There was nothing remarkable about the photo. Two women sat outdoors at a local restaurant.
Surrounded by food and drink, and with blankets draped over their laps, they introduced a new initiative. Co-sponsored by the Town of Westport and the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, “BYOB” - short for “Bring Your Own Blanket” - encourages residents to continue dining al fresco, even as the weather turns cold.
Many restaurants got creative this summer. They put tables on sidewalks, side areas, even parking lots. It was festive, fun - and warm. Drawing customers is tougher now. But owners are adapting. They’ve enclosed some of the spaces, erected tents and installed heaters. They’re trying everything they can to stay in business.
The photo was one way to publicize the BYOB effort. But the diners were not just any happy (and warm) Westporters. They were our second and third selectwomen: Jen Tooker and Melissa Kane, a Republican and Democrat, respectively. And respectfully.
In the wake of Tuesday’s election, that photo looks a little more impressive. As I write this, President Trump has not yet conceded to President-Elect Biden. Mike Pence and Kamala Harris have not yet chatted. Senator Mitch McConnell and Rep. Nancy Pelosi have not been spotted sharing a meal and a bottle of wine, either outdoors or inside.
It’s clear that our country is more divided than at any time since the Civil War.
Joe Biden drew more votes than any presidential candidate in history. Donald Trump drew millions more votes than in his first campaign, four years ago. And many of those 150 million voters cannot fathom how those on the other side voted the way they did.
That may be true of Westporters too, when it comes to the presidential ballot. But how did we - a town with a large Democratic plurality - manage to elect (and then re-elect) a Republican first selectman? And how do our second and third selectwomen, of different parties, get along so well that they share both a meal and smiles for the BYOB cause?
One reason is that we have a history of electing officials from both parties. Before Republican Jim Marpe, there were Democrats Gordon Joseloff and Diane Goss Farrell; their predecessor was Republican Joe Arcudi.
Nationally, Americans ping-pong between parties too. Donald Trump succeeded Barack Obama, who followed George W. Bush, who came after Bill Clinton.
Perhaps we don’t like political controversy. It’s true that Westport has enjoyed a period of relative calm lately. And it’s not just the board of selectmen. The Board of Finance crafts budgets that the (non-partisan) Representative Town Meeting enacts.
Other town bodies face more contentious issues. The Board of Education has dealt with a host of controversies, including COVID-19, start times, and mold at Coleytown Middle School. Meetings are long, and passions - particularly among “concerned residents” - run high. But we have not seen anything near the rancor of the 1960s and ‘70s, when an issue like Project Concern (a plan to bring students from Bridgeport into Westport schools) led to a recall petition against board chair Joan Schine. She survived the effort, but the scars lingered for years.Read Full Article
The Planning and Zoning Commission will always have its hands full. That’s natural; their job is to balance the desires and needs of developers, homeowners and businesses. There are no easy answers, and they will never please everybody. Like the guy with the spinning plates on the old Ed Sullivan Show though, they do a tough job quite well.
Even the Parks and Recreation Commission is not immune. A new bathroom, of all things, drew hundreds of Westporters to meetings. Things got loud. But the bathroom got built. Eventually everyone moved on.
That’s not the case in Washington. It’s hard to imagine the level of acrimony decreasing any time soon. There are too many issues, there is too much recent history, there is too long a list of institutional reasons for anyone to believe that a polarized nation will, metaphorically, share a blanket at an outdoor restaurant table.
But maybe that’s the difference between a country and a community.
As much as we think we know Donald Trump and Joe Biden, we don’t. They are distant figures, seen on television and Twitter. We don’t know Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell or Lindsey Graham either.
But we do know Jim Marpe. We know Jen Tooker and Melissa Kane. We see them at meetings, in stores, at the beach, on the sidelines of games. It’s hard to hate someone you really know.
So, for a moment at least, forget Washington. Enjoy a meal at your favorite restaurant. Bring your own blanket.
You never know who you’ll see at the next table. Maybe the second and third selectmen — together.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.