First-time candidate challenging veteran lawmaker in 19th Senate District race
Republican Pietro “Rocky” Camardella, a political novice, is challenging five-term state Sen. Cathy Osten, a Sprague Democrat, in the 19th Senate District, which includes Norwich and nine other mostly small, rural towns.
Camardella, 67, a Norwich resident, has owned a professional photography studio in Norwich since 1986 and for the past eight years has hosted a weekly radio talk show. In an interview last week, he said Republican Party members approached him in February about running for the state legislature ― either the 139th House seat or the 19th Senate seat, both held by long-serving Democratic incumbents.
“At first, I thought they wanted me to do portraits,” Camardella said.
He consulted friends, he said, expecting them to tell him he’d be “crazy” to run, but elicited an opposite reaction.
“You have to do it,” he said his friends told him.
An unaffiliated voter since immigrating from Italy in 1981, Camardella opted to pursue the Senate seat, registering as a Republican and announcing his candidacy in April.
“I am a conservative, a Christian,” he said.
Osten, 67, co-chairs the legislature’s Appropriations and Public Safety and Security committees, and has established herself as an advocate for constituencies that include senior citizens, workers and Connecticut’s state-recognized Indian tribes. In recent years, she’s pushed to restore to peak levels the gaming revenue distributed to eastern Connecticut towns through the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund.
While campaigning for reelection, she said she has found voters interested in national issues and, locally, property tax reform.
“It’s a different cycle,” she said. “People are very receptive to door knocking. Maybe it’s the easing of COVID. People want to have a conversation at the door even if they’re against you. It’s very different from two years ago.”
In addition to Norwich and Sprague, the 19th Senate District includes Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough and part of Montville.
Camardella, in a video interview with The Day, also said the economy was among the topics of greatest concern to voters. Responding to a question about how the affordable housing crisis should be tackled, he said lawmakers should first and foremost concern themselves with the economy “so the self-employed are not struggling, the elderly are not struggling.”
“Why don’t we worry about making it easy and affordable to do business in Connecticut?” he said.
Osten, presented with the same set of questions in a separate video interview, equated affordable housing with “workforce housing.” She said eastern Connecticut needs housing for new teachers, new police officers, new engineers and those working at Electric Boat and its subcontractors as well as at the casinos and the Submarine Base. It requires, she said, redirecting the affordable housing money the quasi-public Connecticut Housing Finance Authority makes available to homebuyers, most of which has gone to western Connecticut.
During the legislative session that ended in May, Osten voted for legislation that protects from lawsuits out-of-state women who travel to Connecticut for abortions and the physicians who provide the abortions. Democratic lawmakers began working on the bill even before the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade was leaked.
“We recognized … that we were going to have to do something in order to provide people who are here in Connecticut the absolute right to choice,” Osten said.
Regarding the state’s abortion law, Camardella said legislatures should reflect the will of the people, a theme he repeated more than once during the video interview.
“Connecticut passed a law to make a safe haven,” he said. “The citizens of other states will have to comply with the will of the people of other states.”
Osten expressed strong support for paying down the state’s pension debt with most of the more than $4 billion state budget surplus rather than returning a greater portion to taxpayers, as some have advocated. After some 70 years of neglect, she said the state employees’ and teachers’ retirement funds have been stabilized.
“We are finally making concrete efforts to pay down that debt, not only with surplus but also with the policy changes we have made,” Osten said.
Camardella had a different take on the budget surplus.
“It’s an easy question,” he said. “We should return it to the people. … When we’re told we have an excess because the federal government gave us money or whatever, yes, relieve the burden on we the people.”
The candidates were asked whether the 2020 election was conducted fairly and whether Joe Biden won. Both said Biden won.
“Joe Biden has been president and we all are suffering the consequence of that because we know what happened with the border …,” said Camardella, who questioned the president’s handling of immigration.
Commenting further on the 2020 election, he referred to an “episode” in which he said 200,000 more votes were counted in a Michigan county than there were “people allowed to vote.” The incident, attributed to a clerk’s typo, gave rise to allegations of fraud that were debunked at the time.
“I believe in the rule of law,” said Camardella, who served in the Italian Navy. “We should be sure that the citizens have the right to speak their mind, have the right to vote for whoever they want. … I would encourage and exhort everyone … go to vote.”
Osten has twice voted in the legislature for an early voting amendment to the state constitution, which will appear on Election Day ballots. She also supports voting by mail.
“I think we need to expand the ability to vote,” she said.
Camardella indicated he was not opposed to early voting in certain circumstances. As for voting by mail, he said, “Why? It’s an honor, a duty, a privilege” to vote in person.