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Fonfara, Vargas Prepare For Rematch

Challenger In 1st Senate District Was Once Campaign Manager For The Incumbent


August 02, 2010

Edwin Vargas Jr. once served as John Fonfara's campaign manager.

Now he is trying to knock the incumbent state senator out of office.

This is not the first time the two Hartford residents have faced off in a Democratic state Senate primary. Vargas challenged Fonfara in 2008, but lost by 850 votes.

Vargas says that Fonfara, 54, is a lawmaker who has lost his way, someone who has aligned with energy lobbyists and is not accessible to his constituents.

"This year he has a very tough race, and he knows it," said Vargas, a member of Hartford's planning and zoning board, a retired Hartford teacher and former president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers.

But if Fonfara, who began his legislative career in 1986 as a state representative, thinks his seat is in jeopardy, he doesn't show it. The owner of a Hartford billboard company represents most of Hartford and Wethersfield in Senate District No. 1.

"I'm very much a part of the two communities," he said, adding that he is proud of his legislative accomplishments, most notably the energy bills he helped write.

Fonfara is co-chairman of the legislature's energy and technology committee with state Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, but the committee's productivity has often been hampered by philosophical differences between the co-chairmen over regulation and deregulation of electricity.

Fonfara supports deregulation; Nardello supports stronger regulatory rule.

Fonfara said last month that he has worked with Nardello to build a better relationship. There were major strides, and the two chairmen learned to trust each other, he said, adding that the end result was a comprehensive energy bill that was passed by both legislative chambers. The bill was intended to change the way the state regulates the supply and sale of electricity and called for a 15 percent reduction in electricity rates. It was vetoed by the governor.

Vargas, 61, who works on energy issues with the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, actually liked the energy bill, but said Fonfara made two mistakes. The bill was written and passed at the eleventh hour, and Fonfara did not work hard enough to get the governor's signature, he said.

While energy issues are important, Fonfara said lawmakers should remain focused on how to deal with the poor economy and on creating jobs. Resurrecting the failed energy bill is one way to boost the economy and create jobs, he said, noting that this year's bill would have created 600 jobs.

The economy and jobs are also on Vargas' mind. In 2008, Vargas said he ran because his community was hurting and needed help. Two years later, the economy has made things worse, he said.

"I have all the more incentive to get in there and help people, Vargas said, noting that he supports President Barack Obama's jobs initiative and that he believes unemployment benefits should be extended. Locally, property tax rates and energy costs for small businesses should be lowered, he said.

Vargas, as an educator, said he is also interested in education issues. He said he still stands by a proposal he made in 2008 that schools should stay open after 3 p.m. to allow for enrichment courses and homework centers. He said schools should be safe havens for students who would otherwise be roaming city streets.

The winner of the Aug. 10 primary will face Republican Barbara Ruhe, of Wethersfield. Ruhe also ran in 2008, losing to Fonfara.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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