Jim Marpe at Town Hall, days before his second term as first selectman ended earlier this week. / Photo by Thane Grauel

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — Jim Marpe enjoys golf, but admits his game hasn’t improved over the last eight years. As the town’s top elected official, he didn’t have time to hit the fairways to shave a stroke or two off his handicap.

It’s been a couple of weeks since Marpe’s chosen successor, Jennifer Tooker, won the first selectmen’s seat on Election Day, extending a Republican majority on the Board of Selectmen to 12 years. 

Since the Nov. 2 election, Marpe has visited various commissions and boards in his final days to share good-byes and thank-yous after two four-year terms as first selectman. He’s also shared credit in a community that’s never had a shortage of people willing to give their time for public service — including himself, previously a senior executive with the multinational professional services firm, Accenture.

At Monday’s official Town Hall swearing-in ceremony for many of the newly elected officials, Marpe handed over the key to his second-floor Town Hall office to Tooker, as well as an outsized pair scissors used for ceremonial ribbon-cuttings.

“I hope you use them twice as much as I did,” he told Tooker.

Family, friends now get priority

Now, with time on his hands, perhaps he can feel the fairway grass under his feet and the sun on his face at Longshore.

But it’s not his first priority. 

What is? 

“Spending time with my grandson,” he said of the 1-year-old during a recent interview with the Westport Journal. 

Marpe noted that spending more time with family is often a euphemism for a future altered against one’s choice. But in his case, after eight demanding years as first selectman, Marpe says it’s true.

And, while many politicians are reluctant to give up control, he’s confident about the prospects for the incoming administration. 

Marpe in front of Town Hall, where he presided eight years as the town’s chief elected official. / Photo by Thane Grauel

“What Jen Tooker represents, is what Dianne Farrell represented 16 years ago, a younger generation of leadership,” Marpe said. 

Farrell was a Democrat who unseated Joe Arcudi, a Republican and long-serving member of the Representative Town Meeting. After Arcudi, 16 years passed before voters returned a Republican to the first selectman’s seat. That was Marpe. And now comes Tooker.

COVID was a challenge no one saw coming

Marpe, who previously served nearly eight years on the Board of Education, said his years in the town’s top job included a challenge few could have predicted — a worldwide pandemic. He said his administration, and the school district, did a remarkable job meeting COVID challenges.

“We could talk for hours about the steps we took, everyone’s aware there was a hotspot here, as a result of a party here in town,” he noted of what was considered an early super-spreader event.

Meeting people from all walks of life is not something he’d likely have encountered if not serving as first selectman.

“That part was and is one of the great satisfactions,” he said.

Then, there were meetings “where time stood still”

But Marpe won’t miss the late-night meetings, or the phone calls and emails on the weekends. In his final days, he mentioned that time at some meetings “seemed to stand still,” and some engagements were like “watching paint dry.”

Marpe gives credit to the patience and partnership of his wife, Mary Ellen, left, during his administration. They are pictured at an event with Westport resident Janet Plotkin. / Photo by Jarret Liotta

Overall, he was honored to be elected twice, even with the expectation that the job’s demands are 24-7.

“My wife has been my partner in this … she’s been willing to put up with the fact that I come home late, after endless meetings,” plus weekends usually booked for community events and civic obligations.

“I owe her more time,” Marpe said of his wife Mary Ellen, “and I’m also looking forward to spending more time with friends.” 

Upgrading school district relations, other achievements

Marpe said that one of his goals was to forge a closer relationship between his office, at one end of a Town Hall hallway, and the office of the superintendent of schools, at the other end.

“I believe we’ve achieved that,” he said. “Not without a couple hiccups along the way, but the intent is right and the relationship I enjoy now with the Superintendent [Thomas} Scarice and his team, I consider his team a part of my team as well.”

He’s also proud of the work done at Longshore, with restoration of the golf course greens and a new golf pro, among other things.

“The golf experience there has improved dramatically,” he said.

He also cited the work, with the Board of Education and the Parks and Recreation Department, re-turfing playing fields around town.

Marpe’s also proud of the services offered to senior citizens, as well as efforts to bolster broader community inclusion and rejuvenation of downtown. 

“We’ve positioned ourselves to offer quality services to our senior population … and our population that may have disabilities of one kind or another.”

“My hope and my belief is that the community will become even more welcoming, more diverse — and diverse has many dimensions to it,” he said.

Westport, he hopes, will continue to be “a place where our residents want to stay and age in place and be a part of the community long after their children are grown.”

Marpe, with Town Tree Warden Bruce Lindsay, at one of many community and civic appearances he made over the course of his tenure as first selectman. / Photo by Jarret Liotta