The battle for the 89th District State Representative seat has been one of common disagreements and more personal attacks.
Both candidates believe they are the right fit for the constituents, with Republican incumbent Lezlye Zupkus focused in on fiscal responsibility in Hartford, and her challenger, Democratic newbie E.J. Maher, determined to highlight educational progress and economic innovation.
Zupkus, like many of her colleagues, has been working on helping her constituents file unemployment claims and receive COVID-19 relief since the pandemic reached Connecticut.
“It was completely unacceptable the way the Department of Labor handled unemployment claims,” Zupkus explained. “They were swamped with calls and not enough people to respond. It wasn’t their fault ultimately, but that should never happen again.”
Despite the uncertainty COVID-19 has caused for many, Zupkus is committed to fighting for the principles she has always found important.
“In this campaign, I am fighting for the things I have always fought for,” she said. “We need to get our financial house in order, first and foremost. Our financial house in this state is a disaster. I see people talk every day about how they want to leave the state because of the taxes we are forced to pay. This state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”
While Zupkus is relatively unfamiliar with her opponent, she believes the Democratic Party as a whole has supported policy prescriptions that will put Connecticut in peril.
“I don’t really know a lot about E.J. or what his issues are, but I do know that his party has supported tolls and school regionalization,” she said. “I believe those things are detrimental to Connecticut and the people that live here. His party voted for the police accountability bill, which all it did was tie the hands of the people who are put in place to protect us. This is a bad piece of legislation. They should have asked the police to sit at the table when they created this.”
Zupkus is also concerned that citizens will no longer wish to apply for police or first responder-related jobs out of fear of retaliation.
While Zupkus focuses her message on fiscal responsibility, her opponent is convinced that spending money in the right place will ultimately prove to be more important than not spending it at all.
“I really want to focus on education, very strongly,” Maher said. “Education is the biggest part of the line item, but when we get in the weeds with education people tend to back off. I want to ultimately improve outcomes for kids because, if we can improve on that, we are going to be in a better place economically and financially.”
Maher, who graduated from New York University’s School of Education in 2004 and has been a firefighter in Norwalk for over 10 years, is concerned about the future of the 89th District, and hopes his candidacy will change it for the better.
“I also want to spend money on addiction services over focusing funds on policing and jailing offenders,” Maher said. “It costs a lot of money to keep these people in jail instead of treating them for the illness that they have. I see everyday as a firefighter the effect the opioid addiction has on families and communities, and money needs to go to fix the system that’s currently in place.”
Maher recognizes that, unlike his opponent, he has an uphill battle to get his name out there. To do so, he’s offered up a few attacks on Zupkus that he believes are important to point out.
“I just don’t believe in this idea of the symbolic ‘no’ vote that the conservatives are so keen on defending,” he said. “I don’t believe that the 89th District is getting a good enough return on investment with Lezlye.”
One of the more pointed attacks has involved Zupkus’s husband, Greg, who is the CEO of BNE Energy. BNE Energy started the first commercial, for-profit wind power project in Connecticut. Maher has raised questions about the business’ success over the last several years.
“I’m not attacking her personally ... but she doesn’t talk that much about her energy business,” said Maher. “Before she got elected she wasn’t receiving much business, and now she is raking in a lot of money.”
Zupkus responded to Maher’s attacks by defending her family and their successes.
“I have never engaged in personal attack campaigning and I never will. It is a pathetic attempt to deflect voters from the issues that really matter to all of us,” she said. “Unfortunately, my opponent has decided to waste taxpayer money to spread lies and innuendo about my family and myself.”
“By doing so he is purposely ignoring the economic burdens we all face,” she continued, “and failing to offer any solutions to improve our lives.”
“I am trying to make a difference here,” he stated. “I see a lot of our incumbent Democrats doing a lot to pass bills and make legislation that will ultimately make our lives easier,” he said. “I’m not a negative person, but I just don’t see Lezlye doing those things. The 89th District deserves better.”