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136th District race: Former RTM colleagues now rivals for House seat

Published 12:26 pm, Wednesday, October 10, 2012

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  • State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, is seeking to win a second term in the state House of Representatives in the Nov. 6 election. Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News

    State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, is seeking to win a second term in the state House of Representatives in the Nov. 6 election.

    Photo: Paul Schott

 

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THE CANDIDATES Republican: Stephen Rubin Current position: Receptionist-clerk, Westport Parks and Recreation Department (since 1997) Top issues: Economic recovery and job growth; tax cuts and incentives for small businesses; ending unfunded mandates for schools; improving commuter rail lines Other experience: Westport Representative Town Meeting member since 1993 Age: 68 Education: High school diploma, Rhodes Academy, New York City Democrat: Jonathan Steinberg Current position: State representative, 136th Assembly District (since 2010) Top issues: Economic recovery and job growth; clean and renewable-energy initiatives; environmental protection; improving rail and road infrastructure Other experience: Worked more than 25 years as marketing executive for companies including Bristol-Myers Squibb, American Home Products/Wyeth and Revlon. Age: 56 Education: Yale University, bachelor of arts; New York University, master of business administration
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This year's race for Westport's 136th Assembly District seat is a contest between two former colleagues.

Incumbent Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg and Republican challenger Stephen Rubin served together in the the Representative Town Meeting from 2003 to 2010.

Steinberg was elected to his first term in 2010, defeating Republican Nitzy Cohen by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent.

The 136th District covers most of Westport, both geographically and demographically. Its borders for the Nov. 6 election have shifted because of redistricting: It adds a section of southeast Westport that had been in the 133rd District, which is now entirely within Fairfield, and loses a western portion of the town between the Saugatuck River and the Norwalk border to the 143rd District.

Against the backdrop of a 9 percent state unemployment rate, Steinberg and Rubin square off in an election expected to hinge on voters' economic interests.

"Even though we are two years further away from the depths of the financial crisis, for Connecticut, jobs and the economy remain the No. 1 priority," Steinberg said. "There are probably some people in Westport who have fared better than many others in the state of Connecticut, but there are a lot of people hurting both here and elsewhere."

Rubin also emphasized voters' focus on the state's economy.

"Obviously, the economy is the top issue and that's controlled by jobs, jobs and jobs," he said.

Assessing the incumbent

The two candidates, unsurprisingly, have differing assessments of Steinberg's performance in Hartford during the last two years.

Steinberg, a member of the state General Assembly's Energy and Technology Committee, argues that he has been active in drafting new legislation, pointing to his role in helping to write part of a major energy reform bill passed last year by the state General Assembly.

"Along with another freshman legislator, Rep. Brian Becker, of West Hartford, we were nuisances in the Energy and Technology Committee, and we kind of pestered the chairs to the point where they gave us a small part of the energy bill to work on," Steinberg said. "And that ended up being `Lead by Example,' the energy conservation program going on in state and municipal buildings across the state."

Steinberg also highlighted his role in helping the town to secure a $500,000 state grant to assist renovating the Levitt Pavilion, and a $300,000 contribution from the state for replacement of the roof at the Saugatuck Apartments senior-housing complex on Bridge Street. In addition, he cited his support of the town's successful bid this year to obtain state Department of Transportation approval for the installation of a solar array on the roof of the eastbound platform at the Saugatuck Metro-North Railroad Station.

Rubin faulted Steinberg for what he calls the legislator's deference to his party and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

"Jonathan Steinberg has voted 98 percent of the time with the governor," he said. "Things do not get done by voting with the governor 98 percent of the time. We are at a loss in the state of Connecticut because it's a one-party-controlled system. The right of veto has been taken away from our governmental system. That is probably the most important difference between Jonathan and I."

While Steinberg has sided with Malloy on recent legislation related to job creation, energy policy and mandated paid sick leave, he took an opposing stance when he voted last year against Malloy's proposed $40 billion biennial state budget.

Civic involvement

Both men have strong records of civic involvement in Westport. Steinberg, 56, is the president of the board of the Westport Cinema Initiative, a nonprofit group seeking to raise money to build a new movie theater in downtown Westport. Before his election to the state House in 2010, he was chairman of the Downtown Plan Subcommittee, which proposed a number of revitalization initiatives for the town center. In addition to his legislative work, Steinberg offers SAT and ACT tutoring to Westport students and pupils in other Fairfield County communities.

Rubin, 68, has served since 1993 in the RTM. He represents District 7, which borders Fairfield and stretches north from Post Road East to Cross Highway. Since 1997, he has worked professionally as a receptionist-clerk in Westport's Parks and Recreation Department. He is also a justice of the peace and active in a number of Westport nonprofit organizations, such as Al's Angels, which helps children and families affected by childhood cancer.

Goals

If elected as a state representative, Rubin said he would resign from his job in the Parks and Recreation Department. He argued his experience as a public-sector employee would be an asset in Hartford.

"I know what it's like for a department to lose people and the department still goes on," Rubin said. "The experience I received working for the town as a public servant, being involved with a union, would give me a great advantage over others in the state legislature who do not have that experience."

Rubin added that his top legislative priorities in Hartford would be to reduce taxes on small businesses and give them tax advantages to stay in the state; end unfunded mandates for schools; and to improve the state's commuter rail lines.

Steinberg said, if re-elected, he would like to pursue legislation to repeal a state ban that precludes municipalities from implementing pesticide regulations more stringent than state standards. He would also co-introduce legislation to ban the import to Connecticut of material used in hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, he said.

"Westport is getting somebody who has long been committed and loves the town, but also someone who is very experienced and has a real strength of relationships in the Hartford community that will benefit the town," Steinberg added.

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott

THE CANDIDATES

Republican: Stephen Rubin

Current position: Receptionist-clerk, Westport Parks and Recreation Department (since 1997)

Top issues: Economic recovery and job growth; tax cuts and incentives for small businesses; ending unfunded mandates for schools; improving commuter rail lines

Other experience: Westport Representative Town Meeting member since 1993

Age: 68

Education: High school diploma, Rhodes Academy, New York City

Democrat: Jonathan Steinberg

Current position: State representative, 136th Assembly District (since 2010)

Top issues: Economic recovery and job growth; clean and renewable-energy initiatives; environmental protection; improving rail and road infrastructure

Other experience: Worked more than 25 years as marketing executive for companies including Bristol-Myers Squibb, American Home Products/Wyeth and Revlon.

Age: 56

Education: Yale University, bachelor of arts; New York University, master of business administration