Kraut, Stein­berg clash at can­di­dates de­bate in West­port

The Norwalk Hour - - TOWN NEWS - By So­phie Vaughan

WEST­PORT — In what is al­ready a charged elec­tion sea­son, the first de­bate en­counter be­tween state Rep. Jonathan Stein­berg, D-136, and chal­lenger Greg Kraut turned per­sonal.

Stein­berg ac­cused Repub­li­can Kraut of be­ing a liar and preda­tory de­vel­oper and Kraut claimed Stein­berg, a Demo­crat, has a weak record of fight­ing for West­porters in Hart­ford.

“He has torn down a his­toric build­ing in New York City which housed a movie theater over the ob­jec­tions of the neigh­bors in the com­mu­nity. I’m the co-founder of the West­port Cin­ema Ini­tia­tive. I be­lieve in build­ing com­mu­nity by bring­ing in a movie theater. He wants to tear it down,” Stein­berg, who has rep­re­sented the 136th District in the state House since 2010, said.

In his crit­i­cism, Stein­berg ref­er­enced a March ar­ti­cle from a New York City blog, in which Kraut, a man­ag­ing part­ner at the real es­tate man­age­ment and de­vel­op­ment firm K Prop­erty Group, said he planned to tear down the Sun­shine Cin­ema build­ing in Man­hat­tan’s Lower East Side, in or­der to con­struct a 63,000square-foot of­fice build­ing.

“All you want to do is per­son­ally at­tack me be­cause you have no record,” Kraut said, say­ing the Lower East Side com­mu­nity board shut down the theater them­selves by re­ject­ing the theater’s pro­posal to of­fer food and drinks at the theater.

Stein­berg’s ef­fort to bring a movie theater to town has failed, Kraut said, adding Stein­berg has re­peat­edly voted for tax in­creases that harm West­porters and de­crease the state econ­omy. In re­sponse, Stein­berg said he voted against Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy’s pro­posed $1.5 mil­lion tax in­crease in 2011 and in 2015, voted against the bud­get deal, both of which posed tax in­creases.

“He can’t get off the lies. It’s cen­tral to his cam­paign,” Stein­berg said, crit­i­ciz­ing Kraut’s 14-page eco­nomic plan that in­cludes a pro­posal to mon­e­tize state-owned prop­er­ties through sale­lease­backs of state-owned prop­er­ties.

“My op­po­nent has a hare­brained sale-lease­back scheme where the state ba­si­cally holds a fire­sale and sells all the states as­sets,” Stein­berg said, adding, “It’s great for real-es­tate de­vel­op­ers like my op­po­nent. It’s a preda­tory prac­tice, like my op­po­nent.”

Kraut called Stein­berg’s claim that he is a preda­tory de­vel­oper “ridicu­lous” and said the sale-lease­backs is a proven strat­egy in gov­ern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor that could pro­vide the state with needed rev­enue

“The way Jonathan is fight­ing with me, I wish he would fight for West­port like that. I’ve never seen some­body fight so hard who’s been com­pla­cent for the past eight years,” Kraut said.

One is­sue both Kraut and Stein­berg could agree on was the need to fix the state’s fail­ing in­fras­truc­ture.

“Have you driven on the Post Road lately? It’s like a third world coun­try. We have put off projects for years and years be­cause of lack of fund­ing,” Stein­berg said, adding that trans­porta­tion in­fras­truc­ture in­vest­ment is his No. 1 pri­or­ity.

Fair­field County com­muters have been short-changed by the state Leg­is­la­ture, Kraut said, adding that if elected, he would fight to bring in­vest­ment to Fair­field County’s bro­ken roads and train sys­tem.

“Jonathan has been do­ing this a long time and Kraut’s say­ing our in­ter­ests aren’t be­ing rep­re­sented in Hart­ford, which is a good point,” Board of Fi­nance mem­ber An­drea Moore said af­ter the de­bate.

Will Haskell, the 22-yearold Demo­cratic can­di­date for the 26th state Se­nate District, at­tended the de­bate al­though his op­po­nent, in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Toni Boucher, did not. The state should im­ple­ment a toll sys­tem, like all of the states be­tween Maine and North Carolina, in or­der to fund in­fras­truc­ture im­prove­ments in the state, Haskell said.

“So many out-of-state driv­ers and trucks have a huge wear and tear on our roads, and yet we are not ask­ing them to con­trib­ute. That doesn’t make us uniquely ad­van­taged as Con­necti­cut tax­pay­ers, it makes us uniquely dis­ad­van­taged be­cause we bear the sole brunt of main­tain­ing our in­fras­truc­ture, and that’s why it’s crum­bling,” Haskell said.

The state has given cor­po­rate tax breaks to com­pa­nies like GE and got­ten noth­ing in re­turn, Haskell said, adding the state should in­stead put money to­ward the stu­dent loan for­give­ness pro­gram, tax re­lief for small busi­nesses, and in­vest­ment in the state’s in­fras­truc­ture and cities.

“I think it’s time we start to think of our­selves in Con­necti­cut not as 169 dif­fer­ent towns, but as a re­gional econ­omy. West­port is no bet­ter off if Bridge­port is crum­bling and in fact, we’d be bet­ter off in this town if we had a thriv­ing metropoli­tan area just nearby,” Haskell said.

Haskell re­ceived high praise from de­bate at­ten­dees, in­clud­ing West­port res­i­dent Nancy Ax­thelm, who said, “He’s the bright­est young guy we’ve seen in a long time,” and former Board of Fi­nance mem­ber John Hartwell, who said, “Will Haskell was by far the most ar­tic­u­late and the most en­gag­ing. He’s be­come a real su­per­star.”

Gail Lavielle, a Repub­li­can state rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the 143 House District, also par­tic­i­pated in the de­bate in the ab­sence of her op­po­nent, Demo­crat Stephanie Thomas.

“I be­lieve the most se­ri­ous is­sue fac­ing us is the con­di­tions that are cur­rently in the con­tract with the state em­ployee unions,” Lavielle said, adding she would work to re­open the state em­ployee con­tracts in the next leg­isla­tive ses­sion in or­der to rene­go­ti­ate a de­crease in the cost of state em­ployee ben­e­fits, which she said pose an un­fair bur­den for tax­pay­ers.

So­phie Vaughan / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

State leg­is­la­ture can­di­dates Will Haskell, Greg Kraut, Gail Lavielle and Jonathan Stein­berg par­tic­i­pate in a de­bate hosted by the West­port-We­ston Cham­ber of Com­merce and mod­er­ated by lo­cal lawyer Jay San­dak, cen­ter.

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