Candidates square off at Trumbull High

Civility was the order of the day as the three candidates for first selectman engaged in a debate Tuesday night that was notable for its lack of debating.

The event, sponsored by Trumbull Rotary and the Trumbull Chamber of Commerce and moderated by League of Women Voters member Carole Fanslow, featured 14 questions that candidates took turns answering. Candidates were also entitled to brief rebuttals of other candidates’ answers, but took the opportunity to do so only four times. Democrat Vicki Tesoro spoke up three times after Republican Paul Lavoie had concluded his response. Lavoie in turn rebutted Tesoro’s answers once.

Petitioning candidate Michael Redgate opened the debate answering a question about making up the anticipated state funding gap by saying he would not increase taxes but would seek spending cuts that would not affect residents. Redgate also said he favored increasing fees on non-residents who use town parks and other services. On education, which makes up the bulk of the town budget, Redgate said he and school officials would “go through each school and see where we can cut without affecting students.”

Tesoro pointed out that the possible budget cuts were not final.

“I hope legislators do their job and determine a budget not punitive to Trumbull,” she said. Tesoro, too, vowed not to raise taxes and opposed fees on using the town pools and parks.

“We already pay enough taxes and that should be part of it,” she said.

Speaking third, Lavoie said he had already led the way in taking action in his role as the school board’s Finance Committee chairman, requesting that town funds be transferred over to the school budget.

“Had we not done that there would have been teacher layoffs,” he said. “We haven’t sat on the sidelines and waited for our legislature to decide how they’re going to punish Trumbull. We’re taking action today.”

Though the candidates refrained from directly confronting each other for the most part, Tesoro and Lavoie clashed on a question about building the proposed Senior/Community Center, with Tesoro criticizing the Trumbull GOP over its denial of a referendum spot on the November ballot for the project.

“I believe for over a year that this needs to go to a referendum, and what better time than this November?” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen, and we are very much doing a disservice to people by not hearing their voices, and that’s very much a part of this administration.”

Lavoie, in his one rebuttal of the night, said the project was not ready for referendum since there were not yet any firm costs, plans or timetable.

“Asking for it to be on the November ballot is using the election system to take a resident survey,” he said.

Redgate kept with his campaign theme of being a uniter, answering that the town needed to carefully weigh the added value to the community of having a new senior center against the budget increase it would necessitate.

“Seniors say they would like a new senior center, but in the next sentence say they do not want their taxes to go up,” Redgate said. “We have to look not just at the building but the value it adds to the town. That is the only way I feel I can make a proper decision on what is proper for Trumbull.”

Redgate also had the evening’s most interesting moment, passing on a question about Trumbull’s participation in regional development boards.

“That’s a new one for me,” he said. “I’m going to have to research that, I think.”

In their responses, both Tesoro and Lavoie mentioned the proposed MGM casino in Bridgeport, with Tesoro also citing the regional sewer system and Lavoie a potential headquarters that Bridgeport is pursuing.

“It’s a long shot, but we need to make sure the people who have those jobs can have a home in Trumbull,” he said.

Tesoro brought up her time on the Town Council, where she worked to reinstitute public comment as an example of working across the aisle, an action that took three months of negotiating.

“I’m sort of surprised it took that long to allow fellow Trumbullites to speak at meetings,” she said. “Finally, through compromise, that was allowed and rules were changed.”

Lavoie touted his work on the Board of Education, which currently consists of five Republicans and two Democrats.
“I challenge you to come to a meeting and determine who is who,” he said.

Redgate acknowledged that the question put him in an unusual position.

“I don’t have any party lines, so it’s an interesting question for me,” he said before pointing out that his community roles in the Rotary Club, Pisces swim team and YMCA had all been non-partisan, and working in a plug for his campaign slogan.

“Social media tries to divide the town more than it already is, but it really is one Trumbull,” he said.

In his closing statement, Redgate implored the voters to make a change in Trumbull with their vote, and to support the candidates they felt would make Trumbull a better place, regardless of their party affiliation. He also promised a shakeup in local politics if elected.

“If Republicans are here and Democrats are there, the perception is if one moves toward the middle, the other side won,” he said. “That perception has to be smashed.”

Tesoro said politicians in town are talking a lot about civility, but she is actually walking the walk.

“I don’t talk about it, I do it,” she said. “My team reflects that. Democrats, unaffiliateds and former Republican leaders are on my ticket. Get to know people on my team. I think you’ll like what you see.”

Lavoie, who got the last word, touted his experience as a business owner, and ended the debate by asking the viewers a question.

“I’ve led people and I’ve managed budgets,” he said. “When the town has to negotiate a multimillion-dollar wastewater deal, who do you want at the table? Somebody who’s been there and negotiated million-dollar deals, or somebody else?”