Editor’s note: Do you have a question for the candidates? Share it with us in the form below or by visiting Myrecordjournal.com/Voices.
MERIDEN — Candidates in the 13th Senate District race will answer questions on the key campaign issues during a virtual forum Thursday evening.
Democratic incumbent Mary Daugherty Abrams and Republican challenger Len Suzio are scheduled to participate in a forum hosted by the Record-Journal and broadcast on the RJ’s Facebook page beginning Thursday at 8 p.m. The forum had previously been scheduled for 7 p.m.
Candidates will field questions from the R-J, as well as reader questions, which can be submitted using the form below or by going to Myrecordjournal.com/Voices. Questions can also be posted in the comment section during the forum.
Candidates will be given two minutes to answer a question, and then their opponent will also be given two minutes to answer the same question, with questions alternating between candidates.
The 13th Senate District covers all of Meriden and Middlefield and parts of Cheshire and Middletown. Abrams unseated Suzio in 2018 in her first-ever run for public office, receiving 19,502 votes, or 52.4 percent, to Suzio’s 17,708 votes, or 47.6 percent.
Even though registered Democrats far outnumber other parties in the 13th Senate District, the district has become a political battleground of sorts over the past decade, swinging between Republicans and Democrats several times with razor-thin margins in many cases. In 2016, Suzio defeated Democratic incumbent Dante Bartolomeo by less than 1,000 votes to earn his second term in Hartford. He previously lost a race to Bartolomeo in 2014 by a few hundred votes.
Both Abrams and Suzio admitted this year’s race has been different due to pandemic restrictions, with less door-knocking and public forums than in past years.
Abrams, a retired educator, and Suzio, a bank regulatory compliance consultant, share divergent views on a number of key social and policy issues, including the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Suzio argues the state has been “a little too slow” to loosen pandemic restrictions and get the economy fully up and running.
On Oct. 8, the state began its third phase of loosening pandemic restrictions on business, allowing restaurants and service businesses to increase their allowable capacities and allowing other venues such as performing arts centers to reopen for the first time.
“I understand that we have to be prudent and careful about things, but there’s thousands of Connecticut businesses right now that are hanging by their fingertips, and if we continue the lock down to the extent that we have, they may not survive it, and that’s going to have a drastic impact on our economy itself,” he said. “So I think that the virus is hurting us in more than just healthcare, it’s hurting us in terms of financial health, and it’s done so because of the reduced economic activity.”
"I think that the virus is hurting us in more than just healthcare, it’s hurting us in terms of financial health, and it’s done so because of the reduced economic activity."
-Republican Len Suzio
Abrams, co-chair of the legislature’s Public Health Committee, said she’s been proud of how the state has responded to the pandemic. While Abrams understands the economic concerns, she said those must be balanced with safety and consumer confidence.
“I’ve been very involved with supporting small businesses and individuals with getting financial support through this. I do understand that it has been a burden for many people and has caused a lot of financial hardship in this state as it has everywhere. However, just opening the state is not the answer because … we have to make sure that peoples’ health and safety is first taken care of, and then they’ll have the confidence to resume their lives.”
Abrams, 61, was unsure whether she would seek reelection earlier this year due to personal and family circumstances. When the pandemic hit, she said she felt a responsibility to continue her work as chair of Public Health.
“I knew this wasn’t going to resolve itself anytime soon, so I spoke with my family, and I gave it a lot of thought, and I realized I could be of service and that I should continue the work,” Abrams said.
Suzio, 72, said the decision to jump back in wasn’t an easy one but he ultimately felt like he could help the state turn around financially.
"Just opening the state is not the answer because … we have to make sure that peoples’ health and safety is first taken care of, and then they’ll have the confidence to resume their lives."
-Democratic Sen. Mary Abrams
“The virus has really exacerbated what was already a disastrous situation financially,” Suzio said, noting the state is facing a massive projected budget deficit in the next biennium.
Suzio, who was one of the most outspoken lawmakers against tolls during his last term, expected highway tolls to be the dominant campaign issue when he decided to run earlier this year before the pandemic “blew everything out of the water.”
Gov. Ned Lamont pulled the plug on a trucks-only highway toll proposal in February after he claimed lawmakers dragged their feet on holding a vote. The issue has remained on the backburner during the pandemic, but Suzio anticipates it will resurface during the next term.
“They’re certainly going to come back next year because the virus has wrecked the state’s economy and wrecked the state’s budget, and the argument for tolls was that they were a necessity due to financial issues,” Suzio said.
Asked about her position on tolls, Abrams said in a written statement, “Connecticut desperately needs to upgrade its transportation infrastructure. I will continue to work with both sides of the aisle to find solutions to make these critical investments.”
Abrams and Suzio also hold opposing views on the police accountability bill passed by the legislature and signed into law earlier this year following the police killing of George Floyd.
Suzio called the legislation a “grave mistake” and “an insult to the men and women in blue who put their lives on the line protecting us.”
“Certainly the death of George Floyd was just horrific to watch and was upsetting to any normal person with any kind of a conscience …. but you don’t make laws for the exception, and I don’t believe there’s systemic racism behind the badges of the men and women in blue in our community,” Suzio said. “I believe that cases like George Floyd are the exception to the rule, and therefore passing a law aimed at all police officers as if they were all culpable of that heinous behavior exhibited against George Floyd I think was way beyond the bounds of what was called for.”
Abrams, who voted in favor of the bill, said she rejected the either-or proposition that supporting the bill makes someone anti-police or that opposing the bill makes someone racist.
“I think I’m very supportive of the police, I’m very grateful for the work that they do, and I don’t think holding police accountable means that I don’t support them,” Abrams said, noting she voted in favor of raises for State Police this past term. “... I think that’s a false narrative, and it’s being used as a political divide.”
Abrams disagreed with Suzio’s statement that systemic racism doesn’t exist in law enforcement, calling it “just inaccurate.”
“To say that we don’t have racism in this district, shows to me how very out-of-touch my opponent is with what’s happening in our district and in our state,” Abrams said. “I think systemic racism exists in a lot of places, not exclusively law enforcement.”