Last night, Danielle Dobin was re-elected chair of the Planning & Zoning Commission. That means that the 3 major boards in town — P&Z, Education and Finance — are led by women (Dobin, Lee Goldstein and Sheri Gordon, respectively).
Of course, the Board of Selectmen is composed of 3 females too: Jen Tooker, Andrea Moore and Candice Savin. So it’s now — officially, and wonderfully — the Board of Selectwomen.
Westport’s female leaders are both Democrats and Republicans.
This is a first in Westport’s 186-year-old history. Is it also a first in the 233-year history of our state?
In 2008, Gen Re transferred Jen and Mo Tooker from the London office to their Stamford headquarters. The couple hunted for homes throughout Fairfield County.
On a February day, a realtor drove them around the corner to Compo Beach.
It was cold. The marina was empty. But, Tooker said, “We’re done!”
They had not seen any houses here yet. It did not matter. The Tookers soon found one.
Westport has been their home ever since.
Tooker soon became part of her new community. She joined the Conservation Commission; served on the Boards of Education and Finance, and was elected 2nd Selectwoman.
On Monday night at Town Hall, she’ll be sworn in for a new post: 1st Selectwoman. She and running mate Andrea Moore were elected last week to the town’s top 2 spots.
Jen Tooker (left) and Andrea Moore, Westport’s new selectwomen.
Though Tooker’s first attraction to Westport was its water, what’s kept her here are Westporters.
“The people here are fabulous,” she says. “They love living here. They get involved. They make things happen.”
Tooker has done more than her share of that. Knowing that this would be “home” for many years, within weeks of unpacking she sought ways to help.
With professional knowledge at Gen Re of flooding, wetlands and property maps, she was appointed to the Conservation Commission.
In 2011 — urged by people who said her skillset was a good fit for the Board of Education — she ran for, and won, a seat.
Democratic chair Don O’Day and Republican vice chair Jim Marpe led a “rock solid, bipartisan” board, Tooker says.
Two years later, she was asked to run for the Board of Finance. She retired from Gen Re, to devote time to public service and raising 3 children.
Jen Tooker, during the 2017 campaign.
In 2017, when Avi Kaner decided not to run for a second term as 2nd selectman, Marpe asked her to join him. She had a front run seat for all that the job entails — all the departmental collaboration, public meetings, budget deliberations, decision-making on issues like masks, weather-related disasters and more — plus the behind-the-scenes work that few people ever see.
Her skills, experience and goals suited her well for the top job. When Marpe announced he would not run for a 3rd term, Tooker was ready.
She and Moore jumped into campaigning. “Westporters are savvy,” Tooker says. “They want to know their elected officials. This was my 4th townwide race. Every time I’m amazed at how much people want to meet candidates, and ask tough questions.”
The questions came via Facebook, Instagram, texts and calls. They came in person too. Tooker and Moore held a number of public meetings — including the porch at The Porch — to answer the questions.
And to listen.
Tooker learned that “by and large, people are really happy to be here. They feel blessed, connected, and invested in the community. They’re super proud of Westport. Whether they’re new or been here for 45 years, that gives them pride.”
She and Moore “had a message, and it ran all through the campaign. We were very focused on local issues, to ensure that Westport remains the best place in the region to live, work and play.”
The ticket won, she believes, because “we had a message that resonated with a sophisticated electorate. Westporters wanted to know us, and vet our message.”
In addition, Tooker says, “We ran a positive campaign. Westporters care deeply about that.”
Though hard work does not always guarantee a win, “we were out there every day, for 7 months. That was critical for people to meet us, and ask the questions they needed to ask.”
Second selectman Jennifer Tooker sported a “Be Bold” shirt at a meeting featuring Westport businesswomen.
Twelve hours after next Monday’s swearing in, Tooker heads back to Town Hall. Her first task, she says, is to meet with department heads. She’ll hear their priorities, talk about collaboration and communication, and make plans for the immediate future.
“It’s important to be a good manager,” she says. “Employees need o feel supported, to go out and do a good job for residents.”
Every 1st selectperson brings a different style to Town Hall. Though she worked closely with Marpe, Tooker says, “in certain situations I may be less patient than Jim. I don’t fly off the handle, but I may push a process or strive for an outcome a little more quickly.”
She calls Marpe “an excellent listener. He processes information by listening to people. That’s an excellent quality in a leader. In this line of work, where we are here to ensure that democracy prevails, it’s crucial to hear every voice. I hope I can be as good a listener as Jim is.”
Jen and Mo Tooker with their children: Jack, Riley and Nicole.
She has always worked — professionally and as a volunteer — so that won’t be new. But 1st selectwoman is a full-time, 24/7/365 job. Tooker had many conversations with her family before deciding to run. They understand the demands of the job.
Her husband Mo, and their children — 20-year-old Jack (a junior at Santa Clara University), 18-year-old Riley (taking a gap year before Southern Methodist University) and Nicole, an 8th grader — are “fully supportive” of her, Tooker says.
Also supportive: Tooker’s parents. They moved here to be with their daughter and her family during the pandemic. Her father, 87-year-old Bob “Pops” Salmon, lives in the Tookers’ home. Her mother is in the memory care unit at The Residence.
Jen and Mo Tooker with her father, Bob “Pops” Salmon.
All are “incredibly proud” of her. And most will be on hand at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Town Hall, to see Jen Tooker sworn is as Westport’s next 1st selectwoman.
(Monday’s ceremony will also include the swearing in of all boards and commissioners. RTM members will be sworn in the next night, Tuesday, also at 7:30 p.m.)
FUN FACT: After 12 years in the public eye, there is little that Westporters don’t know about Tooker. They may be surprised though to find out that she is an ardent fan of Chelsea, the English Premier League soccer powerhouse.
The candidates for November’s local elections are set.
Meeting electronically last night, both parties endorsed slates with great enthusiasm, and little debate.
State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and Board of Education chair Candice Savin were nominated for 1st and 2nd Selectman, respectively. Steinberg was endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee’s Nominating Committee, which interviewed 5 potential candidates. His vote was 57 for, 2 against and 1 abstention.
The Democrats also nominated incumbents Danielle Dobin, Michael Cammeyer and Neil Cohn for the Planning & Zoning Commission; Kevin Christie and Christina Torres for the Board of Education; incumbents Lee Caney and Brian Stern for the Board of Finance; Josh Newman and Amy Wistreich for the Zoning Board of Appeal, and Ifeseyi Gayle and incumber Lynette Pineda for the Board of Assessment Appeals.
In an acknowledgment of recent controversy, several DTC members — including Steinberg, nominating chair Andrew Nevas and Rob Simmelkjaer — spoke of the need for unity and cohesion.
Steinberg accepted the nomination promising a return to Westport values, closing with a commitment to “Westport, better than ever.”
Jen Tooker — current 2nd selectwoman — leads the Republican ticket, for 1st selectman. Her running mate is Board of Finance vice chair Andrea Moore.
The GOP also nominated Robert Harrington, Dorie Hordon and incumbent vice chair Karen Kleine for the Board of Education; Michael Keller for the Board of Finance; former Planning & Zoning Commission member Jack Whittle for that office, and incumbent Joe Sledge for the Board of Assessment Appeals.
“We are absolutely delighted with our strong slate of candidates,” said RTC nominating committee chair Jim Foster.
“I am convinced Westport’s future will remain bright. Our candidates understand the challenges and opportunities facing Westport, and they are the best prepared, most qualified public servants to lead us forward.”
As Westport Pizzeria’s days dwindle, local politicians — and News 12 — gathered to honor the legendary restaurant. Among them (from left): 2nd Selectman Jen Tooker, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe (in a Pizzeria 50th anniversary shirt), owner Mel Mioli, state legislators Tony Hwang and Gail Lavielle, and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell.
For the past 4 years, Jim Marpe has been a familiar presence at First Night. Westport’s 1st selectman sits happily at Saugatuck Elementary School, welcoming families to the fun, festive New Year’s Eve event.
As he begins his 2nd term, Marpe is not the only selectman volunteering at the turn-the-calendar celebration. Running mate Jen Tooker will belt out karaoke at Seabury Center on Church Lane.
Jim Marpe takes service to a new level. Every December 31, he volunteers at First Night.
Those are just 2 highlights of our 24th annual First Night. The family-friendly, alcohol-free festival has become an integral part of local life. This year it’s stronger than ever — even as other First Nights around the country have faded away.
Westport’s First Night survives because leaders like Marpe and Tooker — and plenty of area residents — value its small-town ambience, relaxed fun and wide range of activities.
Everyone loves the train guy.
No one knows what 2018 holds. But everyone can count on these December 31 activities:
Musical performances from Broadway, movies, jazz and the blues — including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mark Naftalin, award-winning pianist Chris Coogan, musical theater great Michele Grace and the School of Rock
Saugatuck School’s Kids Park, with indoor bounce houses, dancing, sing-alongs, balloon twisters, caricatures, a Magic Genie and ventriloquist
Horse-drawn carriage rides
A warming fire
Stargazing with the Westport Astronomical Society
Family Zumba classes
Fireworks by the river
John Videler’s drone captured 2016’s First Night fireworks over Westport.
Sites include Saugatuck Elementary School, Toquet Hall, the Westport Historical Society, Christ & Holy Trinity Church, Seabury Center, Jesup Green and more.
All performances are within walking distance. Free shuttles run from Jesup Green to Saugatuck Elementary.
First Night kicks off at 3:30 p.m., and runs through 10. Fireworks shoot off at 8 p.m.
All you need is a button. They’re $15 each (kids under 2 are free), available online or at Trader Joe’s, Westport Library, Westport Historical Society, and Westport and Weston Town Halls. They’re also for sale on First Night itself at Town Hall and all venues.
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