Westport Elections Send a Message
Tonight the Republicans won control of two of the three major ruling Boards in town, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Finance. The odds were stacked particularly high against the Republicans for the P & Z Commission since all four of the Republican candidates on the ballot needed to win to flip control of the Board from the Democrats to the Republicans.
With voter registration tipping quite favorably to Democrats in Westport, why did the Republicans win?
On the Board of Finance, the Republicans raised the issue of pension obligations that went undetected by the town and its employees. Able candidates on both sides ran, but my guess is that the town understood that new leadership was the best antidote going forward. Congrats to all the winners, particularly my good friend Michael Rea.
Why did the Republicans take the P & Z in a clean sweep of all four seats? Save Westport Now. Save Westport Now is an organization devoted to sensible land use planning. Usually they endorse Democrats, and most of their membership are in fact registered Democrats. This year, they broke with tradition, and endorsed all four Republicans on their own ballot line. Democrats who would never vote for anyone with an “R” next to their name could vote in good conscience for these four candidates who espoused the same opinions on land use issues as the Board of Save Westport Now.
Now comes the real question- Why did SWN and the town throw out the Democrats? In a word, P & Z Chairman Ron Corwin. Ron Corwin’s leadership has brought the town to the brink of catastrophe. He has encouraged developers to submit zoning changes that would forever alter the character of the town. He has held subcommittee meetings during working hours that were almost exclusively attended by developers and their paid consultants. Corwin has run public hearings with an iron fist and a condescending manner, placating developers and cutting off would be objectors.
Westport is a town that pays attention. Thanks to the able reporting of Chandra Niles Folsom, I was alerted to the substance of new zoning text amendments that radically changed height, coverage and zone restrictions. Thanks to the beauty of a microphone, I was able to alert my audience to the possibility that the bad guys might win if we did nothing. Listener Gloria Ginter called my studio to volunteer to get signatures on petitions. She collected hundreds in a mere few hours. Save Westport Now became energized. No one, and I mean no one, writes a letter like Sidney Kramer. Few are brighter and more persuasive than Connie Greenfield.
Still, I was worried. Four people on a slate? That meant that the lone Democrat running needed to lose, in order for Corwin to lose his chairmanship.
Tonight at Republican headquarters, my faith in democracy was restored. Enough people cared about this issue to get out and vote. A message was sent. Westport does not want overdevelopment either downtown or on the Post Road. We want incremental changes in keeping with the character of the town, as it is. Tomorrow a new day dawns in Westport, and I look forward to the new leadership.
Kudos to Gordon Joseloff, Shelley Kassen, Helen Garten and other Democratic candidates, winners and losers, who appeared at Republican headquarters tonight to extend their congratulations. I really do love this very classy town.