Tag Archives: Melissa Kane

10 Questions For 1st Selectman Candidates

Anyone can ask the 1st Selectman candidates what they think about taxes, traffic and the future of Main Street. Their answers may not be surprising.

But “06880” wants to know more. We’d like to know what makes these men (and woman) tick. And what makes them Westporters, as opposed to politicians.

So we asked each candidate the same 10 questions. Here are their replies. I chose the fairest way to post them: alphabetically. But — since as a “W” I’m always last — they’re in reverse order. Hah!

What got you to Westport?

John Suggs:  My wife and I were looking for a community in which to raise our newborn twins, with great schools, friendly neighborhoods and unique community character. A place that our kids would always be proud to call home. That is Westport.

Jim Marpe:  Our family moved to the New York City area 30 years ago at the request of my employer, Accenture, following a lengthy expatriate management assignment. By coincidence 2 of our best friends had moved to Westport while we were overseas, so we had already visited several times and gotten a preview of the community. Our daughter was entering elementary school, so the world-class quality of the school system was the primary attraction. But the other attractions were the physical character of the town, the cosmopolitan atmosphere and the wide variety of activities that did not exist in similar places we had lived.

Melissa Kane: I began coming here as a child and have loved it ever since.

TJ Elgin:  My grandparents helped save me from a dark path with my father.

John Suggs and his dog Monty. The photo was obviously taken between October 1 and March 31.

What kept you in Westport?

Suggs: The friendly people, the community ties and the schools which have become a second home for our children.

Marpe:  The Westport public schools are the primary reason we stayed, but by then we were involved in leadership roles with a variety of interesting community service organizations that help a wide cross-section of Westport, including Homes With Hope, the Westport Weston Family Y, Green’s Farms Congregational Church, the Rotary Club, Westport Country Playhouse, the Young Woman’s League, and Neighbors and Newcomers of Westport. My wife, Mary Ellen, was a successful small business owner for over a decade (Westport Academy of Dance). Moreover, we had come to appreciate the wide variety of high quality amenities that Westport offers (Library, beaches, Longshore, performing and visual arts, attractive open spaces) as well as proximity to New York City. In the end, it’s the great friendships we have developed with an amazing array of interesting and involved Westporters that will keep us here for many years to come.

Kane:  My husband proposed to me way out on a sandbar at Old Mill Cove. We love this town and wanted to raise our children here. The overall character, roots in the arts, and the people make it an easy place to love.

Elgin:  My family and friends.

Favorite place in Westport to relax?

Suggs:  Golden Shadows back porch in Baron’s South.

Marpe:  Compo Beach (South) on a summer evening with friends and a picnic dinner. Certainly not Town Hall!

Kane:  Walking on the beach.

Elgin:  Compo Beach.

Favorite place to go when you’re NOT in Westport?

Suggs:  Cape Town, South Africa.

Marpe:  Any place that has small, family-owned vineyards and wineries and a small, quiet inn.

Kane: Hiking in the White Mountains with my family.

Elgin:  Stratford Pyramid Shriners.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, in the 2013 Memorial Day parade. Behind him are State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, 3rd Selectman Helen Garten and 2nd Selectman Avi Kaner.

Musical group you’d most like to see at the Levitt?

Suggs:  The Boss, Bruce Springsteen.

Marpe:  The Rolling Stones.

Kane:  Ben Folds.

Elgin:  Lights, she is from Canada.

Favorite annual event in Westport, and why?

Suggs:  Staples High School Candlelight Concert. The music by our talented students together — during the holiday season — makes my heart soar.

Marpe:  Memorial Day parade. Truly a local event with a family focus that reflects our small town character, honors our residents who fought for our freedoms, and marks the unofficial beginning of summer.

Kane:  Memorial Day parade. It’s the most wonderful small town, magical event one could imagine. It really captures the spirit of the town like nothing else.  My children have been in it; I love to watch and participate in it. I am also always humbled by the sacrifices that were made by our servicemen and women.  

Elgin:  Fireworks because it’s my first real date with my soon-to-be wife, and Lobsterfest because of old friends I never get to see.

Melissa Kane (right) with her mother, Judith Orseck Katz.

If you could wave a magic wand and change anything about Westport, what would it be?

Suggs:  The traffic congestion.

Marpe:  Traffic would flow easily and freely through all our intersections. The Waze and  Google Maps apps would cease to divert traffic from I-95 and the Merritt Parkway onto our local streets. Our drivers would obey all speed limits and traffic regulations, and observe safe driving etiquette. And our streets would magically widen to become “complete streets” with sidewalks, pedestrian- friendly crosswalks and bicycle lanes, along with plenty of room for cars to pass.

Kane:  Making it a place our children could come back to and our seniors can stay in.

Elgin:  The entitlement. We live in a world where we all need to help each other and our surroundings, to have a brighter future for our planet.

Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts?

Suggs: Neither. The Sherwood Diner.

Marpe: Dunkin’ Donuts. But my real choices are Coffee An’ and Donut Crazy.

Kane:  Coffee An’.

Elgin:  Neither. I don’t drink or eat from places that I don’t know where their products are from.

TJ Elgin and his fiancee, Denise Bahr.

5 words to describe Westport?

Suggs:  Compo, Cribari Bridge, beautiful, home.

Marpe:  Cosmopolitan, active, creative, caring, innovative.

Kane:  Forward-thinking, beautiful, engaged, active, community.

Elgin:  Historical, environmental, artistic, educational, proper.

5 words to describe yourself?

Suggs:  Persistent, dedicated, devoted, father, husband.

Marpe:  Hardworking, proactive, principled, optimistic, collaborative.

Kane:  Collaborative, optimistic, determined, down-to-earth, objective.

Elgin:  Generous, knowledgeable, noble, wolfy, strong.

Selectmen Candidates’ Debate On Thursday

If you were underwhelmed by the presidential debates of 2016, your long national nightmare is over.

On Thursday (October 12, 11:30 a.m. to 1:3o p.m., Westport Library), the 4 candidates for 1st selectmen face off. It should be informative — and substantive.

Republican Jim Marpe, Democrat Melissa Kane and independents John Suggs and Timothy J. Elgin will discuss business-related issues. There’s a good reason: The debate is sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.

Moderator Jay Sandak will lead the discussion in areas like the town’s business environment, jobs and taxes.

The event begins with a chance to meet the candidates. At that time, attendees can submit written questions for the debate.

“This Town Was Built By Dreamers”

As political leaders debate the fate of Dreamers — 800,000 undocumented migrants who arrived in the US before the age of 16 — a small group of Westporters stood on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen downtown bridge this afternoon, protesting President Trump’s proposed repeal of the DACA program.

Holding a sign festooned with flags of various countries — including the US and Italy — the group reminded passing motorists that Westport owes a great debt to immigrants.

Laws were much looser in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the ancestors of many Westporters came here to work.

Darcy Hicks, Melissa Kane, Sarah Kempner and Lauren Soloff, with their message. (Photo/Theo Koskoff)

Midway through the event, a car stopped. Two men got out, and approached the group.

Slowly, Jose and Robert shook the hands of every protester. They thanked the group for representing them.

Both men are Dreamers.

Then they got back in their car, and drove off.

They were on their way to work.

One of the Dreamers, thanking a protester. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

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)

Kane Names Simmelkjaer As Running Mate

Democratic First Selectman candidate Melissa Kane has completed her ticket.

This morning she announced that Rob Simmelkjaer will join her, in the 2nd selectman slot.

A member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Democratic Town Committee, Simmelkjaer jumped into local politics soon after moving here in 2013.

Rob Simmelkjaer

His face may have been known to Westporters even before he arrived. He’s been an on-air contributor for NBC Sports, where he is also vice president of NBC Sports Ventures. He previously worked at ESPN and ABC News, where as anchor and correspondent he covered such events as the Virginia Tech shootings and President Ford’s funeral.

At Dartmouth College, Simmelkjaer majored in government and philosophy. He also holds a law degree from Harvard University.

He is a volunteer coach with the Westport Soccer Assocation, and a vice moderator at Norfield Congregational Church. He and his wife Kathryn — a physician at Bridgeport Hospital — are the parents of 2 young daughters.

When NBC Sports moved from 30 Rock to Stamford, the Simmelkjaers looked to move out of Manhattan. They had friends here. The town’s friendly vibe, opportunities for children and excellent schools made it a no-brainer.

“This is the place I wish I grew up in,” says Simmelkjaer, a New Jersey native.

Always politically engaged, he volunteered with the Barack Obama campaigns in 2008 and ’12, and Hillary Clinton last year.

When Kane asked him to be her running mate, he was quick to say yes. “She’s a terrific leader, is passionate about the town, and knows we have to invest in our assets,” he says.

He is eager to face the budget issues “coming down from Hartford.”

Rob Simmelkjaer with his wife Kathryn, and daughters Julia and Annika.

He also is running because, he says, “with the big picture in today’s country, more people need to stand up and answer the call to serve.”

Believing in the adage “all politics is local,” Simmelkjaer says, “if we want to solve problems at the state and national level, we need to show we can do it here, in a civil way.”

If elected, he hopes to leverage his day job — working with entrepreneurs and tech people — to focus on “better uses of technology as a town, and with partners, to solve problems like traffic, parking and communications.”

Simmelkjaer also says that — though they’re not the Board of Education or Finance — the 3 selectmen have a role to play in “maintaining our top-quality schools. Whether you have kids or not, that’s important for us all.”

Melissa Kane Enters 1st Selectman Race

Jim Marpe has an opponent.

This afternoon, Melissa Kane announced her candidacy for 1st selectman of Westport. The Democratic activist opposes the Republican incumbent.

Kane currently serves as chair of the Westport Democratic Committee, and is a member of the non-partisan RTM from District 3. She is also co-chair of the Downtown Implementation Committee (appointed by Marpe).

Previously, as chair of the Downtown Steering Committee, she helped create a new Downtown Master Plan.

Melissa Kane

Kane recently received the Democratic Women of Westport’s first scholarship to the Yale Campaign School for Women.

She has been a Westport Library trustee, a board member of the Green Village Initiative and A Child’s Place, and active with Earthplace, the Westport Arts Center and PTA.

After moving to Westport in 2003, Kane launched and ran a floral design company, MKK Designs. She began her career as a columnist for Hearst New Media’s online publications, before becoming a publicist in the recording industry.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a B.A. in international relations, she is married to Jonathan Kane.  Their children are George (18) and Lily (14).

In her announcement, Kane said:

First, I’ve loved Westport since I was a little girl. I spent my summers at Beach School and fishing in the currents off the bridges at the Mill Pond. Today, I love this town for all that it offers, and for its extraordinarily active community involvement.

Westport’s inclusive values, the importance of community, the integrity and beauty of our open spaces and beaches, and the quality of our schools, led my husband and me to choose to raise our family here.

Second, I have a vision for our infrastructure, public safety and economic sustainability that is critical to our future. We can do much more to protect the fiscal strength of our schools and to enhance our home values, to attract future generations, and support local businesses. As your first selectman, I will have a clearly articulated economic development plan. Times require more than just hoping to come in on budget each year without clear priorities.

At the women’s march on Washington the day after President Trump’s inauguration, Senator Richard Blumenthal posed with Connecticut protesters. Among the crowd was one of the state organizers, Melissa Kane.

Third, every Westporter deserves to have a leader who is willing to stand up for our most important priorities and values.

If you are concerned about maintaining excellence in our schools, know that I will advocate forcefully and effectively to make sure our schools are fully funded.

If you are a senior or have aging parents, know that I will work proactively with our P&Z officials and developers to make sure seniors have access to affordable, centrally located housing, or that they have the tax relief and support they need to be able to age in place.

If you are a commuter, know that I will work to make sure our traffic issues are finally addressed. I will improve mobility throughout town by working more collaboratively with DOT and the Citizens Transportation Commission on innovative solutions, and I will commit to investing in multi modal public transportation options as alternate ways to get around town.

If you are concerned about public safety, know that I will work with our local, state and national officials on responsible gun protection measures, and I will always stand up to hate in any form.

In this election we have an exciting opportunity to move Westport forward and to ensure that our town’s leaders represent the values we believe in.

 

The March: Boldface Names

I’ve been inundated with photos of Westporters, former Westporters and Westonites at yesterday’s marches, around the world.

I posted plenty yesterday. They showed the diversity, passion and commitment of the women (and men) who came together in places large and small.

I did not plan to post any others. Yet in the spirit of the “06880” tagline (“Where Westport meets the world”), I’m adding 3 more. They show Westport meeting — well, not the world, but some of the leading politicians in the country.

blumenthal-with-melissa-kane-and-nicole-klein

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal poses with a Westport sign. The crowd includes Westport Democratic Town Committee chair Melissa Kane, and Nicole Klein.

Staples High School 2014 grad Daniel Kaseff was right there, as former Secretary of State John Kerry marched past.

Staples High School 2014 grad Daniel Kaseff was right there, as former Secretary of State John Kerry (and his dog) marched past.

A group including Staples grads Nancy Kail and Diane Nicklesberg met up with New York Senator Chuck Schumer in Washington, DC.

A group including Staples grads Nancy Kail and Diane Nicklesberg met New York Senator Chuck Schumer in Washington, DC.

Thanks to all who submitted photos. Your energy and enthusiasm came through strongly. It sounds like a wonderfully empowering day.

Alternative comments are of course welcome.

Alternative facts are not.

 

The Day After: Part 2

Around the world today, hundreds of thousands of people protested against President Trump. Here are some photos, taken by and of Westporters:

Sandra Long saw this sign at the Westport train station....

Sandra Long saw this sign at the Westport train station.

Anne Hardy took this photo in Grand Central. "The train ride was phenomenal," she says. "Very collaborative."

Anne Hardy took this photo in Grand Central. “The train ride was phenomenal,” she says. “Very collaborative.”

Westporters Clare Clark and Penny Pearlman attended the Stamford march.

Westporters Clare Clark and Penny Pearlman attended the Stamford march….

.... while Natasha Bowens and her crew were in DC.

…. while Natasha Bowens and her crew were in DC….

... and Staples Class of 1956 graduated David Wunsch was part of an "enormous turnout" in Boston...

… and Staples Class of 1956 graduate David Wunsch was part of an “enormous turnout” in Boston…

...and Westporter Sheila Ward sent this, from Nashville.

…while Westporter Sheila Ward sent this from Nashville.

The women's march welcomed all genders. This is longtime Westporter John Suggs and his 14-year-old daughter Rachel.

The women’s march welcomed all genders. This is longtime Westporter John Suggs and his 14-year-old daughter Rachel.

Fred Cantor was also in Stamford, with his wife Debbie Silberstein. It was his 1st protest since a Vietnam event his freshman year at Yale. Fred said the rally near Trump Parc was "definitely inspirational. A large turnout composed of a true cross-section of America. People peacefully chanted, while many brought a variety of creative homemade signs."

Fred Cantor was also in Stamford, with his wife Debbie Silberstein. It was his 1st protest since a Vietnam event freshman year at Yale. Fred called the rally near Trump Parc “definitely inspirational — a large turnout composed of a true cross-section of America.”

Also in Stamford: Audrey Rabinowitz and Bobbie Herman.

Also in Stamford: Audrey Rabinowitz and Bobbie Herman.

Staples Class of 2011 KD DeVoll (center) and friends, at the Washington march.

Staples Class of 2011 grad KD DeVoll (center) and friends, at the Washington march.

Westporter Katherine Ross took this photo in New York, and said: "This is what democracy looks like."

Westporter Katherine Ross took this photo in New York. She said: “This is what democracy looks like.”

Riley Baker is a Westporter who goes to school near Boston. She said, "It was an incredible day of speeches, activism, and coming together with 125,000 other people who share the same goals and beliefs I do."

Riley Baker is a Westporter who goes to school near Boston. She called that city’s rally “an incredible day of speeches, activism, and coming together with 125,000 other people who share the same goals and beliefs I do.”

Westporters Lisa Marriott and Pam Einarsen (right) join Laura Fishman and Marianne on "the longest line ever for the metro" in Washington.

Westporters Lisa Marriott and Pam Einarsen (right), with Laura Fishman and Marianne, found “the longest line ever for the metro” in Washington.

Among the many signs Amy Leonard saw in New York, this one stood out.

Among the many signs Amy Leonard saw in New York, this one stood out.

This final photo of Washington comes from Melissa Kane, chair of the Westport Democratic Committee. She heard that the crowd in that city alone was 1.2 million.

This final photo of Washington comes from Melissa Kane, chair of the Westport Democratic Committee. She heard that the crowd in that city alone was 1.2 million.

 

 

Eli, George And Hillary

Tomorrow is zero hour for 2 candidates. For over a year, they’ve campaigned to be president. They rely on national staffs, pollsters, and family members offering free advice.

But presidential campaigns are won or lost at the local level. Phone calls drive enthusiasm and turnout. Something as simple as a ride to polls — replicated thousands and thousands of times — can spell the difference between the White House and history’s dustbin.

Since mid-August, Hillary Clinton’s most successful phone bank in Connecticut has operated from a cramped Westport storefront, across from Stop & Shop.

Remarkably, it’s organized entirely by 2 Staples High School students.

George Kane (left) and Eli Debenham run Westport's Democratic headquarters phone bank and volunteer operations.

George Kane (left) and Eli Debenham run Westport’s Democratic headquarters phone bank and volunteer operations.

George Kane rowed with the Saugatuck Rowing Club. He skis for Staples, and teaches skiing to people with disabilities.

His mother Melissa chairs the Westport Democratic Town Committee — but for years he did not share her interest in politics. “I always felt dragged to events,” he says.

In the spring of junior year though, his Advanced Placement Government class inspired him. “It just hit me,” he recalls. “I thought, if there’s anything I can do for this election, I’ll do it.”

He called Clinton’s statewide director of field operations. Soon, he was running Westport’s Democratic phone bank.

Eli Debenham — like George, a Staples senior — serves organizations like Builders Beyond Borders, and works at Gilbertie’s. He’s been fascinated by politics for a long time. Now Eli is the volunteer coordinator for Westport’s DTC.

The storefront opposite Super Stop & Shop.

The storefront opposite Super Stop & Shop.

The 12th graders work like a well-oiled machine. Together, they’ve gathered up to 40 people a night to the Westfair Center office. One evening, they logged 3,500 calls.

Not just for Clinton. Volunteers phone in support of local races. They also call voters in New Hampshire, the nearest battleground state.

A couple of days ago, I watched the phone bank in action. Our conversation was punctuated by questions — most of the technical kind. The volunteers — coming from as far as Stamford and Ridgefield, some of whom could be George and Eli’s grandparents — asked for help with the calling software on their laptops and cellphones.

The duo solved every problem. In between, they told stories of their months of work.

It’s been eye-opening. A man with military ID asked for Hillary posters and lawn signs. They apologized; there were only a few on hand.

“That’s okay,” he said. ” I just want it for target practice.”

Most other encounters have been far more positive. Though few people like being interrupted for a political call, there have been enough willing to listen that George and Eli feel like they’ve done some good.

westport-democratic-town-committee-logo“When we get a Republican who thinks Trump’s a maniac, but doesn’t want to vote for Clinton, we may be able to have a conversation,” George says. “Some people really are undecided. We’ve had 20-minute phone calls where we really think we make an impact.”

“If we have 5 to 10 calls a night light that, it makes a measurable difference,” Eli adds.

He called a 24-year-old Greenwich man, who planned to vote for neither candidate. After 25 minutes, Eli says, “he was actually crying on the phone. He said that a protest vote would help give the election to Trump.”

He and George know they won’t reach everyone. But they’re encouraged by little examples, like the volunteer who took her phone into the headquarters bathroom to speak quietly with a retired man who originally did not want to talk at all. At the end of the conversation, he said he would “think about” Clinton.

Eli Debenham, in charge last week.

Eli Debenham, answering questions last week.

With Election Day almost — and finally — here, Eli and George describe their mood as a mix of anxiety and optimism. They know the race has tightened, and it’s been vitriolic. But, George says, “I’ve seen far more positivity than negativity” at the phone bank he runs.

“I’ve made real connections with people I’m excited to share Westport with,” Eli notes. “I’ve seen a whole new layer to this town that I love.”

There’s no school on Election Day. George and Eli will be up at 3 a.m. They’ll deliver signs to polling places. They’ll oversee one final round of canvassing. Then they’ll watch the returns — maybe at the headquarters that’s been their home since August, perhaps at a bigger venue.

The 1st presidential campaign for either of them has changed them both.

George says, “I never enjoyed conflict. But this election opened me up to seeing that differences are important. I’ve seen how I can make an impact. Politics is now a love of mine. Plus, my mother is happy.”

Eli always wanted to go into politics. This experience has only enhanced his interest.

“It’s exhausting, discouraging, challenging and satisfying,” he says. “It’s what I want to do.”