Both the incumbent and challenging candidates are introducing themselves to Westport voters this fall in the race for state representative in the 143rd Assembly District.
After the boundaries of Connecticut's congressional and state legislative districts were redrawn last year, a section of the 143rd District in the state House of Representatives now includes part of Westport between Norwalk and the Saugatuck River, stretching from Metro-North's New Haven rail line to just north of the Merritt Parkway. The reconfigured district also covers parts of Wilton and Norwalk.
Both the candidates identify the state's economic condition as the top issue in the 2012 campaign. The election takes place Nov. 6.
"Seniors feel they can't afford to stay here, college graduates can't get a job and experienced professionals from all over are out of work for months and years," Lavielle said. "People and businesses fear they don't have a future here. They are paying higher and higher taxes and they aren't getting anything back."
Hoffstatter argues that taking advantage of renewable energy sources can help spur economic growth in the state.
"Eventually, there's going to be a shift to renewable resources, so along with bio-tech, I think if Connecticut gets ahead of the curve on developing things like wind and solar, we can actually grow jobs here long-term," he said. "If we make an economic environment that is favorable for companies like that to come here, not only do we bring jobs to Connecticut, we do something positive for the environment."
Lavielle, 55, was elected to her first term in the state House of Representatives in 2010 by defeating the 143rd District's Democratic incumbent, Peggy Reeves, by a 53-to-47-percent margin.
During her first term in Hartford, Lavielle served on the state General Assembly's Appropriations, Education and Transportation committees.
She highlights her role on a Republican legislative team, which wrote an alternative state budget in 2011, and an amendment she proposed to the education reform bill passed earlier this year, which would have allowed "high-performing" school districts such Westport and Wilton to opt out of certain unfunded state mandates. Neither of those proposals was approved by the General Assembly, but Lavielle said those initiatives reflect her active legislative approach to tackling key state and district issues.
Republicans "offered a fully vetted budget and a fully vetted set of midterm adjustments, and when they (Democrats) didn't accept any of that, we offered to the budget itself more than 80 amendments, each of them a compromise," she said. "That is something that I'm proud of -- that we didn't just sit there and say no. We have always offered alternatives."
Advocating for Metro-North rail commuters in the 143rd District also ranks as a top legislative priority, Lavielle said.
"It is inconvenient, it is uncomfortable and above all it is not altogether safe," she said of Metro-North. "I think before you go constructing projects where the ridership is speculative, that you need to fix and upgrade and put in working order something that already has 39 million passenger rides a year and is essential to the economy."
Hoffstatter declined to offer an assessment of Lavielle's performance during her first term. Instead, he compared himself to her by emphasizing his platform as an independent-minded Democrat.
"I think I can make more progress in a fiscally conservative direction for our budget," he said. "I think I'm a stronger advocate for our energy future and environment."
The candidates' reluctance to criticize each other is informed by proximity and familiarity: They live two streets away from each other and refer to each other as friends
Before her election to the House of Representatives, Lavielle worked for more than 25 years in finance, marketing and communications positions, including stints as chief executive officer of a subsidiary of Interpublic Group, a global marketing communications and marketing services company, and senior vice president of Suez Environment, a global water and wastewater services corporation. Lavielle also serves as a member of Wilton's Board of Finance; her current term on that panel runs until 2013.
Hoffstatter, 43, has served as a Wilton selectman since 2007. He works as a social studies teacher in Wilton public schools, and he has also taught in Bridgeport, Stamford and New Haven. In addition, he is an actor who has appeared in Broadway plays and on television. He also has a role in an independent film set for a theatrical release this winter.
A teacher since 2004, Hoffstatter backs the state's new education reform law. He is also a union member, but he says he would take a harder line on unionized state workers' compensation and benefits than many other Democratic legislators.
"In tough times, I am more fiscally conservative than many Democrats because I will ask for union pay freezes, I will ask for some concessions," he said. "They (unions) exist for a reason and they need to protect their workers. But they also need to be reasonable in tough economic times."
Job creation, budget control and a "clean-energy" future would comprise Hoffstatter's top legislative goals, if elected, he said.
He would resign from his teaching position and from his seat on the Wilton Board of Selectmen if he became a state representative, he added.
If re-elected, Lavielle plans to focus on many of the issues that dominated her legislative agenda during her first term.
"We need to eliminate unfunded mandates on schools and towns," she said. "We need to keep working on education. We need to once and for all upgrade Metro-North and make it safe and make sure that there are enough trains on the branch lines. We need to continue to make this environment more favorable, so we can bring jobs back to Connecticut."
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott
Democrat: Ted Hoffstatter
Current position: Social studies teacher, Wilton public schools; member, Wilton Board of Selectmen
Other experience: Also taught in Bridgeport, Stamford and New Haven; ran landscaping and boat cleaning company; professional actor who has appeared in Broadway, television and film roles
Republican: Gail Lavielle
Current position: state representative, 143rd District; member, Wilton Board of Finance
Other experience: Worked more than 25 years in finance, marketing and communications positions. Wrote book on opera and worked as a music critic for the Wall Street Journal
Education: bachelor of arts, Cornell University: master of arts in French, Yale University: master of business administration, University of Connecticut