Names of all the candidates for townwide offices appear on this sample ballot for Westport’s Nov. 7 election, with the exception of one — Jill Dillon, a write-in candidate for the Board of Education. To cast a ballot for Dillon, voters need to fill in the bubble and write her name in the “5E” box for write-ins.

By John Schwing

WESTPORT — The campaign clock is counting down the final hours before electioneering stops and balloting begins at 6 a.m. Tuesday in the 2023 municipal election.

The campaign was expected to be on the quieter side, lacking any of the usual “marquee” contests. No national, congressional or state offices are at stake, and the next race for Westport’s top elected job — first selectman — is not for two more years.

So what is on the ballot? Townwide, votes will be cast for five boards and commissions and, by district, for seats on the Representative Town Meeting.

Election 2023 Board of Education candidate profiles / featured image
Candidates in this year’s contentious Board of Education race are, clockwise from upper left, Lee Goldstein, Camilo Riano, Jill Dillon, Jamie Fitzgerald and Neil Phillips.

And while campaigning for four of the five townwide panels has proven to be relatively low-key, the contest for seats on the Board of Education has, over the last several weeks, erupted into a fierce fight. 

That battle reflects many of the arguments — and divisions — that have flared nationally over educational philosophy and parental vs. professional control of schools. 

Allegations have flown back and forth over issues like the school district’s high standing vs. slipping achievement;  calls to resist banning books vs. claims of pornographic content, and the value of “social emotional learning” and “diversity equity and inclusion” as beneficial elements for a child’s education or harmful indoctrination that obscures a focus on academic success. 

Throw in, for good measure, charges and counter-charges of extremism (from the left and the right), child grooming, Marxism, Critical Race Theory, censorship, incivility and antisemitism … and voters have witnessed an election-season campaign that’s been anything but quiet.

The school board race, pitting Democratic incumbents Lee Goldstein and Neil Phillips against Republican newcomers Camilo Riano and Jamie Fitzgerald, also has the unusual dynamic of a write-in candidate, Jill Dillon, who in all but name is running in alliance with the Democrats. 

Three of the five candidates will be elected.

Results in that contest, no doubt, will be the most closely watched outcome from Tuesday’s balloting.

Click here to read the five Board of Education candidates’ responses to a Westport Journal questionnaire.

Watch a video of the school board candidates at a forum hosted in October by the League of Women Voters by clicking here.

The rest of the townwide ballot

BOARD OF FINANCE: Candidates are Democrats Jeffrey Hammer, incumbent, and Danielle Dobin, currently the Planning and Zoning Commission chairwoman, and Republicans Perry Winter, an incumbent; Liz Heyer, currently the Board of Education vice chairwoman, and Rich Hightower.

Four of the five candidates will be elected. The term of office is four years.

Click here to read the candidates’ responses to the Westport Journal questionnaire. Watch a video of the candidates (following Board of Education candidates ) at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters by clicking here.

PLANNING AND ZONING COMMISSION: Candidates are Paul Lebowitz, an incumbent 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.

Four of the six candidates will be elected. The term is for four years.

Click here to read the candidates’ responses to the Westport Journal questionnaire. Watch a video of the candidates at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters by clicking here.

ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS: Candidates are Democrat Jim Ezzes, and Republicans Michelle Hopson and Liz Wong. All three are incumbents.

Three candidates will be elected. The term is four years.

BOARD OF ASSESSMENT APPEALS: Republican Joseph Sledge is the lone candidate.

One candidate will be elected. The term is for four years.

REPRESENTATIVE TOWN MEETING: The town’s non-partisan legislative body has 36 members, with four representatives from each of the nine districts.

There are competitive races, with more than four candidates seeking election to the four allotted seats, in Districts 1, 2, 6 and 9.

The contests in Districts 6 and 9 — both with seven contenders for the four available seats — are in neighborhoods where two of the town’s most contentious issues have unfolded over the last several months.

In the District 6 neighborhood, bordering Long Lots Elementary School in District 7, a months-long controversy has erupted over plans to build a new school on the Hyde Lane property, which would displace the Westport Community Gardens.

In District 9, encompassing the downtown area, another lengthy and antagonistic debate has enveloped plans to redesign Parker Harding Plaza’s parking lot.

To check the candidate lineup for each of the RTM districts, view the sample ballots posted on the Town Clerk’s “Election Information” website. 

John Schwing, the Westport Journal consulting editor, has held senior editorial and writing posts at southwestern Connecticut media outlets for four decades. Learn more about us here.