Woody Klein: Jim Marpe likely to win third term in Westport

Westport’s calm, cool and collected Republican First Selectman Jim Marpe, is waging a high-profile campaign to prevent his traditionally economically safe and sound town from losing millions of dollars in state public school funding under Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s latest proposed spending package.

It should be noted Marpe has not yet officially announced he will run again, but speculation about his candidacy among local politicians has quietly confirmed that he is strongly leaning toward leaning towards running for re-election.

Marpe has kept the property tax mill rate as flat as possible during the past three years as a result of conservative operating budgets while maintaining the overall quality of town services. This gives him a lot of credibility.

He was asked last fall by this columnist if he expected to run for a third four-year term: “I enjoy the opportunity and privilege of being the first selectman of one of the most unique and exciting communities of its size anywhere,” he replied. “Moreover, it has been a rewarding experience to serve my fellow Westport residents and to work with a great team of town employees and volunteers to make a positive difference in the current and future life of our wonderful town. I believe the town (and our country) could use a respite from election-related politics. Keeping that in mind, and considering that here are a number of factors that I want to evaluate before I make that decision, I anticipate having a response as to whether or not I am choosing to run for a second term in the beginning months of 2017.”

That time frame is upon us. Well-informed Republicans knowledgeable about political maneuverings in Town Hall, but who prefer anonymity confirmed Marpe’s preference to run for re-election. “He’s told just about everybody in Town Hall,” one leading member of the town’s political establishment said.

Prior to Malloy announcing his cuts, Westport’s overall budget projected for the fiscal year that starts July 1 — awaiting final action by the Representative Town Meeting — stood at approximately $204 million — an increase of 0.97 percent over last year’s budget, according to published reports.

“The Town and the Board of Education have worked hard to achieve a proposed budget increase of less than 1 percent for the coming fiscal year using conservative assumptions about state aid,” Marpe was quoted as telling The Westport News. “We recognize that there is some additional reduction in state aid, but the reductions that were announced the other day significantly undoes that hard work with what are in some way arbitrary cuts.”

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport), who recently won a bruising race against Republican Linda Walsh in October, explained that in Hartford, Malloy has noted legislators were engaged in discussions on closing the budget gap, which makes it difficult for them to come to terms on spending plans.

“The state has taken a modified ‘Robin Hood’ approach, taking from the economically strong communities like Westport, but not necessarily giving it to the communities that are struggling,” Marpe said in a statement. “I’m angry at this behavior that undoes months of our budgeting efforts while the state doesn’t recognize that.”

Marpe said after speaking with state representatives and senators, he believes the projected numbers could change again before May. He also got the impression from legislators there are grumblings in Hartford as “some of the leadership (at the General Assembly) is not entirely happy with the governor’s proposals.” Steinberg remains a major player, however, in the possible splintered race for first selectman and has told friends he might be interested, but, to keep their powder dry.

Marpe said he plans to continue discussions with pertinent local officials to find ways to make up the loss of state aid, should that be necessary. By the time the new tax rate is set May 18, the first selectman hopes to close the monetary gap without having to increase taxes for the coming year.

Woody Klein is a Westport writer and for the past consecutive 49 years has authored his “Out of the Woods” column. He can be reached at wklein11@aol.com.