Westport wants to know: Where's reimbursement for unpaid Obama fundraiser costs?
Updated 5:42 pm, Friday, August 24, 2012
Officials of the Democratic National Committee didn't exactly tell Westport officials to drop dead after they asked for reimbursement of nearly $15,000 to cover police and fire personnel overtime costs during President Barack Obama's visit Aug. 6 for an exclusive fundraiser at the waterfront estate of film producer Harvey Weinstein.
However, the DNC did suggest the town look elsewhere for any compensation, since it claims the $35,800-a-head event had nothing to do with its operations: "Please note that as a private organization, the DNC did not participate in security, traffic control, fire or EMS planning" for the Westport fundraiser, Amanda Howe, chief operating officer of the DNC, wrote in an Aug. 14 letter to First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.
"All such decisions, including their impact on costs incurred by federal, state or local governments are exclusively within the control of the appropriate government officials. Should there be a question about the allocation of expenses among the cooperating authorities, we assume that it should be directed to the U.S. Secret Service," Howe wrote.
Joseloff also sought reimbursement from the Obama for America campaign and Weinstein himself, although neither has responded as yet.
And, he apparently does not expect a positive response from them, either.
"I didn't expect that we would get repayment, but it was worthwhile to ask," Joseloff said this week.
Given that the local security costs are calculated to be less than half of the price of a ticket to the fundraiser -- believed to have amassed well over $2 million for Obama's campaign coffers -- the Westport News conducted a random sampling this week of public sentiments about the unpaid bill.
Charlie Kniffin, a Westport resident, was walking downtown Tuesday when he responded: "I think it's ridiculous. The money means a lot more to the town than it does to the DNC."
Michael O'Neil, a resident of Las Vegas, Nev., in downtown Westport during a visit with his daughter, said: Obama "did come to where I live a long time ago, and it was a nightmare with all of the security ... I wouldn't want to give him (Obama) money for security."
Rick Bhattacharya, a resident in Westport, was sitting outside the downtown Starbucks coffee shop: "No, it's really not fair." He also noted that he was not in town the day the president visited. "I thought he knew this area somehow personally, and for the town to pay all that money ..."
Sally White, owner of Sally's Place music store on Main Street, one of the only mom and pop locally owned shops left downtown: "I'm not one of these political people, I'm an issue woman ... With the way technology is taking over business, and taxes are being raised ... with everything going on, I don't see how the town can do it."
Lauren Annuniziata, a Fairfield resident, on Tuesday was at Southport Beach, just over the border from Westport's Beachside Avenue, where the fundraiser was hosted by Harvey Weinstein: "There should be a follow through on the political side, and not leave the town up to pay for it. Money doesn't fall from trees, after all."
Chris Arnold who was at Southport Beach, not far from the gala fundraiser site in Westport, said: "My wife works in Westport, so I know about it ... Closing everything, police -- the town should not have to pay for it."
Jacques Voris, working Wednesday at Westport Pizzeria on Main Street: "The Democratic National Committee should have to pay for it."
Lifeguard Paul Sikora on Wednesday morning was on duty at Burying Hill Beach, which was closed on the day of the Obama visit for security reasons because it abuts Harvey Weinstein's estate: "I feel like it's Obama's problem, that's a federal issue," he said. "That money should go towards other stuff in town, like the schools, the police force ... and hey, maybe more pay for lifeguards."
Burying Hill Beach lifeguard Kara Millington of Fairfield said: "I'd be upset, even though it's pretty cool that Obama came here," she said. "I feel like he has to pay for it."
Westport resident Moha Jhaveri, walking around the Burying Hill Beach neighborhood: "I didn't even know about the fifteen thousand that was being paid by the town, but that's inappropriate because it was put on as a funraiser ... I think that this town is very well funded, but there is high anxiety and financial issues, with the economy fallen."