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Lt. Gov. Bysiewicz visits Taftville to urge people to fill out 2020 census

Norwich — Taftville residents were surprised — and some a bit scared at first — Tuesday when Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom, two state legislators and a city alderman knocked on their doors or greeted them on their porches and in backyards.

“Did you fill your census out?” Bysiewicz asked as she greeted people in the historic mill village.

The entourage cheered every time someone said “yes,” and offered instructions on how to fill out the census online or by phone to the few residents who said they had not filled it out yet.

Bysiewicz, Nystrom, state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, state Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, both of whom represent Norwich, and Alderman Joseph DeLucia added to the message by handing out canvas bags, water bottles, chip clips, lanyards and even lip balm, all stamped with the U.S. census logo and the message: “Shape your Future. Start Here.”

“If you would encourage any of your neighbors to fill the census out, we’d appreciate it,” Bysiewicz always added, handing out an extra bag to give to a neighbor. “We have all kinds of great swag,” she said.

Resident Arnold Speck told the officials he had not yet filled out the census.

“To be honest with you, it kind of scared me a little bit,” Speck said of finding the group of city and state officials at the door. “It’s good to know you guys are out there, and I appreciate it. I’m glad you guys are able to come around and let us know who you guys are. I appreciate it and thank you for coming by.”

One canvas bag came in handy when the officials reached 17 ½ North A St. and found Tom Lenkiewicz, Lorelei Hime and Armand LeClair enjoying the afternoon sun and breeze sitting beside their lush vegetable garden. Only LeClair had filled out the census. Hime promised to help Lenkiewicz fill out the online census form and then handed Bysiewicz two yellow squashes and a zucchini to put in her bag.

“It’s very important to do it because Norwich gets funding by that,” Osten told one resident. “And it helps to fund the schools and other things, so we really need you to do it. None of us will know that you did it, but we would all appreciate it if you did it today.”

Beverly Solomon was walking with her great-granddaughter Leilani Foster, 4, when Bysiewicz approached on the sidewalk. Solomon said she had filled out the census and knew well how important it is. She worked for the census in 1980, long before online forms simplified the process.

“I think it’s very important we are all counted,” she said. “The only way that funds will go to the people that need the funds is if we’re all counted. I think we can’t be upset about certain communities not having what they need if people don’t fill out their census and make themselves known that they’re there.”

According to a census map on www.2020census.gov, Norwich is lagging behind the state and the nation, with an estimated 59.9% of residents having filled out the census thus far, compared to 65.5% of Connecticut and 62.1% nationwide.

Bysiewicz said she is traveling to hard-to-count communities across the state with the door-to-door neighborhood walks with local officials and members of local Complete Count committees. She has visited Bridgeport, New Haven, Norwalk, Hartford and Waterbury. She asked Nystrom last week to recommend a Norwich neighborhood “that could use the push,” would be easily walkable and where they likely would find residents and business owners.

Bysiewicz said census workers will start the door-to-door enumeration process on July 23. Workers will wear masks and use laptops for “touchless” enumeration, Bysiewicz said. But the push now is to encourage people to fill out the census before the in-person counting begins. The last day to fill out the census is Oct. 31.

“We’re doing well, but we’ve got to convince the other 34% of households to fill it out,” Bysiewicz said of Connecticut’s response thus far.

c.bessette@theday.com

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