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39th House District: Opponents took different roads to New London

New London - If all politics is local, the race for the 39th District House seat might be best described as hyperlocal.

This much is certain: the person who goes to Hartford at the start of the next legislative session to represent two-thirds of New London will have a Colman Street address. In fact, he will be from the block of Colman Street between Cutler and Bank streets.

That's because Ernest Hewett, the incumbent Democrat, and Andrew R. Lockwood, his Republican challenger, live almost directly across the street from one another.

Though the two men have ultimately settled fewer than 200 feet apart - and share some similar experiences - they came to New London from vastly different places.

"Forty years ago, I left my home in Cedar Grove, North Carolina, on a Greyhound bus with $150 in my pocket," Hewett wrote in response to a questionnaire from The Day. "I arrived here in the city of New London, Connecticut, scared to death."

The day after he arrived in the Whaling City, Hewett said he applied for work as a welder at General Dynamics Electric Boat. Hewett was trained in the trade and would go on to work at Electric Boat for the next 20 years.

Like Hewett, Lockwood is not a New London native. He grew up in Stowe, Vt., and later moved with his father to Meriden as a teen. He dropped out of high school to go to work to help his family, he said, but earned his GED before the rest of his classmates graduated.

When he first visited New London in 1978, Lockwood said, he sat in traffic in the city for an hour to get to Ocean Beach Park and was "intrigued by how much business activity there was in the city."

Soon thereafter, he enrolled at Mitchell College and worked at a Howard Johnson in Mystic to pay his tuition. One winter, without a place to live, Lockwood slept in his car at a rest area off of Interstate 95 and showered at work, he said.

"That really gave me insight into how some people live," Lockwood said.

Hewett, too, found himself relying on his car when he was laid off from his job at EB and had to chart a different course.

"In 1995, I was devastated again when I was given a layoff slip," he wrote. "Married with three small children to feed, again I was afraid."

Hewett applied for a home improvement license and set off as an independent contractor, running his new venture out of the trunk of his car.

Two years after being laid off from EB, Hewett was elected to the City Council and in 1999 became the city's mayor. After losing his 2003 bid for a fourth term on the council by 54 votes, Hewett sat on the political sidelines for a year.

He was first elected to the General Assembly in 2004, and since has served as vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, treasurer for the Black and Latino Caucus and deputy majority leader of the state House of Representatives.

In 2013, Hewett was removed from his leadership position as deputy speaker after he made a controversial comment to a 17-year-old female ambassador of the Connecticut Science Center.

The girl, who was testifying before an Appropriations Committee hearing, told the legislators that the science center helped her become less shy and overcome her fear of snakes.

Hewett told the girl, "If you're bashful I got a snake sitting under my desk here."

When Lockwood announced in August his campaign to challenge Hewett, much of his 35-minute speech focused on Hewett's infamous snake comment.

Lockwood called the remark "disgusting," "sexual harassment" and "another black eye on New London."

Though Lockwood has not held elected office, his name has appeared on ballots for local and state offices frequently.

In 2009, he ran on the Republican ticket for City Council and came in last place. The next year, he challenged Hewett for the 39th District seat and lost by a roughly 2-1 margin. And in 2011, Lockwood was a petitioning candidate for mayor and received fewer than 200 votes.

"You are only unsuccessful if you give up," Lockwood said. "In my life, I've never been a quitter."

The parallels between Hewett and Lockwood cease when it comes to policy issues, though.

Perhaps most notably, the two men differ greatly in their views of the gun law passed in the wake of the 2012 Newtown school shooting.

Hewett, who voted in favor of the law, said the law may not go far enough to address gun violence in inner cities and would be open to amending it.

"Our young men and women in the inner cities are not being gunned down by an AK-47, it's hand guns," he said.

Hewett also supports amending the law to better address mental health issues and to "help a parent get through all the red tape getting help for a loved one with a mental illness."

Lockwood, who has been endorsed by the gun rights group Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said he would work to repeal the entirety of the 2013 gun control law.

c.young@theday.com

Twitter: @ColinAYoung

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