By Thane Grauel
WESTPORT — Two men running for the town’s Board of Selectmen on a third-party ticket are hoping to shake up local politics.
First selectman candidate TJ Elgin and selectman candidate Louis D’Onofrio Jr. say a vote for either of the two major parties Nov. 2 would yield essentially the same policies.
“We need to recover from the pandemic,” D’Onofrio said. “We need great people like TJ running the government.”
This marks Elgin’s second time running for first selectman after losing to First Selectman Jim Marpe in 2017.
Elgin founded an agricultural nonprofit, Something Wolfy, and is a brewmaster.
It is Louis D’Onofrio Jr.’s first campaign for selectman. A nurse practitioner, he runs a primary-care practice in Bridgeport. Before July, he was the clinic director for the Westport-Weston Health District (since renamed the Aspetuck Health District), but left amid conflict with the agency’s leadership.
D’Onofrio has been outspoken about his disagreements with Westport Director of Health Mark Cooper, and last month filed a lawsuit alleging unsafe working conditions and possible mismanagement of funds.
Those allegations are a major motivation for the Elgin/D’Onofrio campaign and part of their platform is opposition to allocating any American Rescue Plan Act federal relief funding to the health district until their allegations are investigated. The town is slated to receive about $8.4 million under the act over the next two years.
The campaign website has a link to a related Change.org petition.
Cooper and district’s board of directors have said they will not comment on the accusations.
Elgin and D’Onofrio held a meet-and-greet Monday night at their campaign headquarters, a storefront at 370 Post Road West. The two are on the Libertarian line in the municipal election ballot.
Visitors to the open house were few, but the two candidates were enthusiastic about their platform, and the reception they said they’ve gotten so far when out speaking with voters, despite the difficulties of running as third-party candidates.
“We want our voices to be heard,” D’Onofrio said. “We want an equal playing field.”
Marpe, a Republican, is not running for re-election. Republican Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker is running again, this time for the top spot, with running mate Andrea Moore, who has a background in finance and is vice chairwoman of the Board of Finance.
Jonathan Steinburg, a six-term Democratic state representative from the 136th District, is his party’s standard-bearer for first selectman, with running mate Candice Savin, a lawyer and Board of Education chairwoman.
In addition to their criticism of the health district, Elgin and D’Onofrio are highlighting issues that include what they call the “overdevelopment of Westport,” particularly in Saugatuck, where they’re concerned that new construction might reduce the town’s stock of affordable housing.
D’Onofrio said families with children in the schools might have to move. “Their children may have to change school systems,” he said. “After they waited years to get into Westport.”
D’Onofrio is also critical of Westport’s lack of townwide recycling and garbage pickups. The town of East Haven has virtually the same population, he said, but Westport has twice the budget.
“They have house by house garbage and recycling pickup,” D’Onofrio said. “But we can’t do that in Westport?”
Another concern of the candidates is the many public meetings being held online, where the meeting administrator can keep a participant’s microphone muted.
They also said the permitting process in Westport is burdensome and slow, compared with other towns.
“We want small business growth in Westport, we feel like that’s dying off,” D’Onofrio said. “When you go down the Post Road, all I see are empty buildings.”
Another plank is the environment. In addition to townwide garbage and recycling pickups, they want solar panels atop town buildings and schools, water bottle filling stations around town, and more frequent farmers markets.
Adding to their concerns about the town, Elgin and D’Onofrio are also suspicious about a problem with the signatures they collected in order to qualify for the Nov. 2 ballot.
Elgin said that after turning in the signatures at Town Hall, they got a letter from the state saying they were on the ballot.
But then, he said, they got another letter saying the signatures had never been received.
Elgin said backup documentation was sent to the state, and they heard back again, saying the issue had been resolved.
“They apologized for the inconvenience, but if it wasn’t addressed, we’d have been kicked off the ballot,” Elgin said.
Learn more about the Elgin/D’Onofrio campaign here.