Duff, Kousidis, joust in League debate

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), left, and his Republican challenger, Elisavet “Ellie” Kousidis, as shown in Thursday’s League of Women Voters debate on Zoom.

The election is scheduled for Nov. 3. Many Norwalkers are voting by absentee ballot.

NORWALK, Conn. — Education, early voting and COVID-19 were among the issues addressed Thursday in a League of Women Voters debate between State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) and his Republican challenger, Elisavet “Ellie” Kousidis.

Duff touted funding for school construction, particularly a new Norwalk High School, and called the Washington Village replacement project a great success. Kousidis criticized Duff over the high school and repeatedly slammed him as raising taxes.


Opening remarks

Moderator Jean Rabinow first asked the candidates what they think are the worst challenges Connecticut will face in the next few years, and how the legislature should address them.

Kousidis, running for election for the first time, emphasized the value of education from her perspective in the education profession. She mentioned a bill Pennsylvania Republicans are trying to pass in their Senate, which would use federal CARES money to give families vouchers so they can “choose academic and enrichment support for their children.”

“I think any opportunity that we have to empower parents to make those choices for their children is paramount. And now in COVID time, I think it’s really a highlighted issue that we need to focus on,” she said.

Duff, running for a ninth 2-year term, said, “the answer for me would be to make sure that over the next year or so we get through the COVID pandemic, and do it in a way that we keep people healthy and safe, and that we let science lead the way. It’s going to be very important for us as we go through the next so many months or a year, that we continue to be guided by principles of science and healthcare and keeping people safe.”

In rebuttal, Kousidis said Gov. Ned Lamont did a good job initially with the pandemic, but “as we started to learn more about the virus, I think that the legislature should have could have been and been part of that decision so that the people would have had a voice in the process.”

Duff replied, “As a legislative leader I’ve been in constant contact with (Lamont) and his office, his staff; legislators have also been in in part of key decisions by having Committee meetings.”



Rabinow asked the candidates how they would “solve the problem of ‘two Connecticuts,’”an education system that serves high-income students but is failing low-income students.

Duff called himself “very much one of the strongest advocates for schools” and said, “a few years ago, I helped to rewrite the education cost sharing formula.”

The new formula has a 10-year phase in; Duff said he would have preferred at five-year phase in but that was the year of the bipartisan budget and “we made a budget agreement” with Republicans.

He also said he was “very proud” to shepherd in funding for a new Norwalk High School, renovations at Jefferson Elementary School, the expansion of Ponus Ridge Middle School, windows at West Rocks Middle School and work at Ox Ridge School in Darien.

Kousidis charged that Duff is “pushing forced regionalization.”

“Ask any educator and they will tell you that more central office is not the answer to improving student outcomes. I’ve said it before. And I’ll say it again, the last thing schools need is more top down bureaucracy,” she said.

She again said she’d like to see a bill like the one in Pennsylvania.

“I also think that focus can’t always be just about money,” she said. “And especially right now bricks and mortar are not the thing that children need. Children need connection. There’s actually a vast body of research through the Centers for Disease Control that show that the connection with just one adult can have a significant impact on the legacy of a child. So it’s not always about money.”

The legislature agreed to pay 80 percent of the construction cost for a new Norwalk High School, based on it being a pilot school that accepts 100 students from other communities for both the P-Tech Academy and a new arts academy.

Kousidis charged that Norwalk would “lose priority.”

“Not really sure what to say because a lot of that was just totally false,” Duff replied.

The new Norwalk High School is not forced regionalization, it’s “treated like a magnet school,” like the Center for Global Studies, he said.

Kousidis replied, “20 percent is still a lot of money,” and said she’d talked to Norwalk Board of Education members who said there were other projects on the list that could have been done.

“I think the most important part about this is that … Norwalk families are going to shoulder the burden of that 20 percent cost, but we lose our priority standing according to line 72 through 79,  in bill number 7010.”



Rabinow asked if the candidates are in favor of tolls, and if not, how they would pay for necessary infrastructure repairs and modernization.

Duff listed road projects that need to be done and said he is in favor of tolling trucks.

“A lot of people say that we have raided the transportation fund, that is absolutely not true,” Duff said. “We put more general fund money into our transportation fund than ever before. And we’ve actually done more projects than ever before in transportation. The fact of the matter is, it’s just more projects right now than our funding because of an aging infrastructure.”

“It should come as no surprise to anyone, last of all myself, that Bob Duff supports tolls, or anything, really, that has to do with more taxes, because he’s voted for increasing our taxes just about every opportunity he’s had in his legislative career, including to record breaking years in 2011 and 2015,” Kousidis replied.

In 2019, Duff “passed a nearly $2 billion tax hike and did nothing to stop $350 million in raises for state employees,” she said.

Duff said he’d forgotten to make a point because he wasn’t reading from notes, like Kousidis.

He’d advocated to eliminate the car tax as part of his support for truck tolling, because “I find that that is a unequal tax amongst our communities,” he said. “Norwalk has a much higher car tax than Darien or Greenwich, Waterbury is worse, Bridgeport is worse than the surrounding suburbs. So getting rid of the car tax to me is extremely important.”

Kousidis replied, “I love that my opponent just said ‘unequal car tax’ and is trying to take a jab at me because I’m not a 20-year career politician and I do have my notes here. Because this, you know, that’s what I need to do.”

The Family Medical Leave Act adds a tax, unfair because “that half a percent (increase) applies to every Connecticut resident, except for unionized state employees,” she said, adding that she wasn’t ashamed to show people her notes.


Early Voting

Rabinow said 39 states allow either for multiday in-person voting and or no excuse voting by mail to encourage participation in democracy, and asked for their stance on the topic.

“I absolutely do support absentee ballot voting, as long as the ballot is solicited,” Kousidis said. “…I do not, however, support early voting because it’s expensive. And if we expand the absentee to ‘no excuse,’ I don’t really see a reason why we need to spend more money for early voting. Plus, it takes away some of the magic of Election Day.”

Duff said, “I think through this election, we’ve seen that people really do appreciate the fact of having to no excuse absentee ballot voting.”

He blamed Republican opposition for not getting no excuse absentee ballots out as a resolution for voters to decide upon.

“I do support early voting. It doesn’t have to be expensive, doesn’t have to be where you have all the schools open for early voting, you can do it simply at City Hall,” Duff said.

Kousidis replied, “My opponent says it doesn’t have to be expensive. What does he care? He’s just going to raise your taxes again to pay for it.”

Duff did not reply.


Black Lives Matter and closing statements

Rabinow asked the candidates how they would address the issues raised by Black Lives Matter protests and ensure the voices of underrepresented groups are heard in the legislature.

Everyone needs to be treated fairly under the law and “the first step of that was to pass our police accountability bill,” Duff said.

Senate Democrats also presented a Juneteenth agenda, which he thinks will be address in the January session, he said. But, “these types of things are not just a one off, type, you pass the bill and you walk away. These are conversations to be had, listening to be had.”

Kousidis said, “I’m going to address the police bill in my closing remarks. But for now, I’m going to talk about racial justice as far as in education but unfortunately, we do live in a world where racial disparities still exist and a key difference between myself and my opponent is that I don’t see the state as the ultimate problem solver for all of our problems.”

She said, “I want to see parents empowered to make ethical educational choices for their families, regardless of their means. I think this will break barriers for racial justice.”

In closing remarks, Kousidis lost her place while reading her notes and did not bring up the police accountability bill.

“We need someone in Hartford that knows how to listen and how to find common ground,” she said. “My opponent has proven that he doesn’t care to do either. He’s voted with his party 100 percent of the time and is a proven partisan.”

Duff said he loves public service.

“I’ve literally helped thousands and thousands of constituents over the years,” he said. “Whether it’s fighting a State agency or a City agency, whether it’s fighting for consumer protection, whether it is ensuring that I’m helping to get their lights back on or their cable service or WiFi back on, it’s all those kinds of things that help to ensure that you know that … I’m available to help, happy to assist, and I’m approachable.”


John O'Neill October 23, 2020 at 10:43 am

Duff is proud of rewriting ECS funding law for schools?? What a freaking joke!! While All-White Non Hispanic West Hartford gets Double what Norwalk gets in ECS financing? That’s just not right. When New Fairfield an all white district 1/3 the size of Norwalk gets as much funding as Norwalk? That’s just not right. Any additional funding in Duff’s rewriting of ECS formula is equivalent to no more than a grain of sand on Calf Pasture Beach. OUR ELL student population has more than doubled over the past 10 years for goodness sakes. BUT, Duff has brought nothing to help out these poor kids. Think about that for one second while contemplating your vote. The fact that Teacher’s Union has endorsed him is a travesty. It may say more about their agenda than meets the eye.
His actions with Norwalk Police Affair have proven he’s a liar who doesn’t deserve your vote. That being said, some will miss those PAC funded Ice Socials when he’s gone. So there’s that to be concerned about.
Speaking of ELL funding — Harry Rilling mentioned last year at this time that he put in a call to Jim Himes for help. Has Himes called back yet??

Tysen Canevari October 23, 2020 at 2:15 pm

Considering the circumstances it was a good debate to watch. However, I was dumbfounded while watching Ellie recite her notes and lose her place in her closing statements. She then paused and said, “I’m done!” Really? Look at the camera and speak from the heart. Reading from notecards is not a way to gain votes. It reminded me of the kid that just wanted to get through his presentation in middle school and stayed up all night worrying.

John Miller October 23, 2020 at 4:37 pm

Senator Duff’s statement that the Special Transportation Fund has not been “raided” is true. What he failed to mention, however is that, between 2011 and 2018, the state withheld $650 million meant for the Special Transportation Fund in order to bridge budget gaps, which seems to call into question the credibility of his “We put more general fund money into the transportation fund than ever before” statement. Then there’s the issue if the vehicle sales tax revenue transfers from the General Fund to the Special Transportation Fund. It was scheduled to be phased in from 8% of car sales tax revenue to 100% by 2024 and would have increased revenue by $300 million over the next three years resulting in a surplus in the Special Transportation Fund. Instead, the Governor is freezing it at 8% which will leave the Special Transportation underfunded by $730 million by 2024. And let’s not forget what we pay at the pump which, between the excise and gross receipt taxes on every gallon is the 7th highest in the nation. What a joke. It’s time for a change and for Bob to enjoy retirement.

Finally, Ellie may have missed the opportunity to address the police accountability bill during the debate but she has previously provided her viewpoint the bill on this site. Is anyone really unaware of what happened at the Norwalk Police Headquarters and the way it was misrepresented?

John ONeill October 23, 2020 at 9:27 pm

Why do Duff and his acolytes continue this disingenuous argument that Transportation Fund has not be raided? Quite honestly, I find that pathetic. But then again his and their actions during Duff Police Affair already proved that. The Transportation fund diversions are a disgrace.

Isabelle Hargrove October 23, 2020 at 10:25 pm

Duff is indeed smooth in his delivery, although uncomfortably condescending. And he has told his half truths (to be generous…) so many times, he can recite them without notes. Kousidis on the other hand spoke from the heart, using her experience and well reasoned principles to outlined ideas that would actually benefit Norwalkers and Connecticut.

Maybe be it’s time we let go of the used car salesman who keeps on selling us lemons and trade him for someone who will advocate for our kids, our neighborhoods, our police, and our city. More than ever, Norwalk needs an advocate, not an empty well-pressed suit that only stands up because it is so stiff.

Finally, judging on how Kousidis took down Duff when he made fun of her in a cringe worthy condescending tone men use too often to put down women, I am confident we will have a great fighter representing us in Hartford.

Ron Morris October 24, 2020 at 12:32 am

Ellie is
anti – vaxxer
anti- police accountability
She also had the opportunity to explain why she is anti- police accountability and it seems as if she was afraid to do so.
Ellie is all wrong for the job.

Bryan Meek October 24, 2020 at 11:30 am

I’ve been working on Zoom type technologies for the better part of the last 15 years. I’ve also done quite a bit of public speaking in front of several hundred people, which in my opinion is a lot easier to do than Zoom as you lose the human contact and the verbal cues which help one to adapt a speech to their audience. These zoom debates were a joke and there is no reason why they could not have been done in person at safe distances. That said this isn’t any excuse. Ellie has a good platform and has a clue about the real world unlike Duff who needs to retire and go to work for a living. And I’m not talking about selling 3 homes in 4 years. Hopefully his war on police woke a lot of people as to how short he has come up for Norwalk. 18 years later and Route 1 is still 2 lanes wide. It’s wider in Key West Florida and most parts of Maine. And meanwhile his team (works for a R/E firm owned by BLT) is intent on packing every last square inch of this city with cheaply built apartments and almost zero improvements to infrastructure. And when I say improvements, I don’t mean decades overdue repairs.

DrewT October 25, 2020 at 4:38 pm

@ronmorris if that’s your real name. Please do us all a favor and get your information correct. Why don’t you go to her website and look at a few of her videos. Further you obviously haven’t read the whole Anti Police Accountability Bill because if you did you would yourself screaming at the top of your lungs how bad and disgusting it really is. I’ve personally read it with police officers and a criminal defense attorney along with Ellie. And a ton of questions remain that no one including the Democratic Senators in Hartford can’t answer! And we were asking questions using the exact wording in the bill!

Tysen Canevari October 26, 2020 at 4:38 pm

@Ron Make sure you can read your note cards properly and not lose your place. If Ellie could read better she would have told us about the bill. Lol

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