Wilson sticking close to her roots with run at Cafero’s state rep seat

Zoning Commission Vice Chairwoman Emily Wilson
Zoning Commission Vice Chairwoman Emily Wilson is the endorsed Republican candidate for state representative in the 142nd district, which includes part of New Canaan.

NORWALK, Conn. – Emily Wilson has an unusual qualification in her quest to take over the territory being ceded by state Rep. Larry Cafero (R-142) — she’s already got experience following in Cafero’s footsteps: Wilson sits at Cafero’s old desk when she’s at work in her East Avenue office.

The Republican Wilson, a zoning commissioner, is an attorney, like Cafero. Resemblances to the lifelong Norwalker end there, as Wilson grew up in Portland, Maine, but, she said, she has the qualifications needed to represent the 142nd after Cafero retires, a skill set that will work in Hartford.

Wilson is the endorsed Republican candidate but is being challenged by former Board of Estimate and Taxation Chairman Fred Wilms in an Aug. 12 primary. She won the endorsement in the multi-town district (parts of Norwalk and New Canaan) caucus in a 4-2 vote.

“I think where I ended up with the support is … not a reflection on him but a reflection on me. I believe that I engender trust, that people can talk to me and they think they can get a reasonable answer or a reasonable discussion and I know how to listen. My first step in pretty much any situation is to understand what we are talking about and understand the ramifications of any of the issues, and then try to figure out where we go from there.”

Wilson came to Norwalk in 1995, moving in with her sister with the intention of getting involved in the community, she said. Community involvement was set as one of two overriding principals in life by her parents; the other is family, she said. She is the youngest of three girls and has 21 first cousins, who she sees at the twice-yearly family reunions — Easter in New Milford and Christmas in New York City, where a cousin co-owns two bars.

Her late mother was from Brooklyn and moved to Maine to teach dental hygienist skills at a small college, she said. Her father is “an attorney by education but a banker by trade,” she said, and lives with Wilson now.

“Elections and public service was always kind of in the foreground of family discussion,” Wilson said of her “average middle class” upbringing. Her mother worked at the polls and was a campaign manager for city council candidates for a while. Her father, a veteran, was in the Rotary and was a member of the American Cancer Society. Later, he was on the board of two elderly housing developments in New Milford, and was on the Economic Development Commission in New Milford for 10 to 15 years, she said.

Here’s something you might not know about Wilson: She speaks just a little Russian.

“I was one of those kids in high school that had 14 different organizations that I was a member of,” Wilson said. “I’d get home from school at about 6. You know, I took a night class in Russian because I couldn’t fit a language into my schedule at school. It was because I was social.”

She spent a month in Russia as a high school junior, as an exchange student in Archangel (Arkhangelsk), on the Arctic Circle.

“It was fascinating,” Wilson said.  “It was a real eye-opener. I think it was one of those defining moments, particularly because I was still relatively young. You know, I was a kid, really, traveling that far with a couple of chaperones and mostly other kids and living with a family. One of the goals of our chaperones was ‘does the host family have a phone?’ Let’s try to get into a host family that has a phone. So you could get in touch with other people because there were some kids who lived with families who had no form of communication, so they would have to go get a neighbor and then the neighbor would knock on your door and get you.”

It was March and April and the river had not thawed, she said.

“I think one of the things that has stuck with me through all of these years is that the folks in Russia, the families that I met, the people that I stayed with, they had nothing,” Wilson said. “You go to the stores and there was a lot of posters of Gorbachev and there was a lot of matryoshka dolls and a lot of little things that didn’t really help you in your life. Chotchkies. You go to the food stores and they have, really, pickled fruits and vegetables.”

She volunteered on a political campaign while in high school, helping to get the governor reelected. Then it was on to St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. “I graduated with a degree with an advanced major, which is a Canadian form of an honors degree. That is the best analogy I can make,” Wilson said.

She decided to be a lawyer while in college, she said.

“I remember having a conversation with my parents about what you can do with a law degree and what doors it might open,” Wilson said. “There was always a skill you can use as a business model and there are other things that you can do with it, so it seemed like a good idea.”

Her grandmother graduated from law school in 1939, one of only three women in the class, Wilson said.

“The joke in the family was that she couldn’t get married to my granddad until he graduated from school and had a living,” Wilson said. “So he was in dental school and she said ‘I can’t not do something for four years,’ so she went to law school. She graduated and worked for Catholic Charities for a year in New York before he graduated.”

When Wilson graduated, her grandmother took part in the ceremony, hooding Wilson and getting a standing ovation.

Wilson opened her law practice in Norwalk in 2005, renting an office that had been Cafero’s. It still had his name on the door and came fully furnished, including the desk.

It would be daunting to take over Cafero’s seat in Hartford, she admitted.

“Larry has been such a strong voice for the Republican Party,” Wilson said. “He has been a mentor to me in so many ways. He has set this road map for how we can move forward for better state governing with his common-sense commitment. So, in some ways, I understand the steps we have to take and it’s because of him. In the other way, he is so loved and he has done such a phenomenal job for 22 years that to step into those shoes is a little daunting.”

But, “I think there is definitely a place for a rookie to have an impact,” she said. “I think that you have to have a voice. You have to not be afraid to speak up and I am certainly not afraid to speak up. Now, it’s an entirely different situation going on to the next session because the 142nd won’t be the seat of the minority leader. So clearly there’s a difference. It doesn’t mean you can’t have an impact. The impact comes with a strong caucus. I think Larry has done a really good job in building a united caucus. Having said that, it’s also a matter of being able to work with your Democratic colleagues. So it’s about finding your voice, being able to work with people. In my practice I do that.”

One little piece of controversy follows Wilson: her involvement in a move to settle with the Al Madany Islamic Center in late 2012.

She can’t talk about that, as a federal judge has ordered secrecy for all involved. But, she said, “I was asked to attend a meeting. I was asked to present the Zoning Commission’s thoughts.”

Why run for state rep?

“Connecticut is a great state,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of great resources and assets in the state and probably first and foremost is the people. I see real hope for turning Connecticut around from where it has been, which I think most people know is the bottom of a lot of indicator lists. I don’t think that is really the whole story and there is a lot we can do to change that and turn Connecticut on a better path. I want to be able to help do that.”

And, “I don’t have any aspirations beyond this. I think this is exactly where I want to be and where I believe my skill set is best suited to be of help. I can definitely see staying in this spot as long as the voters want me to be.”


5 responses to “Wilson sticking close to her roots with run at Cafero’s state rep seat”

  1. Pete Repeat

    Ms. Wilson declares that she would NOT seek higher office if elected. What a great testament to someone who stil values old-fashioned public service.
    If I were a Republican and lived in West Norwalk, I’d go out on Primary Day just to vote for those old-fashioned values.

  2. Joanne Romano

    Having known Emily since she first became involved in Norwalk and it’s citizens as a whole and having shared office space with her for 5 years I personally can tell you how hard she works at doing the right thing for those she serves. Her work at the Senior center, her diligence on the zoning commission, her tireless help on my campaigns and her willingness to jump in with both feet and get her hands dirty in any situation is testimony to how dedicated she will be on the state level. Through the years Emily and I have had many a conversations and while we have differed on opinions occasionally, she has always listened and understood my point of view while giving me her reasons for her opinion and this is exactly the type of person we want representing us in Hartford. Everyone should realize that once elected, Emily will not only represent West Norwalk residents but will be responsible for making the right decisions for all of Norwalk and the state as a whole. Much like the City Council, once elected you not only represent your specific district but also the entire city. For those of you who want someone will represent “you” and be your voice in Hartford, take the time on August 12th to cast your vote. Emily has some big shoes to fill but I believe she is up to the challenge.

  3. piberman

    What’s commendable about the GOP primary to fill the shoes of Norwalk’s only truly outstanding Legislator in recent decades who earned broad based “real respect” of City voters – Larry Cafero – is that there are two quite capable candidates with long careers in public service serving our City. Compare this set of admirable candidates with the Democrat primary candidates for various open seats and one can only have admiration. None of the City’ overpaid unions are endorsing either of the GOP candidates. That in and of itself is a truly noteworthy endorsement. Would that our local GOP find candidates for our Common Council that have the competence and skills of these two outstnding candidates. Hope springs eternal.

  4. David McCarthy

    Writing in from vacation in Spain…I decided to check out Emily’s story again, and was pleasantly surprised by these comments. Joanne, you are a gem, and a voice of reason and truth. Thanks for standing up for Emily.

  5. Joanne Romano

    It was an easy one Dave because I do believe she will do what is best for all and really go the extra mile to do what is right!

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