Candidates on the ballot for the November elections gathered at the Manchester Senior Center Thursday afternoon for a "Meet the Candidates" event. The politicians vying for the various positions were comprised on seasoned incumbents and political newcomers from several walks of life. The audience of seniors mingled with the candidates after each was given a three-minute opening statement, and prior to their three-minute closing remarks.
Former Mayor Nate Agostinelli served as moderator for the forum. He said that every candidate on the ballot was invited to the event, but the Presidential candidates were too busy to attend. Senate candidates Chris Murphy and Linda McMahon were also not present as they were preparing for their debate later in the evening. The only other candidates missing from the forum were incumbent Democrat Timothy Larson and Republican challenger Thomas Ogar from the 11th district of the general assembly. The 11th district now includes a small section of Manchester near the Buckland Hills area of town.
Democratic candidate for the 13th District Joe Dominico felt at home at the Senior Center, where he served as Program Director until his retirement. Though he said he is new to running for a state office, he is no stranger to politics.
"I'm a little tired of the bickering, a little tired of the partisanship. I'm a little tired about wondering who's going to win or lose. For me it's about one thing, about doing what is fair and right for everybody, Republican or Democrat, young or old," he said.
Dominico’s opponent, Mark Tweedie, is currently a Republican member of the Manchester Board of Directors. Tweedie acknowledged Dominico and both agreed they would not engage in negative campaigning. Tweedie spoke about making Connecticut a more affordable place to live and to stop the younger generation from seeking their fortunes elsewhere because of the lack of opportunities in the state.
Political newcomer Timothy Devanney, a Republican, is challenging incumbent Democrat Geoff Luxenberg for representing the 12th district. Devanney, a grandson of the founder of the Highland Park Market, said every decision made by the market’s owners directly affects the lives of its more than 500 employees. As a legislator, he said he can apply this understanding to the decision making at the state level where, as a representative, he will be able to weigh the affect of each vote has on his constituents.
On Thursday, Luxenberg touted his record as an incumbent, citing the $4 million recently received by the town for education, as well as state funds for the Whiton Library renovation among his accomplishments. He said that despite the budget troubles of the state, he would not support a budget that was balanced on the backs of seniors.
Representing the 9th District race, political newcomer Republican Rudy Hrubala and incumbent Democrat Jason Rojas spoke to the group about taxes, health care and the economy.
Rojas mentioned the two major issues he sees for the future of the state and the district are the property tax system and long-term health care.
"We are one of the most property tax dependent states in the country. I know for many of you it’s a tremendous burden, you own homes that you paid off long ago, you live in homes in which you raised your families, and you deserve to stay there. You shouldn't have to worry about selling your home because you can't afford to pay property taxes," he said.
Hrubala said, "I've seen a steady, steep decline in the direction that Connecticut is heading, and it seems to be accelerating. In terms of priorities it is jobs, job creation, and growing our economy."
He touted his business experience in international consulting, and hopes to bring that knowledge to the legislature to attract business to Connecticut.
Republican member of the Board of Directors Cheri Pelletier spoke of her bipartisanship during her tenure as local elected official, and said that she hopes to bring her skill to the State Senate. Pelletier also spoke of the burden of the property tax, and suggested a tax freeze for homesteads of retired citizens.
Incumbent Senator Steve Cassano, a Democrat, drew on his many years of experience in public office to make his case. He noted this is his 21st election. He said that his entire career was devoted to community and to service, both as a Sociologist and in various elected offices including his time as mayor of Manchester.
"We have a sense of community in this town, that I want to continue to serve. I love taking care of business," he said.
The three candidates for Congress were also on hand to speak to the seniors. Democratic incumbent John Larson, as well as his Republican challenger John Henry Decker, and Independent Matthew Corey offered opposing viewpoints on the state of the nation.
Larson was the most spirited in his presentations, specifically on the issues of Social Security and Medicare.
"For these programs to be derisively called "entitlements" is wrong. I take this personal and so should you. You paid for the benefits that you receive, my parents paid for the benefits they received. They invested and believed in their country, and their country in return for their investments, when they worked hard and played by the rules said that what we have for you is a guarantee. Not a voucher or a premium support," the seven term Congressman said.
The challengers to Larson are both political newcomers. Decker sports a background in financial planning, and spoke mostly on the fiscal health of the nation and the debt crisis.
"We just have to let the economy take over. Our government has gotten too big, and we just have to get it out of the way," he said.
Independent Matthew Corey also called for a more limited role for the federal government.
A longtime Manchester resident, Corey owns a window cleaning business and an Irish pub in Hartford. He stated he decided to run for Congress because he was concerned about the direction the country had taken.
"Are we going to create an entitlement society, or a society with opportunity for all?" he asked, adding, "Government's role is to keep it fair, not to be in the way."