NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Councilman David Watts hasn’t announced yet who he is running against in a bid to get into the statehouse, but says he has rented both an office and an apartment in the legislative district currently served by state Rep. Chris Perone, a fellow Democrat.
“These are clues,” Perone said, with a laugh. “But he hasn’t announced.”
Watts formed an exploratory committee just over a year ago, specifying only that he was interested in running for state representative.
Perone represents the 137th District. Watts has lived on June Avenue with his family for about a decade, in the 142nd District. He has represented District A on the council since November 2011. District 137 is 2/3 the municipal District A, Watts said, and, “Most of these people are my constituents already. … Hypothetically, if I were to run in the 137, that is what would make it seem like a natural progression.”
Watts said his apartment, which he has not fully moved into, is in District A, though he won’t specify where.
“I have an apartment in the district. I signed the lease and I have a key. Right now I am going back and forth. So I haven’t changed my voter registration yet but I will, very soon.”
The office is on East Avenue. Watts spent hours there Wednesday, watching the legislature on a television he inherited from his late grandmother. He said he was doing research, boning up on issues.
“He’s in exploratory mode so I am not quite sure how to look at that,” Perone said. “I don’t know if he’s in exploratory mode what the purpose of the office space is.”
The first step in trying to unseat Perone would be during the May 20 Democratic caucus at Tracey Elementary School. Then either person would likely force a primary by collecting signatures.
“Primaries are challenging,” Watts said. “Incumbent legislators seldom lose.”
Then why do it?
“Nothing good comes easy, and it gives me an opportunity to put the issues that I care about on the table,” he said. “It will allow me to start the debate and engage. If I do run, I don’t anticipate doing any negative campaigning, because I want people to understand that this is not the election, this is only a friendly competition for the Democratic nomination.”
Watts has raised $5,614, according to his April 10 filing. This means he has met the $5,000 level he needs to qualify for a matching state grant through the Citizens Election Program. He also needs to get contributions of at least $5 from 150 Norwalk residents. Any money collected now essentially goes to the state, so people contributing now are just getting the total number of contributions up, he said.
Perone started much later, in January, and has raised $1,741.
“I am continuing to raise money, but my first priority is the work I am doing up here in Hartford. But I don’t feel concerned that I won’t qualify (for the grant) or I won’t have the money raised. It is going well, but I have some more pressing matters that I have to deal with on the state level. But that has always been my priority,” Perone said.
Watts said “a lot of nonsense” has been made out of the fact that he would have to move to run against Perone.
“The fact is my home needs some repair,” he said, giving that as a reason he and his family are moving. “Eventually I want to put it on the market, but it’s not in the condition to put it on the market. There’s some repairs that have to be made to spruce it up. I think a lot of people made a bunch of nonsense. I lived at that location for more than a decade. People can move after a while. … For me, as long as I continue to live in my council district — which is very important to me — I am pretty happy about it.”
Watts said he has gotten an endorsement from a union. He did not say which one.
“If I can lend my voice to causes for worker’s rights, I’ll do it,” said Watts, a graduate of Yale Divinity School. “I’m a person who believes in doing missionary work as a person who is a trained minister. I don’t have a church per se, with walls. I feel that I do what I can for the people, fighting for income equality, fighting any injustice. I wake up in the morning and I want to change the world. … I have never seen anybody able to take it with them when they are gone.”
Things are tough financially for Norwalk residents, he said. They need help from the legislature.
“It’s not to say that the guys who are there now are not doing good work,” he said. “They may be doing good work. But on the council I see and hear from people directly. I feel that they want new representation. They want someone to stand with them and fight for them and carry their issues. Someone has to fight for poor people. What better person to fight for a poor person than a poor person? I’m poor, and if people have a problem with that, that’s OK, because in the Bible it clearly says you are not to store your treasures here on Earth, but you’re to store them in Heaven.”
Perone said legislators have had the same focus.
“It has been such a focus of what we have been doing here, even through the darkest parts of the recession, that the social safety net was maintained as much as we could do,” he said. “I think that our focus is on the early childhood education, on making sure that people have the access to SNAP and other programs, but the folks that need the help the most have been very much a priority. Obviously, ‘I beg to differ’ is the short answer for that.”
Legislators have been working to create economic opportunities, improve the economy and help small businesses, he said.
“We’re dealing with having a budget surplus, which is nice. But making sure that resources get channeled down here as we compete against 159 municipalities is going to be the challenge for myself and the rest of the legislative delegation,” he said. “Those are the right missions to pursue and that’s what we’re committed to do.”