Candidate files lawsuit in effort to become Westport third selectman

TJ Elgin, 31, of Westport, recently announced his candidacy for the 2021 Westport first selectman's race.

TJ Elgin, 31, of Westport, recently announced his candidacy for the 2021 Westport first selectman's race.

TJ Elgin/Contributed

WESTPORT — Libertarian first selectman candidate TJ Elgin has filed a lawsuit against the town, claiming he should be the rightful third selectman. The town attorney, though, says he isn’t “entitled” to that seat.

Elgin, who filed the lawsuit in Bridgeport Superior Court on Nov. 16, ran for first selectman against Republican Jennifer Tooker and Democrat Jonathan Steinberg during the Nov. 2 election. In total, he garnered 64 votes and came in third place. Tooker and her running mate Andrea Moore won the top spots with 4,237 votes. Steinberg and his running mate Candice Savin received 4,168 votes.

Steinberg’s vote total entitled him to be third selectman. But with him declining the role, Elgin argues the seat should be his. He said the town charter states the first selectman candidate to receive the next highest amount of votes gets the third seat on the board.

Elgin said that with Steinberg declining, he is the only viable option since he has the next highest amount of votes. He argues Savin ran as a second selectman candidate, and so this section of the town charter doesn’t apply to her.

Elgin’s lawsuit comes amid controversy sparked over the interpretation of Westport’s town charter and Connecticut state statue.

It specifically centers on Section 9-188 of the state statute, which discusses the first selectman, selectmen, election procedure, dual candidacy prohibition, minority representation, restricted voting and a tie vote. It also invokes Section C4-1 of the town charter, which states that the defeated candidate for first selectman having the highest number of votes shall be elected a selectman.

However, Town Attorney Ira Bloom said that Elgin is not “entitled to that position.”

In a letter sent Nov. 12 to then First Selectman Jim Marpe, Bloom said, “There is no provision in the Charter section that awards any other defeated candidate the office of Selectman. Rather, if the ‘defeated candidate … having the highest number of votes’ declines service, as Mr. Steinberg has done, a vacancy is created in the Board of Selectmen.”

“Mr. Elgin has no claim to be a Selectman under this Charter section,” Bloom wrote.

Bloom continued that Charter Section C38-3, which covers vacancies, is the correct section that is applicable to this situation.

“Vacancies in elective boards are filled by appointment by the remaining members, in this case Ms. Jen Tooker and Ms. Andrea Moore, for the unexpired portion of the term. The appointed person must be a member of the same political party as the person vacating,” Bloom explained in the letter.

This would mean the third selectman has to be a Democrat.

The Democratic Town Committee held a special meeting Wednesday night to decide who to nominate for the third selectman position. Savin has said she would accept the seat.

Tooker and Moore were expected to appoint the third selectman this week, though an exact date has not been announced.

Tooker’s office declined to comment.

Within Elgin’s lawsuit, which is directed to Town Clerk Jeffrey Dunkerton, it states that Steinberg was never sworn into the position, thus there is no vacancy.

“On November 15, 2021, Defendant [Dunkerton] did not swear Plaintiff [Steinberg] in as third selectman, and to this date has not made any effort to do so,” court documents said.

The complaint states “Steinberg never assumed office; therefore, there is no vacancy,” but rather the ordinance makes Elgin duly elected.

The lawsuit also asks the court to order Dunkerton to certify Elgin’s election to the Board of Selectmen and that he be reimbursed for all his legal expenses in the case.

Dunkerton could not be reached for comment.

Bloom is in the process of reviewing the situation, town officials said.