NORWALK — Republican Steve Obsitnik and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes challenged each other on how to fix the “deadlock that has plagued Congress,” the nation’s mission in Afghanistan and revitalizing cities such as Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport during their second debate in the race for the 4th Congressional District.
“In the Navy, I learned one thing,” said Obsitnik, who served in the U.S. Navy for nine years. “And what you learn more than anything else is to lead by example.”
His example, if elected, would be to “go an inch wide and a mile deep” on bipartisan problems. “I will not be beholden to a party. I will not be beholden to lobbyists. I will be beholden to you if I’m so lucky,” he said, referring to himself as a career leader rather than a career politician.
During the Thursday event at Norwalk Inn & Conference Center, Himes agreed “it’s critical to reach across the aisle,” touting a recent accolade from the grassroots organization No Labels, which named him a “problem solver” for his bipartisan work. He questioned Obsitnik’s definition of leading by example.
“Mr. Obsitnik — watch the TV ads. He’s calling me Wall Street Jim, riding around in limos. The last time I rode in a limo was when I was married 18 years ago,” Himes said.
The political polarization continued as the candidates clashed on how to jumpstart economic recovery in the United States.
“We Presbyterians have an ethnic term, it’s called ’chutzpah,’ ” Himes joked. “Chutzpah is pointing at the president and a Democratic Congress and handing them an economy spiraling into depression and then doing everything over four years to ensure that nothing, not even the tax cuts that are religiously important to you get passed in Congress, say no to absolutely everything and then four years later saying ’You didn’t do enough.’ ”
Himes said the crowning point of Republicans’ chutzpah is to drive the country “back to what got us into this in the first place,” while he said the answer is widespread deregulations and more tax cuts.
Obsitnik replied that things were bad four years ago when Himes and President Barack Obama were elected to their first terms.
“Things were bad. But how much more time and money do we need? Do we need two years? Four years? Six years? Ten trillion? Twenty trillion?” Obsitnik asked.
“If there’s a mission in Afghanistan, explain it to us. If there is no mission, it’s time to get out of Afghanistan,” Obsitnik said, noting that the number of Connecticut troops deployed to Afghanistan has recently doubled to about 550 men and women.
“The most difficult thing that I’ve ever had to do in my life was deliver a casket to a mother. And when you deliver a flag into her hand at the loss of her son who died under my command, at least I knew the mission. But I don’t want to have anyone deliver a flag to a mother in Connecticut, not knowing the mission,” Obstinik said.
Without a clear mission, he advocated for removing troops from Afghanistan to relieve the nation from part of a $150 billion foreign war budget line.
Himes countered that “there’s absolutely no lack of clarity in what the mission there is. It’s very clear.”
“Our mission in Afghanistan has been to build up security forces there, to provide security that the nation of Afghanistan needs and to build the civil society there, the politics to be stable and resist the Taliban and destroy and degrade the terrorists and the Taliban. The problem is not that there is no mission. The problem is that that mission is evidently not achievable,” he said.
Since visiting Afghanistan two years ago, Himes said he supports moving out of the nation faster than the president wants.
Revitalizing Connecticut’s Cities
One of Bridgeport’s biggest needs is that there’s not even a grocery store on the city’s East Side, Obsitnik said. Instead, people in that neighborhood have to drive or take public transportation to another part of the city to purchase their weekly groceries from a vendor other than a bodega, he said. A congressman who will fight to create business would help solve that problem, he said.
“A grocery store. Let’s fight for that. ... Now you start employing more people. And now you have a community bank,” which could make loans to workers in the community with newfound capital, Obsitnik said.
Once that foundation is built, Obsitnik argued that larger businesses will have an easier time making their homes in cities such as Bridgeport.
But Himes said there are other issues that need to be addressed to attract businesses, such as strengthening school systems in Fairfield County’s urban areas and lowering crime rates.
“You will not convince a business to move to Bridgeport until you can answer the CEO’s questions about public safety. Twenty murders this year so for in Bridgeport. Try explaining that to a CEO who wants to move his business,” he said, adding that the stimulus funding he voted for created grants for more than a dozen new police officers in Bridgeport to help fight the city’s crime epidemic.
In his rebuttal, Obsitnik said the $136 million sent to Bridgeport in the stimulus package didn’t do enough to help the city, which he said still suffers from high rates of unemployment and underemployment. And 20 murders isn’t a low enough number, he said.
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