NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Republicans unveiled a female-heavy slate of Statehouse candidates Monday, including a challenger for State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25).
Elisavet “Ellie” Kousidis, a Norwalk resident who teaches for Stamford Public Schools, said she believes in local control of education and wants to improve the business climate in Connecticut. She called Duff a “horrible person” and a “terrible leader.”
Republicans, in their virtual meeting, also heard from Westport resident Patrizia Zucaro, who has State Rep. Gail Lavielle’s blessing to take the 143rd District seat Lavielle has held for nearly 10 years. Former City Clerk Ellen Wink announced that she’s seeking to unseat State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) and Patrick Murphy stepped up to take on State Rep. Travis Simms (D-140).
Video by Harold Cobin at end of story
Fred Wilms promised to “work harder than I ever have” to unseat State Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142) and regain the seat he lost in 2018 after serving for two terms. And State Rep. Terri Wood (R-141) said she feels “tremendous fire in the belly to help turn the state around,” in seeking reelection to the seat she’s held since 2009.
Republicans also heard from three contenders for the Fourth Congressional District endorsement. Two emphasized that it’s important to unseat U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) to prevent him from running for U.S. Senate in two years when U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) retires.
And Republican Registrar Karen Doyle Lyons made a brief speech, with no apparent opponent to her reelection.
Two of the female newcomers said they have been unaffiliated voters who have just become Republican.
Norwalk Republican Town Committee Chairman Carl Dickens closed the evening by saying, “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m energized. I’m excited about the slate again, as we heard from this evening. I think we’ve got energetic people. We’ve certainly got intelligent people. They’ve got ideas and it’s going to be fun, I think we’re gonna have some good times from now until Election Day, and then even better times after that.”
Kousidis for State Senate
Kousidis described herself as an award-winning educator who won $500,000 in grant funding to transform a media center into a state-of-the-art Learning Commons.
“One of the things that I really believe in strongly is local control at our schools, local control period,” she said. “I am an urban educator and I know the impact that bringing resources locally has on a school because I’ve seen it and I’ve done it, I have the experience.”
Regionalization doesn’t help children, she said.
Plus, “My husband is a small business owner, and we know firsthand the impact of the tax policies of Connecticut. … It’s a toxic environment for small businesses.”
President Donald Trump’s tax policy revision allowed her husband to hire a second engineer for his business, she said.
“My husband and I are both first-generation American citizens. So, you know, we have the value of hard work and just like how to be self-made,” Kousidis said, explaining that at 42 years of age she has switched from being unaffiliated to registering as a Republican for the first time because she believes in freedom, liberty and small government.
“I am running against Bob Duff, because he is, quite frankly, a horrible human being and a terrible leader,” she said. “Again, as a small business owner, I could talk to you about his tax policies and how he’s basically carried water for the last two governors and has voted for every single tax increase that we’ve seen in the state of Connecticut, and as the Senate Majority Leader that pretty much makes him directly responsible for the mass exodus that we’re seeing in the state of Connecticut.”
Duff did not reply to a NancyOnNorwalk email giving him the chance to respond to Kousidis’ candidacy.
“I’ll tell you in the last few days, the things that I’ve seen and heard from him in the middle of a crisis are absolutely not anything that you would expect of a leader. You know, it’s it’s shameful, quite frankly,” Kousidis said, citing a Facebook town hall in which Duff “was telling this audience of a few that he has been working with the Department of Public Health, and the Norwalk Police Department to organize random checks into the small businesses to make sure that they are following orders” for social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duff provided phone numbers for police and “actually encouraged neighbors to call the police on each other,” she said. “I think that’s reprehensible.”
She filed papers on March 30 and has not yet registered fund-raising activity.
Zucaro vs. Thomas?
Zucaro said she grew up in Westport, graduated from the University of Connecticut and then went into real estate development. A decade later, she went to Pace University to get a law degree while working full-time, graduating in 2012 and being admitted to both in New York and Connecticut bar associations.
“I have defended my clients in a variety of situations. I’m not afraid of anyone and I will do everything possible to protect Norwalk and this district,” she said.
She’s been unaffiliated but she’s tired of Democrats running the State House and she’s committed to Republican values, she said.
She listed issues that motivate her “One, the need to reduce state taxes and spending dramatically. Two, paying off the massive unfunded liabilities related to State retirement obligations and breaking the stronghold the unions have over our State and its budget. Three, keeping and attracting more business in Connecticut. We must create an environment where businesses can thrive and they want to stay here for urgent need to improve our transportation infrastructure. I do not support certain new outside revenue sources like tolls. We haven’t controlled our spending.”
“Norwalk needs more money for the state for schools, and we need answers about why it’s not happening. There’s ECS (educational cost sharing formula) and there is the recent flood of the ELL (English Language Learner) students. And I support school construction funds for elementary and middle schools that need it,” she said.
“I am determined to succeed. I’m running for the only open seat on the ballot in Norwalk. It is a seat that we can and should win,” Zucaro said.
Zucaro would be likely to face Democratic candidate Stephanie Thomas should she win the Republican endorsement. Thomas, a Norwalk resident, ran against Lavielle in 2018 and won 48.5 percent of the vote in an election that saw a Democratic landslide.
Thomas was not available for comment.
Lavielle told Norwalk Republicans that her seat is the only open seat in Norwalk, Wilton and Westport. District 143 has voters in all three towns.
“It is something we should win, if we have a good candidate, and we do,” Lavielle said.
Lavielle said she’s not running for reelection because, “I basically want my life back.”
“I want you to know that I am fully, fully, fully behind Patricia. I think she’s going to do a wonderful job,” Lavielle said.
Wink versus Perone
“We need new blood. My opponent is running for the ninth term. And nobody knows who he is,” Wink said, of Perone.
Wink said she’s run her own business for 21 years, within a family business for 42 years.
“I know what too many regulations do to business. They go out of business. Let’s change this,” Wink said.
“When my daughters were finished with college, I encouraged them to not return to the area that there were no jobs. It broke my heart. This is the state that I love,” said Wink, a Republican for decades.
Perone assumed office in 2005.
“The citizens and state of Connecticut have always been my main priority throughout my tenure in the legislature,” Perone said in an email. “However COVID – 19 presents us with immense and unique challenges which are testing us in the present and will require our complete attention in the months ahead. It will require a lot of work to put testing protocols into place, to ensure we have hospital capacity needed to save lives while healing our community and to begin the process of rebuilding our state’s economy which has been severely impacted by COVID-19. Returning Connecticut to where it was before the crisis hit while the making improvements necessary to put Connecticut on a solid economic footing will be my focus going forward.”
Wink said she’s run for the seat before, “losing in the tsunami of 2008. I’m not losing again.”
Wilms versus Dathan
Wilms announced in January that he’s running for his old seat. On Monday, he reviewed his history as a Webster Bank senior vice president and former Norwalk Board of Estimate and Taxation chairman, a former Common Council member and a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals. It was a total 15 years in Norwalk city government, he said.
“I was privileged to hold this seat for for two terms, four years, from 2015 to 2019,” he said, listing his leadership role in putting together a Republican budget that was passed in 2017.
“Blue state Connecticut passed a Republican budget back in 2017,” he said. “I was proud to be a part of that.”
His first goal when he was first elected was to reform ECS, he recalled. In years one and two, it went no where but in year three, “I actually teamed up with (Democratic then-District 140 State Rep.) Bruce Morris,” Wilms said. “And we had both sides of the aisle. And in that year, in a Republican budget, we got first the ECS reform that moved the formula in favor of Norwalk. First time in decades. And so I was very, very proud of that and I intend to continue the fight.”
The 2017 legislative budget process was historic, as it progressed into Oct. and then-Gov. Dan Malloy ran the state via executive order for 123 days. Ballotpedia cites disagreements between Malloy and the General Assembly, disagreements among members of the Democratic caucus, and disagreements between Democratic and Republican legislators as reasons.
The State House was also being pressured by a court decision: in September 2016, Judge Thomas Moushawker ordered Connecticut to revise its educational funding system, after hearing arguments from both sides in the lawsuit filed by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Educational Funding (CCJEF) against the State.
The legislature passed a Republican budget in September 2017 and it was subsequently vetoed by Malloy. The resultant 2017-19 budget was bipartisan.
Duff described the ECS changes in January 2018.
“This time, a lot of the stars aligned,” he said. “I was in the position I am in (as Senate Majority Leader) to try to help force it through, the best that I could. You had the CCJEF vs. Rell court case at the same time … and I think you had a number of people who said, ‘You know, the time is right to finally get this thing done. We are tired of having a political formula … and by the way, we are doing all of this in one of the toughest budget times.’”
Wilms on Monday also said he’d taken a leading role in his last year in stabilizing the Transportation Fund.
“I appreciate all of your support,” Wilms said. “I intend to work my butt off. I’m going to knock on lots and lots and lots of doors to the extent that the virus situation allows for it. But I’m certainly going to work harder than I ever have before because winning this election, wining this seat back, so critical and so important to us. We need someone who’s going to represent for Norwalk and stand up for our interests.”