AP NEWS

Senate candidates find Stamford voters engaged, nonpartisan

October 27, 2018 GMT

STAMFORD — The two major-party candidates for state Senate in District 27 offer voters different types of experience.

Incumbent Carlo Leone, 55, a Democrat known for constituent service, brings a statewide background — eight years in the Senate preceded by eight years in the House of Representatives. Leone was re-elected in 2016 with 65 percent of the vote.

His challenger, Republican Gerald Bosak, 53, has nine years in city government. Bosak served eight of them on the Board of Finance followed by one on the Board of Education, and has close community ties as co-owner of Bosak Funeral Home, a century-old Stamford business.

A third candidate, Cora Santaguida of the Green Party, is running for the seat for the second time. In 2016, Santaguida, a driving instructor, justice of the peace, and co-chairwoman of the Ballot Access Committee of the Green Party of the United States, won 2.4 percent of the vote.

Leone said he’s learned to navigate the state Capitol and put himself in position to deliver for the district.

“It takes a couple of years to understand the rules and get to know people in the Legislature. You have to figure out who the key leaders are who can help you, or thwart you, as you work to achieve your goals,” Leone said. “I’ve worked under two Republican governors and one Democrat, and been able to accomplish a lot for the district.”

He helped win funding for the new elementary school on Strawberry Hill Avenue, dorms for the University of Connecticut’s downtown Stamford campus, the rebuilding of the Interstate 95 bridge near Courtland Avenue, and to pass a law to stop the state from taxing military retirement pay, Leone said.

“I find it hard to say ‘I did this; I did that.’ I like to say, ‘We did this,’ because the truth is you have to work with others to get things done for your district,” he said.

Bosak said he saw the Legislature at work from the municipal end. As a member of the Stamford finance and school boards, he learned the mechanisms that govern Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing grants, the Special Transportation Fund, the debt structure of the Stamford Water Pollution Control Authority, and more.

“We renegotiated unfunded liabilities. We restructured the bonding for the Mill River project. We purchased the land for the Strawberry Hill School. We worked on employee pensions and health care. We rewrote school policies on bullying and sexual assault. For me, being in the state Senate will complete the circle,” Bosak said. “I know how the state stuff plugs in at the city level.”

He wants to go to Hartford to tackle issues that need work, Bosak said.

“About 60 percent of UConn administrators earn over $100,000. I think anyone who earns that much should pay for their fringe benefits, and the university should do more fundraising,” he said.

He supports Connecticut’s strict gun laws, which makes it hard to understand why the Legislature slashed the mental-health services budget, said Bosak, a former residential counselor for people with mental illness.

“I don’t see how that protects our society, because that’s where the gun problem begins,” he said.

He’s also concerned about seniors, Bosak said.

“I’ve seen people at the Stamford Senior Center wrapping pizza in a napkin to take home with them because they don’t have enough to eat,” he said. “It’s just wrong.”

Leone is a veterans outreach specialist with a Bridgeport agency, The WorkPlace. A U.S. Air Force veteran and former financial analyst at Xerox Corp., Leone finds housing for homeless veterans.

Helping veterans has been a legislative priority for the 16 years he’s served in Hartford, Leone said. Other priorities include protecting social services and creating a better business climate, said Leone, who has significant committee assignments in Hartford — co-chairman of Transportation and of General Law, which handles consumer problems, and vice-chairman of Finance, Revenue & Bonding.

If he keeps the seat, an immediate need is to seek state money to help clean up a mold infestation in Stamford schools and, longer term, push for a requirement that high schools and colleges teach personal finances, Leone said.

Santaguida could not be reached for comment, but her campaign manager, David Bedell, said she would focus on creating affordable housing, legalizing marijuana, and forming a state public bank.

Such banks are depositories for tax and other government revenue, and lend to public agencies, small businesses, students, and others at low-interest rates, since they have no shareholders to pay.

“It keeps the money circulating within the state instead of on Wall Street,” Bedell said. “It’s a way to boost the state economy.”

The Green Party has about 2,000 members in Connecticut, Bedell said.

“Stamford has one of largest groups — 50 to 100 members,” he said.

District 27 has about 20,900 registered Democrats, 8,800 Republicans, and 18,700 unaffiliated voters. It runs roughly from Broad Street downtown, along the path of Washington Boulevard through High Ridge to just north of the Merritt Parkway. It also includes the southern portion of Darien.

Out on the campaign trail, party affiliation is rarely an issue, said Bosak, who estimates he’s knocked on an average 180 doors a day, for a total of 5,200 doors so far. The Hogan family in the Turn of River neighborhood sticks in his mind, Bosak said.

“They served me bundt cake and a cup of tea. They told me they are lifelong Democrats and always vote on party lines. We talked about all kinds of things,” he said. “Then they told me, ‘We’ve never had someone knock on our door before. You have our vote.’”

Leone said people are welcoming.

“They tell me, ‘I remember when you knocked on my door 10 years ago,’” he said. “They want to talk about the issues. They have questions — what are you going to do about jobs? What can you do for the city?’”

Bosak said, before he began campaigning, he wondered whether people are engaged in the issues.

“I found out they really are,” Bosak said. “They are amazingly in touch with their community. They say, ‘We love Stamford. We want to see the best for it.’”

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2296.