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10/16/2018 02:00 PM

Comey Seeks Branford’s 102nd State Representative Seat

Robin Comey is the Democratic party candidate for Branford’s 102nd House District state representative in the Nov. 6 state elections. Photo by Mike Marsland

Branford Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member Robin Comey is the Democratic candidate for Branford’s 102nd House District State Representative. Comey said her business and professional experience, combined with years of state policy advocacy and volunteer and community organization efforts, will support her work in Hartford.

A Branford resident of 25 years, Comey is a partner in Starprompt, a teleprompting services company she’s operated with her husband, David Steinman, for 25 years. The couple’s two children attend Branford public schools. Comey is also executive director of non-profit Branford Early Childhood Collaborative (BECC), an organization she helped form as grassroots initiative. She was also pivotal in the formation of Branford-based non-profit Food Allergy Education Network.

Comey has been an elected member of the RTM since November 2017 and serves on the RTM’s Education Committee. Comey also served on the Civic Association of Short Beach.

The Democratic-endorsed candidate has also been endorsed by the Connecticut American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and the National Association of Social Workers of Connecticut. She has the support of outgoing State Senator Ted Kennedy Jr. (D-12), State Representative Sean Scanlon (D-98) and out-going, five-term State Representative Lonnie Reed (D-102). Comey considers Reed a mentor.

“She was a great example of how you can really buckle down and learn about an issue with her energy and concentration, and be very, very successful and a leader in that area,” said Comey. “I’m looking forward to learning about the issues that I’m passionate about and working as hard as she did.”

As an RTM member, Comey feels privileged to engage in the town-wide political process and bring her problem-solving skills to the table.

“The Short Beach/District 3 voters put a lot of faith behind me when they voted me in, and I have enjoyed serving on the RTM and learning about some of the other neighborhoods that I will now be asked to represent if I should win,” she said. “So it’s been a great experience. I like politics, I find it exciting. I love how government works. I always have.”

Known for her vocal and successful advocacy efforts in Hartford on policy issues including early childhood education, health, and the pharmaceutical industry, Comey said she will make human services a priority as a state representative.

“One of the reasons why I want to take my experience to Hartford is I’ve been advocating up in Hartford already, for a fair amount of things that I care about that impacted my family personally—whether it’s making sure that kids with food allergies are safe in school and on the school bus, or ensuring that pharmaceutical prices have some oversight in the state,” she said. “Those are some things that have been passions for me, where I’ve had a lot of success up in Hartford advocating for policy change. So besides local politics being a very exciting place to be, I am looking forward to getting up to Hartford and doing some statewide policy, because I want to impact as many people as I can in the state.”

Comey added she understands the emerging needs of Branford’s changing community.

“As executive director of [BECC], I wrote a report a few years ago on studying the public data of our families here and folks that live here,” she said. “We’re changing; our community is becoming more diverse, and there are additional stressors that go along with that. I think that presents opportunities as well as challenges. As we’re changing, we need to be aware that things that we may have taken for granted in the past, such as ease of transportation, access to transportation, issues in the schools regarding English language learners, and affordability of our households. Some of what I’m seeing is that there are folks that are really living week to week on their paycheck. We need to make sure, as a community, that they have resources available to them.”

Comey said she will also advocate for getting funding into the community.

“When I think of the role of state representative, I think of someone who’s fighting for our resources and our funding streams from Hartford. I’m well-versed in how to do that, and making sure we’re getting our piece of the education funding, and continuing to advocate for that,” Comey said, adding another effort will be to “consider budgets that, year to year, take our needs into account.”

As a small business owner, Comey understands the challenges Connecticut presents and sees an opportunity to “think regionally” to help solve issues facing the state and impacting Branford.

“We’re in this budget crisis because Connecticut, as a whole, has been hampered by slow growth. We’ve been losing ground because of issues such as our tax and business climate and our poor infrastructure as far as transportation goes,” she said. “We need to make our areas that are in close proximation to us, like New Haven and some of the other cities, places that will boom again and that will bring in businesses and bring in growth to the whole region. We need to attract businesses not only to the Branford, but to the region.”

Comey would encourage opportunities supporting small businesses and innovation companies in Branford.

“I visited a tech company, and they were saying that they’re doing great, they love Branford, [but] they’re growing and they need buildings [and] space to grow their business, otherwise they’re going to be lured out,” said Comey. “We have to look at the businesses we have here and make sure they have enough room to grow, and then continue to encourage the economic sectors with innovation and small business entrepreneurship.”

Shared Sacrifices

Comey said some residents she’s met have voiced concerned about state and local taxes and the possibility of bringing back state highway tolls, but overall, they’re “realistic” and willing to have a “shared sacrifice.”

“I do have the folks that are concerned about their taxes, for sure, but I would say that people are willing to pay for the great services that we have here in Branford,” said Comey. “They don’t want their taxes to go up, but they are realistic about things. They know that taxes don’t go down. People want good education. Our future is relying on kids that grow up to be productive adults and will hopefully stay in the state. They also want their children or their grandchildren to stay with them and stay nearby. Even though you do hear some grumblings about taxes, I would not say that’s a lead. People are willing to do their part.”

As for the state exploring tolls, “I really hear mixed things from the folks at the doors,” said Comey. “I think that people aren’t informed enough about it. I hear grumblings, [but] there’s no firm plan yet, it’s several years away. But again, people are willing to have a shared sacrifice if it’s going to help their kids stay here and help our state. So tolls are a way to do that. People seem more anxious for information on that.”

If tolls come up during the next legislative session, Comey said she would “weigh the issues when it comes along.”

Comey said she’s also been hearing from people with concerns about health care needs. She said she values all input she’s gathered to help her best assist as an elected official.

“My favorite part is talking to folks at the doors, and getting to know people, and how much they appreciate an elected official coming to their door and introducing themselves,” said Comey.

She’s also encouraged to find residents showing an interest in voting on Nov. 6.

“We always want more reliable voters. What I’m hearing at the doors is people are aware of the election for the midterm and they are anxious to have their voices heard,” said Comey.

Helping Seniors

Another reason Comey is anxious to get to work in Hartford is to help support Branford’s aging population.

“I do hear a lot of uncertainty from seniors, and that is also one thing I’m really concerned about. The seniors are seeing that they’re living longer and that their choices for their families and for staying in their homes are less. Seniors are worried about their future,” said Comey. “I’ve been talking with them about preserving some of the things that help them, such as the Medicare Savings Program, which Lonnie and Ted did a great job of getting back into the budget last year, as it was cut.”

As her mother’s caregiver for nearly 40 years, Comey’s navigated details involving medical issues, affordable housing issues and in-home health care needs. She said she wants to bring her experience to the state level and help give families “real choices.”

“They do have a long-term health care plan up in the state, and work needs to be done on that, and I’m anxious to get started on that,” said Comey.

“What’s been effective for me in my advocacy role has been to [get] groups of like-minded people with similar issues and similar concerns together to advocate on their own behalf. That’s what I’ve done as a health care advocate; that’s what I’ve done as an education advocate,” said Comey.

As an experienced community organizer, Comey also hopes to inspire Branford residents to organize around issues affecting them.

“What I keep telling folks is you’ve got show up at meetings, and you’ve work it, and don’t give up. That’s what worked for me, and it could work for them to.”

Comey said she hopes to win the seat of 102nd state representative so she can continue her track-record of working collaboratively to achieve the best possible outcomes on issues impacting Branford and the state.

“The word ‘collaborative’ is not in the Branford Early Childhood name just by chance. That is how I operate. I operate with a collective mindset,” said Comey. “That’s how I’ve been successful getting policy changed locally and at the state. So I think I will do great in Hartford, and I’m looking forward to serving.”