Independent candidate TJ Elgin is running for First Selectman of Westport for a second time, facing off against Democratic State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg and Republican Jennifer Tooker, who currently serves as selectwoman, for the open seat.
Jim Marpe, the incumbent, is not seeking reelection. Marpe, a Republican, most recently won reelection in 2017 with 50 percent of the vote, compared to his Democratic opponent’s 45 percent and Elgin’s 0.3 percent.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Elgin about his campaign and priorities if elected to the seat.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What inspired you to run for First Selectman of Westport again?
This is my second time running, and I’ve been involved in town politics for a while now on both sides of the aisle, and I’m known in the town as a go-to guy for issues of any sort, from when trees fall down to when people can’t get permits. While I may not have status in the political field, I do have status in the business field, and that’s something my opponents lack. I know how to manage businesses, and you can’t have a 10.5 billion dollar town that is not being managed.
How has your business experience prepared you to run Westport?
I built a brewing company and a nonprofit focused on farm development in Connecticut. We help farms have less waste, and put surplus crops to good use and create more of a profit. My other businesses are a wellness company that does skin and body care, and another company that does food infusions. My background is in helping businesses generally, and anywhere I go, I’m helping the business community.
What makes you think that an independent run for first selectman is viable?
I approached both parties to see where they were when I started thinking about running, and found out that no matter what, Steinberg was going to be nominated by the Democrats. The Republicans just gave it to Tooker, and I was told that somebody as young as me can’t run the town. But I manage and own and run businesses, so it’s not so far-fetched to run a town. I think that in town, people don’t like the divisiveness of the two-party system, and that’s why an independent candidate is what would be the best route. I work with everybody, and I think people can see that having an independent candidate really is what’s best for Westport.
To what extent would you follow in First Selectman Jim Marpe’s footsteps? Are there decisions he made that you would have handled differently, had you been in office?
I wouldn’t have put Town Hall under much of a lockdown as he did. I get that a lot of people were worried during the pandemic, but I would have staffed the office appropriately and let whoever was immune compromised or didn’t feel comfortable choose to work from home. I know some people would have been in the office if they were allowed. It hurt a lot of businesses, because there were events people wanted to plan and things people wanted to get set up, but it was very difficult and mismanaged. I’m not sure if he was just worried and didn’t want to deal with Lamont, but I know I wouldn’t have managed it like that.
Do you see a world where, if you were first selectman, Westport residents might see a raise in local taxes?
No, and I’m pretty confident that I can actually lower taxes, too. I’d raise property values by building sound barriers along the highways and implementing environmental initiatives that would save on energy consumption. All schools and government buildings would have solar panels, and we could use the millions in American Rescue Plan funding to support these initiatives. Between additional funding from the federal government and reappropriating some of the budget, there is funding available for this without having to raise taxes. I’ve also talked to the guys over at the recycling center, and came up with the great idea to start an initiative to go through the thousands of dollars in materials and electronics that show up there daily. There are plenty of refurbishable items we could sell.
What sets you apart from your opponents?
The town is in many ways a business, and I build businesses. During the pandemic, every business I’ve built or helped during the whole 18 months of this has flourished. I’ve worked to bring businesses together to form committees that I set up as nonprofits for the community, and all of the businesses raise money to do things in the neighborhood for the community to attract business. My ability that sets me apart from my opponents is that they’re used to being appointed to committees, but I would grow and develop committees for different sections of the town.
My opponents keep talking about traffic, but my big way of alleviating traffic would be to set up digital solar power panels in different sections of the town up and down different business areas along the Post Road. During prime traffic hours, they would say the expected time it would take to get from one area to another, so if traffic is bad, someone might choose to pop off the highway for a minute and stop for a bite to eat or a quick shopping trip. Westport is a travel destination now, and there’s not enough marketing behind our businesses. I’ve talked to businesses, and they love the idea, especially restaurants. I don’t know many people that don’t get aggravated when they hit traffic that triples the amount of time they expected their trip to take. It’s a little bit like rest stops on the highway.