By Paul Schott

Jim Marpe, the acting chairman of the Board of Education for the last few months, hopes to "graduate" to a different town job.

The Republican announced this week that he plans to run for first selectman in next year's municipal election, and will step down from the school board next week to begin his campaign.

"There are a number of critical challenges facing the town in the coming years that have the potential to affect our overall quality of life," Marpe said Wednesday in an interview with the Westport News. "And I think through the combination of my professional career experience and experience on the Board of Education I could bring some thoughtful, workable solutions to those challenges."

Marpe plans to work full-time on his campaign after resigning from the schools panel.

"I believe the challenge of running for that position is challenging enough that I want to devote the next year to doing that," Marpe said. "One of the reasons I want to spend this time is to take the time to listen to my neighbors and fellow citizens here in Westport and hear what's on their minds." Stepping down now will allow his successor, who will also be a Republican, to be fully involved in the education's board upcoming review and voting process for the school district's 2013-14 operating budget, Marpe added.

Marpe, 66, has served on the Board of Education since 2005. He was re-elected to a second term in 2009. He has been the board's vice chairman since 2007. In August, he became the panel's acting chairman when Democrat Don O'Day, who had been chairman, resigned .

Marpe worked 32 years at the management consulting, technology services and outsourcing firm Accenture, until his retirement as a senior partner in 2002. His record included heading Accenture's worldwide financial services merger and acquisition practice.

A 23-year Westport resident, Marpe is also active in a number of local nonprofits. He serves as chairman of the Westport Weston Family Y's Board of Trustees. He also belongs to Greens Farms Congregational Church.

Marpe said his top goals as first selectman would include fostering sustainable economic development that would broaden the town's commercial tax base, while maintaining the town's "character" as a suburban community. He would also look to develop an infrastructure improvement plan; its scope would include an examination of the town's vulnerability to prolonged power outages and flooding during major storms such as Sandy. He said he would also focus on significant fiscal issues by addressing the town's long-term debt as well as its obligations for public-employee pensions and health-care benefits.

"I think that pensions and post-employment benefits -- the potential costs of them as currently arranged -- have caused challenges on our yearly budgets," Marpe said. "Combined with the fiscal crisis the country has gone through, that has forced us to make some very difficult decisions in our operating budgets that have the potential of taking a great town and turning it into a good town."

As first selectman, Marpe said he would also continue to support robust funding for the town's public school district. The Board of Education unanimously approved an operating budget for the current fiscal year that increases spending by about 2 percent compared to the previous year.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, 67, has not yet announced whether he will seek a third term as the town's chief executive. The Democrat was elected as first selectman in 2005 and re-elected to a second term in 2009.

Marpe declined to make an on-the-record assessment of Joseloff's performance as first selectman.

Joseloff was not available to comment on Marpe's candidacy.

No other Republicans and no Democrats have so far announced their candidacy for the top job at Town Hall next year.

Before then, Marpe will need to secure the nomination of town Republicans. Several prominent Westport GOP figures said they welcome Marpe's candidacy.

"He is a candidate with excellent credentials and a proven track record in both the private and public sectors," Board of Finance Chairman Avi Kaner said in an email Wednesday. "His experience as a senior partner at the world's largest consulting firm will directly benefit all aspects of our town, while his leadership on the Board of Education is evident in the quality of our schools."

Republican Town Committee Chairwoman Desiree Soli also expressed support for Marpe's run.

"I think Jim Marpe would be a great first selectman," she said. "He's done a fantastic job on the Board of Ed and he's done a great deal for the Westport school district."

If elected, Marpe would break a 16-year drought for the Westport GOP. The last Republican to hold the first selectman post, Joseph Arcudi, served one term from 1993 to 1997. He was defeated by Democrat Diane Farrell in 1997, who went on to serve two terms.; 203-255-4561, ext. 118;