Matt DeRienzo photo
WOODBURY — President Obama lied about Benghazi. Women should be required to look at a sonogram of their unborn child before getting an abortion. Man-made climate change might not exist. Michelle Obama’s healthy school lunch initiative is bad for children.

Mark Greenberg, the Litchfield real estate developer challenging the re-election bid of first-term 5th District Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, said all of these things in a candidate forum in Woodbury Tuesday night, bringing themes that have been popular in “Tea Party” Republican campaigns in other parts of the country to Connecticut.

Ideological and policy differences between the two candidates were as sharp as ever in what was likely to be their last meeting together, one week before the Nov. 4 election. They spoke in a packed room at the Curtis House Inn at an event sponsored by the Woodbury Business Association.

Greenberg repeatedly criticized President Obama and tied Esty to the policies and actions of his administration. Esty pointed out the “very different” views she has from Greenberg on Social Security, the minimum wage, reproductive rights, health care, gun control and the environment.

Asked about abortion, Greenberg tried to pivot to talking about jobs and the economy, because “from a practical perspective, Roe vs. Wade has decided that issue for now.”

But he went on to say that he believes parents should be involved in decisions about abortions for girls under the age of 18, and that all women should be required to look at a sonogram before getting an abortion.

“I am pro-life. I have said that constantly for the past 5 years,” he said, mentioning the five children he has and multiple miscarriages suffered by his wife. “… I love children and believe that life is precious.”

Esty, a strong advocate for reproductive rights before being elected to Congress, said that the “intensely personal” decision, unequivocally, should be left up to women and be made without interference from the government. She said that Congress has faced numerous votes and policy decisions related to abortion over the past two years, including health care policy as it relates to reproductive rights. So it’s far from an irrelevant issue, she said.

Asked about climate change, Greenberg said he’s “not a scholar” on the issue, but has read things that cause him to doubt whether man-made climate change even exists.

“I’m not convinced that the climate change we have now are not part of the normal cycle. I’m not convinced that things we’re doing ourselves is part of climate change,” he said. “I’m not convinced we’re having that issue right now.”

Esty, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ science committee, said “there is no serious dispute as to whether … human behavior is affecting climate change.”

She blasted Greenberg’s support for offshore drilling, which she said would further contribute to climate change, and his call for investment in “clean coal,” which she called an “oxymoron.”

Esty said she supports an “all of the above” U.S. energy policy that relies on natural gas as a “transitional” source while focusing on investment in renewable energy.

Foreign Policy

Greenberg said that the attack on the U.S. Embassy in the Libyan city of Benghazi is just one example of Obama’s “failed presidency.” He said he “can’t wait for that day” when Obama’s term is over, and said that if Republicans win control of both houses of Congress Nov. 4, “Stalemate might be OK for two years while we wait for the end of his term.”

“We were lied to, and it was a terrorist attack, and it was obvious that it was one of the administration’s many attempts to lie to us,” Greenberg said of Benghazi. “Obama doesn’t listen to his military men … he does what he wants.”

Esty said that one of the problems exposed by the Benghazi attack is America’s over-reliance on private contractors to do the work that American military personnel who “swear an oath to this country” should be doing.

School Lunches

Greenberg went so far as to criticize First Lady Michelle Obama’s healthy school lunch initiative.

“I have five children. They eat what they want to eat,” he said, which sometimes “includes cookies.” If they are forced to eat healthy foods they don’t want to eat, “they won’t eat at all,” he said. “We’re going to see a lot of these foods in the lunch box at the end of the day.”

Esty said that for many children, the best meals they’ll get in a week are the ones they’re served in public schools. She cited anecdotes from some school nurses who reported the number of kids calling in sick dropping in half after school lunches were made healthier. She said she’d like to see a push for more locally produced food to be incorporated into school lunches, and a greater emphasis to be made on more exercise for public school children.

Personal Attacks

Matt DeRienzo photo
Although Tuesday night’s event was “forum”-style, not a debate where Esty and Greenberg were allowed to go back-and-forth on each others comments, the conversation turned personal at times.

Esty referenced Greenberg’s personal wealth and said that we can’t have “a Congress of only millionaires.” She suggested that Greenberg’s own finances “contributed” to his views on Social Security. Greenberg favors, and Esty opposes, gradually extending the retirement age from 67 to 70 in order to keep the program solvent. Esty says that will harm many seniors who find themselves out of work and unable to find employment in their late 50s and early 60s.

Greenberg, in turn, talked about how he has worked hard to make his money, creating jobs in the process, instead of “collecting a trust fund check.” That was a possible reference to the money Esty, also a millionaire who ranks in the top 20 percent of wealthiest members of Congress, has received thanks to her father’s business career.

Esty and Greenberg also differed Tuesday in their views on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and raising the federal minimum wage.

Greenberg wants to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” whereas Esty touts what it did for people with pre-existing medical conditions and young people who are now able to stay on their parents’ health insurance during their college years.

Esty supports raising the federal minimum wage, while Greenberg feels states should have wide leeway in dictating it due to widely different costs of living across the country.

Greenberg also described the minimum wage as a “starter” job salary that applies mostly to young people who are learning how to be part of the workforce, while Esty said that statistics show many older workers who are supporting families are earning minimum wage and living in poverty because of it.