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.
But Thursday’s “city hall” meeting with our state legislators at Town Hall drew about 30 Westporters.
Alert “06880” reader Gene Borio was there. And although the subject matter was dry — the budget, transportation, infrastructure — the 3 politicians were very impressive.
State senator Toni Boucher, and representatives Gail Lavielle and Jonathan Steinberg (Tony Hwang was working late in Hartford) addressed many tough issues with “equanimity, intelligence and perspicacity,” Gene says.
There was no rancor or petty sniping between the 2 Republicans and 1 Democrat.
The setting was utilitarian, as Gail Lavielle, Jonathan Steinberg and Toni Boucher addressed important local issues with honesty and intelligence. (Photo/Gene Borio)
As the legislature balances Connecticut’s deficit, current and future needs, and the necessity for new funding sources, the intelligent discussion covered topics like our tax burden, loss of jobs and residents, Metro-North, and possible tolls.
The panel strongly critiqued a proposed bill that would create an entity — the Connecticut Transit Corridor Development Authority — empowered to encourage business development within a 1/2-mile radius of rail or bus transit stations. Westport alert: It would have little local oversight — and even worse, would have the power of eminent domain.
On affordable housing, the representatives gave kudos to Westport for addressing the issue years ago.
The legislators emphasized their support for environmental groups, Sherwood Island and the Westport Library. They heard — and were moved by — heart-felt stories about what happens when people served by the Department of Developmental Services (and their caregivers) grow old.
Afterwards, there was a friendly meet-and-greet. Gene says that one rep noted how gratifying it is to come to Westport, with its intelligent, informed and engaged citizens.
Of course, Gene notes, “we elected them. We’re pretty fortune to have these no-nonsense politicians, who clearly and truly serve in a tough job.”
Tonight, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe released this statement regarding the Westport Transit District:
In response to the “06880” story regarding transit service for some of our after-school programs, I would like to provide additional information on this evolving situation and update Westporters as to what your elected representatives and transit directors have been doing to find both short and long term solutions to this unexpected event.
In early July the Federal Transit Administration notified the Norwalk Transit District of its determination that the after-school bus service that NTD operates on behalf of Westport is an unauthorized public transit service route. The stops and clientele primarily involve students and, as such, the service was deemed equivalent to a “school bus service” and thus was “non-compliant” with Federal transit regulations.
Without getting into a long explanation of those regulations, suffice it to say that NTD and the Westport Transit District were given only 30 days to present a plan to become compliant or lose Federal funding (approximately 65% of the total program cost) for these after-school routes and the use of the NTD buses.
The Norwalk Transit District operates Westport’s buses.
This program has successfully operated for over 30 years in Westport. The program had recently passed its triennial Federal review, so its sudden disqualification came as a surprise. Unfortunately, the short time frame given to address the problem does not give us time to develop a solution in a manner which would meet the new federal interpretation of the regulations. Ultimately this may not be possible at all.
As soon as we were alerted to the problem by the NTD, the Selectman’s Office, in conjunction with State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and the Westport Transit directors, began a multi-avenue effort to find solutions. With the new school year upon us, and with hundreds of students, their parents and the programs counting on this service, our first and primary initiative has been to obtain a stay of this ruling. We are seeking a 5-month extension of our funding and continued use of the buses until January 1, 2015 so that an alternative solution can be found.
Toward this end, we have formally applied for an extension to the appropriate FTA administrator as well as to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which is supporting our appeal. We have also been working closely with our state and federal representatives. Senators Blumenthal and Murphy and Congressman Himes have all signed a joint letter to the FTA strongly supporting Westport’s request for an extension.
Today I received a phone call from the FTA administrator in response to our letters and phone calls. She informed me that relevant FTA officials will meet tomorrow (Tuesday) to review our request, and expect to give us a response no later than this Wednesday.
In the interim, we have been exhaustively examining all other options to provide alternate service through other bus service providers in the region. The unfortunate reality is that, at this late date, most bus service providers are fully utilized at the time of the day when we would need 3 more buses to provide the service. There is very little additional bus capacity in our area at this moment.
If our request for an extension is granted, our objective will be to find a way to restructure our current program so that it is considered “compliant” by the FTA. Alternatively, by working with programs and families, we can seek to find an alternative method of providing after-school transit services.
Hopefully on Wednesday we will have a positive response from the FTA so that we will not have to deal with the disruption and difficulty that the immediate cessation of this important service will cause. I will keep you informed.
As Westport’s Little League all-star team roars toward the World Series in Williamsport — they’re 2-0 in the New England regionals, the most recent win a perfect game yesterday over the Maine state champs — some adult fans are having a tougher time.
They want to honor Westport’s 1st-ever Connecticut championship with a highway sign.
So far, they’ve struck out.
On Sunday, July 28, Avi Kaner — whose son Jonathan is friends with several of the all-stars — emailed the 3 Westport selectmen and 4 state legislators from this area. He asked how a sign could be placed at I-95 Exit 17. “I have seen similar signs elsewhere,” he noted.
Eight days later, State Senator Toni Boucher responded. She relayed information from the state Department of Transportation’s Traffic Engineering Division. It said that the division
receives many requests for recognition signing and, as a result, has established a practice of limiting the conditions under which they will be installed. Generally, recognition signing is currently limited to college level athletic teams that win a national or conference tournament championship or win their conference. Little League level athletic accomplishments are not recognized on the State highway system by the Department.
The Department shares your enthusiasm for honoring the Westport Little League team. However, if all such recognition requests were accommodated, there would be so many signs that motorists would have difficulty responding to the various regulatory, warning and guide signing essential to the driving task.
In view of the above, the Department does not provide or allow Little League Championship signing in the State highway right-of-way.
Boucher hit “reply all,” and added her own thoughts:
It might be a good idea to put in a bill as a delegation to change this policy in the future. In the meantime, if anyone wants to try to contact the Governor’s office on this it may be worth it.
UConn got a huge sign on I-84, just for winning the women’s NCAA basketball title.
Kaner — the Republican candidate for 2nd selectman this fall — took less than 20 minutes to send his next email. He thanked Boucher for her suggestion of a bill, asked whether the legislature could “overturn this DOT decision on a one-off basis” — and added this personal plea to State Representative Jonathan Steinberg:
“As a leading Democrat, the Governor’s office will be most likely to listen to you. Can you please try?”
This is bipartisanship at its finest. Senators Reid and McConnell, Congressmen Boehner and Pelosi: take note.
Although, if I was a betting man, I’d lay odds that the Westport Little League all-stars’ season will end a lot more successfully than this bureaucratic mission.
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