Mansfield State Representative Gregg Haddad and challenger Mansfield Town Council member Mark Sargent debated fiscal policy, town-university relations and gun control at E.O. Smith High School on Wednesday night.
Sargent, who served as University of Connecticut student body president two years ago, described himself as a bold candidate for change in times of economic difficulty.
“What I hope to do is present your voices up in Hartford,” Sargent said. “Your voices who have been frustrated, who haven’t seen the economic recovery of the crash of 2007 and 2008. The individuals whose pockets have only gotten shallower as their property taxes have gone up and their home values are continuing to go down.”
Haddad focused on his past experiences holding office in Mansfield: as a town council member, deputy mayor, chair of the town Democratic party and most recently the past six years as state house representative.
“What I’ve tried to do in my time as a representative, and certainly before that on the town council, is to listen as closely as possible to the people in this community and find solutions that will work,” Haddad said. “Then I bring those solutions to Hartford and I work together on a bipartisan basis to advance solutions that will help address our challenges.”
One of the concerns of the debate, which has been a constant topic at Mansfield Town Council this fall, was UConn’s growth and student nightlife affecting Mansfield neighborhoods.
Haddad and Sargent both expressed concern that increasing enrollment at UConn would have on the Mansfield community, and dissatisfaction with the inadequate work put into increasing on-campus housing.
Sargent stated that despite his past with the university, he would not be a “yes-man” for UConn in Hartford.
“If I were in the state legislature, I would be pressing hard on the institution of the University of Connecticut to make sure that they are taking steps to provide adequate housing for UConn students,” Sargent said.
Connecticut’s debt was another pressing issue during the debate.
Sargent pointed out that over the course of Haddad’s term, the debt has yet to decrease despite the legislature’s continuing promises of action. Haddad defended the legislature, saying they had to make some difficult decisions.
When asked about recent police issues, both Haddad and Sargent agreed that stronger police relations with local communities would be a step forward for decreasing conflicts between police and communities.
“Misuse of force is something that cannot be tolerated,” Sargent said.
Sargent pushed for body camera funding and greater focus on police engagement with communities having a greater minority population.
“Even more important, I think, is the move toward community policing,” Haddad said.
The stance Haddad took was focused on increased relationships between police and local communities.
Although agreeing on many topics, gun control divided the two candidates. Haddad talked about more control on “militarized” arms, whereas Sargent focused on background checks and mental illness.
Sargent called “militarized” a subjective term and argued that violence depends on the individual holding the weapon.
Haddad said, “Those poor kids [of Sandy Hook] who were the subject of that massacre suffered in particular because of the speed of the bullets leaving the weapons and the gauge of the weapons.”
Students at E.O. Smith High School organized the debate with support from the League of Women Voters of Northeast Connecticut.
Current UConn student body president Daniel Byrd said he wasn’t registered to vote in Mansfield (and instead votes in his hometown) but came to the debate to familiarize himself with the issues relevant to UConn students.
“Because I’m not voting (in Mansfield) I’m not going to comment on if I support one of them or the other, but I will say that it was really good to see people, both voters and nonvoters, who can then decide on their own who they can support,” Byrd said.