Former Board of Education Chairman Jim Marpe and Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner should be the team at the top of the Republicans' municipal election ticket this fall, the Republican Town Committee's Selectmen Nominating Committee recommended Tuesday.
The nominating group's unanimous support for Marpe as the first selectman candidate and Kaner as his selectman running appears to ensure the duo will win endorsement by the full RTC as the party's standard-bearers in the Nov. 5 election.
The Selectmen Nominating Committee, formed in February and led by RTC Secretary Bob LaFleur, interviewed Marpe and Kaner before recommending their candidacies, but declined to say if others were considered for the ticket.
In July, the full Republican Town Committee will endorse candidates for the November election.
"I am so excited to be running with Avi," Marpe told several dozen party colleagues during an RTC meeting Tuesday at Town Hall. "I think this will be a tremendous team effort. I think what we can bring to the challenges that face Westport now and in the coming years makes it an extraordinary opportunity for the town of Westport and exciting one for us."
Backing by the nominating committee unofficially launches the Marpe-Kaner campaign. Marpe announced last November his candidacy for the first selectman post, but Kaner had not declared for the race until Tuesday.
They will be vying for two of the three seats on the Board of Selectmen. First Selectman Gordon Joseloff announced in January that he would not run for a third term in November. His No. 2, Selectwoman Shelly Kassen, also plans to step down this year. The board's third member is Republican Charles Haberstroh, who since December 2010 has been serving the remainder of a term won in 2009 by the late Gavin Anderson. Haberstroh apparently does not plan to run for the Board of Selectmen, since he was a member of the nominating group that backed Marpe and Kaner.
Marpe stepped down from the school board in November to focus on his first selectman campaign. He had served on the school board since 2005. He was re-elected to a second term in 2009 and became the board's vice chairman in 2007. He then became the panel's acting chairman last August when Democrat Don O'Day, who had been chairman, resigned.
Kaner, 48, has served on the finance board since 2005. He was re-elected in 2009 and became chairman in 2011 when Republicans gained a majority on the panel. His selectman bid means that he will not seek a third term.
Marpe and Kaner have extensive experience in the private sector. Marpe worked 32 years at the management-consulting, technology services and outsourcing firm Accenture, until his retirement as a senior partner in 2002. His record included heading Accenture's worldwide financial services merger and acquisition practice. He has lived in Westport since 1989.
Kaner is the owner of the metropolitan New York-area supermarket chain Morton Williams, where he has worked for the last 15 years. He was formally a principal at the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, where he focused on the financial-services industry. He has lived in Westport since 1996.
"I think we have two great candidates who have both been extremely wonderful public servants," said RTC Chairwoman Desiree Soli. "I don't think we could ask for a better pair."
The Marpe-Kaner platform
In an interview Tuesday with the Westport News, Marpe said providing top public services would be a major objective for his administration.
"One of the concerns is that the services the town delivers are starting, in some cases, to look a little threadbare, worn and in need of attention," he said. "We need to be sure our town's services -- things like Longshore [Club] Park and Compo Beach -- that those match the quality that Westporters expect in their schools."
He highlighted senior citizens' quality-of-life as another concern.
"When I talk to seniors -- yes, there are some who would like to have some different kind of housing -- but most would like to age in place in their houses, but they're afraid and concerned that the tax increases will drive them from their houses," he added. "If we benefit seniors, we benefit everyone."
Marpe also reiterated that he would consider supporting a senior residential complex at Baron's South, if the town receives a viable proposal. Senior housing at Baron's South has emerged as what many regard as his administration's No.1 goal.
As the finance board's chairman, Kaner is one of the town's most powerful elected town officials. He told the Westport News that envisions playing an equally important role as selectman.
"Our winning the selectmen's race in November will put me personally in a unique position to be a liaison between the Selectman's Office and the Board of Finance to streamline planning and decision-making," he said. "It will help us cut through the red tape and quickly making decisions to improve both our town's finances and enhance the town's services."
He indicated that board colleague Michael Rea should succeed him as the panel's chairman, assuming that Republicans retain control of the board after this year's election.
Democrats' election plans unclear
So far, no Democrats have formally declared their candidacy for first selectman, although state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg and Board of Finance Vice Chairwoman Helen Garten have publicly expressed interest in running.
"I am as interested as I've always been," Steinberg told the Westport News on Tuesday.
The Democratic nominee will be looking to extend the party's 16-year continuous old on the first selectman's office. That stint started in 1997 when Diane Farrell defeated Republican incumbent Joseph Arcudi. She served two terms and was succeeded in 2005 by Joseloff.
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