Westport Democrats asks Marpe to speak against 'hate speech'

WESTPORT — The Democratic Town Committee called on First Selectman Jim Marpe to speak out against hateful rhetoric perpetuated by President-Elect Donald Trump’s campaign. Marpe obliged less than 24 hours after the request was made public.

In an open letter addressed to Marpe, the DTC asked the first selectman to take a stand against Trump’s words and “never accept the xenophobia, misogyny, and intolerance that characterized so much of his campaign.”

The DTC’s letter cites Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton winning 69 percent of the vote in Westport to Trump’s 27 percent as a signal the town does not stand for his values. It also mentions some Staples High School students were so upset by the results of the election that many of them sought counseling. A mention was also made of a private Staples Facebook group, of over 200 students, that circulated derogatory memes with respect to race, gender and religion and had links to “political satire.”

“We need our First Selectman to make a strong statement that Westport is a town that opens its arms to people of all backgrounds and identities, and where intimidation and bullying will never be tolerated,” the letter reads. “Now is the time to reassert our basic, shared values of civility, decency and compassion.”

Marpe responded to the open letter and one paragraph is worth quoting in full because it addresses the heart of what the DTC sought:

“The 2016 election has stirred us all to reconsider our core values and our rights as Americans; rights which many in Westport may have taken for granted because we thought we had the luxury of doing so. However, with recent events fresh in our minds, we must be cognizant that with the freedoms we cherish come certain personal obligations. Despite differences, Westporters must treat each other with mutual respect and civility. We are no strangers to making our world, country, and our community a better place. The Town’s municipal, civic, religious and volunteer institutions operate under the mantle of these values. Our laws and our values don’t change because of the most recent political winds. We encourage thoughtful and constructive means to embrace each other’s differences. We denounce hatred, divisiveness and manipulation by words and deeds. We remember that in Westport, we are grateful and thankful for and continue to be committed to, the values we hold so dear in our cherished Town. I can assure you that this Town will continue to embrace and protect all its citizens and will stand firmly against hate and intolerance, now and always.”

Earlier in the day, before the statement was issued, DTC Chairwoman Melissa Kane said she was “very pleased” to hear Marpe intended to respond.

“I think the issue is that the country, and it’s seeped into our town, has been experiencing a real uptick in hate speech and it’s very upsetting and my constituents are feeling very concerned and want reassurances,” Kane said. “They want to feel that the town, known as an incredibly open and inclusive place, will not tolerate acts or words of hatred, of bigotry of anti-Semitism of racism, of any kind. Certainty not in our schools and not in our town.”

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Marpe's full response

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe delivered his annual Thanksgiving message today and addressed current community concerns:

Westport has always been and will continue to be a place where we live by and teach our children the values that we cherish -- values that embrace equality, inclusiveness, open-mindedness, respect for each other as well as the law, and of course, education. We hold fast to these ideals regardless of political party, religious affiliation, social strata, gender, or age. This Thanksgiving, we thoughtfully and respectfully reflect upon these qualities in light of recent events that have transported our nation into divisiveness and turmoil.

A recent "open letter" to me as the First Selectman of this great community called for a response to the events in our nation related to the 2016 presidential election. I believed that it was appropriate to do so in the context of my annual Thanksgiving message to all 27,000 Westport residents.

I want to start with my reflections expressed to those gathered in the Town Hall Auditorium on Veterans Day this past November 11; that ceremony occurring merely days after the tumultuous election. I confidently assured those present that the rights and freedoms for which veterans fought so valiantly are alive and well in this great nation, and in the Town of Westport. The political events of the past year have tested our collective understanding of democracy, creating conflict nationwide and anxiety at many a dinner table and social gathering throughout Westport and the rest of the country. While the outrage and despair over the problems that our nation and our community need to address remains, it is our democracy which makes this such an extraordinary country.

The 2016 election has stirred us all to reconsider our core values and our rights as Americans; rights which many in Westport may have taken for granted because we thought we had the luxury of doing so. However, with recent events fresh in our minds, we must be cognizant that with the freedoms we cherish come certain personal obligations. Despite differences, Westporters must treat each other with mutual respect and civility. We are no strangers to making our world, country, and our community a better place. The Town's municipal, civic, religious and volunteer institutions operate under the mantle of these values. Our laws and our values don't change because of the most recent political winds. We encourage thoughtful and constructive means to embrace each other's differences. We denounce hatred, divisiveness and manipulation by words and deeds. We remember that in Westport, we are grateful and thankful for and continue to be committed to, the values we hold so dear in our cherished Town. I can assure you that this Town will continue to embrace and protect all its citizens and will stand firmly against hate and intolerance, now and always.

Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful for our freedoms and our good fortune. We remain steadfast in our resolve to help those less fortunate, all the while remaining aware of the world events around us that may inhibit that resolve. We express our heartfelt thanks to those in our community that stand for the downtrodden or disenfranchised. I am personally thankful for our extraordinary volunteers, teachers, civic leaders, clergy, and residents, young and old, of all races, creeds and ideals, who work tirelessly and diligently each and every day, at times with little or no recognition. They share their time and talents without fanfare, so I want to acknowledge their contributions and let them know that they are valued and appreciated.

I wish all the citizens of Westport a happy and safe Thanksgiving Holiday. I encourage you to take the opportunity to pause and reflect on how you may contribute to making our community a place where all are welcome and respected.

Thank you.

Hundreds of Westporters, who have not previously been politically involved with the DTC, came forward looking for a response from the administration, Kane said.

@chrismmarquette; cmarquette@bcnnew.com