Monday, November 16, 2009

Remarks at Swearing in Ceremony

(Remarks of First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff as prepared for delivery at the Westport Town Hall oath of office ceremony on Nov. 16, 2009)

Good evening. I send you greetings from Shelly Kassen who is out of the country but wishes you all the best and the best for Westport.

Congratulations to those sworn in tonight as well as to those who ran for election and lost. The vibrancy and enduring nature of our democracy depends on citizen involvement. That is true in Westport and around our great country.

As I noted in my remarks to the Veterans Day ceremony in this auditorium, Westport’s 41 percent voter turnout in this election was disappointing. But hardly surprising. We can and must do better in our municipal elections.

As a journalist for many years overseas, I watched many people put their lives on the line in an effort to try to live in the kind of democracy we take for granted.

In Moscow under the ever watchful eyes and ears of the KGB, I chronicled the struggles of Solzhenitsyn, Sakaharov, Sharansky and many others seeking freedoms.

In Seoul, South Korea, I choked on tear gas in the streets as students sought to oust their corrupt leaders. In Manila, I marched with hundreds of thousands in the streets as Filipinos sought to overthrow Ferdinand Marcos.

In Bangkok, I was in the streets there as the Thai people sought to oust their military rulers. Numerous times. And in Delhi, I was in the streets in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the challenges it posed to democracy in India.

Now you know why the occasional heated Westport town meetings don’t really bother me. If Westporters take to the streets, however, my concern level will go up a notch.

So it pains me to see people here not vote. I’d like to think that most people in Westport eligible to vote did not turn out because they were generally satisfied with the way things are. True or not--those of us sworn in tonight have a tough road ahead of us.

Westport is no different than our state or our nation in facing tough times. Actually, we probably are a lot better off than most. But as much as some Westporters would like to think of us as an isolated island, we are not.

The economic tsunami that struck Wall Street and many of our major financial institutions has had repercussions on Westport. Almost 20 percent of our residents in one way or another are involved in the finance, banking, real estate, and brokerage industries.

And when Westport sneezes—let’s hope it’s not H1N1 connected—the State of Connecticut catches cold. Westport and its well to do Fairfield County neighbors are the economic engine of Connecticut. We provide almost half the tax revenue Hartford collects.

So maintaining a rich and vibrant Westport is not only in our best interests but the interests of all the citizens of Connecticut. It is my job and yours to do the best we can in this regard. And we must do it in a bipartisan manner. We are one town.

Despite tough economic times, Westport will not and cannot stand still, however. At the beginning of the 21st century, we must meet the challenges of keeping our schools No. 1. We must meet the challenges of protecting our environment. And we must meet the challenges of providing a safe community that embraces newcomers as well as our senior citizens.

Thank you Connecticut magazine for rating us No. 1 in the state in our population category and for rating Staples High School No. 1 in the state.

Our taxes are relatively modest compared to other places in Connecticut and in the region. But, that’s little solace to those struggling to make ends meet. We must keep them in mind as we maintain the quality services Westporters have come to expect.

We will continue to meet our obligations to our employees—and they are the greatest--as far as pensions and other benefits are concerned. At the same time, we will seek to negotiate labor contracts and benefits that are fair but also reflect the economic reality of our times.

We will seek out innovative ways to achieve efficiencies in delivering services. We will do that in Westport across town and school lines. And we will do that with our neighboring communities in concerted regional efforts that will benefit all our citizens.

Finally, we will continue to rely on the creativity and resourcefulness of Westporters in bettering our lives and those of our fellow Americans. We are especially grateful for those seeking to improve our environment…and for the efforts of our Green Task Force and private groups such as Green Village Initiative.

So I am excited about the challenges and opportunities ahead. I see what we are doing as setting the table--as they say in baseball--for those who will follow us in the 21st century.

We will do so while remembering the efforts of Westporters such as Ed See and Leo Nevas who helped shape Westport in the 20th century and who helped us achieve what we have today. We continue to mourn their passing. We must keep up their good work.

Among the many duties, I have as first selectman, the one that I especially relish is the opportunity to meet our young people. I try to inspire them to do their best. And I even urge them to take up the challenges of public service.

I’ll leave you tonight with the words of a letter I received last week from Isabelle Katz, a Long Lots second grader who recently came to visit me with her class. And I noted to my visitors that this was the very building where I attended second grade when it was Bedford Elementary School.

Here’s what Isabelle wrote, amid hearts and peace signs: “Dear Mayor Gordon. I am so so happy you oune. Wos it wirth it? Write back to tell me if it wos.”

Well, Isabelle, it certainly was. It was because I and all of us taking the oath of office tonight will do our best to make it worth it. We’ll do our best for you and all future Westporters. We have no higher priority. We have no greater challenge.  Thank you very much.