Fonfara Faces Challengers In 1st Senate District Race
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
October 17, 2012
Republican Barbara Ruhe knows she has an uphill climb to unseat state Sen. John Fonfara in the heavily Democratic 1st District.
For the third straight election, the Wethersfield lawyer is facing off with Fonfara, a Hartford businessman and Democrat who is seeking his ninth term in the Senate district that features downtown Hartford, the city's South End and part of Wethersfield.
In Ruhe's view, Fonfara has "been there for too long." He served five terms as a state representative before his election to the state Senate in 1996.
Fonfara, 56, counters that his seniority has been an asset to constituents. His leadership posts include senate chairman of the legislature's energy and technology committee and the bonding subcommittee, "which is a major resource for providing dollars to your district," he said.
Fonfara noted a recent State Bond Commission approval of $750,000 for streetscape improvements to Hartford's Wethersfield Avenue, $60 million in state bonding toward downtown housing, $4.7 million for façade renovations on Park Street and funding that resulted in new night classes for adults at A.I. Prince Technical High School this year.
If re-elected, Fonfara said he plans to focus on early childhood education, property tax reform in Hartford and tax incentive programs to keep and attract businesses in Connecticut.
"He voted for the busway," said Ruhe, 63, who has taken to Facebook rather than door-to-door campaigning this fall. "He probably votes 99.9 percent of the time with the Democratic Party. That kind of record does not show independence. It does not show thoughtfulness."
Fonfara said he initially did not support CTfastrak, the New-Britain-to-Hartford rapid transit bus system that is expected to cost $567 million, much it funded with federal aid.
"The busway was an initiative the governor embraced," Fonfara said. "I felt a rail line would be far more effective. But in the end ... I accepted his position and we moved on. And people are working every day in building that line, people who might be in an unemployment line otherwise."
Ruhe, who mostly practices family law and serves on the Connecticut Commission on Children, said her passion in the legislature would be for child-related issues such as education and how the Department of Children and Families is handling its caseloads and interactions with families.
"I have a motto: Does this help or hurt a child?" Ruhe said. "You can pick something as obscure as the busway. It takes an enormous amount of money and dumps it into a program of questionable worth."
The Green Party's Jeff Russell is also running against Fonfara and said a priority would be environmental issues in Hartford and Wethersfield.
"Both communities have been hammered by environmental pollution that were really out of their control," said Russell, 58, a former mechanic who is unemployed, disabled and has been living out of a Volkswagen camper around Greater Hartford.
Russell added that "I'm really irked by the level of corporate influence in the political system, and I see Sen. Fonfara responding more to money interests than to people interests." When asked for specifics, Russell said, "I don't have a good memory for such things."
Fonfara defended his record in what he called one of the most diverse and challenging districts in the state.
"I'm proud of my ability to get things done — a lot quicker than when I first got there."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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