Saturday, October 14, 2006
Spotlight On Chris Perone D-Norwalk
I’ve been good friends with Chris Perone for many years and over time we’ve talked about politics, technology and Connecticut, not always agreeing on things all the time, but generally enjoying a vigorous debate.
Chris is running for the 137th District State Rep seat, a seat he won two years ago and one that he hopes to hold this year. Over a pizza dinner, with his wife and son, we chatted about the race, the legislature and some of the hot topics gathering interest in the 137th.
Eyeing the planned DOT improvements at the I-95 exit 16 interchange, Chris began investigating what it would take to get sound barriers extended from the exit ramps. The issue of sound barriers has been in the news lately. Reported by the Norwalk Advocate, Darien First Selectwoman Evonne Klein plans to send a letter to DOT Commissioner Ralph Carpenter requesting that the state reconsider its position on sound barriers. State Senators Bob Duff –D Norwalk and Andrew MacDonald D-Stamford requested sound barriers between exits 10 and 13 on I-95 the previous month.
“I had several calls from people living along the I-95 corridor asking me if they could get sound barriers because the highway noise was getting worse,” explained Perone.
Often State Reps are the first point of contact for people trying to navigate the bureaucracy of government agencies and departments that hold jurisdiction. Perone’s investigation on sound barriers provides a glimpse into the daunting task of finding solutions amidst the cogs of government. It turned out that the Federal Department of Highways, the agency sitting atop the chain of jurisdiction, didn’t want to give dollars towards sound barriers. With the competition over fewer dollars being spent on maintenance and construction, sound barriers fell to the wayside.
Sound barriers are pricey, according to Perone. Estimates provided to him projected that a sound barrier was a million dollars a mile, similar to proposed cost estimates for the recent Congressional bill that authorized a 700 mile fence along the US/Mexico border. Without federal help, Perone looked to whether the DOT was planning sound barriers which in turn earned him an invite to a meeting held by the DOT on new technologies.
“Arizona and Vancouver are using this new technology in road construction — it’s essentially rubberized cement—made with recycled tires, ground up and blended into the cement mix.” Perone offered, “But whether that would work here ...” His voice trailed off, “You know, I’m really lucky to have this job. I’m working hard each day, listening to people in my district and helping them find, or fight for the services and resources they need.”
“Listening,” he stressed “is an important ability to have.” Here is where Perone connected the pieces for me; the sound barriers were not the end-all solution to the problem his constituents faced. It was the noise on the highway, and focusing solely on whether the state or the feds were going to kick in dollars for sound barriers wasn’t the only path he could pursue. Perone’s background in marketing lends itself well to the skills needed by a state rep.
“You have to be able to quickly pick up on trends — see things as what’s important versus what’s not – and where people aren’t seeing the bigger picture of what impact legislation might have.”
“For example, we held seminars with TIA-CREF this past summer for CHET. 30-40 people showed up at one meeting. As I looked around the room, I could see that they weren’t getting what the tax break would do for them — so, we tried explaining it differently [in greater detail], and I could see the light bulb go off. Perone sits on the higher education committee, and thinks Connecticut needs to make the state university system better.
“UCLA, UNC, they’re better at delivering for the students, we should be doing better. CHET is great, but we were the last on the bus with setting up a tax break for our 529 Plan.”
Education is one of the many things Perone thinks about as he commutes into NYC most days. His job as a creative director for a Madison Avenue agency is demanding, but also offers him the flexibility in scheduling so that he can make his legislative responsibilities a priority.
“Legislators need to set an example — walking the walk. Your life should reflect your public positions, your passions.”
Perone was referring to his enthusiasm for energy conservation, one of the many topics that concerns him. He recently bought a Toyota Prius, making him one of the 60,000 plus Americans to do so. But that popularity triggered a sunset clause on a congressional bill that gave a tax credit to the purchaser of the car. Once Toyota reached that milestone, purchasers no longer qualified for the credit. This alarmed Perone, and he jumped into action-raising the awareness to legislators and the public. “We need to do more to encourage people to conserve - it’s not that most people don’t want to, but they aren’t aware of all the things they can do.”
“Fairfield County has a serious problem. The energy needs keep going up, not because of huge population growth, but because 1500 sq ft houses are being replaced with 3000 sq ft houses and as new technology requires you to plug in, the demand outpaces the infrastructure in place.”
The short session didn’t help the legislature tackle these big issues. When I asked about why the big issues, eminent domain, property tax reform were seemingly ignored in favor of passing bills about sodas in schools, Perone grew thoughtful.
It’s difficult,” he conceded. Most legislators want to spend the time examining and thinking things through, as a result things don’t get on the calendar as quickly as they probably should... But then there are people like Tim O’Brien, on the finance committee, who really pushes hard to keep us focused on property tax reform, which underpins most of everything else we need to work on. No one doesn’t see it, [ECS} as a real problem.”
There’s a balance between legislators who are fiercely loyal to their districts and what is good for the state that plays a role in any issue. As Perone explained it, there are ingrained habits of the legislature that have long ignored what happens in Fairfield County. From rail cars to road construction, Perone sees the future economic health of Connecticut relying more and more on Fairfield County. “Transportation has been ignored for over 12 years; housing is not affordable for most...lots of issues are connected to these issues. There has to be more of a balance, it’s better for Connecticut.”
Posted by turfgrrl at 10/14/2006 10:43:00 AM