Former Governor M. Jodi Rell
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
Westport, CT – Judging by the German beer being dispensed and the bratwurst in the hot trays, it seemed the only thing missing from the big hall was an oompah band. But the Oktoberfest theme playing out here was just an accent for a greater purpose.
On Saturday afternoon, the Westport Republican Town Committee (RTC) hosted its 5th Annual Oktoberfest Meet and Greet event, spotlighting the Westport Republican candidates running in the November elections for the Board of Finance, Board of Education and Planning & Zoning departments. The candidates, family members, friends, supporters and other special guests, including Former Governor of Connecticut M. Jodi Rell and 2012 U.S. Senate and U.S. Congress candidates, all met and mingled over German-themed delicacies. Rell was also honored with a special lifetime service award.
Standing in as event coordinators for RTC Chairman Bob Zappi, Vice Chair Karen Hess (with Tim Whetmore) said November was critical. “We have competitive elections in key departments, a fabulous slate of candidates and a great chance of gaining a majority,” she said. “We also have many 2012 Federal office candidates here, like Chris Shays and Linda McMahon for U.S. Senate and Steve Obsitnik for U.S. Congress.”
Nearby, Mike Rea, chair of the RTM finance committee for the past 12 years and a Board of Finance candidate, was beaming with excitement about the gathering. A Westport native who has raised a family here and held positions in Parks & Recreation and Bedford Middle School, Rea said, “I like to think I have broad popularity. With me, it’s always Westport first. People don’t need a wagging finger. They need a straight talker, a positive person with business acumen. Currently, the town does not have the proper financial controls and checks and balances in place. This will be a focus when we get in. The problem is that when one party controls every board and commission in town, there are no checks and balances in the financial areas the town needs. We’re a logical choice for people concerned.”
Another current town servant, Cathy Walsh, a Planning & Zoning board member since 2009 and P&Z candidate, shared both her accomplishments and forward vision. “With zoning issues, we’ve strived to encourage applicants to work out with neighbors any differences,” she said. “Opening up downtown for outdoor dining and music has also been key. Going forward, we want to continue growth from within and keep the character of the community.”
On the Board of Education front, candidate Jeannie Smith came right to the point about her stance: “Education has been my profession for the past 15 years. Rather, as my husband says, ‘my profession, purpose and passion.”
Fellow Board of Education candidate Jennifer Tooker was similarly terse, saying, “I’m thrilled to be running and contributing as a global thinker on education, budgets and parent/teacher and town issues.”
One voice the group was unanimously eager to hear was that of Rell’s, who claimed many friends and familiar faces at the event. As she mounted a low stage and was presented with her lifetime service award, she recognized and commended the candidates. “Without your service, we would all be falling so far behind. Best of luck to you all in the November elections,” she said. “We have great candidates putting themselves out there.”
As to her own current activities, Rell said, “No I’m not running for anything. I’ve been traveling and babysitting. I get to pick and choose things I enjoy and go with people I enjoy.”