SOUTHINGTON-Several Republican candidates vying to be the next Connecticut governor debated at a Transportation Forum at the Aqua Turf Club Friday morning.
“When (transportation) works, it’s invisible…but when it doesn’t work, it’s troublesome,” Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, said.
Hosted by the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, more than 300 people from union workers to business leaders from various Chambers of Commerce listened as each candidate made comments about transportation and other accompanying issues that affect the state’s economy and quality of life.
Only candidates who filed candidate committees were invited to speak, which Michael Handler, Chief Financial Officer for Stamford; Timothy Herbst, Trumbull First Selectman; Mark Lauretti, Mayor of Shelton; Eric Mastroianni, U.S. Navy Veteran; Scott Merrell, Rowayton resident; Steve Obsitnick, businessman; Prasad Srinivasan, State Representative for Glastonbury and physician; Joseph Visconti, former West Hartford Councilman; Peter Thalheim, attorney and real estate agent; and David Walker, former United States Comptroller General.
“Connecticut is not just 203 or 860. It is one state with a bunch of assets who’ve done a poor job collaborating over the years,” Obsitnick said.
As a high-technology business entrepreneur who’s worked in Silicon Valley, Obsitnick hopes to break up the routine of politicians with similar career backgrounds sitting in office.
“The air, dirt, sand and water are all the same here as it is in Massachusetts and New York. So why are people leaving?” Obsitnick asked.
He said the key to growth is through industry lead urban ecosystems, which will attract industries, lead institutions to better train for jobs, bring in millennials and then restaurants and other economic development will flourish.
Similarly, Handler said the focus needs to be on prioritizing spending.
“We all want to do good things, but we need fiscal order to get there,” Handler said.
When he began working in Stamford five years ago, he said the city was facing a financial crisis despite looking strong and thriving. Since then Stamford has stabilized by investing and improving the “not sexy” things first, rather than building new attractions to bring in people.
Herbst mimicked similar statements.
As First Selectman of Trumbull, he also entered into his role during a time of trouble eight years ago, but he has since cut taxes and increased money into the pension fund.
If elected he wants to focus on the next generation and invest in infrastructure, something he said has been long ignored, but is just as critical as other issues.
“(Pulling back on funding infrastructure and transportation) will not help economic growth. Businesses will not want to come here,” Herbst said.
Aside from transportation, Mastroianni said if he gets elected he would give a portion of his salary to support scholarships, specifically to support trades and trade schools.
Self proclaimed “Rowayton Cowboy” - although sporting a baseball cap and pony tail - Merrell said he’s “not a normal candidate.”
Much of his speech jumped around from ranting about Connecticut having the most crooked court systems he’s ever seen, to the state destroying itself with increased taxes year after year.
Although the other candidates didn’t directly call out Gov. Dannel Malloy, Merrell did.
“You’ve got to give him credit for one thing, he’s consistent. He’s wrong about everything,” he said, which led out a few chuckles from the audience.
First generation immigrant from India, Srinivasan, said when he first came to America he had many hopes and dreams, but now his vision for the future isn’t as viable for his grandchildren.
“The future generation is at stake,” Srinivasan said.
He added that in order to solve that problem, the state needs to meet the demands of the 21st century, which include instating a spending cap, reviving transportation and get business and state leaders working together.
“We all have the same objective, but different ways on how to get there.”