Candidates discuss issues, D.C. politics in debate

WESTPORT — In a debate largely focused on issues outside of town, one local issue raised disagreement between candidates seeking the town’s top spot.

When candidates were asked how they would respond to concerns of the newly formed group, Friends of Compo Beach, at Tuesday’s League of Women Voters debate, Democratic candidate Melissa Kane took issue with First Selectman Jim Marpe’s handling of the beach.

Kane suggested increasing prices at the beach, vowed to take a proactive approach to the beach infrastructure project and criticized Marpe for “taking until the roof of the pavilion fell in for this administration to fix it.”

Marpe rebutted Kane’s assertion the pavilion was unsafe and cited projects his administration has completed at the beach, such as new sidewalks.

John Suggs, an unaffiliated candidate, took a different approach to beach concerns and said, “The beach has problems, but the answer is not to exclude out-of-towners.” Suggs said the town should not “pay lip service to inclusivity,” while raising prices.

Outside the beach issue, the debate mostly emphasized Westport’s connection to Washington’s political scene.

Questions ranged from how Washington’s political environment affects Westport, to how each candidate will encourage civility.

Kane said Westport should be a model of gun-violence prevention for the nation.

Marpe sought to distance himself from Washington, and promised to work in a “nonpartisan and non-ideological” fashion.

Suggs reminded the packed house gathered in Town Hall that he’s running as an Independent this election to separate from partisan politics.

“Negative partisan politics has come to Westport,” Suggs said. “This election should not be a replay of the 2016 presidential election.”

Unaffiliated candidate T.J. Elgin vowed to make Westport “self-sufficient and self-sustainable.”

On the question of civility, Suggs promised to listen to people and reinstate weekly brown bag lunches for residents to talk with the first selectman.

Kane called for civility on online blog and social media sites and said, “I would not delete comments from those with opposing viewpoints on my Facebook page, as Selectman Marpe has done.”

Board of Finance

The Board of Finance candidates debated before the first selectman debate in a session centered largely around how to protect Westport from Hartford’s fiscal woes.

Four candidates, two Republicans and two Democrats, are competing for three spots on the board.

The candidates unanimously agreed raising the mill rate is the last resort, though Democrat Lee Caney said a mill rate increase might be necessary if the situation in Hartford worsens. Caney said combining town and Board of Education functions results in cost savings.

Republican Andrea Moore promised to keep taxes affordable, ensure labor contracts are not off market, increase productivity and scrutinize town spending.

Republican Vik Muktavaram called for a longer-term planning approach, saying the town “can’t look at this as a year-to-year budget cycle issue.”

Democrat and Board of Finance Chairman Brian Stern suggested lobbying the state to allow Westport to change the prevailing wage, make it easier to outsource town projects, and park school buses on Sherwood Island.

Debates about town politics will continue for months to come, but on Nov. 7, the positions in question will be decided.