Economy, COVID dominate state House debate in Greenwich

GREENWICH — With a crowded slate of six candidates — who all practiced social distancing — the three races for the state House of Representatives in Greenwich were all combined into one debate Thursday night.

The League of Women Voters of Greenwich hosted the debate at Town Hall and streamed it via Zoom.

The match-ups saw Republican Kimberly Fiorello and Democrat Kathleen Stowe face off in the 149th District, which includes part of Stamford; incumbent Democrat Stephen Meskers and Republican challenger Joe Kelly in the 150th District; and incumbent Republican Harry Arora and Democratic challenger Hector Arzeno in the 151st District.

Under the format, the six candidates were part of the same debate. Issues like the economy, transportation and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic dominated as they were asked the same questions.

All had time for reply but the format did not allow for much back and forth dialogue between the opponents. But on the topic of small business in the state, the candidates were in big agreement.

Stowe, vice chair of the Greenwich Board of Education, said she could speak personally about the opportunity for Connecticut as New Yorkers relocate here during the pandemic. She said the goal should be to persuade the new residents to stay — and to get businesses to move to Connecticut, too. Stowe, who has a background in investment banking and private equity, runs a financial technology company with her father. She said they were planning on leaving New York and possibly relocating their business to Connecticut.

“Once people see how wonderful Connecticut is they’ll want to stay here,” she said. “Businesses always come and they stay where they’re welcomed. … As a state, we should be recruiting companies just like mine. We have the key ingredients, but we need to enhance it with an economic development effort and streamlining bureaucracy and red tape. And we need to expand our state venture capital effort.”

Fiorello, a member of Greenwich’s Representative Town Meeting, said not enough is done to grow businesses in the state and said that Connecticut is one of the most business-unfriendly states in the country due to laws and taxes.

“This needs to change and the change really comes from not doing more of the same,” Fiorello said. “I pledge to be a voice for the small businesses.”

Doing that, Fiorello said, would convince renters in Connecticut to become home buyers.

Kelly, who is also a member of the Board of Education, said that in the more than 20 years he has owned small businesses in Connecticut, the state has never reached out to him about how it could help.

“I pay my taxes, I pay my fees,” he said. “I think last month I employed about 35 or 40 people. Basically, I got no help from the state at all. I love Connecticut. I love Greenwich. I want to stay here. I could take my businesses anywhere, but I love it here. We have to change that it’s not comfortable for

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