EDITOR'S NOTE: An editorial last week criticized the campaign of Jim Marpe, candidate for first selectman, for its letters-to-the-editor practices. This space was provided for the campaign to respond.

Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner have enjoyed unprecedented grass-roots support from a wide swath of Westporters -- Democratic, Republican, unaffiliated, young couples, empty nesters and seniors. Over 200 Westport residents have contributed to the Marpe/Kaner campaign to date. We personally know many of the supporters, and they feel as we do, that Jim and Avi are the best leaders for Westport.

Each supporter contributes freely of their time, talents and financial donations. Some place campaign signs on their lawn, others host meet-and-greets and still others write a letter to the editor. The sheer number of letters corresponds to this groundswell of local support. Every letter that was submitted directly to the editor came from an enthusiastic supporter. The vast majority were drafted by the supporter and directed where to submit. In all cases the letters submitted were an accurate expression of the supporters' views and opinions.

This campaign isn't about letters to the editor. It's about people, the people of Westport; your concerns, your hopes and your aspirations for the kind of town where you want live, play and work.

Jim and Avi's message resonates loudly and clearly. Leadership is the ability to develop a vision and then implement it. Jim and Avi have proven their ability to do just that. Westport will greatly benefit from having leaders with business experience navigate it through its nearly $200 million annual budget, $230 million pension obligations, and $120 million in other post-employment benefits obligations. Although Westport is not a "business," management skills are required to lead and inspire hundreds of town employees, negotiate key labor contracts, and raise the level and quality of the town's amenities.

Another differentiating factor between the two campaigns is the proven ability to build consensus on a bipartisan basis. Jim was elected vice chairman of the Board of Education because of his demonstrated ability to operate in a non-partisan and consensus-driven manner. Important community projects such as the lights for the Staples High School football field were achieved because he helped develop consensus across a broad range of stakeholders.

Still another recent example is the Board of Finance. As the new chairman of the Board of Finance two years ago, Avi Kaner immediately recommended a vice-chair from the other party. This has not happened in recent memory. Much has been accomplished over the past two years in a unanimous, streamlined routine. For example -- pension plans started being reformed, Baron's South was dramatically improved, maintenance catch-up initiated, and an investment was made in the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts rebuilding project.

Jim and Avi are offering to apply their experience to the task of insuring that our town government will continue to provide the services that attracted all of us to Westport in the first place. Westport will be well-served by these candidates who, in addition to their proven records of success, have the needed political acumen, and patience to skillfully manage the complexities of being our first and second Selectmen.

We both have lived in Westport for more than 20 years, and while we have different political party allegiances, in this instance, we both unequivocally support Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner and will be voting for them on Nov. 5.

Ken Bernhard is a registered Republican and Steve Parrish is a registered Democrat. Both are Westport residents.