Candidates' positions illuminated during debate
Published 1:04 am, Friday, October 23, 2009
First selectman candidates Gavin Anderson and Gordon Joseloff often found themselves agreeing with each other on the issues -- such as senior housing, the environment and carefully looking at consolidation of town services -- during the League of Women Voters forum at Westport Town Hall on Wednesday.
The mutual respect between the candidates was evident, and at one point Democrat incumbent Joseloff jokingly said that Republican challenger Anderson must have bugged his office since they were so many agreements.
Independent write-in candidate John Izzo, who ran for first selectman unsuccessfully in the last two elections, was also present at the forum. His succinct answers and informal style offered what was often a different approach than the candidates on the ballot.
Some dissent came in a provocative question that asked what the candidates would do about proposed changes in zoning regulations which would allegedly "encourage and allow construction of hundreds of condominiums throughout Westport," and how a population increase would impact town services.
Joseloff took exception to the question and said, "I think the question is wrong. The regulations under consideration would not willy-nilly allow hundreds of units to be established."
He cited 8-30g, a state statute that requires towns to have 10 percent of the available housing be deemed affordable to people making less than the state's median income, and mentioned a number of neighborhoods in town that contain less expensive multi-family housing.
"You know why we have it? Because it serves a need for residents who want it, and so we do that," he said, adding, "We need to move along with the times and to provide the kind of housing for seniors, to attract young people back to Westport [and] to revitalize Westport in a way that maintains Westport's character."
Anderson asked Joseloff if he supports the affordable housing text amendments that have been proposed, but was told by the moderator, Charlotte Garrell, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Fairfield, to finish his statement before Joseloff could answer.
"The impact that bothers me most is what we saw during the 90s when our enrollment for the schools blossomed and grew very fast and we had to borrow a lot of money quickly to expand our schools to make sure we could accommodate that," said Anderson.
He concluded by stating that high-density housing is "something I would need to be very careful with before I jumped in and said, `Yes.' "
In his rebuttal, Joseloff said the alleged impact of the text amendment is "fear mongering."
"Nobody is suggesting hundreds of high-density housing to be established in Westport," he said.
The proposed zoning changes promote "smart growth -- housing in the commercial areas along the Post Road and Saugatuck to provide a need that exists and to provide Westport a modern population. I don't see a rapid "� growth in population with these regulations," Joseloff said.
Anderson said that he agreed with the idea of smart growth but that Joseloff didn't answer his question.
"Let me say this right here and now -- I have a problem with those text amendments because the way that I read them, they effectively deny residents who live adjacent "� the right to appeal. I worry about that," Anderson said.
John Izzo, who was not involved in the back and forth between the candidates on the ballot, said, "If there's a state mandate like that, I'm going to take [state Rep.] Joe Mioli -- see him sitting over there -- and he's going to take a ride up to Hartford with me along with [state Sen.] Toni [Boucher], and I'll speak before the General Assemply. Joe will arrange that, won't you Joe?"
Mioli tried to answer, but the moderator warned that there could be no dialogue during the forum.
At the start of the forum, Kristin LaFleur, who is running with Anderson, and Shelly Kassen, who is running with Joseloff, read two-minute statements since they are running as second selectman candidates.
LaFleur, who spoke first, cited her experience on the Board of Education as an asset in maintaining town-school relations.
"We have no intention of micro-managing the schools from the selectman's office, but we do believe that the selectman's office should be actively engaged with our schools and work with them, not against them," she said. "I think we are all better served by a `we're all in this together' mentality than a continuation of this `town versus gown' turf war."
Kassen outlined three priorities during these "interesting" and challenging times that she and Joseloff have: "The safety and security of Westport's citizens, the financial stability of the town and the spirit of the community."
"With a commitment to these priorities, and the determination to get things done, we can be sure that interesting times become productive and fulfilling times," said Kassen.
In the closing statements of the first selectman forum, Joseloff said that he and Kassen offer an "experienced team "� with a track record of support for everything that Westport loves, particularly education."
"We've got a Westport now that is better managed, [more] environmentally friendly, that has great schools "� and I resent this made-up issue that somehow the town and the schools are against each other."
Anderson said that there has been an emphasis on past achievements, but the future is what's really important. He promised to bring a different "get things done" type of leadership that will be energetic.
"Nobody seems to be on that wavelength [of the future], and that's sad because it's relevant. So in the future, can we manage better? Yes, you bet we can."
In Izzo's final remarks, he urged voters to vote for him if they agree with his views or vote for one of the other candidates if they disagree with him -- just as long as they get out and vote.
"I'd rather have you come in and vote for Gordon or Gavin rather than staying home," he said. "Believe me, come out and vote."
"If I get to office and you don't like me and you didn't vote, it's your fault," he said, which elicited laughter from the audience.