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.”
Kristan Hamlin has withdrawn her lawsuit against Democratic Town Committee member Lisa Newman. Hamlin — also a DTC member — was seeking damages, based on alleged defamatory statements.
Hamlin’s lawsuit against 1st selectman hopeful Jonathan Steinberg is still pending.
“I have instructed my counsel to withdraw without prejudice the complaint I brought against Jonathan Steinberg’s former campaign manager and DTC Secretary, Lisa Newman. This means it can be re-brought at any time within 2 years of the defamatory remarks that she has made against me, and which are described, in part, in the complaint.
“My counsel (William P. Lalor) has accommodated my wishes, and issued this statement:
The complaint filed on behalf of the plaintiff sets forth well-pleaded causes of action and is supported by evidence of the defamation that includes written communications and recorded voicemail, along with willing witnesses. My client, in an abundance of good faith, has instructed me to withdraw the operative complaint on a “without prejudice” basis as against defendant Lisa Newman, in order to give settlement discussions an opportunity, and importantly, so that the Wednesday Democratic Town Committee caucus can proceed without the public specter of division that Ms. Hamlin feels has been created by the present DTC leadership.
Hamlin continued: “If Ms. Newman can refrain from personalized attacks against me and others in the community, and is able to stick to the merits of political arguments, grow and benefit from reasoned dissent, and focus on unity instead of calumny, then this offer of peace will be rewarded. If instead she pursues a pattern of ugly, vicious personalized attacks against me and/or other members of our Democratic community, then she will return us to the status quo ante, the lawsuit will be revived, and we will be back to this place, which is disruptive for our democratic community.
“I will be watching her conduct carefully, which she may pursue directly, or through counsel and others, and so should our DTC. If the defamation suit against Ms. Newman needs to be resuscitated because the defendant was unable to embrace an opportunity for peace and instead continued down the path of denigrating and disparaging me either directly or through others who she employs, the DTC will all then understand that she/they are the authors of what ensues. I hope the defendant will advantage herself of this gesture of peace, quit personalized attacks against me and others, and rise to the higher angels of her nature. I hope she will make a mature commitment to peace within our DTC so that other, innocent candidates can win their races for the boards they seek without such distractions.”
Newman’s attorney Josh Koskoff says:
“Facing the prospect of an impending motion to dismiss her case for lack of merit along with the risk of having to pay costs associated with having to defend against her baseless claims, the plaintiff, Kristan Hamlin, withdrew her lawsuit against Lisa Newman today without any settlement on Ms. Newman’s part.
“The plaintiff had sought more than $15,000 of compensatory damages, along with unspecified punitive damages against Ms. Newman for allegedly defaming the plaintiff. The plaintiff alleged that Ms. Newman made false and defamatory statements concerning her in an executive committee meeting of the Westport Democratic Town Committee on May 10 of this year including statements, for example, that ‘the plaintiff was trying to undermine the DTC’s candidates, that the plaintiff was a liar and a bully who mistreated her Committee members’ and ‘that there were people who did not want to join the DTC because of plaintiff.’
“The plaintiff herself did not attend the meeting, but 2 witnesses who actually were present at the meeting signed affidavits attesting to the fact that Ms. Newman made no such comments and in fact remained mostly silent during the meeting. Ms. Newman was also prepared to argue that even if she did make such statements – which she did not – they would not have been actionable by arguing that the statements were nevertheless true and that the truth of a statement is an absolute defense to a claim of defamation.
“Ms. Newman is pleased to have the distraction and anxiety caused by this unnecessary case out of the way and the time spent in defending herself back, so that she can re-dedicate herself to being an unpaid civil servant as secretary of the Westport DTC, and a member of the RTM, along with the role that matters most to her: raising her 3 young children.”
Democratic State Representative Jonathan Steinberg has entered the race for 1st Selectman.
His running mate is Board of Education chair Candice Savin.
Steinberg — a native Westporter, and 1974 Staples High School graduate — is in his 6th term as state representative. As co-chair of the Public Health Committee, he worked closely with the Department of Public Health and governor’s office on COVID response.
A long-term member of both the Transportation and Energy & Technology Committees, he has addressed issues like electric vehicles, solar power and infrastructure. In Hartford, where he is a leader of the House Democratic Moderates Caucus, Steinberg has also been at the forefront of budget issues.
Before joining the legislature, Steinberg spent 7 years on Westport’s RTM. He was elected unanimously 3 times as deputy moderator. He represented the RTM on the Town Plan Implementation Committee. He also co-founded the Westport Cinema Initiative, to bring a movie theater downtown.
Steinberg’s political career follows nearly 2 decades in healthcare marketing, with Fortune 100 companies. A graduate of Yale College and NYU’s Stern School of Business (MBA), his hobbies include softball, golf and antiquing. He and his wife Nancy have 3 children — all Staples graduates — and are members of Temple Israel, which his grandfather helped found.
Steinberg cites “friends on both sides of the political aisle, combining compromise with the need to move forward,” and more than 20 years’ experience in strategic analysis and decision-making in the business world, as reasons to run for 1st selectman.
“I have a vision for Westport,” he says. “No one will work harder than me.” Referring to the hours he puts in, he jokes he is one of the state’s “best minimum-wage workers.”
Jonathan Steinberg, in Hartford.
Steinberg’s vision includes reinstating “brown bag lunches,” implementing many of the Downtown Plan ideas (such as dredging the river, and embracing it for multi-use), encouraging economic vitality, and initiating conversations on topics like what to do with Baron’s South.
“The flip side of the pandemic is so much pent-up energy,” he says. “New families are here, looking to do things in new ways. I love the spirit of volunteerism here. Everyone wants to get involved, however, they can.”
Steinberg applauds Westport’s environmental awareness, but sees opportunities to do even more, in areas from expanded composting to additional solar panels. He’s interested too in expanding diversity among town employees, and encouraging mass transit.
All his ideas, he says, “relate to our values as a community.”
Steinberg says that “over many years, our selectmen have served our community well. We are proud of their managerial competence.” However, he would ask, “How can we do things differently? Do we need a director of economic development? What about charter revision?
“I think we can do a better job of interfacing with the community. I really want dialogue with residents, commissions and boards. I’d hit the ground running. I don’t have too many preconceptions. But I’m prepared to lead.”
Steinberg is pleased to run with Savin. “She’s demonstrated true leadership,” he says of her work with the Board of Education.
“Her ability to take on different tasks is what I want in a partner. We’d work together like (former selectmen) Gordon Joseloff and Shelly Kassen did.”
Savin — a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Duke University School of Law — began her career as a New York City prosecutor. After moving to Westport in 2002 with her husband and 2 small children, she built a thriving real estate law practice.
As Board of Ed chair she faced a series of challenges: a controversial superintendent of schools, mold at Coleytown Middle School, and COVID.
She is motivated by “a strong focus on kids, and the importance of consistency and excellence in our schools.” She is proud to have led the board during the past few difficult years. “Our schools are in a really good place now,” Savin says. “We have strong leadership and vision, and greatly improved maintenance.”
Savin — whose community involvement includes co-chairing the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening”; leading The Conservative Synagogue’s rabbi search, and serving as the Democratic Town Committee’s finance chair — says a major factor in her decision to run is “the chance to work with Jonathan. He’s decisive, he gets things done, he works super-hard for Westport, and he knows the issues better than anyone.
“We’re a great team. We know everyone, from young people to seniors. We have a broad connection to the community. And we both know how to build consensus, make tough decisions, be inclusive as possible, and lead in the right direction. We’ll be true to Westport’s values: the arts, environment, inclusion, and taking care of our neediest citizens.”
Unofficial results — but including in-person voting, and absentee and early drop-off ballots — show Westporters favoring Democrats in every contest yesterday.
The Biden-Harris presidential ticket outpolled Trump=Pence, 12,775 to 4,184.
Congressman Jim Himes was re-elected to his 7th term in the 4th District, helped by 11,968 Westport votes to challenger Jonathan Riddle’s 4,881.
In Connecticut’s 26th Senatorial district, Will Haskell won a 2nd term, aided by 10,230 Westport votes to 4,721 for Republican Kim Healy.
Democrat Michelle McCabe outpolled Republican incumbent Tony Hwang 1,198 to 843 in Westport. But results in the rest of the State Senate District 28 came in slowly, and as of 5 a.m. today, McCabe’s lead in the entire district was less than 100 votes. That outcome is uncertain.
Six-term state Representative Jonathan Steinberg beat back a challenge from fellow Staples High School graduate Chip Stephens, with 10,446 Westport votes compared to 5,266 in the 136th District.
Democrat Stephanie Thomas led Patricia Zukaro , 753 to 480, in Westport. Final results from the entire District 143 are not yet in.
Overall, more than 85 percent of Westport’s registered voters participated in the 2020 election, either by mail, drop-off or in person.
Construction work on the Merritt Parkway — from before Exit 41 to beyond Exit 42 — has been going on, it seems since dinosaurs and Studebakers roamed the earth.
The $56 million project includes upgrades to pavement, guardrails and drainage, and restoration of “historic concrete.”
It’s bad enough for drivers (who must navigate frighteningly tight concrete barriers, including on- and off-ramps) and residents (who have endured noise, dust and the destruction of acres of woodlands).
Concrete barriers and no shoulders make driving on the Merritt Parkway a life-in-your-hands experience. (Photo/Bob Mitchell)
But right now, work seems stalled. What’s happening? When will it resume? And how long will it take?
I asked Jonathan Steinberg, Westport’s state representative. He sits on the Transportation Committee, and lives not far from the endless mess.
A Department of Transportation representative told him that right now, there’s a restriction: Work cannot proceed after 11 p.m.
Because of that, the contractor — Manafort Brothers — has stopped work altogether. They say that with just a 3 1/2-hour night window, the project is not feasible. (Work cannot begin until 7:30 p.m., after rush hour.)
“It’s a tough spot,” the DOT rep wrote to Steinberg. “Everybody bought houses there due to the woodland setting and close proximity to a major travel way. The Parkway is over 75 years old and a project of the magnitude may come only once every 30 years. It’s safer if we cut the rock back for all of the travelers.”
However, the DOT official continued, “I agree that the noise we are making now is probably the worst, and this is only Southbound there is another opposite in the Northbound shoulder.”
DOT is “looking at various options that include reducing the amount of rock removed and beefing up the guide rail. Compensating the Contractor for his lost production. Utilizing day time lane closures. Allowing full shift work but on limited nights.”
However, he concluded — ominously for all — “as of today we do not have a solution.”
Westport backed all 4 Democratic candidates in yesterday’s state Senate and House races. That helped deliver 2 of those districts to the Democratic Party.
In a race that drew statewide — even national — attention, 22-year-old Staples High School graduate Will Haskell thrashed longtime incumbent Toni Boucher, for the State Senate 26th district seat.
Haskell’s 64-36% winning margin — against a politician who was in office as long as he’d been alive — was helped by a strong base of active volunteers. The recent Georgetown University graduate galvanized many young voters, and women.
Staples grad Jonathan Steinberg returns to Hartford, representing House district 136. He beat back a challenge from Republican Greg Kraut, a newcomer to politics and a 2-year Westporter. The unofficial margin was 61-39%.
In races that involved small portions of Westport, Republican incumbents Tony Hwang (State Senate district 28) and Gail Lavielle (State House district 143) retained their seats. However, both lost Westport to their Democratic challengers, Michelle Lapine McCabe and Stephanie Thomas, respectively.
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.”
Recently, the Connecticut General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to loosen the restrictions of 8-30g — the state’s affordable housing standards, which incentivize municipalities to make 10 percent of their housing stock be “affordable.”
(Westport has a long history with 8-30g. Some affordable housing units here were built before the 1990 date on which state standards are based. Developers have proposed large buildings on small lots, marking a few units as “affordable.” Some observers have called those proposals “blackmail.” Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission has denied several such proposals already. They approved one, on Post Road East.)
A proposed 4-story rental property at 1177 Post Road East.
The vote — 30-6 in the Senate, 116-33 in the House — makes it easier for towns and cities to reach “moratoriums,” and in some cases increases those moratoriums beyond the previous 4 years. (For an in-depth analysis of the measure from CTMirror, via WestportNow, click here.)
Governor Dannel Malloy vetoed the bill. The Senate overrode the veto by the closest 2/3 margin possible — 24-12. The House overrode it 101-47.
Local reaction was swift.
Westport Representative Jonathan Steinberg said: “I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up.’ Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path.”
That infuriated P&Z member Chip Stephens.
He emailed an “open letter” to Steinberg:
We got your message.
How dare you grandstand and throw your fellow town officials and residents under the bus last night:
“Steinberg said he plans to take an unwavering message to his town’s leaders — act.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up. Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path,’” Steinberg said. Only after they have been given that chance, he said, can leaders “talk about whether or not 8-30g is working.””
I suggest you consider that your town officials have worked long and hard on affordable housing, both 8-30g qualifying, and more importantly quality affordable housing as Hales Court, Sasco Creek, Canal Park and other IHZ and multifamily components.
Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.
In passing the newest 8-30g complex on Post Road East we will have our first moratorium application ready as soon as the developer completes the project and gets his CO.
Next time you crawl up on that stump and blow hot air directed at your town, think hard before letting your common sense filter down hurling inflammatory and demeaning comments at Westport. We hear and we will remember.
Steinberg fired back:
I have fought for 7 years to amend 8-30g to make it easier for Westport to achieve a moratorium, while you have done very little.
How dare you lecture me on this statute when all I stated that it’s now on towns to take advantage of this new opportunity to get to a moratorium and avoid developer predation.
You have real gall calling me out, given your abject failure as a Commissioner representing Westport’s interests.
I’m responsible for giving you a tool to protect our town. Shut up and get it done.
Like the 8-30 g/affordable housing debate, this political dialogue will continue.
State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left) and Westport Planning & Zoning commissioner Chip Stephens.
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