Bob Stefanowski took a walk into the past — or, to be more specific, along Dixwell Avenue and Pond Street — to highlight his Newhallville roots, and to unveil a tax-cutting plan he claimed would benefit the working class.
Stefanowski leaned in to that mix of the personal and the political during a campaign press conference held outside of Visel’s Pharmacy at 714 Dixwell Ave.
After the presser, the Republican gubernatorial candidate walked up two blocks to his childhood home at 40 Pond St, and reflected on his fond memories of growing up in Newhallville in the 1960s before moving to North Haven in the second grade.
A Madison resident, former General Electric and payday loan company executive, and second-time Republican candidate for governor, Stefanowski and his lieutenant-governor-hopeful running mate Laura Devlin held that Newhallville press conference less than two months before November’s general election. In that contest, they’re looking to unseat Democratic incumbent Gov. Ned Lamont, a Greenwich native and former cable company executive, and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz.
Over the course of the 45-minute event, Stefanowski spent much of the time talking about his own personal roots in the neighborhood and how they instilled him an understanding of what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet. He also highlighted specific fiscal policies he promised to enact if elected, including new cuts to the sales tax, steeper property tax deductions, and extensions to the current gas tax cuts.
His press conference inspired Mayor Justin Elicker, Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker Myers, Board of Alders Majority Leader Richard Furlow, and Board of Alders Third Officer Sal DeCola to hold a responding press conference of their own outside of City Hall later in the afternoon in which they criticized both Stefanowki’s tax cut proposals and what they described as his lack of a more-up-to-date understanding of what it’s like to live in New Haven. (See more on that below.)
“People say we’ve got two rich guys running for governor,” Stefanowski said at the top of Tuesday’s presser. “I’ll admit I’ve done pretty well. But one of the two guys running grew up in Greenwich going to the polo grounds on the weekend. I grew up here,” on the first floor of a three-family house owned by his grandmother.
He said his parents, both of whom worked for the Southern New England Telephone company, got married at a church down the block. He went to elementary school around the corner at 794 Dixwell Ave.
He recalled biking down to Visel’s to buy ice cream as a kid, while Visel’s former owner, Ed Funaro Sr., remembered how Stefanowski’s grandmother taught him how to ride a bike.
By the time Stefanowski had taken a gaggle of reporters down Pond Street and into the driveway of his family’s former three-family house, he had also pointed out a window of the neighbor’s house that he had once accidentally broken with a whiffle ball, and a stretch of yard where he had once got entangled with a bee’s nest and wound up with a shirt full of bees, and a third-floor apartment of his family’s house that was rented out by a particularly rowdy group of Southern Connecticut State University students.
“Unless if you’ve struggled to make a rent payment or had some of the issues that people in the cities feel, I think it’s hard to empathize with them,” Stefanowski said during the press conference outside of Visel’s. He promised to be here in Newhallville “more than once every four years.”
He also made sure to single out Ed Funaro Sr. and Jr. at Visel’s for running a century-old neighborhood business still rooted in Newhallbille. “You’re a testament to the community,” he said. “You’re a testament to small businesses in Connecticut. And you’re a testament to integrity. You’re good guys and you’re trying to do the right thing for the community.”
How To Help Working Class? Tax Cuts
During the press conference itself, Stefanowki and Devlin detailed what they described as their Connecticut FIRST program — with “FIRST” standing for “Fight Inflation and Reduce State Taxes.”
He said that the tax-cut plan should result in an average of $2,000 being returned to Connecticut households. “We’re gonna give it back to the people who need it.” He said that those tax cuts will be paid for largely by depleting the state’s $6 billion rainy day fund “surplus.”
“It’s wrong to keep that only up there [in Hartford] when people are struggling.”
That plan includes several components:
• Getting rid of the 1 percent tax on food “that Lamont placed on prepared meals.”
• Extending the gas tax holiday for both “regular gas” and diesel through the end of 2023. (He said he would also extend fare-free transit on public buses.)
• Reducing the state sales tax from 6.35 percent to 5.99 percent.
• “We’re gonna control utility costs” by disbanding the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) and replacing it with a 10-person board consisting of regulators, business people, and consumers.
• Implementing a state-level version of the former federal SALT (State and Local Tax) deduction, by allowing homeowners to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes.
• Using federal Covid aid to “repay that part fo the unemployment insurance loan assessed to small businesses.”
“This is a reasonable, executable, rational program,” Stefanowski said. “This is achievable.”
The Republican gubernatorial candidate was asked during the press conference about the difference between this broad-based tax cutting plan and the income-tax-cut-focused campaign he ran in 2018.
Stefanowski said that, as of right now, he is not proposing any cuts to the state income tax.
He said his last campaign’s call was for the income tax to be eliminated over the course of 10 years. “People need relief now,” he said. And, he added, “income tax is not the only thing.” He said property tax is particularly burdensome for people on fixed incomes. And he said that the sales tax hurts working people most of all at times of inflation.
“I’d rather spread that money around a little bit and help different classes of people rather than” just wealthy people, he said.
“I’ve Seen Mr. Stefanowski In This City Once”
In a 3:30 p.m. press conference outside of the Amistad statue in front of City Hall, Democrats Elicker, Walker-Myers, and Furlow criticized Stefanowski for swooping into New Haven with what Elicker called a “misleading” message.
“I’ve seen Mr. Stefanowski in this city once in the almost three years I’ve been mayor,” Elicker said.
He said that the sales tax “is a major source of funding for municipal aid,” and that New Haven would have seen a 7 percent local property tax hike if it did not get such a “dramatic increase” in municipal aid from the state. “Let’s be clear, Mr. Stefanowski, by proposing we cut the sales tax, would cut municipal aid and force municipalities like New Haven to raise taxes.”
Elicker also criticized setting up a statewide SALT deduction equivalent as “subsidying and supporting people that have large homes.” It “does not do anything to support people who own cars and who are renters. The overwhelming majority of New Haveners are in a category that would not benefit” from that type of tax deducttion.
And he said said that gutting the state’s rainy day fund would be a big mistake. It would “cause many, many challenges financially for our municipalities” by throwing into doubt future state finances, he argued.
In response to a question about Stefanowski’s claim that he is better in touch with what it’s like to be a working class New Havener than Lamont is because of his growing up in Newhallville, Walker-Myers replied, “I understand his experience” growing up in Newhallville up until the second grade.
“But I grew up in New Haven and I still reside here, so it’s a little bit different when you leave here as a child and you have the opportunity to always come back. If you really love the city that you grew up in and that you talk about so passionately, why haven’t you been back to help us figure out what’s going on in the city” and help out those still living in the city he once called home.
Later on Tuesday afternoon, Lamont’s re-election campaign spokesperson provided the following comments to the Independent in response to Stefanowski’s press conference in Newhallville.
In regards to the Republican candidate’s tax cut plan, Lewis wrote: “Bob has spent years detailing his economic plans that would slash money from our schools, hospitals, and resources for our seniors. His priorities are so extreme he once said he wanted to ‘rip the guts’ out of the state budget. Governor Lamont returned our state to fiscal sanity and balanced budgets through responsible management; all while delivering the largest tax cut in state history and paying down debt, saving future generations hundreds of millions of dollars.”
And in regards to Stefanowski’s claims that he is more in touch with working people’s struggles than Lamont because of his personal background, Lewis wrote: “Bob likes to pretend he’s a working person, but he must of forgot about where he came from or who his neighbors were, as he made millions of dollars from ripping off working families who were desperate to pay rent or keep afloat by offering them loans he knew they couldn’t pay back that only send them further into debt.”
Jobs. Gun Violence. Affordable Housing. Childcare
Before Stefanowski arrived in Newhallville Tuesday, the Independent spoke with a few customers on their way in and out of Visel’s about how they feel about state politics, and neighborhood quality of life.
Newhallville resident Greygory Byrd said that his top two concerns right now are a lack of affordable housing and a lack of affordable childcare.
“So many people are so busy these days,” he said, they just don’t have the time — and the money — to afford childcare. How to solve those issues? “There’s no good solution,” Byrd said. What was he going to Visel’s for on Tuesday? To pick up some Tylenol for his sick nephew.
Asked what he would like Stefanowski to act on if elected governor, fellow Newhallville resident Daniel Barnes: “They need to stop the shooting.”
Gun violence, he said, is his number once concern in the neighborhood. While he is a register Democrat, he said he is “giving anybody a chance,” and hasn’t ruled out voting for Stefanowksi just because he’s a Republican.
Charles Murphy, meanwhile, pulled the Republican gubernatorial candidate aside before Tuesday’s press conference began to implore him to focus on creating more good-paying jobs in New Haven and across the state. “There’s no opportunity,” he said. He also criticized statewide officials like Lamont of not visiting neighborhoods like Newhallville after getting elected.
“You never see him,” Murphy said. “Every time election comes, it’s the same thing. We’re people too,” he added.