STAMFORD -- Three Stamford residents are competing in a special election Tuesday to fill the 27th District seat left vacant by former state Sen. Andrew McDonald.

Three distinct candidates have joined the race: longtime Democratic State Rep. Carlo Leone, Republican Stamford Board of Finance Vice President Bob Kolenberg and Green Party candidate Rolf Maurer, who is running as a write-in candidate.

Each is competing to represent a district that covers much of the south and central parts of Stamford and a portion of Darien. The seat opened when McDonald joined the governor's cabinet in January.

Kolenberg, 48, describes himself as someone who will work to reduce government spending and cut jobs at the state level to balance the budget. A former owner of the wholesale car remarketing business, he recently founded a new online car business, He ran and lost the race for the District 27 seat to McDonald in the fall.

Kolenberg said the defining difference between him and his Democratic opponent is their stance on taxes. The Republican businessman has promised not to support any tax increases, while Leone has backed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's position that the state must put every option on the table to close a yawning $3.4 billion budget deficit.

"I do not support any tax increases period," Kolenberg said. "Right now, the people of Connecticut are paying the highest taxes per capita in the country. There is not a revenue problem. It's a spending problem."

Kolenberg issued a statement attacking Malloy's budget on Wednesday, calling the governor's proposed tax increases historically large.

"When I'm elected to the state Senate, not only will I go to Hartford to stop this historic tax increase, I will do what this governor and the Democrats in the Legislature have proven they can't and won't do -- cut spending," Kolenberg said .Malloy's plan would raise spending about 2.3 percent a year; raise income taxes by 0.5 to 1.5 percent; boost sales taxes from 6 percent to 6.35 percent; and trim state spending on health and human services by nearly $760 million.

Leone, now serving a fifth term representing District 148 in the General Assembly, said the state must use every means at its disposal to balance the budget, including budget cuts, borrowing and eliminating unnecessary tax credits. Yet he has cautioned against cutting too deeply, saying the state must protect its "safety net."

"What I've always said is that you can't take away any of the tools or options," Leone said. "I think you're going to see cutting services and reducing agencies which will probably be the bulk of it, and then you'll see borrowing for capital projects which will also create jobs. Then we will look at what kind of tax credits we can afford and what kind of tax credits we can't afford. You're going to see all three options utilized as we invest in the future."

Leone said the budget shows a realist response to a problem that was created by years of avoiding tough issues.

"We finally have someone willing to tackle the problem that the state faces," Leone said. "The simple fact that we now have an administration not kicking the can down the road, taking it head on, the shared sacrifice, means that we finally can put in place some mechanisms where we don't have to do this every couple of years."

Leone points to his record in the General Assembly, citing successes in securing funding for Stamford in key areas such as transportation and his work on behalf of veterans, among other areas. He said he helped pass legislation that led to a $35 million investment in the Stamford train station. Currently, he is working with state legislators on a law that would eliminate zoned gas pricing, he said.

Leone, 48, emigrated from Italy with his parents at 2 years old. A former member of the U.S. Air Force, he is a program manager for the Veterans Workforce Investment Program for the Bridgeport-based nonprofit The WorkPlace, Inc.

Leone said he currently does not support Sunday liquor sales due to his support for small businesses. Kolenberg said he would weigh the issue based on feedback from district residents.

Maurer, a former candidate for mayor who lost to Leone in the District 148 race in the fall, said his agenda includes promoting more alternative transportation options and establishing of a state public bank modeled on the Bank of North Dakota. He argued a public bank would generate much-needed revenue while preserving social services.

"People are tired of bank bailouts, layoffs, and a decaying infrastructure," Maurer said in a statement. "We need a state government that serves ordinary people, not corporations. Connecticut would be on a more vibrant economic footing if it focused on family businesses and entrepreneurs, who pump money back into the state instead of sending money to multinational shareholders."

Maurer, 48, is a freelance editor and writer and former associate editor with Folio magazine. He has relied completely on mass and minor transit since 1999.

In Stamford, District 27 includes Waterside, downtown, the South End, Glenbrook, Springdale, the East Side, Belltown, Turn of River, the Cove and Shippan, and parts of North Stamford, the Ridges and the West Side. It also covers Noroton and Tokeneke in Darien.