NORWALK, Conn. — Calling the 2018 election an “aberration,” former State Rep. Fred Wilms made an announcement to Norwalk Republicans on Wednesday: “I’m going to run for my old seat back.”
Wilms lost the District 142 seat, which he held for four years, to Democratic candidate Lucy Dathan. While Wilms calls that election “asymmetrical voting,” Dathan said he’s “really underestimating the intelligence and knowledge of the voters in our district.”
Video by Harold Cobin at end of story
The district, largely in Norwalk but also in part of New Canaan, was represented by Larry Cafero, a Republican, from 1993 to 2015. So it’s had at least 20 years of Republican representation before Dathan, a New Canaan resident who moved there recently from California, took the seat with 60.4 percent of the vote.
Dathan indicated she’s going to seek reelection; Irina Comer is also seeking the Republican endorsement.
‘It’s a real shame’
Wilms spoke to about 30 Republican supporters in his Norwalk Inn event, first passionately repeating a theme: “I love Norwalk.”
“I have to say these past 30 years, it’s just been such a privilege for me to be here in Norwalk…. So it bothers me when I see that there’s problems that we face, here, specifically in the city,” Wilms said. “But then more importantly, where the state is… interacting and causing problems in Norwalk and in our lower Fairfield County area. And I just can’t sit by and see that continue to unfold.”
Wilms spoke of his eight years on the Norwalk Board of Estimate and Taxation, touting the fiscal management that kept the City’s triple A bond rating intact through the great recession, “a lot of common sense things that really have put the city in a very, very strong fiscal shape.”
In 2014, when Cafero announced that he was retiring from his legislative office, “I saw that the state was going through a lot of the same problems that the city went through, you know, you look at you look at Connecticut, and it’s really it’s really sad,” Wilms said. “…We got off track. And it’s a real shame because we have so many wonderful qualities still, and I believe that we still can rebound and regroup.”
Connecticut has gone through a “lost decade” and, “We’re the only state that hasn’t recovered from the Great Recession. Can you imagine that?” he said. “I don’t want to sound a little presumptuous. But, you know, when I got to the legislature, I realized I was the only guy there who in banking.”
Dems are ‘doubling down’
“When Ned Lamont and the new crew of Democrats got elected, I got the impression that they were like, ‘Oh, we’re, we’re going to be different.’ Yeah, you know, ‘Whatever happened under Dan Malloy, whatever happened in the past, you know, now we’re whole new approach.’ … And then what do I see? Same old, same old. I mean they’re basically, if anything just doubling down.”
He said, “I mean I’ll give them some credit, they didn’t raise the income tax this time. This time they raised the sales tax. So I guess that’s different. But you know, at the end of the day, the sales tax does hurt working and middle class people.”
Hartford still has the old-style defined benefit pension plans and old-style medical plans, “wages and benefits that are way above what these folks who are in the private sector,” he alleged. “I’ve always said, you know what, there’s a fair way to do this to restructure all these contracts…we did that here in Norwalk.”
“The only one that hasn’t figured that out still are the Democrats in Hartford because they’re under the control of the state employee unions,” he said.
“As Fred knows, new state employees on tier IV pensions are on a 401K hybrid plan. We can’t unilaterally change the pension plans of already retired former state employees or change contracts that were signed decades ago under previous governors, without putting the State into significant legal exposure. To be clear, over 70% of the current pension liability is associated with these older pension plans,” Dathan wrote in a late evening email.
As for the sales tax, “I am also surprised to see that Fred is claiming that we ‘raised the sales tax’, when during the last campaign he advocated for ‘closing loopholes’ in the sales tax,” Dathan wrote.
Wilms made that comment during a debate, according to the Wilton Bulletin.
“Closing loopholes” means “expanding what the sales tax is applied to, which is what we did in the budget this year – and again in a responsible manner,” Dathan wrote.
She wrote, “Over my one year in office, I feel I can be proud of what I have accomplished in Hartford. We passed a budget that added over a billion dollars to the rainy day fund, that puts the state of Connecticut in good shape in the event of a recession. We have also passed legislation that helps working families including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour – and raising it in a way that minimizes the impact to small businesses by spreading it over several years – we passed Paid Family and Medical Leave, protected pre-existing conditions, and we passed measures to move us towards a carbon-neutral economy including authorizing up to 2,000 megawatts of off-shore wind power generation.”
‘There’s a real opportunity’
“In terms of what I want to accomplish, well, first of all, I want to bring my unique background, which is banking. I understand the economy here,” Wilms said.
“I believe in 2021…the wage contracts come up for renewal. So there’s a real opportunity, if more people who are like-minded like myself and Themis (Klarides) and Gail (Lavielle) and others who are elected, the more of us that are up there… we can start making these kinds of structural changes,” Wilms continued.
“The state does a lot of social services that a lot of the non-profits can do,” and the Department of Motor Vehicles needs to be outsourced, Wilms asserted.
Then there’s the state’s plan to rebuild the Walk Bridge here in Norwalk, which he called a $1.2 billion project although the Connecticut Department of Transportation estimates the cost of the repair of the bridge itself to be $511 million. The $1.2 billion figure refers to the total project, the replacement or repair of all of Norwalk’s railroad bridges and two related projects, the Danbury dockyard and the installation of switches north of the river.
The project will involve the state using eminent domain “over most of South Norwalk to turn it into one big war zone,” Wilms said.
“That is absolutely not the case,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in an evening email. “We have been working very closely with the state to make sure that we do everything we can to mitigate the impact on South Norwalk, East Norwalk and the entire city. We are very confident that the total impact of the Walk Bridge project will be minimal.”
Wilms touts accomplishments
When Wilms was in the legislature, Norwalk Community College wanted to build a walkway over Richards Avenue, “totally disrupt the character of the neighborhood,” he said. “ And so we worked together and set up a meeting… we were told by (State Sen.) Bob Duff, and all the other Democrats around here, ‘Oh, it’s a done deal, nothing you can do. It’s baked, you know, we’re getting the walkway.’ Well, we sat down and you know what, no walkway. It’s just a matter of just showing up and just, you know, saying hey, there’s got to be a better way.”
He also said there was a plan to make East Rocks Road the detour for “10,000 cars a day, literally 10,000 cars a day. So I said no, and got moved over to Main Avenue.”
Duff did not reply to an email asking for a response.
Wilms said he teamed up with the Rolling Ridge Association to fight the big box store-mixed use development planned for the Elinco site on Main Avenue, thought to be a BJ’s Wholesale Club, and, “We’ve delayed it for two and a half years. I don’t know if they’re going to get in there. But you know, I’m very active in standing up for Norwalk.”
The 2018 election
What does the term “asymmetrical voting” mean?
“(I)n a midterm election, you have your normal set of voters who show up and vote,” Wilms said. “This time around, we had an extra 2,000 voters who showed up. And they just had one mission in mind: to press the D-line, because they hate Trump. That was it. They didn’t know who I was or who I wasn’t where my opponent was, or wasn’t or anybody else was….this election is going to be I think, more representative of what the district actually believes and wants and feels.”
The District 142 State Rep. contest saw 10,989 votes cast in 2018 while the previous midterm election, in 2014, netted 7,775 votes.
This will be a Presidential election, and “Everybody’s going to show up from both sides. So this election is going to be I think, more representative of what the District actually believes and wants and feels,” Wilms said.
“I’d say that in the context of a 70% turnout Fred is really underestimating the intelligence and knowledge of the voters in our district,” Dathan wrote. “During the 2018 campaign and again through 2019 I have knocked on thousands of doors to speak to my constituents. The overwhelming sentiment I hear is that people now feel they have a legislator who is responsive to their needs and fully engaged in the legislative process. And, as I speak with our voters, I find them to be well informed, not just voting on party lines. My interpretation of 2018 is that the voice of the people was well and truly heard.”
She wrote, “I hope this can be a race about the direction of the State and what we can do to grow our economy and make life better for our people.”
“I’m going to work my butt off,” Wilms said. “I’m the underdog. I’m going to run as the underdog. You know, there may be a primary, that’s fine. I had one before, won 70-30. I’m going to use it as an opportunity. … When I do win, and we will win, and we will have a much stronger showing in Hartford. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and get to work on behalf of Norwalk.”