With all four state races contested, Greenwich candidates eye November

It might only be the dawn of June, but some in town already have their eyes locked on November now that the races for the state legislature are all official.

Both Greenwich’s Republican and Democratic town committees finished holding their nominating conventions last week, and for the Democrats things were far busier than usual. For the first time since 1994 and for only the third time in the last 35 years, Greenwich Democrats have nominated candidates in all three state representative races as well as for state senator to try and break decades of Republican dominance. Last week, Democrats formally nominated a full slate, with John Blankley running for the 149th District, Stephanie Paulmeno going in the 150th, David Rafferty in the 151st, and Stamford resident Daniel Dauplaise seeking the 36th District state Senate seat.

But to actually accomplish what has at times seemed impossible remains a challenge for the party, as Greenwich Republicans have renominated three popular incumbents along with a newcomer to state politics who has already served in one of the town’s most powerful positions. State Rep. Livvy Floren, seeking her seventh term in office, and state Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th District), who is up for his third, were renominated earlier this month, and last Wednesday they were formally joined by two-term incumbent state Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st District) and Stephen Walko, who will be running in the 150th District.

Mr. Walko, former chairman of the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET), is running to succeed state Rep. Lile Gibbons, who is retiring after this current term. In his acceptance speech, he said he was running as a “friend and neighbor” and not as a politician.

“Together I know we can make a difference, but that’s something that will be a team effort,” Mr. Walko said.

But according to the candidate himself, it was an effort that he didn’t believe he would be undertaking. In choosing not to run again last November for another term on the BET, Mr. Walko said that he had fully intended to leave politics and that he had wanted Ms. Gibbons to run for another term. Since that was not to be, though, he said he decided to make a run because he feels the state is now in “critical condition.”

“Deficit spending, large debt-per-capita ratios and unfavorable bond ratings are just a few telltale signs of the fiscal epidemic that now plagues our state,” Mr. Walko said. “While I’m no doctor, this epidemic is serious and is stressing our state to the point of failure. As with any epidemic, we can ignore it and hope it goes away. But that rarely works. Or we can face reality and make tough decisions and place us on the path of healthy living. The three areas I will concentrate on are fiscal cleansing, education reform and transportation remediation.”

Saying the state could not spend money it didn’t have, Mr. Walko called it “irresponsible” for the state to borrow money to pay today’s operating expenses. He said state government had to become smaller and more efficient and that spending had to be curtailed to ease the burden on taxpayers. He pledged to create legislation to address these issues and do it in a bipartisan fashion.

Mr. Walko was nominated for the 150th District by First Selectman Peter Tesei, who was not only his colleague on the BET but has been a friend since middle school. Calling him “a highly qualified friend, counselor, husband, father, citizen, and leader,” Mr. Tesei said the community needed Mr. Walko’s experience and leadership in Hartford to bring economic sense to the legislature and fight for taxpayers.

“Anyone who knows Steve knows, he is a highly principled and disciplined person,” Mr. Tesei said. “He is extremely devoted to his family and always puts them first in everything he does. He applies that in his work ethic as well, both professionally and in community service.”

Paulmeno says she understands district

Ms. Gibbons served six terms in office and never once faced a Democratic challenger, but Mr. Walko will not find things as easy for his first run for state office. Ms. Paulmeno, a registered nurse who was a town employee both as Greenwich’s director of community health planning and as director of nursing at The Nathaniel Witherell, is seeking state elected office for the first time. She told her supporters last Thursday night that she was humbled by the nomination and that she was running to continue a long tradition in her life of helping people.

“I’ve always said that not a day goes by in a nurse’s career where you don’t feel you’ve done something to help people,” Ms. Paulmeno said. “I’ve gone from being a nurse caring for a few patients to one caring for a whole unit of patients to a supervisor to a director to an administrator to community health, where the whole town of Greenwich was my patient. A position like this takes that help even further, and I think many of the issues that face us today in Greenwich and across the state are economic issues and health issues.”

Pledging to be a “voice for women” in the state legislature, Ms. Paulmeno also stressed her strong commitment to education, saying her family had moved to town because of the schools and that all of her children were products of the Greenwich public schools. She said the excellence of the town’s schools should be throughout the district and not just in areas that have more economic advantages.

“I did not grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth,” Ms. Paulmeno said. “My father passed away and my mother happened to remarry someone who was affluent, so I was able to experience both worlds. I know what it’s like to be poor and I know what it’s like not to be able to necessarily have the meal you want on the table. I appreciate what many of the people of our district are doing. The people of the 150th District have a lot of our minority population, and I think I can represent them exceedingly well, as I’ve walked where they’ve walked.”

Rafferty centers on helping

This is Mr. Rafferty’s first run for state office as well. The current president of the Old Greenwich Association and a community volunteer and coach was accompanied by his daughter, Morgan, and was even nominated before the rest of the 151st District Democrats by her. He said he was “very excited for the opportunity” and added that he was looking forward to pursuing the seat with all his energy.

Mr. Rafferty said he felt a strong pull toward community service and wanted to set an example for his children similar to the lesson once taught to him by a family friend who said the basic question of “What can I do for you?” forms the basis of all relationships, whether personal, business or community.

“We all need something and we usually need help getting it,” Mr. Rafferty said. “We shouldn’t be afraid to both ask for what we need and provide what our friends, our business associates and our neighbors need help with. By asking what can I do for you, that’s how we build a community. We support each other. But unfortunately, too many people in this country have forgotten what it takes to build a community.”

He said the belief that people should pay only for the government services they personally want for themselves was not only immoral but unsustainable, both in Greenwich and in the country as a whole. He said the Republican Party had become “the party of no” and had shifted tax burdens onto the middle class and the poor, had denied “scientific fact” to cater to lobbyists, and would rather “privatize services to benefit the privileged at the expense of the public.”

“This is a party that wants to cut social programs and endanger the future of our children in return for just slightly larger profits,” Mr. Rafferty said. “This is a party that wants no regulations on your air quality, your water, your food, or your environment, but is happy to regulate a woman’s right to her own body. We have seen the future of the Republican Party playing out on the national stage, and one appeal I intend to make here in town through my campaign is that Greenwich has always been a ‘What can I do for you?’ kind of town. Let’s remember that and keep it that way.”

Camillo runs on record

Mr. Camillo accepted the Republican Party’s renomination the same night Mr. Walko did. He told The Post that he would focus on his four years of legislative accomplishment in Hartford. Even though Republicans are in the minority there, an inverse of how it is in Greenwich, Mr. Camillo said he had been able to get things done by working with Democrats on issues important to the town, like recycling, gas prices and animal issues, while also fighting for volunteers in the emergency services and working to keep cellular towers away from schools.

“On the constituent services level, I have been vigilant in working on behalf of the residents of the district, and town, and even the state,” Mr. Camillo said. “It has been an honor to represent the district I grew up in and I look forward to bringing the case to the people whom I have had the pleasure to work for in Hartford these past four years.”

 

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