Monday, July 04, 2022

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What’s in a Name? In Westport, Always Controversy

State Rep. Ken Bernhard, a Republican whose 136th District now includes only Westport, wants to name the Post Road bridge over the Saugatuck River in honor of the late Ruth Steinkraus-Cohen.

Ms. Steinkraus-Cohen, who died last year, was a longtime Westporter and friend and supporter of the United Nations.

Each summer, the bridge is decked out in flags of the U.N. members on “jUNe Day” when the town hosts U.N. delegates, mission members and U.N. employees and their families for the day. But nothing is ever easy in Westport.

Because the bridge is state-owned, Bernhard proposed state legislation to make the name change.

“Ms. Steinkraus-Cohen was a remarkable woman with an extraordinary commitment to public service and was active in promoting peace through the United Nations,” Bernhard said.

Bernhard’s bill (House Bill No. 5272) called for the bridge to be named the “Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge.”

Bernhard asked First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell to have Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) endorse the proposal to make sure the townspeople were supportive of the effort.

As RTM Moderator, I suggested to the First Selectwoman that the Board of Selectmen (which includes her, fellow Democrat Carl Leaman and Republican John Izzo) take up the matter first, as it would under the town’s “Policy for Naming Town Property,” which deals with town-owned property.

The Board of Selectmen considered the issue Tuesday (March 4, 2003). The motion passed 2-1 and will go before the RTM next month. Izzo voted against it.

According to the Westport News, “In a statement released after the meeting, Izzo said he didn’t know Ruth Steinkraus-Cohen, but explained he felt that it wasn’t fair to other Westport notables who might be worthy of such an honor.”

You can’t say party politics was a factor. Or was it? Perhaps Izzo for some reason looked at it as a partisan issue (as he does with many things). But Steinkraus-Cohen was a registered Republican. And it is a Republican rep who is asking the state to approve the name change.

Before Izzo’s vote, some Westporters anticipated opposition might come from those unhappy with the U.N. Security Council’s stance on efforts to disarm Iraq.

Bernhard says he has time to “derail” his proposal before it gets to the General Assembly if Westporters don’t back it. Never take anything for granted in Westport.

Update: At its April 1 meeting, the RTM voted 26-5 in favor of endorsing Bernhard’s bill to rename the bridge.

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