NORWALK, Conn. – Two of Hartford’s heaviest hitters took time out of their busy schedules Saturday to send a message to Norwalk Democrats: experience counts.House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz (D-30) shakes hands with state Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) Saturday before heading back to Hamden.
Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey (D-88) and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz (D-30) spoke of the mass exodus from the state legislature this fall – 10 percent of House members will not be returning – as they endorsed state Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) and state Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) in a press conference at Norwalk High School, where 100 freshmen are expected to attend Connecticut’s first P-Tech (Pathways to Technology) Academy this fall.
“Now more than ever we need folks in the legislature who have the experience, who have the knowledge, who know their own communities best, who can actually carry the load that is going to be necessary over the course of the next several years to represent their communities in effective ways, and to also lead in the legislature,” Sharkey said.
Perone and Morris are facing tough challenges from Democrats who say they will force primaries if they do not succeed in getting the nominations at the caucuses to be held Tuesday. Councilman David Watts (D-District A), who is taking on Perone, began collecting donations more than a year ago and was the first candidate in the state to get the $5,000 needed to qualify for a Citizen’s Election Program grant. Former council member and community leader Warren Peña, who is taking on Morris, appears to have the support of the Latino community, although he fell short in his bid for re-election to the council last fall as he devoted his time to try to make friend Vinny Mangiacopra mayor.
Both challengers issued statements soon after the press conference.
“For the past 8 years South Norwalk hasn’t had a lot to be proud of,” Peña wrote. “Scandals have dominated the headlines and the people deserve better. It’s time we have proactive, positive representation to serve the people and fight harder for Norwalk’s interests. Let’s be clear, the children of the 140th district feel this stagnation most.”
“Regardless of the election year spin, as a councilman, I can say each year when we piece together a $300 million-plus budget, the return from the state in terms of funding is laughable,” Watts said in an email. “This has been the top issue for the past 10 years and it has forced our city to not make investments for the future that we could have. This puts an unfair additional tax burden on our residents and we need leaders to take a stand in Hartford, not just fall in line with someone else’s agenda.”
Part of the state funding Watts referred to is through the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula. Although Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed in February 2013 to increase Norwalk’s ECS funding by $1.7 million, the legislature cut that to $300,000. The formula is pointed to frequently by local politicians as a reason for Norwalk’s budgetary woes.
“I think the problem is this: ECS is the formula that affects everybody statewide,” Aresimowicz said after the press conference. “You’re kind of locked into the formulas the way they are. We try to do little tweaks to help communities out but it’s difficult so I think what they were smart enough to realize, that battle being as tough as it is, are there are other ways to get those dollars into the town.”
He mentioned funding for additional early childhood seats and the P-Tech program.
“ECS is a problem in every town. Not all of us are getting enough, but if you are able to bring the other monies in it kind of equals out in the end.”
Morris and Perone are “nose to the grindstone kind of guys” who need to let Norwalk know what they’re doing, Aresimowicz said.
“They’re not going around, you know, blowing their own horns and touting their accomplishments,” he said. “Sometimes when we don’t do that the average citizen, resident, don’t know the great work we are doing. So what I was saying to Bruce is we need to do more of it. Not only do we do a great job, and I think they do a great job in Hartford, especially the last four years, we need to be able come back to the towns and tell people about the great stuff that we do.”
As chairman of the Commerce Committee, Perone works with the governor’s office and the Department of Community and Economic Development, Aresimowicz said in the press conference. In the decade before Malloy became governor, the state assisted about 168 businesses, but that has grown to more than 1,600 companies with Perone in the lead, he said.
Morris was “literally in my office almost every day” trying to get youth violence problems addressed, Aresimowicz said. He was “a great pick” for deputy majority whip, he said.
“The message that we really need to make sure everybody gets in this community is elections are tough,” Aresimowicz said. “We all understand, we get involved in the public life. We know elections are tough. But when you have somebody that has a proven track record of results and represents the communities that they live in, those are the ones you want in Hartford. Those are the folks you want fighting for what you need in your community, and it gives me no greater pleasure to stand here with both of them here.”
Morris has been fighting for early childhood education since he first came to the legislature, said State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25). “Many times, people may not be aware of the hard work and the effort that it takes to pass legislation, bring funding back to the district and put things forward that are really great for the state of Connecticut.” Perone is leading the charge to bring change to Wall Street, Duff said.
Perone emphasized the importance of the P-Tech Norwalk Early College Academy (NECA).
“That started as a result of me badgering and Bruce badgering, everyone else, getting behind this effort, wanting to make this happen in Norwalk — and frankly, with the help of the leadership behind me. It really is going to be a win for Norwalk,” he said.
Morris said legislators were concerned about NCC students using their Pell Grant money on remediation because they weren’t prepared for college. The state provided $2 million to NCC for programs to reverse that, he said.
He said he got $211,000 in state money for Serving All Vessels Equally (SAVE), led by the Rev. Ray Dancy. “They are moving forward to build a collaborative city-wide. … We are very deliberate in making certain that we reduce youth violence in our communities. We give kids better alternatives of things to do.”
Morris said he is proud of his eight-year track record.
“I just noted some of those results today,” he said. “I could have talked about the anti-bullying laws that we have gone back session after session to improve to make sure that our schools are safe. Affordable housing. We are the first state to have a remediation program for foreclosure. We have done historic things. I sat on the Housing Committee that moved that type of legislation forward with who was our banking chair at that time, Sen. Duff. We can go on and on so we will tout our record.”
Both Democratic caucuses run from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday. District 137 will be held at Tracey Elementary School at 20 Camp St., while District 140 will be held at Columbus magnet school at 46 Concord St.