Tag Archives: Jill Dillon

The Morning After: Election Reflections

It was a resounding, historic victory.

Jill Dillon not only beat a pair of doom-and-gloom Board of Education candidates, with an upbeat, positive message — she did it without her name even appearing on the ballot.

Supporters had to find a line at the bottom. They had to fill in her bubble, and write her name.

But they did. And they did it in numbers so massive, her total (unofficial) count of 5,292 votes was 1.033 more than her 2 Republican opponents — combined.

The GOP message from Camilo Riano and Jamie Fitzpatrick was, essentially: Our schools are failing. Our teachers are not teaching. Our administrators are forcing their beliefs on students. Our superintendent is a groomer.

Westporters did not buy it. Turning out in record numbers for an off-year, non-statewide election, they said, essentially: Enough.

Enough of divisive rhetoric. Enough name-calling. Enough negativity.

Dillon — plus Democratic Board of Ed chair Lee Goldstein and fellow incumbent Neil Phillips, both of whom won handily (with even more votes than Dillon) — countered with fervent support for our schools.

They said, essentially: We support our superintendent, administrators, teachers, students, and fellow Board of Ed members. We are proud of our school system and its values, and of our town and its values.

The election will not solve all the problems that Westport faces. Many differences of opinion, debates and controversies lie ahead.

What there should not be — if yesterday’s election is any indication — is name-calling and negativity.

We have a great school system. It is filled with excellent administrators and teachers. They work hard every day to do their best to provide for the academic, extracurricular — and social and emotional — needs of students who face unceasing, unfathomable pressures, from the world at large, American society, and our wonderful but very demanding town.

From left: Neil Phillips, Lee Goldstein, Jill Dillon. All won election to the Board of Education yesterday.

Yesterday’s election marked a ringing affirmation of support for our school system from the thousands of parents with children in it.

But there are thousands of voters without children in our schools. They are old and young. Some have been here for decades. Some have been here for a relatively few days.

They too rejected the message of negativity and divisiveness. They too embraced positivity, progress, and faith in the direction our schools and town are heading.

The election is over. The residents have spoken.

It is time to move forward — together.

And it is time to heed the words of Jill Dillon, the newest Board of Education member, who told “06880” early this morning:

“During the campaign, I said ‘I know who I am, and who I am not.’

Today, Westporters showed who they are, and who they are not.”

Absentees Ballots Counted; Landslide Wins For Dems, Dillon

The addition of several hundred absentee ballots does not change a thing.

As reported first on “06880” last night, Tuesday’s election keeps all town boards in Democratic hands.

Jill Dillon

And it hands a bit of history to Jill Dillon. The unaffiliated former PTA president won a seat on the Board of Education — as a write-in candidate.

Her unofficial count of 5,292 votes swamped her Republican rivals, Jamie Fitzpatrick (2,171) and Camilo Riano (2,088).

In fact, Dillon’s write-in total is more than the number of votes cast for Fitzpatrick and Riano — combined.

The Board of Education race was led by 2 Democratic incumbents, chair Lee Goldstein (6,392) and Neil Phillips (6,361).

Turnout appeared to top 50% — perhaps a record for an off-year election, in which only strictly local (no statewide) offices were contested.

Other unofficial totals, with absentee ballots added in (elected officials in bold):


Danielle Dobin (D): 6,083
Jeffrey Hammer (D): 6,002
Liz Heyer (R): 3,475
Rich Hightower (R): 3,171
Perry Winter (R): 2,713


Paul Lebowitz (D): 5,907
Michael Calise (R): 3,203
Amie Tesler (R): 3,052

Patrizia Zucaro (R): 2,980
John Bolton  (R): 2,758
Joseph Strickland Jr. (CW): 1,629

James Ezzes (D): 5,955
Michelle Hopson (R): 3,433
Liz Wong (R): 3,618


Joseph Sledge (R): 3,500


Voters also chose 36 Representative Town Meeting members. Four of the 9 districts — 1, 2, 6 and 9 — had contested races.

Harris Falk (District 2) and Brien Buckman (District 6) were the only incumbents running for re-election who lost.

District 1

Matthew Mandell: 438
Andrew Bloom: 421

Chris Tait: 413
Kristin Mott Purcell: 372
Richard Jaffe: 293

District 2:

Melissa Levy: 543
Louis Mall: 436
Jay Keenan: 364
Mike Perry: 356

Harris Falk: 342

District 3:

Jimmy Izzo: 543
Don O’Day: 466
Lyn Hogan: 446
Ross Burkhardt: 418

District 4:

Andrew Colabella: 434
Jeffrey Wieser: 422
Noah Hammond: 362
Clarence Hayes: 320

District 5:

Dick Lowenstein: 447
Peter Gold: 442

Karen Kramer: 409
Claudia Shaum: 404

District 6:

Candace Banks: 522
David Rosenwaks: 510
Seth Braunstein: 423

Jessica Bram: 356
Alma Sarelli: 268
Brien Buckman: 165
Louis D’Onofrio Jr.: 162

District 7:

Lauren Karpf: 504
Brandi Briggs: 503

Ellen Lautenberg: 480
Jack Klinge: 477

District 8:

Ari Benmosche: 501
Wendy Batteau: 483
Rachel Cohn: 483
Julie Whammond: 433

District 9: 

Jennifer Johnson: 523
Nancy Kail: 511
Sal Liccione: 432
Kristin Schneeman: 431
Douglas Enslin: 401
John Suggs: 366
Rachel Halperin: 281

Democrats — And Write-In Ed Board Candidate — Win Overwhelmingly

Westport voters made history tonight.

With all 9 RTM districts reporting — but absentee ballots still not counted — it appeared that Democratic candidates won their races, by wide margins.

It is unlikely that absentee ballots will change any race.

But the biggest headline belongs to Jill Dillon, a write-in candidate for the Board of Education. Though her 4,939 votes trailed the Democratic incumbents, chair Lee Goldstein (5,707) and Neil Phillips (5,684), she swamped Republicans Jamie Fitzgerald (1,961) and Camilo Riano (1,830).

Dillon — an unaffiliated voter — ran to the left of the hard-right Republicans. By Town Charter, one political party can have no more than 4 seats on the 7-seat Board of Ed.

Goldstein and Phillips return to the BOE, joining Democrats Kevin Christie and Christina Torres, who were not up for re-election.

Dillon joins them, along with Republicans Robert Harrington, Liz Heyer and Dorie Hordon, all of whom are also in the middle of their 4-year terms.

Harrington took the unusual step of speaking out against Fitzgerald and Riano.

Meanwhile, Board of Ed vice chair Heyer was one of 4 members — out of 5 candidates — elected to the Board of Finance.

Danielle Dobin — current Planning & Zoning Commission chair — led all Finance candidates, with 5,456 votes. Fellow Democrat Jeffrey Hammer, an incumbent, was second, with 5,363.

Republicans Heyer (2,991) and Rich Hightower (2,854) also won Board of Finance seats. Republican Perry Winter — a current member — was not re-elected.

The Finance Board remains in Democratic hands.

So does the Planning & Zoning Commission. Paul Lebowitz — the only Democrat on the ballot — led all candidates with 5,283 votes.

Also elected were Republican newcomer (though a longtime Westporter) Michael Calise (2,916), and current members Amie Tesler (2,760) and Patrizia Zucaro (2,693).

Alternate John Bolton (2,490) and Coalition for Westport candidate Joseph Strickland (1,422) were not elected.

A vacancy will occur when Dobin leaves the P&Z, to take her Board of Finance seat.

There were 2 contests in which every candidate won.

Republican incumbent Joseph Sledge (3,173) was re-elected to the Board of Assessment Appeals.

All 3 incumbents were re-elected to the Zoning Board of Appeals: Democrat James Ezzes (5,346), and Republicans Liz Wong (3,262) and Michelle Hopson (3,119).

Representative Town Meeting results will be announced later.


Roundup: Absentee Ballots, Leaf Dumping, Comedy …

Election Day is Tuesday (November 7).

To be ready, the town clerk’s office (Room 105, Town Hall) will be open this Saturday (November 4), from 8:30 to 11 a.m., to issue absentee ballots.

They will also be available Monday (November 6), until 4:30 p.m.

All absentee ballots must be returned to the Town Clerk’s office no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day.


Speaking of Tuesday’s election:

Yesterday’s “06880” story on Board of Education write-in candidate Jill Dillon noted one particular challenge: educating voters on how to do it.

Several readers wondered how.

There are 2 steps: fill in bubble 5E, 6E or 7E (under “Board of Education”; then write in “Jill Dillon.” (“Dillon,” “J Dillon” and “Jill D” are also acceptable.)

Sample ballot for a write-in candidate.


It’s leaf season. And time to remind Westporters that dumping leaves and debris in a wetland or watercourse is illegal.

Several leaf disposal options are available to Westport residents. One is to compost leaves in the back yard within a fenced area or a composting receptacle, located at least 20 feet away from any wetland or watercourse. Click here for details.

Another option for Westport residents with a valid sticker: Deliver collected leaves to the yard waste site at 180 Bayberry Lane, behind the Aspetuck Health District (no plastic bags).

The yard waste site is open Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.  Also, the Department of Public Works begins curbside leaf collection on November 6.

For more information about leaf removal or the yard waste site, call the Department of Public Works: 203-341-1120. For more information on wetlands or composting, call the Conservation Department: 203-341-1170.

Compost, don’t dump!


Before leaving Halloween in the now-November dust: Here’s one last look back at last night, from Gorham Avenue:

(Photo/Jamie Walsh)


Everyone needs to laugh.

Especially these days.

This weekend, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Westport offers 3 evenings of 4 one-act comedies.

The UU Players present the uplifting shows on Friday and Saturday, November 3 and 4, 7:30 p.m.) and Sunday, November 5 (2 p.m.). The suggested donation of $20 will be collected at the door.

“Miss You” explores the tangled webs we weave with the aid of telephones. “Baby Food” and “Crazy Eights” highlight the extreme and bizarre lengths people go to to get what they want. “Sure Thing” proves that connections are all about timing.

For more information, click here.


It just got easier for seniors to use technology.

A $10,000 grant from AT&T to Friends of the Westport Center for Senior Activities will be used purchase connected devices, and to support technology instruction programs (including workshops conducted by high school students).

For example, new iPads will allow the Senior Center to offer regular classes focusing on computer skills like navigating the internet, scam awareness, video conferencing with family members, and more.

Displaying a new tablet (front row, from left):  Diane Bosch and Marsha Darmory, co-presidents of Friends of the Senior Center; rear:  Harry Carey, AT&T director of external affairs’ Wendy Petty, Senior Center director; State Representative Jonathan Steinberg.


Speaking of the Senior Center: Here’s how a few folks looked yesterday:

(Photo/Bob Weingarten)

No, it’s not their normal look. It was Halloween, and they posed behind the pumpkin contest entrants. (The winner was #2 (hidden), courtesy of Jason Wilson.

It just goes to show: You’re never too old to dress up for this holiday.


Tickets go on sale today for Coleytown Company’s music revue, “Pure Imagination”. Songs from Broadway Junior musicals include “Seussical,” “Shrek The Musical,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Frozen.”

Launching a new format this fall, the group of professionals leading the production broadened the cast to include students in all three grades (6-8). Veterans and newcomers bring their singing and dancing talents to the stage.

Performances are Thursday, November 16 (6 p.m.) and Friday, November 17 (7 p.m.). For more information and tickets, click here.

Getting ready for “Pure Imagination.”


Westport Book Shop hosts a children’s book reading and signing of “Bradford’s Walk” == with author Denis O’Neill and illustrator Cyrus Quadland this Saturday (November 4, 10:30 a.m.).

As any parent of a Bradford fan knows, the tale follows the adventures of a lovable brown dog, set against the backdrop of, yes, Westport.  It captures the simple pleasures of daily walks that everyone relates to.

Denis is a Westport native, and has lived here for 6 decades.

. Space is limited. RSVP by email or by phone (203-349-5141).


Speaking of children: Every kid needs a pet.

Every adult too.

This Saturday (November 4, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), William Pitt Sotheby’s (199 Post Road East hosts an event to benefit Westport Animal Shelter Advocates, PAWS and Hopalong Hollow Rabbit Rescue.

There will be available-for-adoption furry friends to meet (no on-site adoptions, though).

There’s also a raffle with donations from restaurants, merchants and animal service providers (plus New York Yankees merch). Food trucks will feed hungry humans.

For additional information, call 203 557 0361.

One of the dogs that will be at William Pitt Sotheby’s on Saturday.


The Short Cuts Film Festival returns to the Westport Library on Thursday, November 9 (7 p.m.).

Six short narrative films will be screened, on the state-of-the-art 18-foot video wall.

Curated from the Tribeca Film Festival, Short Cuts showcases current trends in filmmaking. Selected films are a diverse cross-section of stories and perspectives, including one animated short.

“Fourteen years ago, when we began Short Cuts, it was difficult to find films directed by women, people of color, or LGBTQ communities,” says producer Nancy Diamond.

“Now filmmakers of all genders, cultures and life choices abound. Short Cuts brings these award-winning short films to you.” Click here for details on the 6 films.

Following the screenings, Olivia Shapiro, Let Liv writer and actor, will join Diamond on-stage for a conversation. Questions will be taken from the audience.

Tickets are $26.50; click here to purchase. Refreshments and popcorn will be served.


It’s just a coincidence, but Aspetuck Land Trust’s next “Lunch and Learn” — the noontime webinar series — is about food.

Expert forager and author Russ Cohen hosts “Wild Plants I Have Known and Eaten” (November 10, noon to 1:30 p.m.).

He’ll featuring at least 2 dozen species of native edible wild plants suitable for adding to your landscape, or nibbling on when you find them. Click here for more information, and to register.

Russ Cohen, with wild plants.


Remember Saturday’s beautiful, midsummer-like weather?

Pat Auber was at Compo Beach (with hordes of others), to enjoy it.

Also having fun: many unleashed dogs (in the leash-only area). She writes:

“This Animal Control officer policed the area. As he said, ‘it’s like putting my finger in a dike.’

“This is not the off-leash area!” a security officer explains. (Photo/Pat Auber)

“Dog owners: We don’t love your dogs off leash sniffing our toes and eating our food, like you seem to think we do.

“Westport is kind enough to offer a leash off area. Respect it! So thank you to this security gentleman, who managed this and made for a pleasant experience for all.”


“06880” has posted plenty of images of Sherwood Mill Pond, from many angles.

But today’s “Westport … Naturally” offers a perspective we rarely see:

(Photo/Clarence Hayes)


And finally … Aaron Spears, a Grammy-nominated drummer who played with Usher, Ariana Grande and many other major pop stars, died recently. He was 47.

Click here for a full obituary.

(If you enjoy our daily Roundups, please know: The stories are short, but they take a ton of effort. Please support our work, with a tax-deductible contribution. Click here — and thank you!)


Write-In Candidate: Uphill Path To Creating Awareness

The road to victory for a write-in candidate is daunting.

First, voters have to know he or she is running. They must learn how to fill in the ballot. At the polling place, they have to remember to do it.

Meanwhile, the candidate must somehow get his or her message out — without relying on traditional party machinery.

There’s a reason why Westporters cannot recall the last time — if ever – such a candidate won office here.

But Jill Dillon is undaunted. She’s running a write-in campaign for the Board of Education.

Jill Dillon

And she thinks she has a shot.

The long-time unaffiliated voter decided to run when she realized that because the Town Charter limits one party to no more than a bare majority on the BOE, one of two Republican candidates — Camilo Riano or Jamie Fitzgerald — seemed guaranteed a seat.

Their views worried Dillon, who served as PTA president at both Kings Highway Elementary and Coleytown Middle Schools, and generally supports the Westport Public Schools’ administrators and teachers (and the current Board of Ed).

Without speaking with Democratic Town Committee representatives, her hope was that voters would circle the names of Lee Goldstein and Neil Phillips — the 2 incumbent Dems in the race — and also bubble in the bottom of the ballot, then write “Jill Dillon.”

Her decision to run was solidified by support from friends — and strangers.

But “thank you for running” comments don’t translate into action. So Dillon and a dedicated corps of volunteers have been hard at work. They’re using social media, word of mouth, meet-and-greets and more.

Like all candidates, Jill Dillon has plenty of lawn signs.

Besides the usual challenges — including not appearing in the League of Women Voters’ guide — she has had to answer questions about why one of her 2 daughters attends private school. (The other is at CMS.)

“It was the right decision for her,” Dillon explains. “People assume we thought Staples was deficient.

“Not at all. As parents, we all make the best decisions we can. We thought that environment was the best fit. It’s been very good for her.

“I love our schools. I am 100% committed to Staples, and the Westport Public Schools.”

Criticism has not bothered her.

“I know who I am, and who I am not,” Dillon says. “Name-calling doesn’t bother me.”

She does not engage in back-and-forth on social media. “It degenerates quickly” into personal attacks, she says.

“It’s ironic. We don’t want our kids to be bullies. But adults bully all the time.”

Democrats Goldstein and Phillips have been called names. So have Republicans Fitzgerald and Riano.

“You can disagree strongly with what they says,” Dillon notes of the GOP candidates she is running against. “But calling them names takes away from their arguments.

“I don’t think I’ve smeared Camilo. I’ve stated his positions, and where I disagree. I think I’ve provided factual evidence to back up my claims.”

As her campaign heads toward the November 7 election, Dillon has been surprised by support from people she does not know.

Wearing a t-shirt with her name at CVS, she was approached by a woman with young children. “Thank you for giving us a choice,” she told Dillon.

Jill Dillon with supporters, at the Westport Farmers’ Market.

It’s one thing for a write-in candidate to forage for votes in areas where she’s known — like parents with children in schools. But Dillon realizes she must get the word out to other groups, including older voters, empty nesters, and younger voters without children.

So she and her volunteers continue to post on social media. They hand out yard signs.

And they keep hoping that voters know there’s a bubble at the bottom of the ballot that must be filled in, with a name they remember.

Write-In Candidate Enters Board Of Ed Race

The Board of Education election just got even more interesting.

Jill Dillon — a well-known former PTA president, St. Luke religious school teacher and community volunteer — has launched a write-in campaign.

Her goal is to prevent the election of at least one — or possibly both — Republican candidates to the board.

The Town Charter prohibits any political party from having more than a bare majority on the Board of Education — in other words, no more than 4 of the 7 seats.

Three seats will be filled next month. The Democratic and Republican Town Committees picked 2 nominees each. Before Dillon’s entry, that meant that at least one of the Republicans — Jamie Fitzgerald or Camilo Riano — would be guaranteed a seat.

Riano attends most BOE meetings, where he often criticizes the board. Little is known about Fitzgerald, who has never run for office.

Dillon has been an unaffiliated voter since she and her husband John moved to Westport in 2012. Raised in Virginia by Republican parents, she says she has voted for candidates from both parties in local elections.

Party labels, she says, “can put people in a box. That does a disservice to everyone. As an adult, I look at issues critically, and on my own.”

Jill Dillon

Dillon had not liked Riano’s confrontational tactics during BOE public comment time. She says she withheld judgment about Fitzgerald, hoping to learn more about her stands.

But after watching two “fireside chats” produced by the RTC, she became concerned about the future of the Board of Ed if even one of the pair was elected.

As PTA president at both Kings Highway Elementary and Coleytown Middle Schools, she has watched the BOE operate.

“The current board is excellent,” Dillon says. “They are congenial and collaborative. They get things done. They work well together, and they have a good relationship with the administration.”

As she learned more about Riano and Fitzgerald, and talked with friends who were also concerned, she considered a write-in campaign.

Last week — just before the League of Women Voters debate with Riano, Fitzgerald and Democratic incumbent candidates Lee Goldstein and Neil Phillips — Dillon got a call from a man she did not know.

He’s a Saugatuck Elementary School dad, he explained. He heard she might be running, and urged her to do so — to “keep the Board of Ed moving forward.”

That night, she attended the LWV debate. She wore a t-shirt with a logo a college friend had quickly designed. She attracted plenty of interest — and encouragement.

Jill Dillon’s logo

As she listened to the debate, her decision to run was solidified. She had served as a PTA president the same time as both Goldstein and current Republican BOE member Dorie Hordon. Dillon realized she could help them both keep the Board functioning in a forward-looking way.

“Debate Camilo and fireside Camilo are not the Camilo who shows up at Board meetings,” Dillon says. “He’s combative. He comes at issues in a way that makes people not want to engage.”

Fitzgerald, meanwhile, “did not show depth of understanding about our schools.”

Neither Republican candidate, Dillon says, “seemed to care about the mental health of our kids. Jamie talked about her 30-year-old daughter who was bullied in 6th grade, but didn’t seem to think we should focus on bullying and mental health.

“Camilo said his kids are happy. I’m glad. But I’ve seen a lot of kids who are struggling. Your kids may not be, but others are. And kids who seem happy may not always be.”

Dillon’s professional career was in public opinion research. Moderating focus groups, she led discussions and helped leaders make informed decisions.

She had her first daughter at 35. After CMS, she is now a freshman at an all-girls school.

“As parents, we all make the best decisions we can,” Dillon explains. “We thought that environment was the best fit.

“I love our schools. Not continuing to Staples was hard for her, and me. I’ve known the (current) freshmen since they were in kindergarten.

“She still sees her friends every day. And her school has been really good for her.”

Dillon’s other daughter is a 7th grader at Coleytown Middle. “She wants to go to Staples. Every kid is different. We’ll see what works for her,” Dillon says.

Running as an unendorsed candidate is a challenge. The bottom of the ballot has space for write-ins. Dillon will register with both the Secretary of the State and Town Clerk, so they will understand the intent of voters who write not the preferred “Jill Dillon,” but something like “Jill D,” or misspell her name. Voters must also fill in the circle next to that write-in name.

Dillon has not spoken with the Republican or Democratic Town Committees. She has heard that Democrats are pleased there may be an alternative to Fitzgerald and Riano, if both Goldstein and Phillips are re-elected.

She and her “scrappy team” will spend the next 3 weeks knocking on doors, making calls, and educating voters on how to write her name on the ballot. “Fill in Dillon” has a nice ring, she laughs.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, October 17, 7 p.m.) she will meet voters in Westport Library Room 215.

On Friday (October 20, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.), she’ll host an informal gathering at the Compo Beach pavilion.

“Our town boards operate wonderfully,” Dillon says. “Party affiliation hasn’t meant much here. Local issues haven’t fit neatly into a political box. This is the first time where an election might impede progress.”

But local issues are important. On the Long Lots Elementary School renovation project — which has become tied to the fate of the Westport Community Gardens — Dillon says, “we need a new school, full stop. And the gardens are gorgeous. They’ve provided so much. They’re part of the fabric of Westport. We have to try hard to find a way to build both.”

Regarding the display of LGBTQ-themed books challenged at Staples (which Riano and Fitzgerald have criticized, and Goldstein and Phillips supported), Dillon says, “It’s a difficult needle to thread. I understand parents’ objections to the display, and to the pictures and content of some of the books.

“But it goes back to mental health. When kids feel different, they can’t learn well. If one child needs those books, I want them available. There can be a happy medium between banning books, and exposing kids to content their parents don’t want them to see.”

Candidates at Thursday’s League of Women Voters debate. From left: Lee Goldstein, Jamie Fitzgerald, Camilo Riano, Neil Phillips. (Photo/Mia Bomback)

Of her decision to run, Dillon says, “I have immense respect for all members currently serving on the Board of Education, regardless of their party affiliation, and I hope that Lee Goldstein and Neil Phillips are re-elected.

“I think it is imperative that the third seat go to a candidate with a moderate voice who has publicly demonstrated collaboration, been an active leader in the community, and who cares deeply about the continued excellence of our schools. I am that candidate.”

She adds, “Westport’s schools are our crown jewel, and it’s the BoE’s responsibility to lead the way. Our schools offer unparalleled access to learning, athletics, and the arts, while fostering community.

“Our children’s education is the foundation from which they are launched to achieve success in a broader world.”