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It is important for Connecticut and the nation to have someone like Chris Shays in a senior position

It is important for Connecticut and the nation to have someone like Chris Shays in a senior position

It is important for Connecticut and the nation to have someone like Chris Shays in a senior position

Farrell versus Shays

By JENNIFER CONNIC Hour Staff Writer

REGION -- The region could be facing one of the liveliest campaigns for its U.S. House of Representatives seat in recent years.

It became official last week that Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell, a Democrat, will face off against Republican incumbent Christopher Shays, who has held the 4th Congressional District seat since 1987.

Chief elected officials throughout the region already have strong opinions on the race.

"This should be a good campaign with lots of issues coming out," said Wilton First Selectman Paul Hannah, a Republican. "It will give Chris the opportunity to meet with the people and hear their issues." Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss, also a Republican, said, "I love Diane, but I'm voting for Chris. How can you vote against a 17-year congressman with a good record?" Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp, a Democrat, said he believes Farrell has more support than any other contender in the last 15 years.

"Some planets seem to have lined up, and I think John Kerry will do well in the district as will Chris Dodd and that will filter down to Diane," he said. "Diane is more well-known and a better candidate than we have had in recent campaigns." While many have begun to focus on the Shays-Farrell showdown, Shays said he will not begin to campaign until the summer.

"I have a job to do, and I need to do my job," he said. "If I do my job well, I will be re-elected. It all depends on the people." Farrell, however, said she believes Shays' views are not in tune with the district.

Farrell said she is running because she has a strong disagreement with the current administration.

"I believe Chris has changed," she said. "He's not an independent anymore and is a reflection of the administration. I don't dispute that he was an independent thinker in 1987, but the last few years he has not been independent. I have been told by some Republicans that they believe the party has been hijacked in Washington and is not a reflection of the Republicans in the district." Shays said there are a number of issues that will be discussed over the next few months including education, transportation and terrorism.

"Our economy is changing, and we need to make sure people are educated for the new jobs," he said. "A million jobs are lost and created every year. We have to make sure people are qualified and educated for those jobs." Making sure everyone is educated is why he voted for the No Child Left Behind Act, Shays said.

"We need to make sure everyone does well, and there are consequences if they are not doing well," he said.

Shays said the primary focus of his work has been on transportation and on the rail system.

The entire New Haven line needs to be upgraded and new cars ordered, he said.

Additionally, freight needs to be moved on the rail lines, which is why he endorses endeavors for a tunnel or rail bridge across the Hudson River.

Shays said in the region only 3 percent of freight moves on rail lines while 40 percent is the average across the remainder of the country.

The federal government also needs to work better with homeland security in giving the military and emergency responders the training and equipment they need in the changing world, he said.

Farrell sees things differently concerning Shays' record.

While he supported the No Child Left Behind Act, she said, he did not support the funding to implement it nor has he supported other educational funding.

"I have spent so much time in this office fighting for education, and it is the prime driver for tax increases across the region," she said.

Additionally, she said, she does not believe transportation has been a priority for Shays.

"He hasn't brought us back as much money, but we are in the poorest shape with our transportation system," she said.

The 2nd Congressional District received $44.5 million in transportation funding, Farrell said, while her home district received approximately $14 million.

"We're not getting our fair share," she said. "Vermont and Rhode Island are getting more money than us." Farrell said she has also been involved with homeland security, bringing her own emergency responders the training and equipment necessary to keep residents safe.

"On Sept. 11 (2001), I looked into the faces of our police officers, firefighters and EMTs and saw how upset they were," she said. "I will keep them in mind when I'm in Washington." Republicans across the region, however, agree that if Farrell wins, they would be losing someone who has experience that cannot be replaced.

Westport Republican Town Committee Chairman Pete Wolgast said he believes the district has the best representative in the country.

"He does a great job listening to the people," he said. "It would be a tremendous blow if we elect someone who doesn't know how things work in Washington. We are well served by Chris." Districts always have suffered when a long-standing incumbent is replaced by someone new, he said.

"It would place the district at a disadvantage," he said.

Shays said if he is not elected again, the district loses his personal experiences in a job that he works 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"My friends (in Congress) are people who are in a position to help me," he said. "I listen and learn, try to help and lead. Sometimes that means taking unpopular positions." Bliss said Shays has been more connected to his community since redistricting than any previous representative.

"I don't know why Diane is running," he said.

Hannah said seniority in Congress is important.

"It is important for Connecticut and the nation to have someone like Chris Shays in a senior position," he said. "(If Farrell is elected) I don't think we would have the ability to make our views known as we do now." Democrats, however, believe Farrell would bring a new energy that has been lacking in the representation of the district.

Knopp said Farrell's perspective will give a special urgency in dealing with problems.

"The general perception is that the participation between the federal government and cities has broken down," he said. "I believe she would restore that partnership." Education, transportation and homelessness are among the city issues that would be of higher federal importance than being left to the cities to work out on their own, Knopp said.

Westport Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Martha Aasen said she is not an optimistic person, but she believes Farrell will win.

"She works very hard, and I haven't seen this type of support for someone in a long time," she said. "The whole district seems to be behind her." Westport Selectman Carl Leaman, a Democrat who has been one of Farrell's closest confidants during her six years as first selectwoman, said he believes Farrell can do great things in Washington.

"She will be a leader in the House given enough time," he said.

If Farrell does win, the town would be run by the remaining two Board of Selectmen members -- Leaman and Republican John Izzo -- together with Finance Director Donald Miklus.

Leaman said he intends to run for the vacant first selectman position for the remainder of Farrell's term, which expires in November 2005, if she wins.

"I would continue doing the things she's done throughout this administration," he said. "Things shouldn't be any different for that last year. I've been in training for this for 19 years." Farrell said she believes there would be stability in the town because of the wonderful department directors who provide a tremendous service to the town.

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Story Source: The Hour

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