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.
Essentially one long room on Riverside Avenue — with a spectacular view of the Saugatuck River — it functions as a small studio and gallery. But it can host only one meeting, lecture, concert, class or exhibit at a time.
Given Westport’s long arts heritage — and the interest of so many Westporters, from senior citizens to kids, in art in all its forms — it’s no wonder the WAC has sought more suitable digs.
Last fall, town representatives approached the organization. Would the WAC be interested in preserving and using Golden Shadows — the main building on the southeast corner of 23-acre Baron’s South (named for the perfume developed by its previous owner, Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff) — for exhibits and performances?
Golden Shadows. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)
The town soon came back with a new question: Would the WAC like to take over the other 3 long-neglected buildings there too?
Meanwhile, a group of veteran, well-respected local artists and photographers — including Leonard Everett Fisher, Ann Chernow, Miggs Burroughs, Niki Ketchman and Larry Silver — had been meeting regularly to discuss their own idea.
These “deans” of the Westport arts scene wanted a dedicated museum-type space to preserve the town’s artistic legacy.
And at the same time, folks like Burroughs, Westport arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz, RTM moderator Eileen Lavigne Flug and the Westport Historical Society’s Bob Mitchell were seeking ways to involve the WAC more fully with other arts organizations in town.
The result was a public/private partnership to create a “community arts campus” at Baron’s South.
As presented last night by 3rd Selectman Helen Garten, at a Planning & Zoning Commission pre-application meeting, there would be 3 phases:
The Westport Arts Center would lease and restore Golden Shadows, retaining most of its decorative interior, for use as offices, classrooms and gallery space.
The WAC would lease and restore the Tudor revival guest house at 70 Compo Road South as additional gallery space.
They would lease the 2 units at 52 and 52B Compo Road South, for use as artists’ residences.
The house next door to Golden Shadows. The plan would have leased it to artists.
“Leasing all 4 buildings to a single user is the best way to ensure minimal impact on the public open space and surrounding neighborhood,” Garten said.
“Instead of 4 separate buildings, each accessed by its own roadway and each with its own use, there will be a single integrated property.” It would function much as the baron’s estate did, decades ago.
However, P&Z members gave the arts campus plan a frosty reception last night. A pre-app meeting is intended to give applicants a sense of what the zoning board feels about a plan. Commissioners insisted that the concept is too intense for the “light use” zoning of Baron’s South. It’s zoned as “passive recreational open space.”
Arts advocates were unsure last night what their next step will be.
Back to the drawing board they go.
A view into Golden Shadows’ central parlor shows a chandelier and handsome circular staircase. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)
The town currently owns 72 Compo Road South, on the eastern edge of Baron’s South. This was planned to be gallery space.
Jim Marpe grew up in Canton, Ohio. After earning a BA from Case Western and an MBA from Wharton, he embarked on a career with Accenture that took him to Chicago and Copenhagen.
Transferred to New York in 1989, Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen were attracted to Westport by the quality of education, amenities like Compo, and the beauty of Longshore. They also appreciated the town’s arts heritage. A performance at the Westport Country Playhouse sealed the deal.
They joined New Neighbors. The very first person they met was from the country they’d just left: Denmark.
That story illustrates everything Marpe loves about Westport. It’s also a reason why — as he completes his first term as first selectman — he looks forward to running for re-election.
First Selectman Jim Marpe
When he ran 4 years ago, Marpe — who had retired from Accenture as a senior partner — believed he could use his business skills, his experiences on the Board of Education (interim chair and vice chair) and Town Plan Implementation Committee, as well as his leadership roles with the Westport Weston Family YMCA, Homes With Hope, Westport Rotary Club and Greens Farms Congregational Church, to help his town.
“I love this place as much as anyone here,” he says.
He cites his accomplishments: improving town finances; keeping property taxes flat; upgrading Compo and Longshore; beautifying downtown; promoting Westport as an attractive place for business; updating tax policies for senior citizens, and improving the Senior Center; creating a Commission on People with Disabilities, ensuring the town remains inclusive for all residents (and their families).
He’s running again, he says, because there is still work to do. “Hartford has placed problems in our laps. We’ve made great strides in creating a budget to address the lack of any significant revenue coming from the state, and any new bills or taxes we can try to mitigate.”
First Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport Library director Bill Harmer, at work in the first selectman’s office.
Marpe adds, “Hartford’s problems are huge. They won’t get solved in one year. We’ll have to keep our own financial house in order for many years. We’ve been conservative in dealing with town finances. We have to work even harder at that, so Westport continues to be an attractive place to stay in, or move to — one of the most active and exciting communities in the country.”
For example, the first selectman says, a public hearing next month will examine rehabilitating the Compo bathhouses in a way that is “acceptable to all, at a cost we can afford.” Similarly, while the Longshore golf course rehabilitation has made it one of the top 8 public courses in Connecticut, the Inn and other parts of the property can also be improved.
Marpe says he is in “total agreement” with his potential challenger, fellow Republican Mike Rea, about the need for continuous improvement. “That’s what I’ve built my professional career on,” Marpe notes. “We can never rest on our laurels. We have to keep what Westporters hold dear, and make sure this is a town we’re all proud of.”
Personally, he is proud of his administration’s non-partisan approach to problem-solving. Marpe says he has “staffed committees and given assignments to the best qualified people, regardless of party. That’s how Westporters like to address issues.”
Jim and Mary Ellen Marpe, with their daughter Samantha.
Second selectman Avi Kaner will not run for re-election, due to increased demands of running his family business. But he’ll chair Marpe’s campaign, and will continue to work on special projects.
Marpe lauds Kaner’s work, and is “thrilled” that Board of Finance member Jennifer Tooker joins his ticket. “With her background, which also includes the Board of Education, she understands the financial challenges, and the important impact education has in Westport.”
Third selectman Helen Garten was Marpe’s Democratic opponent in 2013. “We’ve worked together as a team,” he says. “All three selectmen play to our strengths. That’s helped make our administration a success.”
He looks back on the past 4 years with satisfaction. Little moments stand out: thank-you notes sent after he attended local events; Memorial Day parades and ceremonies that honor individual citizens, the town and our country as a whole.
Nearly 30 years after moving here, Marpe, his wife and his daughter Samantha — a product of the Westport school system — appreciate more than ever all that Westport is, and does.
Right now for instance, he’s preparing for a panel on April 1 about Syrian refugees.
“Not many communities this size would have that discussion,” he notes. “But in Westport, we have debates like this. Some of them are heated. But when they’re over, we all go to the Black Duck together.”
Jim and Mary Ellen Marpe outside the Black Duck, during last year’s Slice of Saugatuck.
(Democratic State Representative Jonathan Steinberg has set up an exploratory committee to examine a run for first selectman. He declined an interview, citing his state legislature commitments on the budget.)
Third selectman Helen Garten responded by contacting colleagues on the Connecticut Council of the Humane Society of the United States. She wondered if there are ways to prevent coyote conflicts without resorting to hunting or trapping — both of which have limited effectiveness in a suburb like Westport.
Laura Simon — a wildlife ecologist who has helped other communities, and whose work has been featured in the New York Times, on NPR and the Ellen DeGeneres Show — volunteered to come here. On Thursday.
So on February 9 (7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), she’ll answer questions about coyote behavior, and provide alternative solutions.
The meeting will also include information on current state legislative efforts to ban trapping.
“Before we make decisions with lasting consequences, we owe it to ourselves to understand all options,” Garten says.
Plans for renovation of the Bridge Street bridge are moving ahead, on at least 2 fronts.
But they may be on a collision course.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation is working with the selectman’s office on a public information meeting. Tentatively set for December 7 Set for Monday, November 23 (7:30 pm, Town Hall auditorium), it will be a forum to discuss the history of the 113-year-old bridge, its current deficiencies, and various rehabilitation options and calendars.
The historic and controversial Bridge Street (William F. Cribari) Bridge. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)
Meanwhile, 4 prominent Westporters asking the state DOT to designate a 1.2-mile section of Route 136 — including the bridge — as a State Scenic Highway. It begins at the Post Road/Compo Road South intersection, and runs through the western end of the bridge, at Riverside Avenue.
Petitioners include 3rd Selectman Helen Garten, former Westport Historic District Commission chair Morley Boyd, RTM member John Suggs and preservationist Wendy Crowther.
The petitioners met yesterday at the Bridge Street Bridge. From Left: Morley Boyd, Helen Garten, John Suggs, Wendy Crowther. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)
If approved, this will be the first State Scenic Highway solely in Westport. All 37.5 miles of the Merritt Parkway — from Greenwich to Stratford — carry that designation too.
The petitioners note history (site of an armed conflict between British regulars and a handful of local militiamen in 1777); the many notable 18th and 19th century buildings lining the route, and the important views of the Saugatuck River shoreline.
Both the bridge itself, and the Gault barn complex at 124 Compo Road South, are listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.
The group — along with 8 other RTM members has also requested that the RTM back the scenic highway proposal. Not all signees are from Saugatuck — where the structure (formally know as the William F. Cribari Bridge) is both a beloved icon and a major traffic thoroughfare.
They ask that their petition be discussed at the legislative body’s November 10 meeting.
Many old homes line South Compo Road and Bridge Street. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)
“The designation will serve to both enhance and safeguard the scale, nature and character of one of Westport’s most attractive travel ways,” the agenda request says.
“The State Scenic Highway designation does not in any way impact adjoining private property,” Morley and Suggs say. “It is solely intended to preserve the character and nature of the state road — including the bridge.”
The Saugatuck River meets Bridge Street, near the western end of the proposed Scenic Highway. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)
The fate of the bridge will be one of Westport’s major stories throughout the rest of this year — and next. To learn more about the State Scenic Highway program, including protections it provides, click here.
A historic plaque stands at the Post Road/South Compo intersection — the start of the proposed 1.2-mile Scenic Highway. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)
Earlier today, a notice was posted in the Baldwin parking lot. It announces a hearing next Wednesday (August 13, 8:30 a.m., Town Hall Room 309) regarding a .13-acre lease in the lot. The board of selectmen will be asked to approve a lease, to accommodate the relocation of the Kemper-Gunn House from across Elm Street.
That vacated property will then become part of the retail/residential development that replaces the soon-to-be-vacated Westport Family Y.
The Baldwin parking lot lease, which has already been approved by the Board of Finance and Planning & Zoning Commission, awaits final Board of Selectmen action.
The meeting announcement sign, in the Baldwin parking lot.
According to 3rd Selectman Helen Garten — a member of the Kemper-Gunn Advisory Group — “the lease creates a unique public-private partnership that not only will ensure the preservation of a historic downtown structure, but also will return the building to productive commercial use as a home for small, independent businesses.”
Major components of the plan include rental of the Baldwin lot land by the town to DC Kemper-Gunn LLC for 50 years, with renewal options up to 98 years.
DC Kemper-Gunn LLC will own the house and pay for all site work, relocation expenses, renovation and ongoing maintenance and repairs. The town will incur no operating expenses.
An old door and lock, in the Kemper-Gunn house. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)
DC Kemper-Gunn LLC has agreed to preserve any original exterior features of the house that are in good condition, or replace them with original materials. Garten hopes that some interior architectural features can be reused or donated to the Westport Historical Society.
The plan calls for refitting the interior for commercial use. The lease requires all tenants to be small, independent, preferably locally owned businesses — no chain stores. Garten says, “Our aim is to add to the diversity and vibrancy of our downtown business offerings.”
The town will receive taxes on the building and improvements, as well as rent and — eventually — a share of net profits generated by the commercial rental operation.
“Since we are receiving no income now, this is a net gain to the town financially,” Garten notes. “But the real reward for Westport is how this venture will help restore a sense of place to our downtown.”
The actual relocation is tentatively set for November. A giant Elm Street block party may accompany the move.
An artist’s rendering of the Kemper-Gunn House, after it is moved to the Baldwin parking lot.
In November, Westport voters will elect a new 1st selectman.
The Republicans have already chosen Jim Marpe. The Democrats meet tomorrow. The 3 names most frequently mentioned are Ken Wirfel, Jonathan Steinberg and Helen Garten.
To get a sense of who these would-be 1st selectman candidates are, I asked a few simple questions. Here are their responses. The Democratic candidates are listed in reverse alphabetical order because — well, I’m a Woog. The Republican candidate is listed last, because he is unopposed.
Ken Wirfel, former member, Board of Finance
Main reason I’m considering running: I’m passionate about Westport. Westport is just recovering from the fiscal crisis and needs someone who can secure its future. We need a first selectman who can share with us a vision how we can assure the continued excellence of our school, retain our talented workforce and allow our seniors to remain in place if they so choose.
Main reason I considered NOT running: I consider the other announced Democratic candidates my colleagues and friends. I want to run a campaign that is respectful of their abilities and desires to serve the town, while setting myself apart.
Major problems facing Westport: Labor contracts and union plans. Many will come up in the next 4 years. We’ve got to end most defined benefit plans and “bend the curve” on others by lengthening service years and extending retirement age before eligibility for benefits.
Biggest thing Westporters talk about that is NOT a problem: Deer population.
Ken Wirfel on the roof of Fenway Park, during a Yankees game.
First thing I’d do after being sworn in: Kiss my wife and children. Meet with all department heads and engage in a thorough review of goals and responsibilities. Meet with chairs of all RTM committees, town boards and commissions to assess whether they are receiving timely and adequate information from town departments.
5 Westporters I admire: Alan Nevas, retired federal judge; fount of common sense and decency. Michael Szeto, retired from IBM; currently teaching at MIT’s Sloan School; passionate about education and American competitiveness in the global economy. Michael Kassen, president of AIPAC; a tremendously decent, thoughtful, moderate guy playing a major role at a time of Middle East threats. Keith Stein, involved in numerous community activities; quiet, unassuming guy; great dad, son, husband, brother, athlete and cook. Barbara Butler, director of human services; if Westport’s government has a soul, it runs through her department; she constantly affirms my belief that government can be a force for good in our community.
My favorite places in Westport: My wife’s backyard garden, a beautiful respite from the rest of the world. Compo at dawn, for years part of my early morning bike route before a commute into New York.
My favorite places NOT in Westport: Nantucket; British Columbia; open water anywhere.
If I was not running for 1st selectman, I’d be…: Planning road trips to college hockey games in Boston next year.
If I was tweeting about Westport, I’d say…: A Life Well Lived. You Deserve Westport. @KenWirfel
Jonathan Steinberg, State Representative
Main reason I’m running: I love this town and I’m excited by the prospect of making it an even better place to live and work. I’ve worked hard on Westport’s behalf on the RTM and in the State Legislature, and I know I have the experience and perspective to be an effective leader.
Main reason I considered NOT running: Campaigns require an all-out commitment. My family has always been very supportive, but running for office takes a toll on family life. I strive to maintain a balance, because family matters so much to me.
Major problems facing Westport: The good news is we are not facing major problems. But we’ve all noticed a change in the tone of public dialogue lately. There’s a tendency to form factions and fight, rather than work together. There’s so much good about Westport, and so many good people who want to move the town forward, but there’s an increasing lack of civility and willingness to see the other side’s point of view.
Biggest thing Westporters talk about that is NOT a problem: There’s a big myth about fiscal problems in Westport. Westporters should not be misled: The town is in fine shape financially — better off than most municipalities, with a Triple-A bond rating. We simply need to plan well for future employee pension and healthcare obligations, and be resolute in contract negotiations.
First thing I’d do after being sworn in: Get around town as often as possible as part of a continual effort to engage Westporters on what’s on their minds. Perhaps I’ll start with a big “brown bag lunch.”
5 Westporters I admire: Barbara Butler: no one has done as much for Westporters in need, always with grace, compassion and good humor. Dick Harris, an environmental hero. Ann Sheffer, whose commitment to the arts has kept Westport in the forefront of cultural excellence. Allen Raymond, who has been in the middle of many of the biggest Westport moments, from the Longshore acquisition to the new library and Y. My parents: my father took great care of the health of generations of Westporters — and made house calls, while my mother’s “best books” lecture at the library is always SRO.
My favorite places in Westport: A serene spot in Salmon Park with a beautiful view of the Saugatuck. The library, hub of activity and information where there is always something stimulating happening. Any of the ball fields on a Saturday morning. And of course an intimate, state-of-the-art movie theater on Main Street (okay, it doesn’t exist — yet!)
My favorite places NOT in Westport: Madison Square Garden for a playoff game; Portofino, Italy on the quay at sunset; wherever my daughters are living at the time.
If I was not running for 1st selectman, I’d be…: doing my best for Westport as its state representative.
If I was tweeting about Westport, I’d say…: Westport is a great place: amazing amenities, a strong sense of community, a tradition of giving and helping. I’m proud to call it home.
Helen Garten, Board of Finance vice chair
Main reason I’m considering running: I love Westport, and I think I have the skills, experience and energy to make a difference.
Main reason I considered NOT running: I am not a politician!
Major problem facing Westport: As is true for many communities, the long-term cost of Westport’s employee retirement benefits — pension and retiree medical — could eventually crowd out other funding needs. The solution is to craft a sustainable benefits package that protects our taxpayers and treats our valued employees fairly. Westport is already ahead of many towns in pension reform, but we still have a long way to go. Getting there will require skill, creativity and consensus building.
Helen Garten, awarding medals at a Special Olympics event.
What’s not a problem: Westport has not been, and is not, in financial trouble. To the contrary, we came through the recession with services funded, taxes reasonable and reserves strong. That’s why we can plan for the future now.
First thing I’d do after being sworn in: Hold the first of the revived First Selectwoman’s Brown Bag lunches. There is no better way to share ideas and learn what Westporters are thinking.
5 Westporters I admire: Allen Raymond, who has done more for Westport than I can mention. Katy Goldschmidt, who inspired me to get into and stay in Westport politics. PTA parents, whose tireless efforts keep our schools great. My husband Michael, who has no idea what he’s in for if I do run for first selectman but will never complain. Dan Woog, who runs the most lively and interesting blog I know of. 🙂
Favorite places in Westport: Compo Beach, particularly in the off season. The Westport Public Library, our downtown anchor. The Saugatuck River behind my house, which is beautiful in every season.
Favorite places not in Westport: Fort Sewall in Marblehead, Massachusetts where I grew up; Cuttyhunk Island; the Princeton University campus.
If I was not running for first selectman, I’d be…: sailing to Bermuda (seriously!).
If I was tweeting about Westport, I’d say..: although we seem to disagree on almost every issue, we all care passionately about our community.
Jim Marpe, former chair, Board of Education
Main reason I’m running for 1st selectman: I love Westport. I’m excited at the prospect of using my unique background in both the private and public sectors to make our town even greater. I saw the impact I could make as a public servant on the Board of Education, keeping Westport schools world-class while improving efficiency in a non-partisan matter. My consensus-driven approach will help enhance our services, protect our “crown jewels” and make it easier for our seniors to stay in Westport.
Main reason I considered not running: The time I spend with my wife and daughter, and the time I dedicate to various community service activities, are very important to me. The 1st selectman’s job is more than full time, so I face giving up significant portions of family and community service. Fortunately, my family is excited about the positive differences they believe I can make.
Jim Marpe at the Rotary Club, of which he is a long-time member.
Major problems facing Westport: Westporters are concerned that many “crown jewel” services and amenities are showing wear and need attention. Seniors want to “age in place” but worry about property tax increases and housing options. Employee pension and benefit costs must be restructured to still make our community an attractive place to work, but at a cost taxpayers can afford. We must seek cost efficiencies through technology, restructuring operations and greater cooperation between the town and schools. We must revitalize our ability to attract and retain businesses that are appropriate to our town’s character.
Biggest thing Westporters talk about that is NOT a major problem: The amazing number of community service organizations and their dedicated, tireless and creative staff and volunteers who do an extraordinary job of filling the gaps that government cannot or should not fill. Westporters are an engaged, well-intentioned, civic-minded group who care about their neighbors and the direction of the town.
First thing I would do after being sworn in: Meet with every town department head to identify their key challenges and opportunities, and agree on the top objectives for the coming year and their impact on the budget process. This will lay the groundwork for quickly developing a 4-year strategic operating plan. Simultaneously we will aggressively develop strategies for upcoming labor and pension contract negotiations.
5 Westporters I admire and why: Allen Raymond, who has dedicated most of his 90 years to Westport through public office and leadership of many community organizations. Joanne Woodward, through whose leadership we still have our iconic Westport Country Playhouse housed in a modern yet familiar facility, with an expanded mission. Al DiGuido, whose Al’s Angels and its dozens of volunteers demonstrate the impact an individual can have on a community and the lives of children. Paul Green, who through his “Nevah Surrendah” organization and his commitment to exercise has educated and motivated Parkinson’s disease sufferers to fight back, and inspires us all. Mary Ellen Marpe, my wife, who besides putting up with my late evening meetings and erratic schedule has made her own impact on Westport through 11 years of operating the Academy of Dance, and now having a leadership role in ITNCastalCT.
My favorite places in Westport: Ned Dimes Marina at sunset on a summer evening. Getting a haircut at Compo Barber Shop. Any restaurant, diner, deli or bar that is locally owned (outdoor dining appreciated). Westport Country Playhouse; the “Staff Recommends” table at the library. Longshore golf course; coffee and conversation at Mitchells. Walking my dog in Winslow Park, at Compo and Burying HIll in winter. Shopping at the Farmers Market and Double L Farm Stand. Wakeman Town Farm.
My favorite places NOT in Westport: Anywhere with vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms; a sailboat or motorboat on Long Island Sound; Manhattan; Boston; Chicago; Tuscany.
If I was not running for 1st selectman, I’d be…: continuing to work with the Family Y, Rotary, Green’s Farms Church, Y’s Men, Stamford Symphony and the Riedel & Cody Foundation. I would spend more time with my wife and daughter, and walk my dog more often. I might even lower my golf handicap.
If I was tweeting about Westport, I’d say…: Love Westport. A creative, sophisticated, caring community in a unique setting; world-class schools; activities to match every interest.
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