitude for the rights protected by the Constitution of the United States — in particular, our First Amendment freedoms.

World Press Freedom Day is tomorrow (Friday, May 3). Westport honors this day with a 3:30 p.m. event at Town Hall.

Mark Friedman, at Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

Westporter Bill Haas of the UN Association of SW CT will moderate a panel discussion considering the impact of money, politics and censorship on press freedom.  Participants include Congressman Jim Himes, Francesca Procaccini of Yale Law School, Michael DeDora of Committee to Protect Journalists, and myself.

Westport — known for its artistic influences and commitment to freedom of expression — strikes me as the perfect place for this event.

At a time when governments worldwide jail hundreds of journalists, and the US is ranked 48th worldwide in terms of press freedoms, Westport seems especially equipped to provide the intellectual and moral leadership, given its ethos of service — both locally and globally.

I encourage Westporters to attend Friday’s event. I also ask us everyone to consider Nelson Mandela’s reflection on press freedom:

A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy.  The press must be free from state interference.  It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials.  It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor.

Westporters have a significant role to play in protecting Truth, Justice, and the American Way. And as a certain Marvel superhero reminds us, with great power comes great responsibility.

Remembering Michael Koskoff

The New York Times summed up the full life of a remarkable man in its lead paragraph:

Michael Koskoff, a renowned and dogged Connecticut litigator who defended Black Panthers, won record malpractice awards, mounted racial job-discrimination battles and sued gunmakers whose weapons were used in the Sandy Hook school massacre, died on Wednesday in a Manhattan hospital. He was 77.

The story details many more achievements of the longtime Westporter, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer.

He collaborated with his son Jacob on the screenplay for “Marshall,” the 2017 film about a major civil rights case — in Bridgeport – litigated by future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall. (Click here for the complete “06880” story.)

Michael Koskoff’s son Josh was a partner in their law firm. This photo was taken as they worked on an important gun rights case just a month before Michael died.

With his other son, Westport resident Josh — a senior partner in the law firm Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder — he won an important gun rights case last month. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that manufacturers of guns used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre can be held liable, in a suit brought by victims’ families.

Another celebrated case — involving hiring quotas in Bridgeport for black and Hispanic police officers — led to similar suits elsewhere. The result was more minorities being hired by police and fire departments across the country.

Michael Koskoff also “pioneered the use of vivid courtroom videos delivered in a documentary format,” the Times said.

He is survived by Rosalind Jacobs, his wife of 56 years; sons Josh and Jacob; daughters Sarah (an actress and screenwriter) and Juliet (a lawyer in New York); 2 sisters, and 8 grandsons.

Roz and Michael Koskoff

Michael Koskoff was a very devoted father and grandfather. In a torrent of tributes, some of the most eloquent were posted on social media by those closest to him.

The day after his father died, Jacob wrote:

Over the past 24 hours many have said they are sorry for our loss, and I haven’t been able to pinpoint why that hasn’t sounded right. But the answer is obvious: from the very beginning, it was just so incredibly unfair how fortunate we were to have had him as a father.

A month earlier, on his father’s birthday, Jacob had said:

Soon after he got his diagnosis, my dad and I were walking in downtown Westport waiting for our takeout. It was dark and cold, and he was slow, and I was holding a box of cupcakes — students were raising money for something that I’m pretty sure was never explained to us. For the first time I asked him how he was feeling, in the greater sense. He took one breath and said, “I’m just glad this happened after the movie came out. If it had been before, I’d be seriously pissed.”

He has 8 grandsons, and each one is his favorite.

Eyes on the Prize. Wild Strawberries. Shakespeare at The Public Theater. He took me to see Annie when I was 8. Henry IV parts 1 and 2 a few years later. He is the most unpretentious, socially conscious, opera-loving wine connoisseur you’ll ever meet.

Michael and Jake Koskoff, collaborating on “Marshall.”

We went to dozens of Mets games together. He coached my Little League teams with his friend Terry Smith. They would sometimes pick the batting lineup out of a hat. He knew little about how the game was played and had no business coaching a team of 13-15-year-olds. He’d hit fielding practice and say “third base,” then weakly ground the ball to first. He had devoted himself to the sport, had humbled himself, only to be closer to me. Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

Joan Baez taught him how to play the guitar in Harvard Square.

He once lent a car he wasn’t using to an acquaintance. Not even a friend, just someone he knew who needed a car. He never saw the car again. Not only did my dad not report it to the police, but for years he paid the guy’s parking tickets.

What’s the opposite of self-pity? Right, gratitude. That’s his religion: live with grace and kindness, persistence, generosity, and always, whenever possible, with gratitude.

Michael Koskoff and Barack Obama share smiles.

Michael’s daughter Juliet Koskoff Diamond added:

He died as he lived, with grace and gratitude for all the gifts he has been giving. In the end he was surrounded by his family, listening, to Mozart and quoting Shakespeare. He was able to say goodbye and was at peace.

And Josh’s wife, Darcy Hicks, wrote:

My father-in-law, Mike Koskoff, spent 77 years blasting this earth with love and justice. Knowing him made your life easier. He made it easy to become a part of his amazing family. He made it easier to laugh when you thought you weren’t in the mood. He made it easier to see the path to justice when no one thought there was one.

And mostly, he made it easy to love everyone- because through his eyes, empathy spilled and cleaned the view, so everyone who knew him could see how to live better. There’s only one thing he made impossible: doing that deifying thing we do about someone when they die. He just didn’t leave us any room to embellish him.

(Click here for the full New York Times obituary.)

Sunrise Rotary Member Spurs International Peace Effort

Dennis Wong is a longtime Westport Sunrise Rotary Club member.

From the Great Duck Race to the Uncorked Wine Tasting, he’s there — with 2 helping hands, and a broad smile.

But Dennis’ real passion is peace. Six years ago he co-founded the Rotarian Action Group for Peace. The network empowers and supports Rotary clubs and individuals, offering structure, guidance and resource to further peace efforts around the globe.

He’s not in it for glory — just harmony. Yet this month The Rotarian — the organization’s official magazine, with a circulation of over 500,000 — profiled Dennis and co-founder Al Jubitz.

The Rotarian magazine’s photo of Dennis Wong was taken at the UN. (Photo courtesy of The Rotarian)

In the story, Dennis describes his vision of “conflict transformation.” It focuses on “understanding and ameliorating the underlying causes that spark conflict.” That’ s different than the traditional “conflict resolution,” which simply aims to end disputes.

It’s also something that aligns well with Rotary’s principles, Dennis says. He believes that his group has made Rotarians around the world more aware of — and ready to work for — peace, as a definable goal.

The group’s board members come from the Bangladesh, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Pakistan, the US and Wales.

They work on issues ranging from gender equality and human trafficking to the Middle East and the elimination of nuclear weapons.

To read the entire interview, click here.

At The Arts Center: Facing Micro-Aggressions, Head On

In March, the Westport Arts Center opened a new exhibition with an old idea.

“Tête-à-Tête: Reinventing the Conversation Bench” is based on the old Victorian “courting bench.” Its S-shape allows couples to hold intimate conversations without touching. Twenty-eight reimagined contemporary designs and prototypes are on display through May 25.

One of the many tete-a-tete benches at the Westport Arts Center exhibition.

In April, TEAM Westport announced the winners of its annual student essay contest. The topic was micro-aggressions.

Those 2 seemingly unrelated events come together next Wednesday (May 1, 6 to 7:30 p.m.).

The WAC gallery’s tête-à-tête benches are the perfect setting for dialogues on micro-aggressions.

Staples High School students Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno — the 4 TEAM Westport contest winners — will read short pieces from their essays.

(From left): TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, with essay contest winners Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno.

Former Staples principal and Westport Arts Advisory Council member John Dodig, and Westport’s Human Services director Elaine Daignault, will moderate the tête-à-tête discussions that follow.

It’s doubtful attendees will find solutions to this contemporary problem.

But as they sit facing each other on the WAC benches, they’ll have a unique way of looking at it — both metaphorically, and for real.

(Space is limited. Please RSVP by calling 203-222-7070.)