Former New London Mayor Daryl Finizio is running for State Senate, challenging Deputy Republican Senate Leader Paul Formica in next November’s election. Finizio led New London from 2011 to 2015, and also works as an attorney.
Formica was first elected to the State Senate in 2014 with 56 percent of the vote. He won reelection handily in 2016 with 60 percent of the vote against Democrat Ryan Henowitz, and beat off challenges from Democrat Martha Marx in his next two races, though by smaller margins: Formica won with 52 percent of the vote in 2018 and 50.6 percent in 2020.
CT Examiner spoke with Finizio about his campaign and policy priorities if elected.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Why did you decide to run for State Senate?
In the last few election cycles in this district, I supported the Democratic candidates, and this time, when I asked around to see who would be the candidate, there didn’t seem to be any names out there. At some point, you stop asking around and start looking in the mirror and say, maybe I’ll run myself. Ideologically, I believe our district would be better served with a senator who I agreed with more on economic issues. I feel that our senator, while a very good man who I get along with rather well, is on the wrong side of a lot of these economic issues.
What are some of the specific differences between you and Sen. Formica?
I’m not certain that Paul Formica will seek reelection, but if he is my opponent, we differ on a lot of economic issues. He has voted against increasing the minimum wage, and when I was mayor of New London, I was the first mayor in the state of Connecticut to raise the municipal minimum wage for city workers and contractors when President Obama called on mayors to do that. He came to Connecticut and recognized me for that effort.
He opposed paid family medical leave, which is something I think is essential for working families. He opposes, and I support, expanding healthcare coverage and working towards a universal healthcare system in our state through healthcare expansion such as a public option. At the end of the day, as you go down the list on a lot of these fundamental economic issues that affect working people in the district, we often find ourselves on opposite sides of the spectrum. We offer voters a real contrast in policy approaches, and hopefully that’s what this election will be about.
What from your tenure as mayor of New London has best prepared you to represent the district in Hartford?
I worked very closely with the state as mayor, because so much of what is done at the municipal level involves state funding, approval, oversight, and partnership. I learned a lot about how the statehouse approaches funding essential services, and during my time as mayor I worked very hard with Senate leadership on PILOT reform. I’ve continued to be a strong supporter of PILOT reform, because we’ve never fully funded PILOT, and funding it as it should be funded would do a great service to our cities and towns so they don’t have to rely as heavily on regressive property taxation, which hurts people hard, especially seniors.
When I was mayor, I proposed a $160 million construction project to rebuild the school system and convert into the first all-magnet regional school district in our state. I think it shows that we can focus on issues like education, while at the same time looking at regionalization and partnerships with the state as a way to defray those local costs.
What have you been up to in the years since you served as New London mayor?
I’ve been practicing law, which keeps me plenty busy, but since leaving office, I’ve done a lot of campaign work. I was the Bernie Sanders campaign director for this county in the 2016 primary, and my law office was the Sanders campaign headquarters for New London. I was also the top vote-getter to be a Sanders delegate that year from this congressional district.
On the local level here in Connecticut, I’ve been lobbying for an increase in the homestead exemption, and worked very closely with Rep. Christine Conley of Groton on this issue. It’s an exemption on people’s primary homes, so if they fall behind on credit card debt or unpaid medical bills, creditors can’t take their homes away from them and their families.
In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, they have a $500,000 exemption, and in Connecticut, our exemption hadn’t been updated in over 20 years, and we had one of the lowest in the country at $75,000. This past legislative session, after two attempts, we finally got that bill through and were able to raise it to $250,000. It’s still not as high as I would like, and if I’m elected I’d like us to have an exemption that is equal to our neighbors at $500,000, but it shows the kinds of issues I’ve been working on even as a private citizen.
Why do you think you could beat Sen. Formica? What sets you apart from his previous Democratic opponents?
In the last few campaigns, sometimes it was hard to differentiate whether the Democratic candidate was running against Paul Formica or Donald Trump. I think that what matters most to voters is not where their local state legislator stands on how we vote for president, it’s where they stand on the economic issues that hit close to home and are affecting them in their day-to-day lives. If that is the focus of the campaign, I believe the clear majority of this district is on our side of that argument. Most people in this district want to see those kinds of policies enacted, and tend to vote that way when it comes to most elected offices, like the governorship, Congress, and the presidency.
Most people like Paul Formica, because he’s a likable person. I like Paul Formica. We worked together when I was mayor of New London and he was first selectman of East Lyme, and I’ve known him for years. I go to his restaurant at least once every few months, because I have to go get some fritters. We’ve always gotten along, but it’s not about who you like, it’s about what you’re doing as a state senator to change the economic situation for people who live in this district. If that’s the focus of the campaign, I think we have a very good chance to win.
Republicans saw better-than-expected results in last Tuesday’s elections, both here in Connecticut and around the country, and traditionally, midterm elections tend not to be beneficial to the party holding the presidency. Are you worried that the national climate will make it harder for you, as a Democrat, to flip this seat next November?
I think first and foremost, the election results may be a little misread. When I was getting involved in politics in the early 1990s, there was a huge backswing after Bill Clinton was elected president and won both houses of Congress. That December, the Republican won a special election in Georgia, and Republicans won all three big races that next November in Virginia, New Jersey and New York City.
I don’t see that this year. Two special runoffs in Georgia both went to the Democrats, and in the elections last Tuesday, the Republicans won one, but Democrats won the other two. After one party wins the White House, a swing to the other in the midterms is what’s been happening for 100 years, but I don’t see as much of a swing happening now as in the past, and the country remains pretty divided, with partisans on either side staunchly in their camp and not moving much.
What about on the local level here in Connecticut?
It was much more of a mixed result in Connecticut, with the Guilford Board of Education race getting turnout way up and Democrats winning. In other towns where there weren’t as many big policy discussions going on, voter turnout was lower, and Republicans won, but even then they weren’t blowouts. This really will come down to turnout, and I think people are more motivated to vote when there are issue-based campaigns, like in the race in Guilford.
That’s why I’m trying to campaign as much as possible on the issues, so people feel that if they come out to vote, they will improve their economic situation. It doesn’t work if the campaign is just about the blue team versus the red team, in a year where the trend tends to lean red and you’re taking on a red team incumbent. If you really go out there early and spend time connecting with voters on economic issues, then I believe voters will come out in strong numbers, and if they do, I believe that I will win.