Editorial / GOP strategy alters Westport's political landscape
The thud you may have heard around 8:45 p.m. Tuesday was Westport's newly empowered Republican Party putting its foot down.
The stamping feet heard soon after likely were those of Democrats frustrated by the returns posted after the town election.
The GOP made a bold statement at the polls, grabbing away from the Democrats control of the Board of Finance and Planning and Zoning Commission. With no first selectman's race on the ballot this year, the finance and P&Z races were the marquis contests.
Does the Republican's new-found clout signal a fundamental political shift in a town that, until Tuesday, had been largely controlled by Democrats?
Or did a few specific finance and land-use issues bother voters enough that they demanded change -- no matter who was in control?
That is to be seen. But Tuesday's results -- and the way the Republicans achieved them -- could reverberate through to 2013, when the first selectman's office will be on the ballot.
The town's GOP leadership this fall went right at Democratic First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, claiming a lack of leadership on his part allowed a horrendous financial gaffe -- the underfunding of health benefits for retired town employees by as much as $120 million. Word of the shortfall came in September, two weeks after the town's finance director announced he would retire.
Democratic leaders conceded that the GOP succeeded in putting the focus on two Democrats who were not even on the ballot this year.
GOP strategy was to promote its three finance board candidates -- Michael Rea, John Pincavage and Tom Lasersohn -- as a team rather than letting them slug it out as individuals. Lawn signs urged voters to "elect all three." And by getting all three elected, the party would have a majority on the board and claim its chairmanship. The trio finished 1-2-3 in balloting.
A similar strategy worked for Republicans in the P&Z contest, where the goal was to gain a majority and swipe the chairman's gavel from Corwin. That effort was boosted by the endorsement of the GOP slate by the group Save Westport Now, which favors maintaining Westport's small-town character.
The Republican's aggressive tactics irked Ezzes, the Democratic chief. "I don't think this town has seen a Republican Party so negative, so nasty, but I guess what we've learned unfortunately is negative campaigning works," he said.
Yet Joseloff visited Republican headquarters Tuesday night to congratulate the winners. He discounted party affiliations, saying "we're all Westporters, and we'll all come together and do what's right for Westport."
Joseloff has not said whether we will seek a third term in 2013. He will be 68 then, and could face a different political landscape than he did in winning 59 percent of the vote in 2005 and 52 percent in 2009.
Those GOP-controlled boards will have to please the voters, he said.
That's true. Just ask the Democrats.