They’re running for the same Connecticut House of Representatives District 136 seat.
But incumbent Jonathan Steinberg and challenger Chip Stephens — both Staples High School graduates, a year apart (1974 and ’73, respectively) — gladly posed for a COVID-compliant fist bump this morning, at the Coleytown Elementary School polling place.
That’s the type of politics everyone can agree on!
Jonathan Steinberg (left) and Chip Stephens. (Photo/Jack Whittle)
Meanwhile, as the nation votes, 10 Westporters are spending their 2nd day in Pennsylvania.
Part of the Biden Voter Protection Team, they found an “energized” electorate yesterday. First-time voters were excited; others said they planned their whole day around voting today.
The group fanned out in Northeast Philadelphia and Bucks County.
Tell your landscaping companies to make changes. You’re paying them; you don’t have to do 100% of what they recommend. Do what’s right for your yard and our environment.
Tuck in your beds. Rake leaves into your garden beds or under trees. Up to 3 inches of leaves can be stored here — and you’ll save on mulch in spring.
Mow, don’t blow. To promote biodiversity, don’t use leaf blowers. Mulched leaves are decomposed by earthworms and microorganisms,and turned into plant-usable organic matter. You can either remove the mower bag and simply go over a thin layer of leaves with your mower, or invest in a mulching lawn mower. Mulched leaves will put nutrients back into the soil.
Procrastinate: Sure, procrastinating gets a bad rap. But there are residents in your dead stalks. Little sweat bees survive the winter in hollow flower stalks, and birds shelter between dead branches. Put cutting off until the spring, to let them rest in peace.
For more information on fall clean up, click here for an article by Liz Craig from the Pollinator Pathway. And Healthy Yards of Westchester has great information about the many benefits of mulch.
Normally at this time of year, the Westport Library would be hosting 1st graders on tours, reading them stories, helping them select books and giving them their first library cards.
To cope with COVID, the Library created a “Virtual Field Trip.” First take a brief tour, see a Maker demonstration, and have a story read to them. The tour includes a link for parents to request a Westport Library card for their child.
This month, librarians will deliver the cards to each elementary school, plus a special gift: kids’ own copies of It’s Snowing by Gail Gibbons. The Library has asked administration to help them contact elementary school age virtual learners.
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The view from the Children’s Library. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)
And finally … with not much going on today, I just picked a totally random song, completely out of thin air. Go figure.
Avery Place and Myrtle Avenue are shut. Downed wires and trees litter both important roads. Town Hall itself is closed.
But Governor Ned Lamont, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz and Senator Richard Blumenthal got there an hour ago. (“I had a police escort,” the governor joked.)
Joined by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and 3 state legislators, the bipartisan group met first with Fire Chief Robert Yost, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and other officials behind Town Hall, then faced the press and a few Westport residents by the front steps.
In both places, they slammed Eversource’s actions before, during and after the storm.
Or, as more than one said, Eversource’s “lack of action.”
Clockwise from left: Senator Richard Blumenthal, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz, Fire Chief Robert Yost, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, Governor Ned Lamont and State Representative Gail Lavielle. (Photo/ Brendan Byrne)
Standing next to the absentee ballot box in the back parking lot, Marpe told the governor and senator that he had taken Congressman Jim Himes on a tour of Westport this morning.
There were plenty of places they could not reach, Marpe said. “Lives are at risk. And Eversource should be in touch with local leaders, so we know what’s going on.”
Blumenthal noted, “Eversource bet the storm would pass us by. They lost the bet. And we’re paying for it.”
Press and Westport citizens surround the governor, senator and other officials. (Photo/Kyle Ehrlich)
A few minutes later, facing a battery of microphones from news outlets around Connecticut, Marpe called the fact that 85% of Westporters still lack power “unacceptable.”
He added, “We need help right away. Our Public Works, first responders and Town Hall staff are working full time to get the town back in shape. AT&T and Verizon are here.
“But hundreds of roads are inaccessible. Lives are at risk. Eversource’s response is totally inadequate. I can’t tell you if 10 trucks are here, or 2, or 200. I have no idea of any time estimates.”
Lamont, speaking next, cited the COVID pandemic. “We hope for the best but plan for the worst. That’s not what the utilities have done.
“Eversource should have been pre-positioned. We’ll hold their feet to the fire later. We will have a tough post-mortem. But right now the house is on fire, and we need (the equivalent of) the fire department. That’s our first priority.”
Governor Lamont speaks at Town Hall. (Photo/January Stewart)
Lamont was “surprised” to get a call from the White House last night. “FEMA will reimburse us 100%,” he said. “But that’s small potatoes compared to the action that’s needed right now.”
Blumenthal noted, “I’ve never seen Connecticut more angry, and rightfully so. No electricity and no internet are matters of life and death.
“There can be no more teasing, no more delays, no more rate increases. Eversource’s CEO is well compensated.” (Bysiewicz said he earns $19.8 million a year.) “But he won’t even come out and meet the press.”
State Senator Tony Hwang and State Representative Gail Lavielle echoed the criticism of the utility.
State Representative Jonathan Steinberg added, “This storm hit Westport like a freight train — and it sounded like one. People say that Eversource’s response is unacceptable. Well, the word ‘unacceptable’ is unacceptable.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe at Town Hall. (Photo/Calvin Carson)
Democrat Jonathan Steinberg — the 5-term state representative for District 136, which covers most of Westport — has a Republican challenger.
Chip Stephens — like Steinberg, a Staples High School graduate — says:
It is with great hope and expectations that I announce my candidacy for Westport’s 136th Representative District in the Connecticut State Assembly.
As a 50-year resident of Westport, and elected Planning and Zoning Commissioner for 3 terms, I have been honored to serve and enjoy our town. My campaign is to bring to Hartford a positive message of hope, and a strong need for working together to fix the broken financial state.
My mission is to join a new effort to cooperate and innovate. My experience in local issues is fairly well known, and my advocacy has been built on supporting our great schools and organizations. I have a long record of giving back to my town, and my contributions have touched on many issues, organizations and many residents.
I will give Westport my best effort to win and serve in a positive and constructive direction. Issues and answers will lead my campaign, with no tolerance for negativity and name-calling.
Over the next weeks, I will be forming a campaign group and a platform.With both, I will strive to be inclusive of all ages, political views and those who want a better Westport and a smarter working Connecticut.
I want to hear from any and all Westporters who want to join my vision: that all politics are local. The best way to make positive change is to work together for the benefit of the town. Specific granular issues and answers will be discussed as I move forward with my campaign.
I hope this message finds my Westport friends and families well, and seeing the light beyond today’s historic challenging issues. Better days are close, thanks to our healthcare workers and scientists. Stay safe, stay well!
Chip Stephens is serving his 3rd term on Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission. He has been its chair, and also chaired the Village District Regulation, Superstorm Sandy Recovery Regulation, and other committees.
Stephens moved to Westport in 1960, and graduated from Staples in 1973, He earned an MS in microbiology, and works as a medical sales executive. He has coached Staples wrestling, PAL football, baseball and basketball. In Westport, he has worked for the preservation of Bedford Elementary School (now Town Hall), Cockenoe Island and open space.
Westport municipal offices — including Town Hall, the Senior Center and the Parks & Recreation Department office — will remain closed to the public at least through March 31. Public meetings are canceled through at least that date too.
However, staff will be available by phone or email weekdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. First Selectman Jim Marpe urges residents to be patient regarding response time.
He adds, “The public is also encouraged to utilize the town’s online services, such as paying taxes electronically.” The town’s website is www.westportct.gov.
Town Hall is closed. However, employees will be available by phone and email. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)
State Representative Jonathan Steinberg reports that Governor Ned Lamont is launching a Joint Information Center to coordinate Connecticut’s response to COVID-19.
The goal is to provide residents, municipalities, school districts, hospitals, medical providers, colleges and universities, the business community, the media and others with specific information related to the state’s response to the virus outbreak..
The SBA is currently finalizing disaster declarations related to coronavirus. Once these are released, small businesses can apply. Check the website daily to see if/when Connecticut will be eligible, and/or call the CT SBA Office at 860-240-4700)
The state Insurance Department commissioner told all travel insurers that they should accommodate travel cancellation requests and take into account the circumstances of the state of emergency.
State civil statutes prohibit price gouging. The attorney general will be monitoring closely. If you suspect price gouging, file a complaint immediately with the Attorney General’s Office by calling 860-808-5318.
Eversource has suspended all disconnects for customers until the governor lifts the state of emergency. This applies to electric, gas and water companies that are not municipally owned.
A small, well-spaced-apart crowd was joined by many more online participants this afternoon. They gathered, in real space and cyberspace, to hear from experts about the looming threat from COVID-19.
The Westport Library event — called “a forum in the Forum” by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — provided plenty of detailed information. Presentations were clear and cogent; questions were wide-ranging and thoughtful; answers were direct and honest.
It was a powerful display of active, coordinated town leadership on many levels, and a reminder that good government has a powerful place in society.
1st Selectman Jim Marpe (far right), and today’s COVID-19 panel at the Westport Library.
The key takeaways, from Marpe, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper, fire chief and director of emergency management Robert Yost, Westport Public Schools health services supervisor Suzanne Levasseur and others:
It is virtually inevitable that COVID-19 will come to Westport. It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.” Our population is too mobile, and the virus is too relentless. In fact, it may already be here.
Town officials — including the 1st Selectman, Health District and public schools — are in constant contact with the state and CDC. Conversations are frequent, ongoing and productive.
There are dozens of “what-ifs.” No one knows how many people will be affected or how. Planning is taking place to cover many scenarios.
The best precautions include rigorous hand-washing, frequent cleaning of surfaces, and careful monitoring of surroundings and contacts. Plus, self-monitoring. And save face masks for health care providers and people who are already sick.
State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left), who co-chairs the Legislature’s Public Health Committee, and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe demonstrate the best way to say hello, COVID-19-style.
If you feel ill but have not traveled to somewhere affected, are not in a high-risk category, or had contact with someone who is ill, contact your health care provider.
If, however, you have traveled to a high-risk area, or are in a high-risk category (elderly or immuno-compromised), contact the WWHD (www.wwhd.org; 203-227-9571).
The Westport Schools are being very proactive. This includes enhanced cleaning; education about the disease and proper hygiene procedures. and monitoring of student health. Nurses are on heightened awareness; there are signs, videos and plenty of soap and sanitizers in every school. Discussions are “ongoing” about things like field trips.
Here are some of the key questions from audience members and online participants — and the answers:
Should people over 60 be particularly worried? Those in this higher-risk group should follow CDC guidelines to limit exposure — particularly people with underlying health issues.
Where is testing being done? Right now, only in hospitals.
The in-person audience was small. But many more residents viewed the forum on the Westport Library’s streaming feed and Facebook page.
How is the Senior Center handling this? Director Sue Pfister said that, thanks to the day and night custodians, “it’s never been cleaner.” There are wipes and signs throughout the building, with an information table out front. “We are operating as normally as possible,” she said. “We are monitoring and educating, without panicking.” Clients are self-monitoring too, and not coming in if they don’t feel well. The staff is making contingency plans for meals for people who depend on the Center, in the event of closure.
Can we trust the CDC? Cooper said the organization is filled with excellent scientists, who are coordinating with colleagues around the world.
Who decides if schools will close? The superintendent — though Governor Lamont could make an emergency declaration. The cause could be infected students or staff, or as a preventive measure to avoid further spread. Daycare centers are also making contingency plans. Marpe noted that because many teachers — and other town employees — live elsewhere, decisions on closing are “complex.” For that reason, they may be made on a regional or statewide basis, rather than town by town.
What about budget implications? Marpe said he and the town’s legal staff are examining the implications of not being able to meet publicly for discussions — though public meetings are mandated for things like budget decisions.
What about Metro-North? They have enhanced their cleaning procedures — and have seen a drop in ridership. The most at-risk riders should think about using alternative travel methods.
What about restaurants? Owners should check the CDC for checklists. Clorox solutions are the best way to clean. The WWHD will send owners detailed information, if the risk increases.
What about gyms, fitness centers and the Y? They are no more (or less) at risk than other gathering places. Most places seem to be wiping their equipment well; users can do the same. “Social distancing” is important, as is good hygiene. There is no evidence that the virus is spread by sweat; it is spread through coughing, sneezing, and on surfaces.
What about Westport business with many employees who live elsewhere? Some are encouraging them to work from home. Bridgewater, for example, has taken the virus “extremely seriously.” They are in contact with the WWHD, and have limited travel by their employees.
Do Westport’s first responders have enough equipment? Yost says we have been very proactive. And if the situation goes on for a very long period of time? “Probably.”
Westport’s Emergency Medical Services staff were out in force at today’s COVID-19 forum.
Anything else we should know? Our emergency responders and the Health District are watching everything carefully — and everything else too. “We could have severe weather tomorrow that takes out power to everyone,” one panelist said. “We’re preparing for that too.”
In conclusion: Every action has a reaction. We don’t know what the reaction to all this will be, but town officials are planning assiduously and relentlessly. As for the tipping point of this pandemic: “We don’t know when it will come. But we do know it won’t disappear. We’ll keep watching, offering information, and making recommendations.”
The best sources of information:
www.wwhd.org (Health District phone: 203-227-9571)
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