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Editorial / For town, Tuesday's vote trumps any White House race

Updated 7:07 pm, Thursday, October 31, 2013
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On Election Day in 1992, an eye-popping 90 percent of Westport's registered voters went to the polls. Bill Clinton topped incumbent George H.W. Bush that day in Westport, in Connecticut and in the nation.

What was the net impact of Westport's big 1992 presidential vote? There was none -- zero.

Clinton beat Bush in Connecticut by more than 104,000 votes, sweeping up all its electoral votes. Clinton would have won the state without a single one of the 7,799 votes cast for him in Westport. Bush would have lost Connecticut even if every Westport vote was for him.

From his Oval Office, Clinton would have no direct effect on Post Road traffic, class sizes in Westport schools or conditions at Compo Beach.

But when the polls open again this coming Tuesday -- Nov. 5 -- every Westport ballot cast could impact how our children are educated, what downtown will look like in a few years, how much you'll pay in property taxes and what services and amenities those taxes will provide.

That's a lot more bang for your ballot than any presidential race provides.

Yet the last time Westport elected a first selectman, a meager 41 percent of voters participated -- less than half the local turnout for any presidential election in 20-plus years.

Westporters are smarter than that, more invested in their community than that. And they should prove it on Tuesday.

The town is at a leadership crossroads, and voters decisions on Tuesday will reverberate for years to come. Even before the polls open, the town is guaranteed to have a new first selectman for the first time since 2005, when incumbent Gordon Joseloff, who is stepping down, won his first term.

Vying to be the town's chief executive are Democrat Helen Garten, a lawyer and Board of Finance vice chairman, and Republican Jim Marpe, a retired business executive and former Board of Education vice chairman.

Both have solid records of public service and they share similar views on many issues. We believe both are qualified for the job and that both genuinely believe they can make an already superb town even better.

Undecided voters should study the candidates and choose carefully. Garten and Marpe wrote op-ed pieces detailing their positions on these pages last Friday, Oct. 25 (they can be found online). Capsule profiles of the pair appear in the news columns of today's edition, along with those of their running mates -- Democrat Melissa Kane and Republican Avi Kaner, the candidates for second selectman.

But critical decisions don't stop at the top of the ballot.

Under-ticket contests will determine which party controls the critical Board of Finance and which controls a Board of Education that is responsible for about 60 percent of town spending.

Also up for grabs are seats on the Planning and Zoning Commission, whose meetings on downtown and other development issues in recent years sometimes have been so impassioned they've resembled a Wild West show.

With a strong showing two years ago, Republicans wrested control of the Board of Finance from the Democrats. Because of staggered terms, the GOP has only one Finance Board candidate this year. If that lone candidate is elected, Republicans will retain control. A sweep by three Democrats would give their party a majority.

The Board of Education now is controlled by the Democrats. Two Democratic incumbents are running against three Republicans (one incumbent and two challengers). Both Democrats would have to win for their party to retain control.

While staggered terms mean Republican control of the Planning and Zoning Commission will not change this year, controversy about downtown development and the emergence of two third-party slates make the contest anything but normal.

Three Democratic candidates for P&Z have been cross-endorsed by Save Westport Now, the preservation-minded third party. A new third party -- the Coalition for Westport -- has put up its own three-candidate slate that favors planned growth and development.

Voters also will elect a new probate judge for the Westport/Weston District. Democrat Kieran Costello is facing Republican Lisa Wexler.

Your ballot on Tuesday will speak louder than any presidential vote you have cast or will cast.

Not a registered voter? Not a problem; you can register on Election Day in the town hall auditorium between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.

So do your homework on the candidates. Then vote.

Your decisions in the voting booth could affect you, your family and neighbors every day for the next four years -- and beyond.