Economic viewpoints separate candidates in 2nd District contest

In the four-way race to represent Connecticut's 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives, the candidates can be distinguished by their fundamentally different perspectives on the area's economy.

Incumbent Democrat Joe Courtney, 61, who is seeking a fifth term in Congress, has staunchly insisted that although the region is still recovering from the nationwide economic slump, things are getting progressively better.

"The notion that we're in some kind of death spiral in southeastern Connecticut I think is really overblown," he said in an Oct. 14 debate at the Garde Arts Center. "There's movement, there's activity that's going on right now."

The incumbent readily backs up his statements with data: Real estate sales are up 10 percent, he said during a debate this week, and the 2nd District's unemployment rate is similar to contiguous districts, according to mydistrictdata.com.

Courtney also keeps an eye on local job openings and regularly reports on opportunities available at Electric Boat, Pfizer, Mohegan Sun and other large employers during debates or interviews.

"The fact is that we've got more work to do" to improve the economy, Courtney said, "but I have a proven track record of rolling my sleeves up and being very focused."

His Republican opponent refutes this optimistic outlook.

Candidate Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh, 54, a real estate broker who received 96 votes when she ran for mayor of New London in 2011, said in a statement that Courtney is "ignoring chronic real estate depression" in the district.

"The 64 towns and cities in the Second Congressional District have yet to see a housing recovery and that is indefensible," Hopkins-Cavanagh said in the press release, accusing Courtney of "grasping at straws to justify his failure to revitalize the economy."

"There are no jobs in the 2nd District," Hopkins-Cavanagh said in the Oct. 14 debate. Even the casinos are "shedding jobs," she said, and as a result, "People are hurting."

Courtney and Hopkins-Cavanagh aren't the only candidates vying for the 2nd District seat: Libertarian Dan Reale, 32, a Plainfield paralegal, and Green Party member Bill Clyde, 58, a Madison resident and provost at Manhattan College in the Bronx, say that both Courtney and Hopkins-Cavanagh are a part of the problem.

"Frankly, I do think the two-party system is right now at a low point," said Clyde, an economics professor. He decided to run for Congress - his first time seeking political office - after seeing how positively people responded to his independent-minded essays about political issues.

He and Reale began to get more attention, Clyde said, after they were excluded from the Oct. 14 debate at the Garde.

The two decided to hold their own debate outside the building, where they had to shout to make their voices heard above the din from competing Republican and Democratic rallies.

Since then, Clyde and Reale have appeared on FM station 94.9's political "Lee Elci Show," in a two-way debate aired on MetroCast cable and uploaded to YouTube, and in the four-way Oct. 20 debate in Willimantic.

Clyde said he will "more open-mindedly consider all options" than the Republicans or Democrats and has derived detailed policies on health care, education and other issues from a set of principles he considers common sense.

He has used his economics background to bolster his arguments - for example, he supports universal health care not because it's an inherent right but because he believes that it is economically beneficial to insure peoples' health.

Reale is a perennial Libertarian candidate in the 2nd District race, but this will be his first time with automatic ballot access.

Reale, who believes Democrats and Republicans behave similarly, stresses holding banks accountable and making the health care industry more transparent.

The major party candidates have largely ignored Reale and Clyde, preferring to criticize each other's policies.

Hopkins-Cavanagh has repeatedly described Courtney's work to ensure a submarine contract at Electric Boat as a "one-trick pony" and believes credit for that contract belongs to EB employees and taxpayers.

Courtney, who said he will be the ranking member of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces if re-elected, praised EB workers but defended his record of supporting them.

"The fact is that (EB employees) don't authorize and appropriate the shipbuilding account," Courtney said.

He also said that more than 160 small businesses feed into EB's supply chain, so an effort to retain jobs at that company helps keep many others in business.

Courtney has, in turn, taken aim at some of Hopkins-Cavanagh's statements calling federal government policies "fascist" and "racist."

The Republican has defended those comments at both debates and in an editorial.

"There are certain forces at work in the media and in the Democratic Party that would like to see speech silenced," said Hopkins-Cavanagh, who said she is proud of her honesty. "I refuse to silence my speech."

She said the Obama administration has used a legal argument called disparate impact as an attempt to defend "redistributing our society into different communities."

Courtney said that at the end of the day, lawmakers need to recognize that "the other guy's not goose-stepping around Washington, D.C."

He defended his bipartisan record, pointing to his work with Republicans and independents to keep interest on student loans low.

That's what people are really looking for in a representative, he said, not one "who will go to Congress and say something more outrageous than the other person."

k.catalfamo@theday.com

Twitter: @kccatalfamo

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