TV debate highlights differences between Garfunkel and Wilms

Democrat Andy Garfunkel (left) and Republican Fred Wilms are competing for the state representative set in the 142nd district.
Democrat Andy Garfunkel (left) and Republican Fred Wilms are competing for the state representative set in the 142nd district.
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 4.
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 4.

NORWALK, Conn. – A pair of former Norwalk city officials went head to head recently in a News12 debate as they battle to fill retiring state Rep. Larry Cafero’s 142nd District seat in the state House of Representatives.

Former Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel, a Democrat, and Republican Fred Wilms, who chaired Norwalk’s Board of Estimate and Taxation for eight years under former Mayor Richard Moccia, spent about 27 minutes fielding questions and staking out ground in the televised debate.

Topics ranged from the state budget to school funding, job creation and transportation issues. As expected, there was more disagreement than commonalities.

In a discussion of the similarities between issues in Norwalk and New Canaan – the 142nd District covers parts of both – the candidates said they found similar concerns.

“I’ve visited about 1,700 people going door to door” in his campaign, Wilms said, and found that “People are very concerned about the economy, the lack of job creation, the high spending, and the budget being out of control.” Wilms side one difference was the Educational Cost Sharing formula, which is, in this case, a Norwalk-specific issue.

“With my strong finance background” – Wilms is a Webster Bank senior vice president working with small businesses in addition to his BET work – “people are really responding to that and they’re looking for someone to go up to Hartford and deal with those kind of issues.”

Garfunkel said he has found other concerns as well.

“I’ve been knocking on doors since June; I didn’t have to face a primary (Wilms had a runoff with party-endorsed candidate Emily Wilson), so I was out there early on, and folks (in both communities) are concerned about the same issues: They’re concerned about infrastructure, commuting to work, they’re concerned about the pay scale they have to earn. They’re concerned about the education process. … The hometowns and the neighborhoods all have their unique, distinct differences in things they are looking for, but … they’re all residents of Connecticut and we’re going to represent everyone in Connecticut, as well as Norwalk and New Canaan specifically.”

Garfunkel said that, during his tenure in the town clerk’s office, he worked to solve problems involving agencies at the city and state level, giving him a familiarity with how things work in Hartford.

“I have knowledge of what it takes to be a representative,” he said. “… I want to be part of the solution that changes the scope and the face of Connecticut, not just for Norwalk and New Canaan, but for the state as well.”

As the talk moved to issues, Garfunkel advocated taking a line-by-line approach to fixing the budget, much as he did in his unsuccessful runs for mayor in 2011 and 2013.

“I’d like to look at the budget line by line. There are places we can make tax cuts,” he said. Malloy had to make some tough decisions in the budgetary process, he said. “When this governor took office we were in the Great Recession. Tough decisions were made. I don’t agree with every decision that was made … “I would suggest repealing some taxes.”

He said the state should look at raising money through tax incentives, such as the film industry.

‘We had that, we repealed that, but that’s a way of bringing jobs into the state. There are other ways to raise funds, to raise money for the constituents. We have took line by line if we’re going to the find the best solutions for the state.”

“Andy, I think we need to do better than that,” Wilms said. “When we look through the budget line by line, I think we need to tell the voters what lines we’re going to be willing to look at.

“Governor Malloy has been involved in corporate welfare, basically giving out checks to large corporations,” Wilms continued. “For example, one of the largest hedge funds in the United States (Bridgewater) is located in Westport and they were planning to move to Stamford and they basically said ‘give us some money or we move out of the state.’ I think actually they may been just bluffing. But $115 million just to relocate from Westport to Stamford… And that just makes no sense to me whatsoever. That money would have been much better used elsewhere. They did not end up moving. … but that’s just completely misplaced.”

Wilms said he would like to do in Hartford what he was involved in when he was on the Norwalk BET.

“I was part of the process of renegotiating contracts with almost all of the unions,” he said. “The biggest driver in costs at the municipal and state level are employee benefits: health care, pensions, post-retirement – OPED, as it called.” Wilms said those contractual mandates caused double-digit increases every year while taxpayer incomes remained flat. “Something has to give, and that’s services. The government is doing less than what its supposed to do – pave roads, pay police officers. In Norwalk, we renegotiated contracts so all new hires had to go onto plans similar to what those of us in the private sector have – 401K-style pension plans, high-deductible HSA (health care) accounts, no post-retirement liability. It saved a lot of money, and we need to do the same thing up in Hartford. We could save, at the end of the day, billions of dollars.

“Government is like a supertanker,” he said. “It moves very slowly, you go to turn the wheel, and eventually the ship starts turning. We need to start turning that wheel.”

Garfunkel said the focus needs to be on “small jobs” and touched off a back-and-forth with Wilms over a recent change in the state’s minimum wage.

“Connecticut raised the minimum wage to $10.10; it’s an incentive for workers to get out there and earn a living, to be able to put food on the table. The administration created the Small Business Express, created to put money in the pocket of the citizens,” something he said was needed because of lack of funding by banking industry, in a swipe at Wilms’ profession. He said the program made possible small loans, grants to small businesses that created or sustained 12,000 jobs in the state. “We created 50,000, 60,000 private sector jobs in last three or four years,” he said. “And this governor cut over 5,000 state jobs. That was the highest rate of cutting back in the state in decades.”

“Raising the minimum wage was the wrong way to go,” Wilms responded. “Connecticut has not recovered from the Great Recession in terms of jobs. The Quinnipiac poll showed this is one of the area’s biggest concerns. The governor says jobs have been created, and this is true, but only 64 percent of what was lost since 2008. The rest of country recovered all the jobs that were lost – now at 107 percent of what we were. Relative to rest of country, we’re stagnating. I want to see us growing and winning again. Raising the minimum wage prevents small businesses from creating jobs and hiring more people.”

The bill passed this year will raise the minimum wage incrementally until it hits $10.10 an hour in 2017.

“I really doubt a lot of breadwinners live on the minimum wage,” Wilms said. “I know my teenage son earns minimum wage, working at My Three Sons, and there are wives helping to support the family, but raising the minimum wage is the wrong way to go.”

Garfunkel disagreed. “A lot of people struggle and have two, three members of the household working to sustain a normal cost of living in the same household. In homes where people are making that, we want to raise that family income.”

“But earning a living wage makes no sense if you don’t have a job,” Wilms replied.

“Is it fixed now? No,” Garfunkel said. “But there’s negative thinking going on now and we’re not looking at solutions on how to solve these problems, and that’s what I want to do. Look forward, create more jobs. Sustain families that live here. We want to sustain the small businesses that live here.”

Wilms wasn’t through.

“Raising the minimum wage is hurting the economy and hurting new job creation. … I work with small businesses. … I see first hand the struggles they deal with. Small business owners do not feel that the state is their partner. They feel state is working against them. There’s a business entity tax – businesses have to pay a tax just because you exist. The unemployment tax burden has gone way up. Massachusetts and New York recently lowered their business taxes. A lot of small business owners are made to feel like they are rich because thy have to report business incomes on personal tax returns. … So the incentive is to reduce business income, and that means they hire less people.”

When talk moved to the ECS funding, Garfunkel said no one should expect changes in the formula anytime soon.

The process is flawed,” he said. “We need to focus on early childhood education, and the cradle to career path our students are taking. The governor put more money into our municipality” for the schools this year, he said. “We need to focus on where the money goes and how it is spent. We are being innovative in Norwalk with the P–tech program helping students in high school into college and into careers – it’s a partnership of businesses, colleges and our municipality. The ECS funding will not be fixed – I don’t know if can fix it at this time. … I’ll focus on how we spend money we do get. My opponent was on the BET and he did cut the budget almost every year in the educational process.

Wilms piped up, “No. That is simply not true.” Wilms said it is illegal for the city to cut the budget to the schools. “Every year, funding to the schools went up.”

Wilms was correct. School funding increased, as the city was forced to cover contractually mandated raises and benefits, as well as state-mandated benefits. Board of Education budget requests were routinely cut, however. Full-funding of the school budget was an issue in the mayoral campaign a year ago, and this year’s budget request was fully funded.

Wilms said Norwalk is “getting shafted” by Hartford when it comes to the ECS.

ECS funding comparison of some of the state's largest cities.


“For every dollar Norwalk sends to Hartford, we are only getting about 12 cents back,” he said. “The problem is Hartford thinks we’re rich because of the value of our grand list and because we’re here in Fairfield County. But … Norwalk may be asset rich in terms of property values, but we’re a moderate income community, so there’s a huge disparity.”

Wilms then accused the government of partisan politics when it comes to distribution of school aid.

“Unfortunately the Democratic super-majority in Hartford has done nothing to fix that or deal with that. A lot more goes to Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport, which are very heavily Democratic cities and they get an overwhelming share of the ECS funds.”

Those three cities, the largest in the state, also are among the poorest in the state.

“Realistically, what can I do, Fred Wilms, as a single legislator? Work with others, form coalitions, try to look for money to bring back to Norwalk. Ultimately, I think the lawsuit that’s going on, the Coalition for Justice suit, is probably the best way to get comprehensive reform.

“When I chaired the BET for the city,” he said, “I made sure we funded that lawsuit throughout the Moccia administration to keep Norwalk at the table and make sure lawsuit could move forward.”

Garfunkel then moved the discussion to infrastructure, a topic where the two men found more agreement.

“People commute to work and are having trouble getting to work,” he said. It takes money off table. We need to look at Metro-North,” citing the importance of on-time performance without sacrificing safety. “We need freight lines coming through to reduce truck traffic on I-95.”

Wilms said the state needs to do more with its ports to get trucks off the highway, and said trucks could be put on barges in New York and shipped across Long Island Sound to ports in Bridgeport and New Haven.

The two disagreed on the state’s healthcare system, part of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”

Garfunkel said enrollment “far exceeded” expectations,” and that many more people are no able to have health care coverage, both because of access and costs.

Wilms disagreed.

“I don’t support Obamacare and everything connected with it,” he said, and acknowledged he would support any attempt to repeal it. He said he agreed with the provisions to prohibit insurance companies from nixing people with pre-existing conditions, and for parents to be able to cover their children through age 25, but said Wisconsin Sen. Paul Ryan’s alternative plan would be a better choice.

See the full debate here.






9 responses to “TV debate highlights differences between Garfunkel and Wilms”

  1. Bill

    Garfunkel obviously has no clue on how to create jobs, what the heck does “they are (citizens) concerned about the pay scale they have to earn” mean? This guy only knows how to work in government and get paid by and create over paid Bureaucracies.

  2. piberman

    Solving CT’s well known fiscal problems requires Legislators well versed in finance. Fred Wilms brings the most extensive senior level financial background to the Legislature from Norwalk in memory. He’s well positioned to give thoughtful insight to both sides of the aisle into resolving our seemingy intractable long standing fiscal difficulties. Plus he’s had sufficient public service experience in Norwalk over the decades to be an effective legislator.

  3. Notaffiliated

    This one’s an easy vote. Going to pull the lever for Mr Wilms. Let’s hope the ECS lawsuit moves forward quickly and we get more than $12mm in funding. This should be issue #1 for anyone in Norwalk government.

  4. anon

    Garfunkle gave up on getting more ECS money for Norwalk, already?

    That puts him in line with Duff, Morris and Perone, the other Hartford Democrats who don’t think much of Norwalk taxpayers.

  5. LWitherspoon

    Andy Garfunkel is a nice guy but Fred Wilms’s finance background and service to Norwalk on the BET make Wilms the best choice in this race.

  6. WOW just WOW

    You state
    “Garfunkel obviously has no clue on how to create jobs,”
    Please tell me what jobs government has created other than government jobs.. The fact is government has never not even once created a private sector job. The idea that government creates jobs is right wing fact less propaganda talking points.

    Also FYI
    When the economy crashed we had a Republican Governor in CT and a Republican President. So please tell me why anyone should vote for a Republican?

  7. New Era

    Ecs funding are an important issue for Norwalk. Wilms hasn’t notice that Connecticut is one of states with the best obamacare programs. But I do also believe that it is time to change player up in Hartford. Wilms look like he is not going to stay quite up there. Hope the Democrats know how to make a come back. This seat isn’t going to be in their reach.

  8. John Hamlin

    The Democrats need to come up with ideas on how their candidates are going to handle the Democratic supermajority in Hartford — it’s a situation which translates into an inability for the state to solve its most pressing problems — taxes, business regulation, and out of control spending, not to mention the corrupt dominance of the public employee unions. Until the Democrats face up to that issue, then smart, moderate and fiscally responsible candidates like Fred Wilms are going to have broad support from moderate voters, including a lot of Democrats who are tired of the fiscally irresponsible approach in Hartford.

  9. Michael McGuire

    Looking at the two candidates on paper the clear choice would be Fred Wilms given his strong financial background and his history of working with, and understanding small business.

    While both have held elected and or appointed positions in Norwalk the clear nod here would be to Wilms – again for his strong financial background.

    With the CT economy stuck in 2nd gear under the current leadership can we afford to allow this to continue? With CT worst in so many biz polls and stats.

    Hartford is full of well intentioned people, but good intentions without a sound fiscal understanding will get you to where we are today. I don’t think we can afford to send a well intentioned but fiscally inexperienced Garfunkel to Hartford. His statements above suggest he doesn’t understand how to create jobs.

    Wilms is the right man for this job.

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