Over the years, Jesup Green has hosted anti-war and pro-war demonstrations. It’s seen rallies against nuclear arms, antisemitism and AAPI violence, and in support of Black Lives Matter.
Yesterday, Westport’s first LGBTQ Pride celebration took over the historic town lawn. For several years in the early 2000s, smaller events were held at the Unitarian Church.
This one drew 500 people. Spanning all ages, many faiths, and ranging from gay, lesbian, bi, trans and questioning to plenty of straight allies, they enjoyed the most beautiful day of the year so far. (Weather-wise, and in spirit.)
Kicking off a joyful day. (Photo/Kerry Long)
The crowd saw a rainbow flag fly over the green. They heard great music and inspiring speeches from out, proud teenagers. Politicians and clergy praised the progress made, and promised to keep working for social justice and civil rights. Kids had their faces painted.
Westport Pride organizer Brian McGunagle and his 2-year-old son Henry listen as 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — wearing a rainbow tie — reads a town proclamation. (Photo/Kerry Long)
It was a powerful, memorable community event. For some in the crowd, it could have been life-changing.
Another celebrant. (Photo/Lauri Weiser)
It made all who were there immensely proud of their town. (Click here for the News12 report.)
Proud clergy (from left): Rev. Heather Sinclair, United Methodist; Rev. Alison Patton, Saugatuck Congregational; Rev. Dr. John Morehouse, Unitarian; Rev. John Betit, Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal; Rev. Marcella Gillis, Christ & Holy Trinity. Jewish clergy who were officiating at Saturday services sent their best wishes. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Showing the flag (Photo/Kerry Long)
State Senators Tony Hwang and Will Haskell. Haskell drew laughs when he said that his 3 gay brothers were disappointed the day he brought home a girl. (Photo/Kerry Long)
Staples Players were out in force — with their own prideful t-shirts. (Photo/Kerry Long)
Suzanne Sheridan helped organize Westport’s first Pride festival in 2002. She was part of the great entertainers, along with Stacie Lewis, Julie Loyd and many young singers. (Photo/Kerry Long)
Former Staples High School principal John Dodig is flanked by his husband Rodger Leonard (left) and Staples Gay-Sexuality Alliance co-advisor Chris Fray. Kayla Iannetta, a biology teacher, is the other advisor, and helped organize the event. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Cornell University football player AJ Konstanty and his brother Colin, a Staples junior, posed, then performed “Your Song” on keyboards and vocals. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Marjorie Almansi, who helped organized the day, stands with her next-door neighbors. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Staples singers entertain the large crowd. (Photo/Kerry Long)
US Congressman Jim Himes discusses past struggles, current successes, and future goals. (Photo/Kerry Long)
Pride was a family event. (Photo/Lauri Weiser)
Weston High School junior Zac Mathias: fashion model — and role model. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Everyone — and everything — gets into the act. (Photo/Kerry Long)
In the summer of 2016, Will Haskell worked for the Democratic National Committee. Assigned to the “voter protection team,” he researched states that were making it harder for certain citizens — like young people and minorities — to vote.
The 2014 Staples High School graduate wondered what was happening in his home state. To his surprise, he says, he discovered that his own state senator — Toni Boucher — spent “2 decades making it harder to vote.” For example, he says, she opposed early voting, and tried to block online registration.
Then he dug deeper. He saw she’d opposed paid family leave bills, equal pay for equal work, and said that certain gun restrictions put in place after Sandy Hook went too far. She has previously received an A- rating from the National Rifle Association.
“Actually, I think we haven’t gone far enough on gun regulations,” he says. “Our tough gun laws made Connecticut one of the safest states in the country. But there is so much more we can do, from regulating conceal-carry to cracking down on bad-apple gun suppliers.”
Will Haskell and Darcy Hicks (center), at a Westport rally last year supporting gun legislation.
Haskell wondered who had run against her. He found out she’s had minimal opposition for years.
He’s only 21. He still has a couple of months before he graduates from Georgetown University. He’s deferred enrollment in law school to run.
But he’s in it to win it.
Haskell spent last summer working in the state’s public defender office, learning about the criminal justice system and the cost of mass incarceration. At night he traveled throughout the 7-town district, listening and learning about the people and issues.
One of the most important is transportation. Trains run slower today than they did in the 1950s, Haskell says — yet the transportation fund is regularly dipped into, for other uses. He supports a transportation “lockbox,” which he says Boucher opposes.
Another key issue is the number of young people leaving Connecticut. He looks at the current legislature, and sees virtually no one of his generation. He believes their voices must be heard.
“Toni Boucher says GE and Aetna left the state because of high taxes,” Haskell says. “But they’re moving to places with high taxes. There’s something more going on.
“We need to look at tax credits, to keep students from Connecticut’s great schools here after they graduate. We need paid family leave policies too.”
Haskell says the 26th district is “moderate.” Hillary Clinton won it by 23 points. He looks forward to working with anyone, of any party, to achieve his goals.
Fortunately, he says, running for office in Connecticut is not expensive. If he raises qualifying funds, he’ll have the same amount of money as his opponent. He’s already organized a series of fundraisers.
Haskell is not a political neophyte. In past years he’s worked on the successful campaigns of Senator Chris Murphy and Congressman Jim Himes, as well as with Hillary for America.
Will Haskell with Hillary Clinton.
Reaction to his candidacy has been positive, Haskell says. “I know I look more like 12 than 21. Most state senators don’t look like me. But that’s why I’m running. I, and people like me, have a stake in our future.”
He’s not apologizing for his age. Far from it.
One of his inspirations came from Barack Obama. In his farewell speech, the outgoing president urged anyone dissatisfied with the current political climate to “grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself.” Haskell calls himself “a stakeholder in the future.”
Besides his age, Haskell faces the challenge of running against a well-known and respected incumbent. “I have to make sure people know her voting record,” Haskell says. “She’s opposed to voter accessibility, and criminal justice reform.”
As he travels through the district he hopes to represent — all of Westport, Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding, and parts of Weston, Bethel and New Canaan — Haskell will make his case.
“My platform emphasizes long-term investments in infrastructure, reliable funding for our schools, more robust cooperation between our towns and cities, addressing widespread opioid addiction as the public health crisis it is, and policies that will draw other young people to live and work in Connecticut.”
He’ll be helped by his years at Staples, where he talked about politics with social studies, English, even chemistry teachers. He was aided too by his years in the Players drama troupe. As a senior, he was elected Players president. Being on stage, he says, “gave me the confidence to stand up and talk in front of others.” (He also became a noted voice speaking against cyber-bullying.)
Staples Players president Will Haskell, in “Avenue Q.” (Photo/Kerry Long)
Harking back to his summer with the DNC voter protection team, Haskell says, “Republicans don’t want my generation near the ballot.” This fall, he promises, “my generation will be on the ballot.”
Congressman Jim Himes will join what seems to be a large group in Westport tomorrow (Monday, December 17, 11 a.m., Christ & Holy Trinity Church).
The meeting is a spontaneous reaction to Friday’s horror in Newtown.
According to Meg Staunton:
“Friday was a tragic day. We are all still reeling from the devastating news. As parents and members of this community, we feel the heartbreak for these families and the community at large. The internet and social network sites are abuzz with questions of ‘what can we do?’
“Instead of sitting back and feeling hopeless, a group of concerned parents from many districts in Fairfield County (Fairfield, Westport, Weston, Wilton) have decided to come together to address this very issue: What can we do as parents to ensure the safety of our children?
“For some, this means addressing what is being done at the local level. For others it’s a question of national legislation on gun safety laws.
“We have invited the head of the CT Coalition Against Gun Violence to join our
group. We are delighted that he is available and willing. The purpose of our initial meeting is to come up with some immediate actionable items and next steps.”
On Election Night, most Westporters were most interested in the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
A few cared passionately about a Connecticut contest: Chris Murphy vs. Linda McMahon.
Alex McDowell was consumed by the results in Montana. Would Democratic Senator Jon Tester fend off a tough challenge from 7-term Congressman Denny Rehberg?
The 2008 Staples grad had a ringside seat for that campaign — one of the roughest, most expensive and closest watched in the country.
Since June he’d been working in Bozeman. He made calls, knocked on doors, and did whatever he could to ensure the re-election of Montana’s 1st-term senator.
Though far from home, Alex — a former Staples soccer and lacrosse player — knew Montana was crucial to the Democrats’ hopes of retaining control of the US Senate.
Alex was a political science major at Loyola University in Baltimore. But until he arrived in Big Sky Country — just a few days after graduating last spring — he knew little about Jon Tester, or the Montana political landscape.
He interned last fall in Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes’ Washington office. Looking to get involved in a campaign this important election year, Alex learned that several Democratic senatorial candidates — particularly in Massachusetts, Missouri and Montana — needed help.
The Tester campaign hired him. Ten days after graduation, Alex flew west.
He’d already researched the senator. An organic farmer who lost 3 fingers in a childhood meat saw accident, Tester had knocked off Republican incumbent (and scandal-tainted) Conrad Burns in 2006 by fewer than than 3,000 votes.
Senator Jon Tester
This spring, the economy and Romney’s popularity made Montana look like a slam dunk for Rehberg. But when Alex got there the race had tightened. Soon, it was seen as an election that might decide control of the entire US Senate.
Montanans saw more political ads than any other state in the nation. Outside money — and outsiders like Alex — poured in to help both sides.
During several days of orientation in Billings, Alex met fellow volunteers. He was one of the youngest, but most were not much older. Most senior-level staffers were in their late 20s or early 30s.
“You have to be young, because in a campaign like this you have no life,” Alex says. For the next 5 months — with just 1 day off — he solicited volunteers, phoned voters, and knocked on doors.
He talked about Tester’s accomplishments, in areas like veterans’ rights and 2nd Amendment issues.
“With only 600,000 voters in the state, you can really talk to a lot of people,” Alex says. “We got a lot of information on how people were planning to vote.”
As Election Day neared the work turned to persuading undecided voters, and making sure Tester voters got to the polls. Alex calls the last few days “all hands on deck.”
By 11 p.m. on Election Night, results were still inconclusive. Alex went to bed — he lived with a local couple who supported his candidate — then woke up at 3 a.m. Still no news.
He won Bozeman’s Gallatin County by 4,000 votes. “That made me really proud,” Alex says.
He enjoyed his time in the “cool, hip, young town” — home to Montana State University. Though Bozeman is home to plenty of Californians and East Coast expats, it — and Montana — lean libertarian. “People value their privacy,” Alex says. “There was a lot of blowback from the aggressive campaigns — on both sides.”
Bozeman, Montana State University, and the stunning Gallatin Valley.
He is inspired by the campaign work — and by the senator he helped re-elect.
“Jon is a great guy,” Alex says. “He really cares about the issues. He’s very popular in Washington, because he’s genuine. He makes tough decisions. Montanans admire him for that.”
Like most campaign workers, Alex is now unemployed. He’s figuring out his next options.
As he does so, he realizes the Tester campaign gave him a number of usable skills.
“I worked in a team environment, with a variety of people,” Alex says. “I learned how to communicate, be flexible and adapt.”
Plus, he says, “I realize I’ve got a pretty good work ethic. I had no idea I could work 5 months straight, morning to night, with only 1 day off.
“This campaign became my life. In the end, it was totally worth it.”
The other day, among my many many many many mailings from political candidates, I found one that asked a reasonable question: Who would best represent my interests in Washington?
The choices for Congress are between incumbent Jim Himes and challenger Dan Debicella. Yet I didn’t need to read a word of the flyer to know who to vote for.
The color photo of Debicella portrayed a handsome, smiling, obviously very competent guy.
The grainy, black-and-white shot of Himes showed a frothing-at-the-mouth lunatic. I like the guy, but this scared the crap out of me.
A few hours later, a friend showed me a “Dear Independent Westport Voter” mailing he’d just received.
Labed “Voter’s Guide,” it looked like one of those rational, objective League of Women Voter’s, um, “Voter’s Guides.” I’m always eager to learn more about the men and women seeking my vote, so I read on.
I learned that Debicella “Actually listens to people. Sharp and personable. He gets it.”
Himes, on the other hand, is “Unbelievable, Elitist and Condescending. The worst of non-representation.”
One typical politician...
I found more: Senatorial candidate Linda McMahon is “Obviously not a politician or indebted to special interests or unions.”
Her opponent, Richard Blumenthal, though, is a “Career Politician of the type that got us into this mess….Got his name on the ballot twice!”
I’ve met State Senate candidate John Hartwell several times, and have always found him to be pleasant, reasonable and well-informed. However, I now understand he is “Out of touch making outlandish attacks.”
Fortunately, we have 2 State Representative candidates who are on the ball. By amazing coincidence both are Republicans, running in different districts.
Nitzy Cohen (Dist. 136) “Gets it.” DeeDee Brandt (Dist. 133) is even better than Nitzy. DeeDee is “Sharp. Gets it. Knows her details and knows the numbers. Knows them exceptionally well.”
So who should I thank for providing such a detailed Voter’s Guide?
The fine print said: “This educational effort has been prepared and funded by a collection of voters (Independents, Democrats and Republicans) who share concerns for our country and state….We wanted you, the independents, to have these details available. We ask you to review the attached, make informed decisions and vote to restore some balance.”
Thanks, anonymous mailing guys! I saw this just in time.
There’s no telling how many reckless, uninformed, and flat-out wrong decisions I might have made today without this very informative “Voter’s Guide”!
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