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Out of the Woods / New Year's wish: Bipartisanship spirit and action

Published 7:58 am, Wednesday, January 1, 2014
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For first time since 1997, Westport is starting a new year with the Republican in the first selectman's office and an opportunity to bring all town agencies -- whether under Republican or Democratic control -- together pulling in the same direction. In other words, a chance to stop partisan haggling and really get things done.

Not since Democrat Diane G. Farrell upset Republican incumbent First Selectman Joe Arcudi 17 years ago, has the Republican Party had an opportunity to unite the town by reaching across the aisle to solve problems.

Which reminds me of the campaign slogan that the late New York Republican Mayor John V. Lindsay used to propel himself to victory in 1965, the first Republican to capture City Hall in New York since Fiorello LaGuardia was elected in 1934.

With Democrats far outnumbering Republicans in New York, Lindsay needed to appeal to Democrats. His slogan: "There is no Republican or Democratic way to clean the streets." (Full disclosure: This writer serve as Lindsay's' first press secretary in 1966.)

There is a lesson that can be applied to Westport. The fact is there is no Republican or Democratic way to maintain our recreational facilities, Longshore Club, public library, Police and Fire departments, Planning and Zoning Commission, and so on.

Republican First Selectman Jim Marpe already has pledged that his new administration wants to work with the Democratic minority in town to solve the town's challenges. That's the right note on which to begin the year.

Indeed, if Marpe really keeps his word and is truly able to unite our town -- no easy task -- and put together a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, Westport might very well have a chance to return to national fame it achieved in 1958 when it was singled out as an "All American City" in a nationwide contest sponsored by "Look" Magazine and the National Municipal League. Look's publisher, Vernon Myers, described Westport as coming "out of the blueprint stage of citizen action." With its reputation and profile considerably enhanced, Westport had become a prominent place on the national horizon.

That historic recognition resulted from years of planning by a combination of citizen volunteers and town officials who made so many physical and environmental changes that Westport was, indeed, completely transformed.

We now have a similar opportunity to improve our already beautiful, old New England town, founded in 1835, into the showplace that it already is. With the help of the Planning and Zoning Commission, the business people downtown, and a number of other blueprints to enhance the downtown heartbeat of Westport, the town is already well in the planning stages of a possible historic transition for the better.

Yes, we still have difficult traffic, planning and zoning issues, architectural challenges to maintain our "New England look." If Marpe is successful in putting together a bipartisan approach -- that also includes input from the Westport Historical Society -- we will have another rare opportunity to make our town even better than it is.

Of course, the Board of Education, which operates under its own budget independently, needs to be included in this townwide effort from the outset. Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon needs to broaden his own horizon and concentrate on safety in the schools, a plan that has been dragging woefully ever since the Sandy Hook gun slaughter last year.

All the plans are lined up. Now we must really come together. We have a rare opportunity to reshape and improve our town with the change of administrations. Let's get to work. We've had enough talk. It's time for action.

Woody Klein is a Westport writer, and his "Out of the Woods" appears every other Friday. He can be reached at wklein11@aol.com