Friday, December 01, 2023



Shays-Farrell: Iraq Differences Surfaced at Town Meeting

Editor’s Note: Last Feb. 23, Rep. Christopher Shays held a “town meeting” on Iraq and terrorism—which was nationally televised live by CSPAN—at Bedford Middle School in Westport. Westport First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell introduced Shays, a strong supporter of President Bush’s Iraq policies. In view of her intention to possibly challenge the 16-year Congressional veteran in November, her words take on added interest and significance, especially with the passage of time. Here are her introductory remarks as recorded by CSPAN and transcribed by WestportNow:

Farrell to Shays on Iraq (Feb. 23, 2003): Work to bring United Nations involvement. CSPAN/ photo

Chris has obviously got some very heavy decisions to have to make over the coming months. He certainly has been grappling with those issues for a very long time. And I think one of the things that has made Chris such a success in this area is that he takes a very good moderate viewpoint.

I also know that Chris has spent a great deal of time researching, discovering, unfortunately learning some things that probably most of us dont ever want to know or hear because they are so dire and so grave and I do listen very carefully when Chris has things to say in that regard.

Obviously, since September 11th, the Town of Westport and all of the municipalities that are within striking distance Җ and I say that meaningfully, I suppose of New York City worry about what it is that we may face in the future and certainly haven’t forgotten what we faced and what I would have to characterize as the very recent past.

The View from the Republican Chair

By Pete Wolgast

Chair, Westport Republican Town Committee
Special to

The 2003 election in Westport was the off year for voting in the four-year election cycle.  As usual, voters were relatively uninterested in spite of the efforts made by the League of Women Voters, the Democrat Party and the Republican Party to get them to vote. 

Only 42.5 percent of those registered turned out to vote. Four years ago in a similar election only 36 percent voted.  Next year is a presidential election and it is likely about 85 percent of Westport’s voters will vote as they did in 2000.

In 2005, we will have a First Selectman’s contest (50 percent voted in the last one in 2001) and in 2006 we will have a gubernatorial election (60 percent voted in the last one in 2002) which should bring out more voters than this year.

My congratulations to party chairman Martha Aasen and the Democrats for successfully maintaining control of all Westport town boards and commissions in the 2003 election. 

Even though Republicans have an advantage due to the larger number of registered Republicans, the Democrats had an advantage in this election because they only had to elect six candidates to maintain their control of the boards. Westport Republicans endorsed 12 candidates for the boards and commissions.

A further advantage for the Democrats was that five of their six candidates were incumbents while only two of the 12 Republicans were incumbents. 

Looking at each of the boards and commissions:

Zoning Board of Appeals
Since the Democrats have two incumbents on the ZBA with two more years remaining on their four-year term, the Town Charter only allows them to elect one more person on this five-member board. The Democrats only needed to re-elect their incumbent chairman to maintain control.

Planning & Zoning Commission
On this commission, the Democrats have three incumbents with two more years remaining on their four-year term. So they could only elect one more person on this seven-member board.  Here again, the Democrats only needed to re-elect their incumbent chairwoman to maintain control while the Republicans had to elect four newcomers.

Board of Education
On this board, the Democrats have two incumbents with two years remaining in their term so they needed to elect one incumbent and one newcomer to maintain control of this seven-member board. The Republicans ran two candidates.

Lewis Brey had served on the RTM and the Board of Finance previously and was soundly supported as he received the second most votes. Republican candidate Ed Bowers is very capable but is relatively new to Westport after living and serving in Norwalk for many years.

In spite of the fact that he was supported by several full-page advertisements by The Campaign for a Responsive Board of Education (presumably that group of parents who were unhappy with the earlier start time at Coleytown Middle School), he finished last of the major party candidates.

Board of Finance
Here again, the Democrats have two incumbents with two years remaining on their terms. To maintain control of this seven-member board, they had to re-elect two incumbents, including the chairman. 

Meanwhile, the GOP had to elect three candidates, incumbent Gavin Anderson, highly popular RTM member Charlie Haberstroh, who received the second most votes. and Tom Bloch, who is highly capable but completely new to Westport politics and finished behind the other major party-endorsed candidates.

With three unaffiliated candidates running for the Board of Education, the 2003 election was more interesting than usual. The unaffiliated candidates worked very hard.

One raised more money than any other candidate and was supported by The Campaign for a Responsive Board of Education. However, none of the three garnered enough votes to challenge any of the major party candidates. This election showed the difficulty of winning as an unaffiliated candidate. 

In the last 30 years in Westport, only Audrey Hansen, an incumbent Republican member of the Board of Education, who was not endorsed by the Republican Party, has won without the support of a major party.

(Editor’s Note: The chair of the Democratic Town Committee presented her views Wednesday.)

The View from the Democratic Chair

By Martha Aasen

Chair, Westport Democratic Town Committee
Special to

Elections in Westport are always hard fought and interesting.

Even in a year with no state or national elections and no first selectman race, we had Democrats and Republicans and petitioning candidates, lawn signs galore, political ads and letters to the editor that filled our papers. 

We Democrats are happy tonight.  We ran excellent candidates, worked hard to get our message out, and retained all of the boards and commissions. 

For 40 years, I have lived in Westport and been involved in our elections, local, state, and national. 

It’s a far cry from the first election nights I remember, as a child in Newton, Miss., a little town of 3,500. 

On election night everyone went downtown to the one main street, the newspaper posted the returns on a large blackboard. 

My uncle who ran the drug store stayed open late and gave all the children free ice cream cones.  The Band Boosters ran a Cakewalk. 

At 10 p.m., my father and all my uncles went off to Jackson (the capitol of Mississippi) to be close to the action. 

Now, in Westport, the PTAs have bake sales and we check the WestportNow Web site to get the results.

Editor’s Note: The chair of the Republican Town Committee was asked to provide a Republican viewpoint as well.

Westport State Sen. Judith Freedman

The bipartisan vote, 26-8, gave final legislative approval to the deal, five weeks into the new fiscal year that began July 1. All 20 Democrats present voted for the bill. Eight Republicans voted against it.

Two of the 36 members were absent.

Freedman, whose district includes Westport as well as the communities, or portions of the communities, of Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, and Wilton, did not respond to a request to comment. (See update below.)

Press reports from Hartford indicated that Republican Party leaders, under pressure from the majority Democrats, pressured a number of their members to vote with the majority so the budget would be seen as truly bipartisan.

The bill, which passed the House of Representatives Wednesday night, now goes to Gov. John G. Rowland, but he won’t receive it for about 10 days.

During that time, lawmakers plan to finish the legislation that spells out of the details of the budget – equally reviled by rank-and-file members of both parties.

Rowland said he won’t sign the budget until he receives the so-called budget implementation bills and the proposed bonding package, yet to be discussed.

Like in the House, few in the Senate had compliments for the package. But legislative leaders described the deal as tough medicine in a year when Connecticut faces a $1 billion deficit.

Update (8/2/03): In belated comments to WestportNow, Freedman said: ғI believe we needed to move ahead and get it accomplished without further delay. The Democrats wanted our fingerprints on it or as (Senate president pro tempore) Kevin Sullivan said, to share the blame.ђ

As I said in my comments on the floor, it is the good, the bad and the ugly. Good to have something upon which to act, bad, that we as legislators allowed the process to get so out of control and ugly…because the ugly in the budget far outweighs many of the good items. 

ӓThe work done by all the committees and the time frame we have established in our rules are at this time ineffective. Either we need to rewrite our rules or members and leadership need to adhere to the deadlines, including getting the budget done on time.

We need to outlaw ԑworks in progress.  Either way, the state will gain. At this juncture as we prepare to write the implementers, it may be possible to salvage some good ideas that have gotten lost by the wayside.

“The budget is basically the raw numbers in the various agencies and major programs; the implementers will now direct the agencies specifically on how to spend the money.

ғThe budget is very reliant on some rather iffy assumptions in the second year, and I suspect we will forced to deal with them next February.

08/01/2003 12:48 pm Comments (0)Permalink

Referendum Petition Drive to Cut Budget by $5 Million Falls Short

An attempt by Westporter Michael Gilbertie to force a referendum to cut the towns budget by $5 million has fallen short—by at least 120 signatures.

Town Clerk Patricia H. Strauss said today that Gilbertie turned in 1,473 signatures Җ unverified and needed 1,593 by Tuesday to achieve his goal.

She said Gilbertie submitted almost 300 signatures Tuesday night to Selectman John Izzo in a last-minute attempt to support his drive for a referendum on whether to shrink next year’s $128.6 million budget.

Last year, the 63-year-old Gilbertie also failed in a petition drive for a referendum to cut $40 million of the $73 million approved for rebuilding and renovating Staples High School.

He thought he had 30 more signatures than he needed to force a referendum, but he ended up 97 short after the registrars disqualified some.

Strauss said there would be no examination of signatures submitted on Gilbertie’s latest effort to determine how many were valid. “He didn’t get enough for us to do that,” she said.

Gilbertie֒s two failed attempts to force referendums came following a town charter change which increased from one week to 14 days the time period petitioners had to gather signatures for a referendum.

One Westporter’s Protest

Wally Meyer plays Santa at Stew Leonard’s during the holiday season. He doesn’t need a lot of makeup and prep because he is a Santa lookalike anyway.

But don’t let the jovial demeanor fool you. Deep down he is a man of strong convictions and resolve.

Wally, who serves on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) with me, says he has come up with his own personal plan to protest any U.S. attack on Iraq.

He’s submitted a letter to the Westport News for publication and asked friends to pass it along. So here it is:

“When the bombs fall on Bagdhad I shall be in mourning.

“As a combat veteran of Korea, I feel my country has lost its way. Once a beacon of hope for the world, we now have become the symbol of reckless power.

“Once we were the leader of nations striving for peace. Now we stand alone. We accept no advice or counsel from others. We are embarking on a pre-emptive war with little support from our longstanding allies.

“They know that pre-emptive wars are addictive. They fear that pre-emptive war will be to our liking and that we shall act that way again and again.

“When the bombing begins I shall be wearing a black armband to show my grief for the path my country has taken. Please join me and show the sorrow that so many of us feel.

“Wally Meyer
“Westport, CT”

Agree or disagree, you’ve got to admire him for taking a stance.

Terrorism and Iraq on Westports Agenda

Somehow you wish we could just hunker down in Westport and block out whats happening regarding Iraq and the war on terrorism. But, alas, it’s not to be.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Westport has stepped up local preparedness by purchasing masks and protective suits for our emergency personnel. The town has also purchased and distributed radiation-protecting potassium iodide pills to residents.

And Westport/Weston Health Director Judy Nelson has made plans for mass smallpox vaccinations to take place at the new Bedford Middle School should the need arise.

Now related events are popping up on our political agendas. The Board of Selectmen on March 12 will consider a resolution urging that the Indian Point nuclear facility in Westchester County be shut down.

It asks that the closure continue until deficiencies raised in an independent review of the facilitys emergency preparedness plan are resolved.

First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell told The Hour in Sunday’s edition that she isn’t sure the board will actually vote on the the issue and that it may be referred to the Representative Town Meeting (RTM).

And an Iraq related item is headed to the RTM. A resident has alerted RTM members that their April 1 meeting will include a Sense of the Meeting resolution urging the United States not to act unilaterally on Iraq.

It calls on the Bush Administration to work through the United Nations to achieve a peaceful resolution of the issue.

Of course, by April 1 the petition could be moot. A similar petition was scheduled to be heard by the RTM last fall but was withdrawn when the United States did go to the U.N. Security Council at the time.

Undoubtedly, there will be those who say our local officials ought not to be taking on issues of national and international importance. But there will be just as many who will argue the opposite. After all, this is Westport.

Debate Comes Out of the Closet

First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell’s budget message to the Board of Finance Wednesday night (March 5, 2003) wasn’t the news.

We already knew her town budget and the Board of Ed budget would likely result in a 10 percent plus tax increase.

What was news was that a debate long discussed off the record among elected officials and townspeople alike came into the open unexpectedly in the sparsely attended BOF budget session.

It was the majority Democrats (4) vs the minority Republicans (3) on the town budget. (The voting was different on the ed budget—see below.)

Essentially, the Republicans, led by Rob Graham, argued that these are tough times that call for lean budgets. Reduce headcounts, they said. And do it aggressively.

The Democrats, led by chair Steve Ezzes, said that’s an admirable goal but reduced headcounts mean reduced services.

“Frankly,” he said, “I’m not sure the general population wants us to do that. I’ve not heard that from anyone.”

Bingo. Finally the debate was in the open. Westport is a sought-after community to live in and commands top dollar housing values because people demand—and get—top schools and services, the Democrat seemed to be saying.

And, more importantly, he implied, they are willing to pay for it.

The Republicans seemed stunned to hear their chair publicly espouse such an idea and had no immediate rejoinder. They did try to table the entire town budget, hoping it would be brought back in a reduced form. But that effort failed 3-4 on a strictly partly line vote.

The Republicans then proceeded to vote against almost every line of the town budget, including the fire and police budgets. Only on the library and health district budgets did Republican Rick Benson side with the Democrats, making it a 5-2 approval for those items.

In the end, the board approved both the town and education budgets after voting to hold back some small amounts earmarked for bonding capital projects that they have yet to approve.

On the education budget, the vote was 6-1 with the lone holdout Graham. Members have a chance to restore the cuts next month.

Meanwhile, party lines and fiscal philosophies are a lot more legible for voters to see—at least on the Board of Finance.

What’s in a Name? In Westport, Always Controversy

State Rep. Ken Bernhard, a Republican whose 136th District now includes only Westport, wants to name the Post Road bridge over the Saugatuck River in honor of the late Ruth Steinkraus-Cohen.

Ms. Steinkraus-Cohen, who died last year, was a longtime Westporter and friend and supporter of the United Nations.

Each summer, the bridge is decked out in flags of the U.N. members on “jUNe Day” when the town hosts U.N. delegates, mission members and U.N. employees and their families for the day. But nothing is ever easy in Westport.

Because the bridge is state-owned, Bernhard proposed state legislation to make the name change.

“Ms. Steinkraus-Cohen was a remarkable woman with an extraordinary commitment to public service and was active in promoting peace through the United Nations,” Bernhard said.

Bernhard’s bill (House Bill No. 5272) called for the bridge to be named the “Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge.”

Bernhard asked First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell to have Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) endorse the proposal to make sure the townspeople were supportive of the effort.

As RTM Moderator, I suggested to the First Selectwoman that the Board of Selectmen (which includes her, fellow Democrat Carl Leaman and Republican John Izzo) take up the matter first, as it would under the town’s “Policy for Naming Town Property,” which deals with town-owned property.

The Board of Selectmen considered the issue Tuesday (March 4, 2003). The motion passed 2-1 and will go before the RTM next month. Izzo voted against it.

According to the Westport News, “In a statement released after the meeting, Izzo said he didn’t know Ruth Steinkraus-Cohen, but explained he felt that it wasn’t fair to other Westport notables who might be worthy of such an honor.”

You can’t say party politics was a factor. Or was it? Perhaps Izzo for some reason looked at it as a partisan issue (as he does with many things). But Steinkraus-Cohen was a registered Republican. And it is a Republican rep who is asking the state to approve the name change.

Before Izzo’s vote, some Westporters anticipated opposition might come from those unhappy with the U.N. Security Council’s stance on efforts to disarm Iraq.

Bernhard says he has time to “derail” his proposal before it gets to the General Assembly if Westporters don’t back it. Never take anything for granted in Westport.

Update: At its April 1 meeting, the RTM voted 26-5 in favor of endorsing Bernhard’s bill to rename the bridge.