By Pete Wolgast
Chair, Westport Republican Town Committee
Special to WestportNow.com
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.)