NORWALK, Conn. — Candidates for the open District 137 State Representative seat met for a debate.
Democratic candidate Kadeem Roberts and Republican candidate Luis Estrella seek to win the seat now held by Chris Perone, a Democrat. District 137 is entirely in Norwalk, though under this year’s redistricting its geographic boundaries have shrunk.
Answers to questions in the League of Women Voters debate, held Monday at Cornerstone Community Church, were brief, and Estrella said twice that he didn’t want to “make up” answers. The candidates agreed on many topics but some contention arose when moderator Jean Rabinow asked about the police accountability law passed two years ago.
Video by Harold F. Cobin at end of story
Estrella, speaking first, said the law has “absolutely exacerbated” the disrespect police officers feel, and mentioned recent problems in New York City. Roberts is endorsed by the Working Families Party, which wants to defund the police, Estrella said.
Roberts denied that the Working Families Party wants to defund the police and said members include police officers.
“Community policing is very important within the city, and within the state,” but many Norwalk police officers do not live here, Roberts said. Since “a lot of people are nervous and scared of police,” they need to “hold not just a block party, but more so community events” and “come into the neighborhoods that people are fearful of and actually sit down and talk to them one by one.”
Estrella said he goes to “dozens of events in a week and (Norwalk Police) are always there.” NPD officers were present when Roberts marched down Interstate 95 to keep him safe.
The marches were inspired by the death of George Floyd, Roberts replied. “I actually lead those marches, I actually sat down and talked to the police officers, as well.” If Norwalk Police are at events it’s because they’re getting paid to be there, he continued. “To be present is one thing, but to actually be in the environment of the people and fellowship with the people and speak to them is another thing.”
Roberts served one two-year term on the Common Council; he did not run for reelection last year. His biography touts him as the youngest African American in Norwalk’s history to get elected to the post.
Estrella’s bio describes him as “a home grown advocate, whom sits on the board and volunteers with several community organizations in order to truly make a difference in Norwalk.”
Roberts is a lifelong Norwalk resident; Estrella said he grew up in Patterson, N.J., has lived in two countries and three states, but chose to live in Norwalk in 2000.
The debate commentary touched on differing perceptions of the electorate, as discovered through door knocking. Roberts said he hears about gun safety, women’s rights, and inflation. Estrella said everyone he’s talked to speaks about it being difficult to pay bills, plus, people don’t know who their State Representative is.
In reply, Roberts touched on affordable housing. He agreed he’s heard about inflation but “most importantly,” gun safety.
Both support women’s reproductive rights, though Estrella said he didn’t understand why some people say they’re in danger in Connecticut.
“It’s already a state law. Not a single candidate has said that they would repeal that law,” Estrella said.
“Well, actually, over the past several years, there’s been about 30-plus bills implemented by the Republicans … that can affect women’s rights and women’s rights to choose,” Roberts replied.
Estrella asked if the bills were trying to repeal women’s rights or were “something that effects it.” He said, “Very big difference there.
Both supported the state funding social emotional learning (SEL) in the schools, but Estrella said it shouldn’t come before math and English instruction.
They agreed that Connecticut’s elections are fair. Estrella added that he’s worked the polls and seen the electorate, suggesting that younger voters should be encouraged to come out.
Rabinow asked about the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula and bringing more money to support education in Norwalk
“I personally do not know the educational cost sharing formula. I’m not going to make anything, anything up on that,” Estrella replied. But cutting state costs would provide money for education.
Roberts said, “Basically, we need to look at who’s educating our teachers, I mean, who’s educating our students? We want to make sure that we’re creating the actual funding solutions to make sure that our teachers want to stay.”
Rabinow asked how they’d balance Connecticut’s urban and suburban needs if they got elected. Estrella said District 137 has distinct areas with different characteristics, be in the comfortable financial status of West and East Norwalk or the lesser fortunes of Wall Street. Roberts said he wants to push small business and organize town events. He promised to hold town hall meetings.
Estrella asked, “Where was all this energy when you were on the Council?”
Rabinow noted that they both work and asked how they’d make the time to serve in the Legislature.
Estrella said he’s self-employed with a business that basically runs itself, really requiring his attention only one day a week. He works part-time for the City, “so my schedule is clear and open to invest the time that it’s needed to represent Norwalk.”
Roberts said he’s “always had the time” to serve, stressing his Council service. He also mentors youth and works with businesses.
“But most importantly, I’ve had the time to knock on these doors and talk to these voters. I’ve done that on ‘on election cycles’ and ‘off election cycles.’ I’ve worked every poll, I’ve stood outside in the rain, in the snow to talk to the people. I am for the people and I want to be the voice for the people. So when we talk about the by the time, I do have the time,” Roberts said.
“I’m actually the only candidate here at this table is actually involved in their community,” Estrella replied. “I help out everyone in my community in every single way that I can. I sit on a dozen different Boards and Commissions to actually get things done here in the city. And I’m not just saying, you know, ‘if elected I’m willing to do something,’ I’m currently doing it.”
“I’ve done so much within the city of Norwalk,” Roberts replied. “And also my background speaks for itself, being that I have a Master’s in Public Administration … I could tell you about what goes on within the city of Norwalk, I’ve been in the city of Norwalk my entire life.”
Reminder: NancyOnNorwalk requires full names from commenters. For more information, go here.