Special election: Republican Joshua Esses wants to speak for the 'average voter'

STAMFORD — Joshua Esses said his chief concern if elected to the state Senate is Connecticut’s cost of living.

“As I look at our state government, I fear that we have been trending in the wrong direction as far as keeping the cost of living down, so anyone can live here and go to a good public school system,” Esses said.

He believes an overhaul of collective bargaining agreements and the Municipal Employee Relations Act would help.

“It makes it hard to have a flexible workforce, it locks in legacy pension and other retirement costs that affect our towns and cities just as much as they affect the state,” Esses said. “It makes it hard to reward good talent in municipal employees because so many of these municipal collective bargaining agreements simply pay people based on role or seniority.”

The 29-year-old Stamford resident, who is facing Democratic state Rep. Patricia Billie Miller in a special election Tuesday, has largely centered his campaign around tax, labor and pension issues. The winner of the election will fill the Senate’s 27th District seat, which opened up earlier this year when Carlo Leone exited the state legislature. The district includes parts of both Stamford and Darien.

Another priority for Esses is addressing the state’s unfunded pension and retiree healthcare liabilities. A restructuring attorney at Proskauer Rose LLP, a New York City-based firm, Esses said he thinks both Democratic and Republican governors as well as the legislature have long “neglected” the issue.

“I understand how to fix those problems because I’ve seen it go wrong professionally,” Esses said. “And I understand how to protect both the taxpayer as well as the employee who is promised benefits and earned benefits, but if they’re not there, there’s no federal reserve of the state of Connecticut to just print dollars and make people whole.”

Esses is part of a team representing the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico amid the island’s bankruptcy. For Connecticut, he has called for shifting new state employees to a “401(k)-style plan” and reducing retiree healthcare benefits.

“We’ve made far too many promises,” Esses said. “I want to keep the promises that we’ve made, especially for the teachers.”

He noted that the pension system for teachers, who don’t pay into Social Security, is underfunded. He suggested one way to boost that fund would be to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana.

Fritz Blau, who chairs the Stamford Republican Town Committee, maintained that Esses “is eminently more qualified to hold office than his opponents” because of his job as a restructuring lawyer. Besides Democrat Miller, Independent candidate Brian Merlen is also seeking to represent the 27th Senate District.

“(Esses) isn’t (beholden) to a caucus controlled by the unions and he doesn’t have an 11-year career of public service marred with up-votes for huge tax increases and bad spending bills,” Blau said in a statement. Blau himself ran against and lost to Miller in 2018, 2010 and 2008.

Esses is “a great candidate and just what we need now to hold Hartford accountable,” Blau added. “He’ll defend the people’s prosperity, not the government’s.”

Previously, Esses attempted unsuccessfully to serve on Stamford’s Board of Finance and Board of Education.

In his interview with The Stamford Advocate, Esses reiterated some of the other stances he took during a debate with Miller and Merlen, including his opposition to a proposed tax on residences that have a market value above $430,000, his support for in-person schooling and his opposition to the state government stepping in on matters like zoning.

Esses argued that, overall, his policy positions are “much closer” to those of the “average voter” than his opponents’.

“I think that I speak for the vast majority of the residents of the 27th District when it comes to the actual policies facing our state,” he said.