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Forum has lots of competition

April 21, 2018 GMT

WESTPORT — What could have been utter chaos turned out to be a fairly subdued show Saturday, as a dozen candidates for governor crowded the stage during a forum in Westport.

It wasn’t the packed house organizers promised — they’d anticipated 22 of the 26 declared candidates to make an appearance. But the event was still perhaps the most diverse gubernatorial forum this season, drawing candidates from the two major parties and beyond.

They were competing for the public’s attention with the famed Westport Maker Faire and its plasma robots, as well as a medieval sword-fighting festival across the street, which surely left more battle wounds than the political forum.


“This really is a weekend dedicated to innovation here in Westport,” said First Selectman Jim Marpe. “My compliments to the League of Women voters for creating an innovative approach to hearing from all the gubernatorial candidates, at least a significant number of them, to hear what they have to say, regardless of their political affiliation.”

It was the motley crew, ranging from lesser-known candidates to those who’ve been making the rounds with the major parties for months. But everyone followed the rules and no one was hauled from the stage.

Candidates hoping to impress the 10,000 people who made their way to Westport for the Maker Faire might have been better off outside. Only about 100 people made their way past the Plasma Robot in the lobby of Town Hall to witness the forum.

Regardless, Democratic candidates included Sean Connolly, Mark Stewart Greenstein, Jonathan Harris, Lee Whitnum and Jacey Wyatt.

On the Republican side — which has nearly a dozen candidates — just Tim Herbst, Scott Merrell and David Walker made an appearance.

Republican Eric Mastroianni arrived just as the forum was wrapping up, delivering an opening and closing statement, only to announce he’s dropping his bid to be governor. Mike Handler arrived with two of his young daughters in tow, as the final remarks were concluding, but stayed at the back of the auditorium.

The major-party hopefuls shared the stage with unaffiliated candidates Oz Griebel and Marisa Manley, as well as Libertarian candidate Rod Hanscomb.

Drawing questions — literally from a fishbowl — Westport League of Women Voters President Sheila Ward posed questions on topics ranging from economic reform to gun and school safety to education.

Some audience members had hoped to hear from more of the candidates — Westport businessman Steve Obsitnik’s name came up several times.


“I think it was an unprecedented opportunity for people to hear so much information and learn so much about the candidates in one small event, which gives us plenty to think about between now and November and will educate us better than any amount of reading we could do on the side,” said Barbara Utting, who came specifically to hear Obsitnik.

Her husband, Ken Utting, said he was still glad they attended, because it was the first time they’d heard any candidate speak in this race for governor.

“There were some candidates up there that I was very impressed with, and a bunch to me, that weren’t (impressive) at all,” Ken Utting said. “So it gives me the chance to narrow it down.”

kkrasselt@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt