Year in Review: Westport's top stories for 2020

WESTPORT — Westporters showed perseverance in a challenging year that included a summer of protests and the coronavirus pandemic, but through it all residents showed what’s important — community.

The town grappled with many challenges through 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic shifted the world’s approach to nearly every aspect of life. Despite this, residents found innovative ways to support the community including a delivery service and a website focused on local businesses.

Other top stories included the hiring of a new superintendent and a presidential election that saw more Westporters vote this year than the 2016 election. Hundreds also turned out for a Black Lives Matter protest in town and a former first selectman died, possibly ending one of the town’s most known resources.

Here’s a look back at some of the top stories of 2020.

1. Westport considered one of first super spreaders

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic the town found itself in the spotlight after a private party led to more than 20 people contracting the coronavirus.

After more than a dozen people who attended the private party reported flu-like symptoms the town closed schools until further notice. While Westport was not the first town to see a case reported, it was the first area in the state to report a widespread exposure to the coronavirus. One of the party’s attendees would later go on to be featured on the cover of Time magazine recounting her experience.

But quick action by town officials and residents following recommendations by public health officials helped the town to stabilize its numbers over the summer.

2. Tropical Storm Isaias hits town hard

Well over half of the town was left without power in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias in August.

The town would be one of the hardest hit areas in the state, with many residents going without power for several days. Business owners were hit just as hard, including one owner who was forced to throw out nearly $5,000 worth of inventory due to the lack of power.

The town later studied its response to the storm, and the Representative Town Meeting approved a radio system replacement to help the emergency response team for future crises.

3. New superintendent hired

In April, the school board named Thomas Scarice as the new superintendent of schools.

The announcement followed a five-month national search for a permanent superintendent replacement for Interim Superintendent David Abbey, who took over after Colleen Palmer’s abrupt departure from the district in 2019. Scarice previously served as superintendent in Madison and was praised for his educational leadership by BOE members.

He is now expected to lead Westport schools into the future.

4. More people vote in 2020 election

More people voted in the 2020 presidential election than in the 2016 presidential election, according to election numbers.

The town reported a turnout of 86.4 percent in 2020, with 17,830 of the 20,617 registered voters casting their ballot. This was up from a turnout of 85.6 percent in 2016, where 15,835 of the 18,499 registered voters cast their ballot.

The election results saw new and familiar faces with state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, state Sen. Will Haskell, and state Sen. Tony Hwang all winning re-election. Meanwhile, Democrat Stephanie Thomas defeated Republican Patrizia Zucaro to claim victory for the state assembly’s 143rd district. The seat was vacated by Republican Gail Lavielle, a longtime member of the legislature who decided not to run for re-election in March.

5. WestportNow founder dies, site announces end

Gordon F. Joseloff, former first selectman and founder of the news site WestportNow, died in November.

Joseloff, 75, died after battling a rare blood cancer called myelofibrosis for three years, according to WestportNow. His death would be felt across the town as officials, residents and more shared their condolences.

WestportNow, a town staple for information and community news, later announced it would cease publication at the end of November. It remains to be seen if the site will possibly continue.

6. Hundreds gather for BLM protest

The town saw several protests over the summer following the death of George Floyd as the nation reckoned with its racial history.

One protest saw hundreds of people from around the area of all ages, race and gender gather peacefully to protest police brutality and systemic racism in downtown Westport. The protest also saw several Staples students speak on the challenges they faced in the school system.

The town would announce the formation of a civilian review panel in June to continue to building upon the relationship between police and the community.

7. Schools open in hybrid model during pandemic

In August, school officials announced it would re-open in a hybrid model in the fall.

While the decision spurred debate, the model was cited as a pragmatic choice that looked to balance health, safety and educational needs. Despite the back-and-forth, parents and educators shared excitement on the first day of school as students entered a new school year.

In October, Superintendent Thomas Scarice announced a decision to stay in the hybrid model for the time being as case numbers increased across the state.

8. Parents petition later school start times

In February, the Board of Education voted to have all Westport schools begin 30 minutes later. Days later a parent filed a petition garnering over 500 signatures, with many parents citing the challenges working families would have with the schedule change.

While the decision ultimately stood, school officials worked collaboratively with the Westport-Weston YMCA to implement a before-school child care program to aid parents through the change. The program would go on to accommodate families once schools reopened in a hybrid model in September.

9. Community finds innovative ways to help during pandemic

While the town was one of the hardest hit areas by the coronavirus pandemic early on in the state, residents banned together to support each other.

One small group of Westport teens started an errand service to shop, run errands, and more for the elderly. Another Westport teen helped to implement One Westport, a site that looked to support local businesses through the pandemic. A Westport restaurant joined other local businesses in helping to donate hundreds of meals.Westporters also put their creative skills to use to create masks for those in need.

Despite the challenges many faced, Westporters showed how a community could come together in a difficult time.

10. Westport turns out to support former Starbucks employee

Two rallies were held over the summer in support of a former Starbucks employee who alleged he was harassed by a customer.

The first rally saw town officials and residents come out to support former barista Dayshawn Rodriguez, who alleged a woman harassed him at work for nearly a year. A second rally drew a crowd large enough that police blocked off parts of downtown.

A Starbucks spokesperson later said the woman was no longer allowed at Starbucks in Westport or neighboring towns.

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com