Jim Marpe: Incumbent First Selectman hopes to ensure Westport’s fiscal security
Published 12:00 am, Monday, November 6, 2017
WESTPORT— Thirty years ago, Jim Marpe and his family were living in Copenhagen, Denmark. Then, Accenture, the company Marpe worked for at the time, and would for 32 years, asked him to relocate to the company’s New York City office.
Although Marpe and his wife, Mary Ellen, are native Midwesterners, they were close friends with a couple living in Westport and admired the town’s international orientation, intelligent populous and numerous public amenities. The strong school system was also a plus, considering the couple’s only child, a daughter named Samantha, was to start first grade in the fall.
Marpe commuted to New York City every day to work as a senior partner at Accenture; his wife owned and directed Westport’s Academy of Dance and Samantha made her way through the Westport
Marpe’s path to the first selectman’s office began when he took an early retirement from Accenture in 2002 and deepened his involvement in town nonprofit organizations. Marpe has served on the governing boards of the Westport-Weston Family Y, Homes with Hope, the Westport Rotary Club and the Stamford Symphony Orchestra, as well as in senior leadership roles at Green’s Farms Congregational Church.
A spot opened up on the Board of Education in 2005 and he was asked by the Republican Town Committee to fill the position. Marpe believed Samantha received an extraordinary education and wanted to give back to the BOE. He served on the BOE from 2005 to 2012 and was the vice chairman from 2007 until he left the board.
Marpe’s tenure on the BOE translated into a run for the first selectman’s office in 2013 because “People came up to me and observed that in my time on the BOE I practiced a nonpartisan, non-ideological point of view in advocating for the schools, and many people thought that was the sort of thing that was needed at the top of the town government.
“I felt this was a better opportunity to take my management expertise and bring it to bear on the issues of town government,” Marpe said.
Throughout his four-year term, Marpe said his greatest accomplishment has been keeping Westport fiscally strong in the face of Hartford’s budget challenges.
“At the same time, we’ve continued to invest in the quality of life in the community,” Marpe, 71, said.
Marpe is proud his administration has kept the mill rate flat throughout the budget crisis.
He’s come under fire, namely from Democratic challenger Melissa Kane, for not ensuring school funding more vocally last year. To this accusation, Marpe said, “Actions speak louder than words” and, at the Oct. 12 first selectman debate, reminded voters, “We went and found a million dollars of additional savings.
“The action of making sure we found those savings so that we could help the school boards, that’s how I chose to address the problem of school funding,” Marpe said.
If re-elected, Marpe promises to continue exercising “strong financial discipline” in light of the state’s uncertain financial situation. “I believe that in the not-too-distant future there has to be a day of reckoning at the state, and we’ll have to be even more on our own in terms of our finances.”
In office, Marpe has put particular focus on connecting with Westport’s largest businesses, mainly Bridgewater Associates.
“When I came into office, there were a number of businesses that we weren’t paying attention to as a town government in the sense of making sure we had contact with the senior executives to the extent that we could work together on public-private partnerships,” Marpe said at the Oct. 12 debate. “I’ve worked hard to put that kind of atmosphere in place.”
Marpe often uses the Westport Inn example to describe his relationship with the town’s largest employer.
“It was a result of making those relationships happen that, when the Westport Inn was about to be turned into a five-story 830-unit affordable housing monstrosity, I was able to reach out to the landlords of Bridgewater to say, perhaps you would be interested in owning a hotel, and they did,” Marpe said at the Chamber of Commerce debate.
“It’s our only really large hotel space in town, which is important not just to visitors, but, coming on the fifth anniversary of Sandy, that hotel became an important part of our recovery effort because families who were displaced from the beach area lived there,” Marpe said.
The Fairfield Five, a collaboration between Westport and four other municipalities, is also among Marpe’s business-related projects. The coalition was formed to attract new small to midsize service technology businesses to the region and held a showcase in New York City on Thursday.
Marpe acknowledges the “Amazon effect” has hurt local businesses, but said, “We’ve actually had 130 businesses open in Westport in the last three years.”
Transportation and traffic have been front-and-center issues throughout the Marpe administration. Marpe denied state funding to renovate the Cribari Bridge and build a high-speed rail station in Greens Farms and said he’s instead working with transportation authorities to improve the time it takes to get to New York City.
On Tuesday, Westport will again vote to renew Marpe’s post in the town’s highest office or return him to life as a normal Westport resident.