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Senate colleagues honor Prague

By Jeffrey A. Johnson and JC Reindl

Publication: theday.com

Published May 09. 2012 3:00PM   Updated May 10. 2012 3:20PM
Tim Martin/The Day
Lena Ferguson, right, of the state Department of Correction says goodbye to state Sen. Edith Prague, of the 19th District, in the Senate chamber during the final day of the 2012 legislative session at the Connecticut State Capitol Wednesday, May 9, 2012.
Fellow senators praise her strong beliefs and her willingness to listen to others

Hartford — Wednesday provided an opportunity for reflection for Edith Prague, who for nearly two hours heard her fellow state senators describe the impact she has made during her 30 years in state government.

One by one, Prague's colleagues stood up on the Senate floor and spoke about her strong will and enthusiasm, her willingness to champion efforts for senior citizens, and her unmistakable personality that balanced her strong convictions with a willingness to hear others who argued a different point of view.

Yet even as they saluted her, her colleagues and fellow Democrats were discussing who would run for the seat she has held for eight years, and Prague herself made an endorsement.

She said Wednesday that the stroke she suffered in December was the main factor in her decision to retire. She said her doctor advised that future stressful situations could threaten her health.

She said she would endorse Sprague Democratic First Selectman Cathy Osten as her successor. "She's a very strong labor person," Prague said.

Osten said Wednesday that she would run for Prague's seat. She previously had announced that she would run this fall for the 47th District House seat that was to be vacated by Christopher Coutu, R-Norwich, so he could run against incumbent Congressman Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

Coutu also made an announcement Wednesday, saying he is considering suspending his campaign against Courtney to run for Prague's seat.

Coutu told The Day that he would discuss the matter with his wife and announce his decision this afternoon. He said that in either case, he would not run again for the state House.

State Rep. Tom Reynolds, D-Ledyard, also is said to be considering a run for Prague's seat.

Prague was elected to the state Senate in 1994 and has since served the 19th District, which includes Andover, Bozrah, Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Sprague, and portions of Montville and Norwich.

A resident of Columbia, she is a former schoolteacher who won her first election to the House in 1982. She served until 1990, when she was named commissioner of the former state Department of Aging under then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker.

"My colleagues today have made me feel like I have accomplished my life's work," Prague said from the Senate floor.

It was a fitting send off for the 86-year-old. The eldest member of the General Assembly, she announced Tuesday that she would not seek re-election.

Prague became emotional at times during her colleagues' speeches, but referenced a $5 bet she made with staff that she wouldn't cry when she spoke.

She won that bet — and clearly the respect of her peers.

"Every single day has been a day of urgency for Edith," state Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said. "Most people take a certain period of time when they kind of coast or they're not operating on all cylinders. But every single day that we were here, Edith had the sense of urgency as if that day was the last day for her to get things done."

State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, who sits next to Prague in the Senate chamber, said Prague's passion and mission to make people's lives better will leave an extraordinary legacy at the Capitol. Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams, D-Brooklyn, said elected officials half Prague's age cannot match her energy.

Prague, a widow with four daughters and nine grandchildren, was quick to remind her colleagues that this is not the end of the road. She said she would continue to watch them and follow the General Assembly.

"Does life get any better than this?" Prague asked in brief remarks to her colleagues. "I feel so fulfilled and so proud. It is very rare that somebody has the opportunity in life to be in this kind of a position."

In a brief interview Wednesday, the final day of the 2012 legislative session, Coutu said a state Senate seat appeals to him because he would have more influence over legislation as one of 36 lawmakers, in comparison to being one of 151 representatives in the House.

As for the congressional race, Coutu said he is having second thoughts about leaving his family for extended periods of time if elected to Washington.

He also acknowledged that his campaign to unseat Courtney, a Democratic incumbent with a substantial fundraising advantage, is an uphill battle.

If Coutu and Osten were to face off in the election it would be the second time. He outpolled her 57 percent to 42 percent in the 2010 election for the 47th House District.


j.reindl@the day.com

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