Connecticut state legislators have reportedly agreed on a bipartisan plan to redistrict state House voting districts, based on the 2020 census information. According to CT News Junkie, the House members of the nine-person Reapportionment Commission are expected to approve a map with the new districts on Thursday, Nov. 18, in a move that could have a major impact on Wilton.
Federal law requires each state legislature to approve new maps for its state House, state Senate, and U.S. congressional districts, based on population changes as recorded in the U.S. Census every 10 years. The deadline to do so is Nov. 30.
The House map is reportedly the only one of the three that the Commission has tentatively agreed on. House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, who serves on the Commission, told CT News Junkie that he and his colleagues were just about ready to vote on it.
“I would say we’re done, but for some technical cleanup. So we would anticipate voting very soon on the House map,” he said.
Candelora also told CT News Junkie that Fairfield County is likely to add one new district, based on population growth. Among the factors he said the Commission is considering in making map changes are “public input, population shifts and the demographics of communities, as well as avoid boxing incumbent elected officials out of their own districts.”
According to a source in Hartford, who spoke off the record because they are not authorized to comment on the topic, Wilton is rumored to be a district that is likely to change, but not much information is being released by the Commission members — even to other legislators.
The Commission has not released any prospective map or plan. The main image (pictured above) is the Redistrict Plan of 2011, created after the 2010 Census, and which is in effect now.
There was considerable input from Wilton residents during the four public hearings held by the Commission earlier this year. Several offered testimony (both in-person, over Zoom and written) appealing for a change to the current way the town is split between two districts. Two-thirds of the town is currently represented by State Rep. Stephanie Thomas (D-143) who also represents a significant portion of Norwalk; State Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125) from New Canaan represents Wilton’s remaining residents.
Wilton constitutes 45% of the population in the 143rd district, with Norwalk evenly matched at another 45%; Westport residents make up the remaining 10%. As many of the residents advocating for a single dedicated Wilton representative explained, the current districting combines equal numbers of two competing constituencies with very different needs.
Testimony was delivered during the hearings by the following Wilton residents (as well as Rep. O’Dea), who were just some of those offering comment:
- Kim Healy, Selectwoman-Elect [remarks delivered Sept. 13, 2021, before she was elected]: “We moved 2008 [to Wilton] and at that time, and until 2018, we had the good fortune to have both our State Senator and our State Representative live right in town. We would meet them often at public events, at church, the grocery store or just about town. They were our neighbors, they shared our state priorities. Wilton’s surrounding towns of Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Ridgefield all have representatives who live in their town, whose top priority is the interest of the residents of their own towns … The needs of Wilton and Norwalk are vastly different. Both municipalities deserve to be served appropriately and with dedicated representation whose job it is to make the Town or City his or her absolute top priority.”
- State Rep. Tom O’Dea, (R-125 New Canaan/Wilton) [remarks delivered Sept. 13, 2021] “Wilton is the largest municipality without a resident senator or state rep., as I understand it. And Wilton is the largest municipality split into multiple districts, none of which are 50% or more of the district. Those are two very important stats, I believe that should be given your consideration. … it is unfair for the residents of Wilton to be split up the way they have been split up.”
- Wilton Selectman Josh Cole [remarks delivered Sept. 14, 2021]: “A single elected state representative who only has one vote in the House cannot, regardless of political party and despite their good efforts, faithfully and effectively represent three very different communities. There are certainly situations where a representative for this district will have the unenviable task of supporting a policy or piece of legislation which benefits one of the communities in the district at the disadvantage or detriment of one of the other communities in the district.”
- Gail Lavielle, Wilton’s former state representative (CT-143) 2011-2021 [remarks delivered Sept. 14, 2021]: “My perspective as having been the person who had to do this for eight years under the configuration where we currently find the 143rd district … the job you do is dictated by the composition of your district. And usually, there is some town that kind of takes precedence, whether you live in it or not. That is not the case with the 143rd district and hasn’t been since 2012. So we don’t have someone who is able to dedicate that focus, that time to Wilton because of the configuration of the district. It’s not about who it is. It’s not about their party. And I am the attestation to the fact that it’s not about where they live. I live in Wilton, you can tell that. But for eight years, I represented a district where Norwalk constituted as much of it as Wilton did. So it was schizophrenic. When I would take controversial votes, I figured one or the other of them would throw me out if I did the thing they didn’t like because there were so many votes where Norwalk and Wilton didn’t have the same interest.”
- Peter Wrampe, Wilton Republican Town Committee chair [remarks delivered Sept. 14, 2021]: “One can’t serve two masters simultaneously. We all know that. Wilton and Norwalk face substantially different issues. They face different concerns, and they have different desires by their citizens. Both should have their own representative, a representative that is dedicated to representing the interests of their respective constituents in Hartford, advocating for their residents, advocating for their distinctly different needs.”
- Toni Boucher, Wilton’s former state representative (CT-143) 1997-2009, and former state senator (CT-26) 2009-2019 [remarks delivered Sept. 14, 2021]: “The current configuration of the 143rd, though, however, does not seem to represent these communities well, … I think that’s the key point here. The Connecticut constitution, in fact, says that, for the purposes of forming an assembly district, no town shall be divided, except for the purpose of forming assembly districts wholly within the town … Wilton should not be split up to a degree that it is to make another district complete, thereby reducing their size so substantially, it’s no longer wholly in that town.”
- Patty Tomasetti [delivered Sept. 14, 2021]: “Both communities are wonderful and offer so much, but they’re so different. And how could one person represent both really well? How could they understand and get to know all their citizens and the needs of that town or city? And how could they actively, actively be split, you know, during the day, in their time doing their job the way it needs to be done for each community and they can’t, they just can’t. Norwalk is a city, it has different needs. Wilton is a small town; Wilton needs a rep that can give our town the time and attention it deserves in Hartford.”
- Philip Murphy [delivered Sept. 14, 2021]: “We love Norwalk, but we’re not Norwalk. Yet, as far as a general assembly is concerned, Wilton appears to be just another Norwalk neighborhood. It would make far more sense for Wilton to share a district with a neighboring town that has similar challenges, such as Ridgefield or Weston. And that would allow not only Wilton to be heard in Hartford, but it would also let Norwalk’s clear voice be heard without any distortion from Wilton.”
- Prasad Iyer, Economic Development Commission chair [delivered Sept. 14, 2021]: “Neither of the communities is able to make progress in the current scenario, as really, they’re not appropriately represented that way. And it also inhibits the ability of Hartford to derive the benefits from the diversity of thinking and action that would come if they were treated as separate entities.”
- Monty Du [delivered Sept. 14, 2021]: ” The priorities are different. For example, the needs for schools are totally different; Norwalk has 19 Public Schools while Wilton has four. Zoning policies in the city are significantly different from those in a small town for good reasons. The amount of open spaces and natural preserves are also very different between the city and a small town requiring implementation of different policies. Housing needs, housing conditions are also different. So as a result, no single representative can vote regularly for the best interests of both.”
- Nadia Schadlow [delivered Sept. 14, 2021]: “The foundation of our democracy is local representation. And as a part of this being able to respond to the needs of a local community with similar needs and challenges. The foundation of democracy, it’s also ensuring that citizens feel heard. Wilton and Norwalk have different concerns and priorities. As previously noted, Norwalk is a city it has over a dozen schools, it has beaches, which are lovely, but also drive certain requirements, environmental and otherwise. Wilton has four schools, no beaches; it’s more rural than Norwalk. … one representative cannot fairly represent two constituencies with different needs, especially when one representative represents approximately an equal percentage of the district’s population. So as has been pointed out, this leads to deadlock decisions and the inability to solve local problems in a timely way. And timely outcomes really matter.”
- Annalisa Stravato, Wilton Registrar of Voters [delivered Sept. 14, 2021]: “The needs of a small town like Wilton, when compared with that of a large city like Norwalk are complete diametric opposites. Large cities boast a lively nightlife, fun restaurants and bars. They demand their representatives focus their attention on shopping centers, public sewers, while small towns offer quiet backyards and fire pits and bike trails. They require their representatives to focus their attention on what is best for local mom and pop shops and monies for snowplowing.”