NORWALK — While there may have been a divide between candidates over the political issues at Thursday night’s virtual debate, there was one thing they all had in common: Technological problems.
The Norwalk League of Women Voters held a virtual candidate forum for the 25th state Senate and the 137th, 140th, 142nd and 143rd state legislature races Thursday night. Questions about COVID-19, police accountability and school funding were peppered with distorted audio, video cutting out and issues getting on and off mute.
Despite this, voters had a chance to tune in to hear candidates face off for 30 minutes. The nearly three-hour event concluded with a faceoff between incumbent Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff and Republican candidate Ellie Kousidis who are competing for state Senate, the biggest local seat up for grabs.
Duff said his goal moving forward is to continue the work he’s done and to guide the state through the COVID-19 pandemic through safe reopening.
“It’s going to be very important for us as we go through next months or year we continue to be guided by principles of science and health care,” Duff said. “Connecticut has one of the lowest infection rates in the country. We’ve been working together … to ensure the health and safety of people we serve. We’ve been able to reopen state to allow for 85 percent of state to reopen and … we want to continue to do that.”
Kousidis advocated for parental choice in education and local control over issues like school and zoning. When asked what are some of the worst challenges facing legislators, Kousidis, who works for Stamford Public Schools, said her first concern is the needs of the state’s children, especially after many suffered learning loss from switching to virtual instruction due to COVID-19.
Kousidis accused Duff of supporting school regionalization given the fact that some programs at the new Norwalk High School Duff would be open to students at other districts. She also accused Duff of supporting consistent tax increases.
“It should come as no surprise to anyone that Bob Duff supports tolls,” she said. “He’s supported raising taxes almost every chance he’s had.”
Duff said the claims about the new high school being part of a plan for regionalization were “totally false” and said his support of the $180 million project (80 percent of which will be reimbursed by the state) is part of his efforts to ensure equality in city schools. He cited his work on ECS funding leading to support for other school infrastructure projects.
“All those things are very, very important for kids to make sure they get high quality education to meet the needs of high demand jobs in the state of Connecticut,” he said.
Kousidis, who has advocated for parental choice over vaccines in the past, said she would like to see the state consider allocating CARES funding to provide families vouchers for academic and enrichment support.
“I see how difficult it is for some families to engage,” she said. “The level of engagement in online education is not the same as it is in person. I have a fear many of our children are missing out. We have to empower parents. It is paramount now in COVID times.”
While all candidates received questions centered around hot button issues like tolls, racial inequality and the recently passed police accountability bill, many others were centered around issues related to COVID-19.
Republican Ellen Wink who is running against Democrat incumbent Chris Perone for state representative for the 137th District took a similar stance to Kousidis in saying reopening should be approached on a town-by-town basis.
“On a national level, they can’t tell us what’s appropriate for Connecticut, Wink said. “At a Connecticut level, they can’t tell us what’s appropriate for Fairfield, and Fairfield County can’t decide for Norwalk what’s best. … The best thing you can always do in every problem is get professionals. I’m not going to answer for Connecticut.”
“We need to reopen safely and in a way that does not put people in harm’s way,” Perone said. “At the same time, we do have to open up, working with businesses and on ways that’ll allow them to open in safe and effective ways.”
Democrat Travis Simms, who is running for reelection as state representative for the 140th District, said he’s in favor of taking a COVID-19 vaccine should one become available.
“I support any measures to make sure the public is safe whether that is administering vaccines to facilities or to have folks … go to their primary care physician to have the shots,” he said. “It is a safety issue. I think we’re doing what’s best for all Connecticut residents. We’ve taken the correct measures in the state to deal with the issue and we’ll continue to do so.”
His opponent, Republican John Flynn, was less confident.
“I have no confidence with the NIH,” Flynn said. “This is a manmade virus and it’s patented.”
Candidates for the 142nd District, Republican Fred Wilms and Democrat incumbent Lucy Dathan, and candidates for the 143rd District, Democrat Stephanie Thomas and Republican Patrizia Zucaro, also faced off in what was the second debate for both districts. To watch the full debate, visit my.lwv.org/connecticut/lwv-norwalk