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Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty offered a passionate defense of her opposition to the death penalty Tuesday night, a week before voters will decide whether to re-elect her to a second term representing Connecticut’s 5th District.

The last time Esty ran for re-election, as a state representative in 2010, her vote to abolish Connecticut’s death penalty, following the Petit family triple murder in the town she represented, helped lead to her defeat.

“I’m a lifelong opponent of the death penalty. It cost me my seat in the state legislature . . . ” Esty said at a candidate forum sponsored by the Woodbury Business Association. “I live in Cheshire. Awful, terrible things happened in my community. I remember sitting at my kitchen table and hearing those sirens . . . An evil visited my community, but I do not believe that is made right by the state killing in my children’s name.”

Mark Greenberg, a Litchfield real estate developer who is challenging her on Nov. 4, has criticized her position on the death penalty, in the past citing the case of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and on Tuesday invoking the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“I do believe in the death penalty,” he said. “I believe, had Adam Lanza survived, he should have been put to death for the terrible thing he did.”

Esty said life in prison is a more appropriate penalty for heinous crimes.

“I want perpetrators of that crime . . . to rot in jail for the rest of their lives, to contemplate the magnitude of what they’ve done,” she said. “But I don’t think taking their lives makes it even and I don’t think it makes it better. I want them to feel the gravity of that, and I believe that to be a greater punishment.”

In an editorial board meeting with the New Haven Register earlier this month, Esty said the death penalty is disproportionately used against people of color.

“We only kill people who kill white people in this country,” she said. “We don’t kill people who kill black people.”

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 76 percent of victims were white in cases where the perpetrator was executed since 1976, while 15.2 percent of victims were black and 6.6 percent were Latino.

LAKEVILLE JOURNAL BACKS ESTY: The Lakeville Journal, a weekly newspaper with a strong following in Connecticut’s Northwest Corner, has endorsed Elizabeth Esty’s re-election bid. The newspaper said Esty “has worked across party lines, sometimes finding herself at odds with the Democratic leadership,” and praised her work on behalf of constituents and on House committees on transportation, science, and gun violence. It said that Mark Greenberg’s “experience as a businessman and philanthropist does not give him enough governmental knowledge to represent the 5th.”

The Lakeville Journal endorsed Esty in her first run for Congress two years ago as well, snubbing her Republican opponent, Andrew Roraback, a popular state senator from Goshen who had represented the area in the General Assembly for years.

Esty also has won the endorsement of the Hartford Courant, New Haven Register and The Register Citizen of Torrington. Greenberg has been endorsed by the Republican-American of Waterbury.

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GREENBERG USES EBOLA: Mark Greenberg continues to use the Ebola outbreak as a campaign issue. In his latest TV ad, he blames Elizabeth Esty for not doing enough to urge a stronger U.S. response to the crisis.

Earlier this week, he took exception to criticism “Washington bureaucrats” have made against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s efforts to quarantine state residents who have been exposed to people with the disease.

“I am appalled by these harsh criticisms of tough measures that prevent the spread of Ebola,” Greenberg said. “A temporary quarantine would not only demonstrate that state governments can control the risk of an outbreak, but would also provide much needed peace of mind to our families and communities. The bloated and ineffective Washington bureaucracy has no right to set the standards by which our states respond to Ebola, especially since those states have a better understanding of their constituency’s needs and concerns.”

ESTY AD TOUTS ENDORSEMENTS: Elizabeth Esty unveiled a new TV ad Wednesday that touts her endorsement by the Hartford Courant and Lakeville Journal. It continues to hammer Mark Greenberg for his proposal to raise the Social Security retirement age and for opposing abortion rights.

MILITARY EQUIPMENT FOR LOCAL COPS DEFENDED: Elizabeth Esty and Mark Greenberg both defended use of surplus military equipment by local police departments at a candidate forum Tuesday in Woodbury. The issue became controversial after black protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, clashed with police who were using tanks and other military equipment last month.

A student at Nonnewaug High School, who has seen local police deploy military vehicles to the school, asked them about it.

“Having served on a local town council, the budgets are tight,” Esty said. “. . . So I want to see us use equipment that makes sense, that the U.S. taxpayers have paid for.”

She said that some repurposed military communications equipment, in particular, makes sense for local police departments. But, she said, “Congress does need to revisit the whole policy.”

Greenberg said it should be up to local departments and selectmen to decide whether the equipment makes sense for them. “I’ve always believed that the best decisions for a community are at the local level,” he said.

LOWER TAXES, HIGHER REVENUE? At several recent appearances, Mark Greenberg has argued for reducing the federal government’s corporate tax rate, reducing capital gains taxes and reducing marginal rates on personal income taxes. He argues that lower taxes will lead to more overall tax revenue as businesses invest the savings into creating jobs and growing the economy. He said it worked when President John F. Kennedy and President Ronald Reagan did it in the 1960s and 1980s.

STUDENT LOANS: Mark Greenberg and Elizabeth Esty agree that the federal government should take action to lower interest rates on student loans, but differ on whether some loans should be forgiven.

Greenberg said Tuesday that interest rates “should be lowered immediately,” but that student loans are a “contract” that students must pay back.

Esty said that the country should consider forgiving student loans in situations where students cannot find employment for an extended period of time, or in the case of teachers whose outstanding loans dwarf their annual salary.

STRATEGICALLY PLACED BILLBOARD: In discussing investment in transportation infrastructure and the chronic traffic problems Tuesday in Waterbury, Mark Greenberg urged voters to check out his billboard the next time they are stuck in traffic on I-84. He said his campaign purchased it at a location near Exit 25A in Waterbury knowing that motorists would have to sit there for a long time each day staring at it.

“You’re stuck in traffic there while you’re reading my billboard,” he said. “It was picked for that reason.”

Greenberg said it’s wrong for Connecticut to be sending more tax revenue to Washington than it gets back for projects like the widening of I-84, and he also criticized Connecticut legislators for using revenue from “the highest state gas tax around” on things other than transportation infrastructure.

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Matt DeRienzo

Matt DeRienzo is the editor of the Center for Public Integrity.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.