Westport Democrats' harmony in nominating Helen Garten and Melissa Kane to lead their election ticket in the fall election campaign fell apart Thursday night as squabbling erupted over the selection of zoning candidates.

The DTC was unanimous in endorsing Garten, a longtime Board of Finance member, to run for first selectman against Republican Jim Marpe, this November, as well as Kane, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 3, as her selectman running mate. Avi Kaner is the GOP's selectman candidate.

"I can say with certainty, now with Melissa Kane at my side, we are the right people at the right time for Westport," said Garten, who has served on the Board of Finance since 2005 and is currently the vice chairwoman. "This team understands town government ... It understands what needs to be done, and we're ready on day one to do it."

But the unanimity unraveled when Democratic Town Chairman Jim Ezzes, who serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals, attempted to put forward three names as ballot "placeholders" for unfilled Planning and Zoning Commission and ZBA nominations.

Kenneth Wirfel, a former Board of Finance member, objected to the Executive Committee's action on the placeholders, pointing out that the by-laws would then allow the eventual nominees to require only the vote of that committee and not the entire DTC.

"You are usurping the role of the Democratic Town Committee," he said.

Ezzes responded that there hadn't been time to find qualified candidates for the nominations for some boards and commissions.

"You've had over two months," retorted Wirfel, who earlier this year had briefly expressed interest in running for first selectman.

DTC Vice Chairman Joe Scordato pointed out that the entire DTC would still hold the power to vote on new nominees, provided the people whose names were submitted as placeholders step down when the time came before the election.

"We're going to allow a group of elders who've been running things for a long time to continue to make the decision," Wirfel said.

"The Search Committee really didn't finished talking to people," Ezzes said.

June Getraer, however, told the gathering that the Search Committee, on which she'd serve, had its hands tied in terms of deciding on qualified candidates.

"The Search Committee turned into something other than a place where people could have a frank discussion," she said. "Some people's thoughts were walked over."

Getraer said qualified candidates were unfairly grilled "as if it were an inquisition," and that search panel's last meeting "disbanded in disarray."

Wirfel blamed "one-upsmanship" with the GOP, wherein he said the Democrats' Executive Committee was waiting to see who the rival party planned to run in November and wanted to strategically match a candidate.

Ultimately, it was decided that candidates would be "interviewed and re-interviewed," Ezzes said, and the full DTC would get the chance to vote on nominations at its August meeting.

Mark Marcus cautioned the DTC, "I think this kind of bickering like this in public just kind of hurts us ... I'm seeing our friends from the press here and all they're hearing is this dispute," he said.

Brian Stern was nominated to run for re-election to the Board of Finance, along with Blake Benke, a Marine veteran and financial executive, and Lee Caney, a corporate lawyer.

But, Stern said, the selection of Planning and Commission candidates is critical to the Democrats' success in the fall.

"The big thing on people's minds is Planning and Zoning," he said. "Whatever we do as a party, we have to get this right ...

"We have a Planning and Zoning Commission that's all zoning and no planning," he said.