FAIRFIELD — Democratic first selectman candidate Bill Gerber knocked on doors Tuesday in a bid to sway undecided Republican and unaffiliated voters, as he prepares to face off against Republican First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick in next week’s election.
Gerber, a 10-year member of Fairfield’s Representative Town Meeting, canvassed a quiet Stratfield neighborhood, telling CT Examiner that door knocking comes second nature to him.
“One of my problems with getting through these turfs quickly is I love to talk to people, and I usually stick around longer than the pundits would say is wise,” he said.
Since announcing his candidacy, Gerber said he has knocked on more than 2,000 doors. As the election approaches, he said his primary goal is to remind residents to get out and vote, no matter their political party.
With a 30-year career in financial services, Gerber said he’s been targeting Republican and unaffiliated voters while canvassing local neighborhoods.
“I can talk numbers with people who are numbers-oriented, which is a lot of Republicans in this town, and I can have meaningful conversations with people who might not otherwise vote for me,” he said. “And I think some of them realize that I’m someone that, if they have an issue, they can come to me and we can run the numbers and talk about it logically.”
After speaking to a few Democratic voters, Gerber knocked on the door of Republican resident Kyle Burkart who, earlier this year, welcomed the candidate onto his porch to air his grievances.
“Do you remember me? You said you’d never talk to a Democrat, and then we talked for a half hour,” said Gerber as Burkhart opened his front door.
“I did. That’s what I said,” Burkhart laughed. “I invited you to sit down.”
The two quickly launched into a conversation about Fairfield’s affordable housing approach.
Under state statute 8-30g, 10 percent of a municipality’s housing must be state-designated affordable, otherwise affordable housing developers can bypass local zoning laws. As of August, less than 3 percent of Fairfield’s housing is deemed affordable by the state.
In the last few years, zoning officials have approved large apartment complexes where at least 10 percent of the apartments are affordable, like the six-story Alto Fairfield Metro with 16 affordable units and the five-story Fairfield Station Lofts with eight affordable units.
But Burkhart said the town has started to feel overcrowded with the new housing developments, and questioned how the projects would help Fairfield address the state mandate.
“I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have all these apartments or affordable housing units. I’m just saying it doesn’t appear to have any kind of plan behind it,” Burkhart said.
Gerber offered a suggestion: Rather than requiring a minimum of 10 percent affordability, the town should negotiate with developers to build complexes where at least 20 or 30 percent of the apartments are affordable. This way, he said, the town can reduce the amount of housing projects while making Fairfield a more affordable town to live in.
“This is affordable housing for people like our kids if they want to move back to Fairfield, or our essential workers. These are people that are working their butts off and can’t live here,” Gerber said.
But when Gerber asked who Burkhart would vote for on Tuesday, he said he was still undecided. While he is leaning toward voting along Republican lines, Burkhart said it’s impressive that Gerber made him consider voting for a Democrat at all.
“You genuinely want to hear what we all say, and that’s all any of us want. We want a voice,” Burkhart said. “If there are elected officials like yourself, that makes me feel better about thinking in other directions.”
As Gerber walked to the next house on his canvassing list, he told CT Examiner that productive conversations with voters from other parties are “by far the best” he’s had while door knocking.
While he often has constructive discussions with Democratic residents as well, Gerber said some have guaranteed their support solely because he’s a Democrat. He blamed it on increasing divisiveness between the two major parties trickling into town from the national level.
“I’ve gotten people who say, ‘If you were a pitcher of water, I would vote for you.’ And my reaction is usually well, ‘Can I say something that would earn my vote?’” Gerber said. “I do understand it, though, because the national stuff has seeped in a little bit.”