Tag Archives: 2016 presidential election

Marpe’s Message: “Treat Each Other With Respect And Civility”

A few moments ago, First Selectman Jim Marpe issued his annual Thanksgiving message. It includes a response to an open letter sent last night by Westport’s Democratic Town Committee, asking him to stand up to the rhetoric unleashed by the 2016 presidential campaign.

Marpe says:

Westport has always been and will continue to be a place where we live by and teach our children the values that we cherish — values that embrace equality, inclusiveness, open-mindedness, respect for each other as well as the law, and of course, education. We hold fast to these ideals regardless of political party, religious affiliation, social strata, gender, or age.  This Thanksgiving, we thoughtfully and respectfully reflect upon these qualities in light of recent events that have transported our nation into divisiveness and turmoil.

A recent “open letter” to me as the first selectman of this great community called for a response to the events in our nation related to the 2016 presidential election.  I believed that it was appropriate to do so in the context of my annual Thanksgiving message to all 27,000 Westport residents.

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe.

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe.

I want to start with my reflections expressed to those gathered in the Town Hall auditorium on Veterans Day this past November 11; that ceremony occurring merely days after the tumultuous election.  I confidently assured those present that the rights and freedoms for which veterans fought so valiantly are alive and well in this great nation, and in the town of Westport.

The political events of the past year have tested our collective understanding of democracy, creating conflict nationwide and anxiety at many a dinner table and social gathering throughout Westport and the rest of the country. While the outrage and despair over the problems that our nation and our community need to address remains, it is our democracy which makes this such an extraordinary country.

The 2016 election has stirred us all to reconsider our core values and our rights as Americans; rights which many in Westport may have taken for granted because we thought we had the luxury of doing so.  However, with recent events fresh in our minds, we must be cognizant that with the freedoms we cherish come certain personal obligations.

Despite differences, Westporters must treat each other with mutual respect and civility. We are no strangers to making our world, country, and our community a better place.  The town’s municipal, civic, religious and volunteer institutions operate under the mantle of these values. Our laws and our values don’t change because of the most recent political winds.

We encourage thoughtful and constructive means to embrace each other’s differences. We denounce hatred, divisiveness and manipulation by words and deeds. We remember that in Westport, we are grateful and thankful for and continue to be committed to, the values we hold so dear in our cherished town. I can assure you that this town will continue to embrace and protect all its citizens and will stand firmly against hate and intolerance, now and always.

Hundreds of Westporters volunteer each year at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Feast.

Hundreds of Westporters volunteer each year at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Feast.

Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful for our freedoms and our good fortune.  We remain steadfast in our resolve to help those less fortunate, all the while remaining aware of the world events around us that may inhibit that resolve. We express our heartfelt thanks to those in our community that stand for the downtrodden or disenfranchised.

I am personally thankful for our extraordinary volunteers, teachers, civic leaders, clergy, and residents, young and old, of all races, creeds and ideals, who work tirelessly and diligently each and every day, at times with little or no recognition.  They share their time and talents without fanfare, so I want to acknowledge their contributions and let them know that they are valued and appreciated.

I wish all the citizens of Westport a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday. I encourage you to take the opportunity to pause and reflect on how you may contribute to making our community a place where all are welcome and respected.

Thank you.

[OPINION] After Election, Let Kids Be Kids

Many “06880” readers reacted viscerally on Sunday to Drew Coyne’s “06880” story. The beloved and talented Staples High School social studies teacher described his reaction to last week’s presidential election, adding insights into what it meant for teenagers in his classroom.

Jaime Bairaktaris

Jaime Bairaktaris

Among those reacting to Drew’s reaction was Jaime Bairaktaris. The community-minded 2016 Staples grad has been highlighted here before. Among other things, he was an Earthplace volunteer and EMT. Last spring he traveled to Italy to work with youngsters from a disadvantaged Naples neighborhood.

Now he’s a Sacred Heart University freshman. He’s still a Westport EMT, still works at Earthplace, and is also an EMT for Easton (working the midnight to 6 a.m. shift).

And Jaime helps supervise elementary school students during lunch in a nearby town. He passes along these insights into today’s kids, a few days after one of the most polarizing elections in American history.


  • Trump’s gonna build a huge wall and keep all the bad guys out!
  • Clinton lies too much. I don’t trust her. She killed too many people!
  • Trump’s gonna kick all of the immigrants out. Where will they go?
  • She’s kind of an old lady.
  • He looks like an angry orange.
  • Mr. B, you CAN’T vote for them. Promise me you won’t!

It’s confusing to hear these things come out of tiny mouths, on the playground or between bites of pizza.

I broke up verbal arguments between students. They climbed over tables or stood on their toes, trying to subdue their opponent.

But the aftermath does the real damage. When the argument is over students are left angry, anxious and frightened. Nothing upset me more than a crying child. One was legitimately fearful they would have to leave the country. Another cried because they could not understand why their classmate did not see what they saw in a candidate.

It’s eerily similar to what some adults feel now. But these are children.

clinton-and-trump-debate

The 2016 election was one of the most polarizing in history.

I know that children should have some exposure to the election process. In today’s world, we have no choice. But when they recite Fox or CNN sound bites, it’s time to stop and let them be kids.

Parents need to teach the process not as if 2 things are up against each other, but rather 2 people.

Kids understand that being mean to other people is wrong. But when a news outlet — or parent — bashes a candidate, a child becomes confused. After a while though, that bashing becomes normal and okay. After all, Mom, Dad or the TV did it.

A child can’t distinguish between a candidate on television or a book buddy in class. That’s where problems start.

I’ve seen what overexposure to “adult topics” can do to a child. I have not found anything good about it yet.

It’s our job to lead by example, be kind to all others, and personify anyone you speak about.

He is a father, a husband, a son. She is a mother, a wife, a daughter. Start there, and build up when talking about someone.

Just let kids be kids.

Eli, George And Hillary

Tomorrow is zero hour for 2 candidates. For over a year, they’ve campaigned to be president. They rely on national staffs, pollsters, and family members offering free advice.

But presidential campaigns are won or lost at the local level. Phone calls drive enthusiasm and turnout. Something as simple as a ride to polls — replicated thousands and thousands of times — can spell the difference between the White House and history’s dustbin.

Since mid-August, Hillary Clinton’s most successful phone bank in Connecticut has operated from a cramped Westport storefront, across from Stop & Shop.

Remarkably, it’s organized entirely by 2 Staples High School students.

George Kane (left) and Eli Debenham run Westport's Democratic headquarters phone bank and volunteer operations.

George Kane (left) and Eli Debenham run Westport’s Democratic headquarters phone bank and volunteer operations.

George Kane rowed with the Saugatuck Rowing Club. He skis for Staples, and teaches skiing to people with disabilities.

His mother Melissa chairs the Westport Democratic Town Committee — but for years he did not share her interest in politics. “I always felt dragged to events,” he says.

In the spring of junior year though, his Advanced Placement Government class inspired him. “It just hit me,” he recalls. “I thought, if there’s anything I can do for this election, I’ll do it.”

He called Clinton’s statewide director of field operations. Soon, he was running Westport’s Democratic phone bank.

Eli Debenham — like George, a Staples senior — serves organizations like Builders Beyond Borders, and works at Gilbertie’s. He’s been fascinated by politics for a long time. Now Eli is the volunteer coordinator for Westport’s DTC.

The storefront opposite Super Stop & Shop.

The storefront opposite Super Stop & Shop.

The 12th graders work like a well-oiled machine. Together, they’ve gathered up to 40 people a night to the Westfair Center office. One evening, they logged 3,500 calls.

Not just for Clinton. Volunteers phone in support of local races. They also call voters in New Hampshire, the nearest battleground state.

A couple of days ago, I watched the phone bank in action. Our conversation was punctuated by questions — most of the technical kind. The volunteers — coming from as far as Stamford and Ridgefield, some of whom could be George and Eli’s grandparents — asked for help with the calling software on their laptops and cellphones.

The duo solved every problem. In between, they told stories of their months of work.

It’s been eye-opening. A man with military ID asked for Hillary posters and lawn signs. They apologized; there were only a few on hand.

“That’s okay,” he said. ” I just want it for target practice.”

Most other encounters have been far more positive. Though few people like being interrupted for a political call, there have been enough willing to listen that George and Eli feel like they’ve done some good.

westport-democratic-town-committee-logo“When we get a Republican who thinks Trump’s a maniac, but doesn’t want to vote for Clinton, we may be able to have a conversation,” George says. “Some people really are undecided. We’ve had 20-minute phone calls where we really think we make an impact.”

“If we have 5 to 10 calls a night light that, it makes a measurable difference,” Eli adds.

He called a 24-year-old Greenwich man, who planned to vote for neither candidate. After 25 minutes, Eli says, “he was actually crying on the phone. He said that a protest vote would help give the election to Trump.”

He and George know they won’t reach everyone. But they’re encouraged by little examples, like the volunteer who took her phone into the headquarters bathroom to speak quietly with a retired man who originally did not want to talk at all. At the end of the conversation, he said he would “think about” Clinton.

Eli Debenham, in charge last week.

Eli Debenham, answering questions last week.

With Election Day almost — and finally — here, Eli and George describe their mood as a mix of anxiety and optimism. They know the race has tightened, and it’s been vitriolic. But, George says, “I’ve seen far more positivity than negativity” at the phone bank he runs.

“I’ve made real connections with people I’m excited to share Westport with,” Eli notes. “I’ve seen a whole new layer to this town that I love.”

There’s no school on Election Day. George and Eli will be up at 3 a.m. They’ll deliver signs to polling places. They’ll oversee one final round of canvassing. Then they’ll watch the returns — maybe at the headquarters that’s been their home since August, perhaps at a bigger venue.

The 1st presidential campaign for either of them has changed them both.

George says, “I never enjoyed conflict. But this election opened me up to seeing that differences are important. I’ve seen how I can make an impact. Politics is now a love of mine. Plus, my mother is happy.”

Eli always wanted to go into politics. This experience has only enhanced his interest.

“It’s exhausting, discouraging, challenging and satisfying,” he says. “It’s what I want to do.”

Donald Or Hillary? Vote Here!

Our long national nightmare will soon be over. On Tuesday, we select the next president of the United States. So help me God.

Before we do, it’s time for “06880”‘s 1st-ever presidential poll. It’s completely unscientific — but then again, it’s also not rigged. (I hope.)

Vote below, in the appropriate poll (Westport residents only, or non-Westporters). Let’s see how closely our readers mirror the real America.

Whatever that is.

clinton-and-trump-debate