The Westport Journal, to help voters make informed decisions when they cast ballots in the Nov. 7 municipal election, sent questionnaires to candidates running for seats on three major boards and commissions.

The candidates were asked to answer two broad questions:

  • Describe your background, including education, professional and involvement in civic affairs, focusing on qualifications particularly relevant to the office you seek.
  • Tell voters why you are running for office, and the issues you plan to focus on if elected.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7, with balloting from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the town’s nine voting districts. 

For detailed information about election issues, such as sample ballots, voter registration, absentee ballots, the location of polling stations and more, click the “Election Information” page on the town’s website.

Candidates running for Planning and Zoning Commission seats are: Paul Lebowitz, who has Democrats’ endorsement; Republicans Amie Tesler, Patrizia Zucaro and John Bolton, all incumbents, and Michael Calise, and for the Coalition for Westport, Joseph Strickland Jr.

The term of office is four years.

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Following are the questionnaire answers provided by the six candidates running for four seats on the Planning and Zoning Commission.

PAUL LEBOWITZ, Democratic-endorsed

Paul Lebowitz

Biography: I am a successful local business owner and 30-year Westporter. I have served now on the P&Z Commission for eight years. First, as a commissioner, then as the chairman, and now currently as the vice chair of the P&Z. 

During these eight years, I’m very proud to have: 

  • Led the efforts to revitalize downtown by greatly expanding what is allowed. This has led to second-floor retailers finally being able to open.
  • Helped expand Westport’s outdoor dining.
  • Permitted the conversion of many vacant office buildings into new medical office facilities. This has led to greatly expanding our town’s grand list.
  • Approved many new sidewalks, including the much-loved ADA compliant Compo Beach boardwalk.
  • Worked hard to help Westport earn its first 8-30g moratorium. This has allowed us to keep zoning control locally where it belongs.
  • During these eight years I approved the creation of over 160 new affordable housing units in Westport.
  • Recently I helped approve Westport’s first Affordable Housing Fund, which will now allow Westport to create our own 100 percent affordable housing units on town owned land.
  • All of this was accomplished while prioritizing transparency, responsiveness and fairness.  

Why I am running: I believe my track record shows a strong commitment to promoting the continued success of Westport. I will work tirelessly to ensuring that the P&Z Commission functions in a transparent and fair manner.

I will make sure our commission hearings are a place where all voices are heard. I believe it is a key principle of good governance. I feel it’s essential that all stakeholders, including both applicants and neighbors, have the opportunity to express their opinions without any bias or fear. It is my belief that this approach will lead to more equitable and well-informed decisions. 

I will work hard to make sure all application information is available on the town website in advance and in a downloadable format as a practical step toward transparency. This will allow residents to access the exact same relevant information the commission reviews. Additionally, recording and archiving meetings will help ensure that the decision-making process is open to scrutiny and can be reviewed by the public, even by those who couldn’t participate in real-time. 

It is my belief that facilitating open and comprehensive discussions on agenda items is aligned with democratic values and community engagement. It is my hope that by creating an environment where all parties can speak freely and at length about their views will promote a more inclusive and informed decision-making process. 

In summary, my desire to continue to serve on the P&Z Commission is motivated by my dedication to the well-being of Westport and a commitment to upholding principles of transparency, fairness, and community involvement. 

As a fellow Westporter, I know you recognize how significantly the P&Z Commission’s decisions can impact your community. You want someone with my experience as your commissioner on the P&Z. Re-elect me in November on Line A.

AMIE TESLER, Republican

Amie Tesler

Biography: Originally from a small town, Mystic, Conn., it’s no wonder that I chose to plant roots in yet, another small New England seaside town to raise my family.

I attended the University of Connecticut earning a BA in marketing and psychology. The last 20-plus years of my career has been forged in architecture, design, development and construction. I’ve had the honor of working for some of the top firms in the country that have connections throughout the world. 

Currently, I am working for Zebra Projects as the director of North America. The work ranges from designing new concepts to full execution and implementation of concepts in key markets across the nation and world. 

On a local level, I’ve been very involved in the CES PTA. Duties ranging from room mom, library representative to implementing our new PTA parent database. I also volunteer for Sunday school at Assumption Church. I’m currently a commissioner on the P&Z and have a love for all things local community and government.

Why I am running: I am running because I am passionate about Westport, our community, my children’s future and enacting relevant, and positive change. 

I’m a big believer in if you want to make a difference in your community, show up. Be a voice, don’t be on the sidelines. So that’s what I’m doing. I also want to be an example to my children and the next generation of leaders to show that anybody can get involved in politics. It starts in your backyard; it starts with us. We are, can and will be the change.

I will focus on more community engagement. Certain issues gain a great deal of traction, but others fall by the wayside. I would love to see more voices heard, more options broached, more of the community, showing up. 

I’d also like to redefine and implement cohesive and holistic affordable housing to all that want to reside in our fair community. This is not a one-sentence answer and involves our community maintaining control of the next chapter of design and planning for the future. 

Environmental issues as it relates to smart development and our housing stock. Overall, as a commissioner, I’d like to see more of an effort on conscious design and planning for the future.  I’d like us to think more long-term verses making decisions for the here and now.

PATRIZIA ZUCARO, Republican

Patrizia Zucaro

Biography: I am from Westport. I attended Staples High School and the University of Connecticut. After graduating from UConn, I began my professional career in real estate development.  

Almost 10 years following graduation, I decided to go to law school while I continued to work full-time. I graduated Pace Law School in 2012 and was admitted to both the New York and Connecticut bar that same year. I have served for the past 2½ years as a Westport Planning and Zoning commissioner and have proven my ability to be an excellent listener and an even stronger advocate.

Why I am running: I am running to be a part of the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission because I believe it is important to protect and serve our community. 

As a Westport native, I strongly support Westport remaining a quaint vibrant New England town — not a city. I will advocate for property owners, not special interests.

Some of the issues that motivate me are: maintaining local control over local issues, protecting natural resources, environmental conscientiousness, preserving Westport’s unique community, cohesive and transparent planning, strategic infrastructure to limit congestion, and demanding government transparency.  

It would be an honor to serve the Westport community again on the Planning and Zoning Commission.

MICHAEL CALISE, Republican

Michael Calise

Biography: Westport native.

Staples High School.

Sacred Heart University.

USMC Recon.

RTM member for eight years.

Member of Architectural Review Board for over 10 years, chairman for four years.

Active in planning and zoning for decades.

Real estate appraiser for over four decades.

Realtor, owner of Settlers & Traders Real Estate Co.

Why I am running: We have all felt the strong urge to protect the past and preserve its ambiance for our future. Albeit from many different perspectives. 

We must, however, continually strive to be cognizant of our opportunities for the future and our need to fully realize these opportunities within the framework of what we want Westport to be. 

I believe we are at a time when we need to move forward with new ideas and major corrections to our regulations and plans for the growth of our town.

In my many years as a P&Z observer, I have never heard a request of any kind for infrastructure capacity. Road network capacity, natural recreation facilities capacity, Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound Water discharge capacities, groundwater retention capacities, and many others. These are important questions in planning for the future, an integral part of the planning function of our Planning and Zoning Commission, and an area of great importance that has long been overlooked. I plan to work toward those important aspects of our role as commissioners and away from zoning by unelected consultants.

Further, our community has long been burdened with thousands of non-conforming parcels due to prior zoning changes. This needs to be corrected so that property owners have certainty as to what they can do with their properties. It is poor planning to force property owners to appear before the ZBA, a time-consuming and expensive process, in order to obtain a zoning permit and undertake any improvements to their property.

JOSEPH STRICKLAND Jr., Coalition for Westport

Joseph Strickland Jr.

Biography: Westport resident, 40 years. Four daughters, all graduated from Westport public schools.    

Education: BA, Lehigh University in urban studies/sociology; M.ED, Lehigh University in special education; M. Arch, Carnegie Mellon University in architecture, business minor.

Employment and Other Interests: Instructor, Lehigh University’s Graduate School of Education — taught socially emotionally disturbed students. 

Assistant architect, Pittsburgh Redevelopment Authority — various real estate programs associated with Pittsburgh’s Renaissance II, Section 8 Housing and Urban Development Action Grants.

Various architectural firms specializing in municipal infrastructure projects and historic preservation. Won a Westport Historic Preservation Award for the renovation/addition to a Frazier Peters house.

Tax depreciation expert in the real estate industry — led practices for Deloitte & Touche, FTI, American Appraisal, Arthur Andersen.

Joined RB Financial in Westport — helped develop commercial and residential properties in Connecticut and Florida.  

Toys R Us — project manager built numerous retail stores including TRU’s first urban store.

Facilities director — Westport public schools, construction and maintenance, including code upgrades and expansions at CES, CMS, KHS, SHS, and LLS.

Currently, practice leader for tax depreciation at MazarsUSA. Expert witness during insurance settlement for the World Trade Center.

Public Site and Building Commission chairman. Numerous projects completed during his leadership. 

Blight Board chairman. Presided over 90 blight cases. 

Soccer referee.   

Why I am running: I am running for a seat on the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission with the intention of applying my real-world experience and expertise to make practical decisions that enhance the growth of Westport while maintaining those characteristics that will continue to make it a preferred home for new and existing residents.

I think it is important to note that while I am running under the Coalition banner, I am the only registered Democrat in the race.  

I believe the major issues that will require my focus as a member of the commission will be:

  • The Long Lots Elementary School project — my experience as a teacher, architect, and former Westport schools facility director will be invaluable here.
  • Keeping the Westport Community Gardens in place and viable during the Long Lots school project — my experience as a construction project manager and former Westport schools facility director will be helpful in making this happen.
  • Providing for the responsible development of affordable housing in Westport.
  • Advocating for sustainability awareness in projects that come before the commission.
  • Determining locations for additional recreational areas in town, including but not limited to baseball fields, soccer fields, and additional community gardens.
  • Collaborating with citizens and community groups, giving them a voice in the development of Westport.
  • Developing a sensitivity to how public and private transportation issues affect our community quality of life.

With chaos, tension and bad feelings engulfing our nation, the world, and even our community at times, I am proposing to be a commissioner who will do his utmost to provide a platform for fairness, transparent discussions and thoughtful decision making on the issues that fall under the purview of the Planning and Zoning Commission. 

JOHN BOLTON, Republican

John Bolton

Biography: I’ve been practicing law for 33 years as a member of the Connecticut Bar — the last 12 in Westport. I obtained my B.A. in history/political science from Clark University and earned my Juris Doctor from UConn’s School of Law in 1990. 

Feeling a strong need to get involved and give back to my community as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in July 2021, I was appointed as an alternate commissioner to Westport’s P&Z. It has been a privilege to serve Westport in this capacity, and a pleasure working alongside the capable and professional staff at the P&Z Department. 

As with practicing law, you need a good long game when deliberating, legislating or executing the planning aspects of a P&Z Commissioner. I feel I have excelled at this important qualification from personal and professional life experiences and will do my level best to continue bringing this important attribute to the WPZC. 

With an eye toward making Westport — “Bestport” — I look forward to contributing to the continued growth and development of this very special town we call home for the next four years. 

Why I am running: We are at a critical juncture in this town where we need to truly define whether we wish to continue being a charming southern New England town or a budding micro-city. 

The opportunity to influence, study, troubleshoot and be a part of the planning process is very appealing to me. What we accomplish in Planning and Zoning will affect the quality of life in Westport for many years to come and in many ways the commission acts the town’s gatekeepers in this regard. It’s an awesome responsibility that I embrace. 

From a plenary perspective, I will continue to promote deliberative and responsible economic development that adds to the quality of life for all of us while ensuring Westport’s long term economic stability. “Comprehensive planning and zoning” is more than a catchy campaign theme —  it’s an exercise in balancing all of the equities and competing interests presented by a particular application — all the while without turning an issue into a “zero sum” game. 

It is especially important that we continue to ensure local control over Westport’s land-use policies and resist Hartford’s unrealistic and unfunded mandates that continually threaten our ability to preserve property values and protect the rights of all stakeholders in Westport. And this must be done in a manner that guarantees transparency and inclusiveness for all of Westport’s stakeholders. 

For the record, for me “stakeholders” carries a very broad definition which includes, residential, commercial property and businesses owners, lessees, landlords, and employees who come to work every day in Westport. 

Overall, we need to pursue policies that are responsible and well thought out thereby enabling us to address our traffic problems proactively and with a fresh approach. We also need to embrace and not repudiate Westport’s unique allure, character, charm, and history.