Tag Archives: Jim Marpe

Be Careful Out There!

School starts Thursday. (Sorry, kids — and parents — for the buzzkill.)

To raise awareness — and reduce the chances that notoriously inattentive drivers will be surprised to see school buses and kids sharing the streets – the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association just released a public service video.

Viewers all over the state will see it. It’s clever and punchy. The stars on screen include 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, and Westport cops, students, athletes — even our buses.

The message is clear: With buses on the road, allow extra travel time. Be alert. Don’t you dare pass when bus lights are flashing. Remind your kids how to behave too.

Perhaps Westport is featured in this statewide video because local drivers are the worst in Connecticut.

Perhaps it’s because the Concept Studio of Westport helped produce the PSA.

Perhaps it’s a combination.

Whatever the reason, it’s well worth watching.

Church’s “Black Lives Matter” Banner Vandalized

It was unclear whether a recent toilet-paper incident near Old Mill Beach was related to a “Black Lives Matter” bumper sticker on the homeowner’s car.

But there’s no mistaking this vandalism.

Westport’s Unitarian Church is known for its focus on diversity, inclusion, openness and dedication to social justice. Its handsome building in the woods off Lyons Plains Road provides a safe haven for individuals, groups and causes of many kinds.

Last October — after a series of fatal police shootings of blacks — the church dedicated a “Black Lives Matter” banner. Speakers at the dedication included TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey; State Senator Toni Boucher; 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, and Rev. Alison Patton of Saugatuck Congregational Church.

The Unitarian Church’s banner.

Unitarian Church representatives say the sign was “just a first step to engage with members of the congregation, local officials, interfaith clergy, and the community to affirm the need for dialogue and non-violent action towards the ending of racism in our society.”

When the banner went up, church officials fielded a number of phone calls. Some were supportive and thankful. Some were questioning. Some were opposed.

David Vita — director of social justice — says, “It made for lively, respectful conversations.”

In the early hours of Thursday morning — just days after neo-Nazis, the KKK and other hate groups marched in Charlottesville — the banner was ripped from its post.

The empty signpost.

Vita says, “It’s hard not to connect the destruction of the banner with a changed political climate, and an emboldened rise in racism.”

Senior minister Rev. Dr. John Morehouse adds, “We presume that those who took our sign feel that by removing it, they repudiate its message that black lives matter just as much as any other life.”

Marpe notes, “Given the current climate in this country and the state, the administration of our town and the Westport Police Department will not stand for this behavior. We will dedicate our resources to identifying the person or persons responsible for this vandalism. We urge our community to be respectful of the opinions of others and their right to express them, even if they may differ from their own. Hatred and bigotry are not welcome here.”

Police Chief Foti Koskinas says, “We support and respect the Unitarian Church, its members and their message of inclusiveness, equality and tolerance.  The police department is working with the church administration to prevent further incidents.”

All that remains of the “Black Lives Matter” banner. (Photo/David Vita)

The church is moving forward. This Sunday’s 10 a.m. service — planned before the incident — is “Heart of Racial Justice.”

Meanwhile, Morehouse promises to replace this sign. If it’s vandalized, it too will be replaced.

That will continue, he says, “until such a time as all lives — black, brown, gay or marginalized — matter as much as white lives do. We will not be intimidated by the forces of bigotry and hate.”

And, he notes, he will commit $100 to the NAACP whenever the banner is vandalized again.

(Anyone with information regarding the vandalism should call the Police Department detective bureau: 203-341-6080.)

BREAKING NEWS: Cribari Bridge Solution May Be At Hand

For years, the state Department of Transportation has pushed for a major renovation of the William Cribari (aka Bridge Street) Bridge.

For just as long, Westporters and town officials have pushed back. They fear that modernizing and widening the 2-lane span over the Saugatuck River would draw traffic — including 18-wheelers — off I-95, whenever there is an accident or delay on the nearby highway.

A solution appears to have been found.

And it’s a creative one.

The William Cribari (Bridge Street) Bridge. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

According to State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, the DOT is prepared to reroute Route 136. Right now, 136 includes North and South Compo Roads, and Bridge Street, through Saugatuck and on out to Saugatuck Avenue headed toward Norwalk.

Under the new plan, Route 136 would join the Post Road (also US1) at the North Compo intersection. It would head over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge downtown, then go south on Riverside Avenue (also known as Route 33), and on toward Saugatuck Avenue.

Thus, the Cribari Bridge would no longer be a state road.

DOT has agreed to do repair work on the bridge — but not a major renovation.

When repairs are finished, DOT would hand the bridge over to the town. Westport would own it — and be responsible for ongoing and future maintenance.

The bridge and environs would no longer be Route 136.

The plan was described to a bipartisan group of state legislators from the area — Steinberg, State Senators Toni Boucher and Tony Hwang, and State Representative Gail Lavielle — by state DOT officials, including commissioner James Redeker. DOT wanted the legislators’ input, before presenting it to 1st selectman Jim Marpe.

[NOTE: An earlier version of this story described — based on a source — the meeting as a “negotiation.” It was an informational meeting only.]

“It’s not cost-free to the town,” Steinberg admits. “But once in a while we come up with creative solutions that work for everyone.”

He gives credit to the DOT. “If they weren’t on board, we’d still be battling this out,” Steinberg says.

Marpe notes, “The concept has just been presented to me. I’m working with my staff to understand the short-term and long-term implications — including finances and public safety — to the proposal. It’s certainly an alternative that needs to be seriously considered.”

Selectmen Sign ADL Pledge

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.

 

John Suggs Joins 1st Selectman Race

The 1st selectman race just got more crowded.

John Suggs has announced his candidacy for Westport’s top spot. The independent — running against Republican incumbent Jim Marpe and Democratic challenger Melissa Kane — plans a 3-pronged platform.

Suggs stresses “advocacy, common sense solutions and a nonpartisan approach.”

As a Representative Town Meeting member for 10 years, Suggs cites his leadership roles on school safety, open space and protecting neighborhoods.

A 25-year professional in asset management analysis, public policy and community development, Suggs currently works in forensic genetic genealogy. His Family Orchard business helps adult adoptees search for and reunite with their birth families.

John Suggs

Suggs says he is running as an independent because “I want to represent all of Westport — not merely the interests of any single party or constituency. In times of toxic, partisan politics, where politicians will say just about anything, true or untrue, to gain an advantage, I will always tell you the truth.”

He wants Westporters to “roll up our sleeves and work harder, smarter, better to reduce traffic congestion, sustain the quality of our schools, revitalize downtown and fill empty storefronts, and preserve our property values.”

Suggs says that local elected officials cost Westport taxpayers money as they “endlessly study our problems with exorbitant fees paid to outside consultants.”

He pledges to “place a moratorium on expensive studies, roll back onerous traffic control measures that aren’t working, refurbish (not replace) the Compo Beach pavilion, and restore (not destroy) the Cribari Bridge in Saugatuck.”

Suggs was born and raised in California. With a BA in political science from Loyola Marymount University, an MS in management and systems from New York University and an MBA from Fordham University, he has served as a public policy director, affordable housing advocate, history teacher and Jesuit seminarian.

He and his wife moved to Westport in 2003 with newborn twins, in large part for the schools. Suggs is an active Assumption Church parishioner, and volunteered as a Little League baseball and basketball coach. For 5 years, the Suggses have been a host family for A Better Chance scholars.

“Despite my long record of working on behalf of the town, I am starting the race as the underdog, going up against both established political parties,” Suggs tells “06880.”

“But having talked — and more importantly, listened — one on one to so many people these past few months, I know that my message to Westporters that we must not allow ourselves to get dragged down into the finger-pointing and blame game of toxic partisan politics by both parties resonates deeply for people across the entire political spectrum.”

He adds, “These next few years will be full of difficult challenges for all Westporters, at the state and federal level.” He urges residents to “put aside partisan bickering and pull together as one community, using our common sense to find our own best solutions to navigate through.”

Among the “common sense solutions” Suggs advocates is “fine-tuning traffic controls to mitigate traffic backups.” Adding 3 seconds to a green arrow helps clear 7 more cars from congested intersections, he says.He’d also restore right turn on red at downtown intersections.

Suggs wants to “adaptively reuse valuable town-owned assets” rather than build new ones. He believes “perfectly sound empty buildings” could be converted to new uses like municipal offices, homes for non-profits and senior housing.

“Let’s listen to our residents when they resoundingly no (or yes),” Suggs says. From railroad parking and replacing the Compo pavilion to funding schools, “local politicians should never presume” to tell Westporters what to believe. The 1st selectman should be “an honest broker to ensure all Westporters have a say, and are satisfied that decisions are being made fairly and honestly.”

Josh Suggs wants to save the William F. Cribari Bridge over the Saugatuck River.

He describes his past advocacy efforts as leading the campaign to “save the Cribari Bridge, and protect Saugatuck and Greens Farms from 18-wheelers”; fighting to restore “critical education funding” to the budget; organzing an effort to preserve nearly 6 acres of endangered land as a state archaeological preserve; being an early and strong proponent of a blighted property ordinance; helping revise guidelines that are now “free and fair to both proponents and opponents of future sanitary sewer extensions,” and leading the campaign to stop construction of a driveway from the Barnes & Noble shopping center onto South Morningside Drive, opposite Greens Farms Elementary School.

Recently, Suggs says, partisan politics has seeped down from national and state levels, “influencing substantive policy decison in our so-called nonpartisan RTM.”

He concludes, “I’ve always been true to my convictions. I’ve entered this race not just to win, but to represent the whole community, encouraging greater civic involvement that will lead to a better Westport.”

(For more information, click here.)

Party On With “06880”

Mary Hoffman supplied the balloons. Yes, they say “06880” — if you face the other direction. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

They came from Westport, Fairfield, Norwalk — and Roxbury and New York City.

They were politicians, musicians, and (probably) a mathematician.

They ranged in age from 6 years old to (at least) 89.

They mixed, mingled, ate and drank.

They talked about everything under the sun — and the sun itself. Fortunately temperatures cooled, a breeze blew in, and the sunset was one of the most spectacular of the year.

Everyone there did not agree on everything — after all, last night was a party, but it was still “06880.”

Yet everyone agreed that wherever we live, we’re lucky to be part of this amazing community — online, and in real Compo Beach life.

Thanks to the 100 or so folks who came to last night’s bash. If you missed it: See you next year!

Politics, Westport style: Republican 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and his challenger, Democrat Melissa Kane, enjoyed the evening. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

So did 2nd Selectman candidates Rob Simmelkjaer (D) and Jen Tooker (R).

Recent “06880 Unsung Heroes of the Week” — and Compo Beach regulars — Mike Calise and Tom Lowrie hung out together.

Hair they are! Photographer Larry Silever and musician Warren Bloom. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Mary Palmieri Gai and Fred Cantor are frequent “06880” commenters. They also curated the current Westport Historical Society exhibit on Westport’s rock music history. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Longtime Westport volunteers — and mid-’60s Staples High School graduates — Bill Scheffler, Ann Sheffer and Miggs Burroughs lent panache to the party. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Carter Klein took home a souvenir: The “6” balloon. He wanted to celebrate his age. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Cribari Bridge: Another View

Yesterday’s statement by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — requesting that the state withdraw funding for final design and construction projects related to the William F. Cribari (Bridge Street) Bridge — shined a spotlight on the 133-year-old span.

Along with the cannons and Minute Man monument, it’s one of Westport’s most treasured — and photographed — icons.

Here is another (video) view of the Saugatuck mainstay. It shows the swing bridge as it opens.

The time-lapse was shot last August by longtime Westporter Tom Feeley. He’s a proud Staples High School Class of 1987 graduate, and looks forward to this weekend’s 30th reunion. It’s set for the Saugatuck Rowing Club — right near the bridge.

Here’s another video from John Hartwell. It shows another bridge nearby — the Saugatuck railroad bridge. It too opens. This was shot in July 2015.

Despite Marpe’s statement, the next steps in the bridge’s long history have not yet been determined.

Jennifer Tooker Runs For #2

When Avi Kaner decided to forgo a 2nd run for 2nd selectman, it did not take Jim Marpe long to name Jennifer Tooker as his running mate.

The Dallas native and University of Notre Dame graduate lived in Chicago and London while she and her husband Mo worked for GenRe. (They met in a training class.)

When they were transferred to corporate headquarters in Stamford, they did the usual: searched for the right town (and commute) in Fairfield County.

Tooker says they fell in love with all of Westport, including historic home on North Sylvan.

“The commitment to public education, the beach — we felt a great vibe right from the start,” she notes.

Jennifer Tooker

Realizing this was her family’s final move, she decided to act on her long desire for public service. Tooker was appointed to the Conservation Commission — an excellent introduction to the ins and outs of local and state government.

In 2011 she ran for the Board of Education. Talk of “Westport 2025” intrigued her. She believed that her experience overseeing a global department was a good fit for the 21st-century skills the board was examining. Her financial background could help too.

Voters agreed, and elected her.

“In local politics, it doesn’t matter if there’s an ‘R’ or ‘D’ after your name,” she says. “The goal is to figure out how to get things done for all the people you serve. I’m proud that on the Board of Ed we took a pretty non-partisan view.”

Two years later, Tooker ran for the Board of Finance. She cited her knowledge of the education budget process, and ability to bridge communication gaps between the 2 important town bodies.

Juggling her job, public service and a household with 3 kids was not easy. In 2013 she resigned from GenRe.

“I really enjoyed my government work,” Tooker says. “I wanted to devote all my time and energy to it.”

But she found time to join local non-profits too. She is particularly proud of her work with the Adam J. Lewis Preschool in Bridgeport. “I’m passionate about doing what I can to bridge the achievement gap in education,” she says.

Jennifer Tooker, with her family: husband Mo, daughter Riley, son Jack and daughter Nicole. 

So why is Tooker leaving the finance board — with its important power — to run for 2nd selectman?

“With all that’s going on with the state budget, we’re in for tough times,” she warns. “I think this is the right time for someone with my breadth and depth of experience, and my business principles, to step in and help the town stay vibrant and wonderful.”

And, she adds, “I can’t pass up the opportunity to serve with Jim. I admire his character, his accomplishments and his vision.” The pair worked together on the Board of Education.

She hopes to “help this administration achieve its goals, while navigating turbulent economic times and still maintaining the quality of life in Westport.”

Pointing to the model Marpe used with Kaner and 3rd selectman Helen Garten, Tooker says the 1st selectman can “figure out the best way to use all of our skill sets to keep Westport unique and vibrant.”

There’s plenty of campaigning ahead. But, Tooker says, she loves to kayak, paddleboard and go to the beach with her kids. Those too are parts of her summer plans.

RTM Urged To Join “Net Zero” Energy Effort

Last month, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced that Westport has joined over 1,200 governors, mayors, businesses, universities and others in pledging to exceed the goals of the Paris Climate Accord.

Two years earlier, Marpe announced “Net Zero by 2050”: a target involving energy, water and waste. The goal is to create a sustainable community — economically, socially and environmentally — by mid-century.

Now, a group of Westporters is asking the RTM to endorse Net Zero too.

On Tuesday (July 11), the Green Task Force will present a petition with dozens of signatures. So far all 3 selectmen, and many town boards, commissions and individual committee members have signed the document.

Another petition is also circulating, with a similar request. This one is aimed at non-government Westporters.

Westport has a history of environmental activism. In 2007, we were the first town in Connecticut to include a sustainability chapter in a Plan of Conservation and Development.

Since then we’ve won the Department of Energy’s Neighbor to Neighbor Challenge, helped launch the Solarize Connecticut program, and (with a unanimous RTM vote) became one of the first towns in the state to adopt financing to support energy efficiency and clean energy improvements.

Solar PV power can be the way to go.

Examples of Net Zero include:

  • Signing an agreement to receive electricity credit for 1 megawatt of solar power per year, produced at a site in eastern Connecticut. The town is waiting for approval for an additional 1 megawatt. This program could satisfy 1/4 of the town buildings’ electricity.
  • Implementing the Energy Performance Contract initiative in school and municipal buildings. Reducing energy consumption has the potential to save up to$1 million per year in energy costs for the next 15 years.
  • Installing electric vehicle charging stations at the railroad station parking lots and other municipal parking sites.
  • Applying for an additional 1.2 megawatts of on-site solar power at Staples High School (just shy of 50% of the school’s electricity loads, after a separate building efficiency improvement program).
  • Preparing to break ground on an efficient renovation of the Westport Library, including 70 kilowatts of solar power.
  • Installing another 100 kilowatts of solar capacity as part of the planned expansion of the Senior Center.
  • Initiating a new program with support of the town, Downtown Merchants Association and the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, encouraging businesses to keep the doors closed this summer when using air conditioning.

That last goal may be the toughest of all.

(To sign the Net Zero petition, click here.) 

Mike Rea Suspends 1st Selectman Campaign

Jim Marpe’s route to re-election as first selectman just got easier.

Last night, Mike Rea announced he was suspending his potential run for the town’s top post.

The vice chair of the Board of Finance formed an exploratory committee in March.

Now, he says, business commitments prevent him from dedicating the time to the effort. Rea serves as vice president of corporate services and global real estate for Gen Re.

Mike Rea (left) after his first Board of Finance victory. On the right is current 2nd selectman Avi Kaner.

Rea notes that he was “overwhelmed with the support and encouragement from Westporters across the political spectrum.” He looks forward to serving out his finance board term.

The lifelong Westport resident, 1970 Staples High School graduate and 35-year volunteer in town government believes that the challenges Westport faces today “require new thinking. The state of Connecticut has thrust financial issues upon Westport. Residents should and are expecting more, requiring new creative thinking from our town leaders.”

He adds, “This is a good time for new and younger people to step forward and volunteer to serve our community. Contact the political party of your choice and sign up to run for office. Westport is counting on you.”