Ex-Air Force vs. ex-officer: Leone, Maldonado vie for District 27 Senate seat

STAMFORD - It’s not the first time Carlo Leone and Eva Maldonado have competed for the state Senate seat in District 27.

And it’s not the first time Maldonado, a Republican in heavily Democratic Stamford, has tried to draw on the large and growing block of unaffiliated and independent voters, who now comprise 39 percent of the electorate.

But the former Stamford police officer again faces a formidable challenge in her race against Leone, a four-term Democrat.

In 2014, Maldonado won a total of 44 percent of the vote on the Republican and Independent tickets. Leone beat her with 55 percent.

The GOP is a tough sell in Stamford, where 19 percent of the registered voters are Republican and more than twice that number, 42 percent, are Democrats. The remainder are voters who are unaffiliated, identify themselves as independent, or belong to one of a handful of minor parties.

Still, Maldonado said, there is room for the GOP in District 27, which includes a large swath of Stamford from Shippan on the coast to just north of the Merritt Parkway, plus Darien south of Interstate 95.

“I believe people are open to Republicans because they tell me the party in power just keeps doing the same thing over and over,” said Maldonado, who during her 31 years with the Stamford Police Department served as Westhill High’s first school resource officer.

‘Tell me more’

Maldonado’s political career reflects the difficulty of being a Republican in a deep-blue city.

In 2012, she ran for the state House of Representatives in District 146 and lost to the Democratic incumbent, Gerald Fox III. Last year, she ran unsuccessfully for the Stamford Board of Education.

“Unfortunately, people tend to vote party lines and there are just not enough Republicans. I’m out there listening to as many people as I can. Listening is one of my biggest attributes as a former police officer,” said Maldonado, who retired from the department last year. “I say to people, ‘Tell me more.’”

As Maldonado, former chair of the city’s Republican Town Committee, is out introducing herself to voters, Leone is running on a state government record that began with his initial race for the House of Representatives in 2003.

Leone, 57, joined the Senate in 2011 after winning a special election held because then- Sen. Andrew McDonald of Stamford resigned to become general counsel for Stamford’s Dan Malloy, who was governor-elect at the time.

His foray into politics began in the late 1990s, Leone said, when he was “trying to climb the corporate ladder” at Xerox.

Run, don’t complain

“Discussions with friends would often turn to politics, and sometimes things got heated,” Leone said. “I always thought that you can’t complain unless you participate. If you don’t like things, the only way to change them is to get involved. It irks me when people criticize just to criticize. That’s not my idea of democracy.”

In 2001, he applied for an opening as an alternate on the Stamford Zoning Board of Appeals and was appointed.

“It grew from there,” Leone said. “I never planned to be in politics. It’s just what happened.”

Maldonado, 60, a Norwalk native who has lived in Stamford for 35 years, said she has been interested in politics most of her life, sharing one reason with Leone.

“I believe in our democracy, and when you start seeing things that are not right, either you complain about it or you get involved and try to make a difference,” she said.

A vet’s view

Leone was born in Rose, a small town in the Italian province of Cosenza, and came to Stamford when he was 2. He learned many of life’s lessons in the U.S. Air Force, he said.

“I wanted to be a pilot, but my eyesight wasn’t good enough. I became a mechanic,” Leone said. “The Air Force made me grow up. It gave me the skills to be self-dependent because I traveled the world and experienced other cultures. The military is a microcosm of America, where people from all different backgrounds are forced to overcome their differences and figure out how to work together as a team.”

After the Air Force he worked as an electrician, then got a job at Xerox as a technician, then earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from Sacred Heart University. He worked his way up to operations manager, then financial controller.

After 17 years, he left Xerox for his job at The Workplace, an agency that helps homeless veterans obtain housing and navigate the Veterans Administration.

“Sometimes they don’t get the benefits they deserve. Sometimes the military looks at you as a number,” Leone said. “I know what people go through, so it’s been a concern of mine.”

A cop’s view

Maldonado said that, if elected, she would tackle the state’s new controversial police accountability law, which officers say has hurt morale and spurred early retirements because it ties their hands on the job.

The law requires a person’s consent before an officer can search a vehicle during a traffic stop; allows officers to be fired for “undermining public confidence in police work;” mandates that officers who witness excessive force “shall intervene and attempt to stop” it or face possible prosecution; and other restrictions.

“Police need training in different aspects of our ever-changing world, not a bill that doesn’t apply to our communities,” Maldonado said. “Lawbreakers may not have read (the new law), but they know by word of mouth that something is different. It’s almost like we’re giving them ‘get out of jail free’ cards.”

Maldonado said she would also focus on balancing the state budget, limiting expenditures and seeing to it that Stamford gets its fair share of education dollars.

“We don’t get enough back to help the school system, and too many kids are failing,” she said. “The issues in our society are about economics more than anything else.”

Experience vs. new

Leone said that besides issues affecting veterans, he has focused on improving transportation, health care and the business climate — concerns of constituents in District 27.

He particularly likes to work on consumer issues, said Leone, citing a bill he introduced years ago that became the Consumer Commodity Pricing Statute. Designed to monitor pricing after grocery stores switched from price tags to bar codes, it says that if an item scans at the cash register at a price higher than the one posted on the shelf, the customer gets the item for free.

“It’s the small things that really affect people,” Leone said. “The consumer stuff is always important because people feel powerless, and this shows them that something can be done.”

Leone, who is married with a teenage son, said he would be honored if voters entrust him with a fifth term in the state Senate. Incumbency is what you make of it, he said.

“Learning the process is an uphill struggle that takes time. At first, I kept my mouth shut and listened and learned. Over time, I figured out where I needed to be to make change,” he said. “As long as you don’t squander what incumbency offers, it’s a help. If you squander it, it’s a disservice.”

Maldonado, who has one daughter and two grandsons, has been endorsed by the Stamford Police Association.

“I’ve dealt with people who have committed homicide, who were rapists, who were involved in horrible domestic violence, and with young people who have shoplifted. I would say 99 percent of people regret what they do wrong, and the solutions are often the same,” she said. “You have to ask people, ‘How do we solve this?’ Give them ownership of the issue so they participate in fixing it. I want to be a true representative. This community needs it more now than ever.”

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2296.