By DAGNY SALAS, STEVEN GOODE And JEFFREY B. COHEN | Courant Staff Writers
August 09, 2008
In the wake of two recent highly publicized crimes in Hartford, the state senator whose district they occurred in thinks he has a good idea of what issue is most important to his constituents.
"Public safety in Hartford is huge," said 1st District state Sen. John Fonfara, referring to the assault and robbery of the 71-year old former Hartford deputy mayor and the hit-and-run that left a 78-year-old city resident paralyzed. "People don't feel safe."
To that end Fonfara, whose district encompasses about 60 percent of Hartford and most of Wethersfield, said he has secured $100,000 in state money for the Hartford Police Department to create a team of officers to respond exclusively to quality-of-life crimes during the next three months.
A six-term Democratic incumbent, Fonfara is facing a primary challenge Tuesday from Edwin Vargas Jr. The primary is one of five in the city on Tuesday.
Fonfara, endorsed by the Democratic town committees in his district, several unions and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said he will continue to seek public safety funding for the city.
"The fear level is greater than ever, and it can't go on," Fonfara said.
As for the primary campaign, Fonfara said two debates with his opponent were mostly civil, aside from Vargas' assertion that Fonfara was not visible.
"He's saying I'm not visible, but I will say if I'm not visible, how do I bring so many resources back to my district?" he said.
Vargas, a retired teacher who is active in local political, civil rights, labor and public policy issues, said he decided to run after hearing from others that they thought they weren't being listened to.
"He's become like an invisible guy. He's gotten complacent," Vargas said.
If elected, Vargas said he saw himself as a problem solver for the district, but not one who would spend more than two decades in the legislature, like his opponent.
"This careerism is wrong," Vargas said, pledging to spend no more than four two-year terms in state government.
When six-term Democratic incumbent Art Feltman announced that he was not seeking re-election to his 6th House District seat in May, the door opened for his 2004 opponent — city police officer Hector Robles. Robles, 36, is facing Carmen Sierra, 43, director of the Latino advocacy group CAUSA and a teacher at the Kennelly School, who has been championing her education background against Robles' 14 years of police work.
The two candidates, both Hartford natives, have been knocking on doors in South End neighborhoods, stressing the need for better education, revamping property taxes and prioritizing public safety. Robles has been "supported and mentored" by the mayor for four years and has secured the party's and Feltman's endorsements.
His campaign contributors include city council President Calixto Torres, city council member Pedro Segarra, the mayor's chief of staff, Matt Hennessey, and Fonfara, according to campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of the state's office.
In the 5th House District, incumbent state Rep. Marie Lopez Kirkley-Bey, 66, is fighting former state Rep. Abraham L. Giles, 82, for her seat. Giles is the party's endorsed candidate. Both have served eight terms in the legislature.
Giles, once voted the worst legislator by his peers, says Kirkley-Bey can't be trusted to represent the community's interests. Kirkley-Bey says Giles can't be trusted to stay awake.
In addition, both the Republican and Democratic voter registrars are being challenged Tuesday.
Democratic Registrar Shirley Surgeon is being challenged again by Olga Iris Vasquez, a former registrar. Vasquez, who has been endorsed by the party, lost to Surgeon in 2004.
On the Republican side, incumbent and party-endorsed Salvatore A. Bramante is being challenged by Kevin R. Brookman.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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