WESTPORT, Conn. — Westport Democrats Helen Garten and Melissa Kane are hoping to lead Westport's government. In the Nov. 5 election, they are running against the Republican team of Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner for first and second selectman.
Garten, who has lived in Westport for more than 25 years with her husband Michael—a Westport native— is no stranger to town government. For the past eight years, she has served on the Board of Finance and is currently the vice chairman. During her tenure on the board, she also served two years as chairman.
Before she was elected to the board, Garten served two years on the Representative Town Meeting, the town’s legislative body.
Garten’s professional background is in law. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Garten is a professor emerita at Rutgers Law School, where she taught financial and business law from 1984 to 2012.
Outside of town government, Garten is an active in the community. She is a member of the Westport Sunrise Rotary Club, volunteers with the Saugatuck River Watershed Partnership and is a member of the Norwalk Hospital Community Advisory Board.
Kane, who earned a degree in international relations from Mount Holyoke College, owns a Westport-based floral design studio and has also served on the RTM for the past two years. She has lived in Westport full-time for 11 years, and spent every summer in Westport with her family when she was a child.
Although she may be new to town government, Kane has been involved with a variety of community groups over the years. Currently, she is co-chair of Green Village Initiative and a member of the Westport Arts Center Education Committee. In the past, she served as a Westport Library trustee, was a member of the Westport Young Women’s League, served on the Kings Highway Elementary PTA and was a trustee at A Child’s Place Preschool.
Kane and her husband Jon have two children: George, 14, and Lily, 11.
The Westport Daily Voice recently asked Garten and Kane to answer a few questions. Their responses are below.
Daily Voice: What is the biggest issue residents have expressed concern about while you were out on the campaign trail, and how would you address this issue in office? Helen Garten: Residents have many concerns— keeping taxes low, ensuring funding for the schools, improving Longshore maintenance. But the concern I have heard most often relates to our downtown. Many Westporters are concerned that, with the departure of the Y, the loss of independent businesses and the lack of diverse retail offerings, there will be nothing left downtown for them and their children.
They are also concerned that, as downtown changes, Westport's unique community character is being lost. My goal is to make our downtown once again a destination for Westporters, with vibrant streetscapes, starting with a restored Gunn House on Elm Street, a diversity of retail, restaurant and cultural offerings and places to gather for adults, teens and children.
I will ensure that Westporters' voices are heard throughout the downtown planning process. I will serve as the ambassador for the Westport business community to attract new offerings, ideally a bookstore and other teen-friendly businesses. I will work with developers to set aside affordable spaces for small businesses and to restore the trees and green spaces to downtown.
DV: What would you hope to accomplish during your first year in office, if elected? Garten: Complete a downtown plan that reflects the Westport community's vision for what Westport's center should be. Move the Gunn House to Elm Street. Repair the golf course and provide for ongoing maintenance. Expand senior tax relief. Preserve Riverside Park and the adjoining lot as open space. Negotiate a deal with the Barons South developer that offers more amenities and additions to the Senior Center. Begin what will be a long process of negotiating with our unions for a more sustainable benefits package. Appoint a traffic czar and make recommendations for improvements to traffic flow, intersections and public transit. Make Town Hall more transparent, open and responsive so that it works better for you.
DV: How do you stand out against your competitors, and why should people vote for you?
Melissa Kane: Helen and I have a far more comprehensive vision for Westport's future than our opponents. It is a more holistic vision in that we approach every decision through the lens of both environmental and fiscal sustainability. And it is a more compassionate vision in that our experience and our world view is more relevant to representing all Westporters. Helen and I have both been successful in bringing together people who believe that better things are possible for Westport, and we have both always been—and our administration will continue to strive to be—true advocates for the citizens of Westport.
People should vote for us if they are looking for effective, responsive leadership, and they want their voices heard in town government.
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