22 Aug 2014
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Interview with Jeff Bonistalli, Ridgefield State Rep Hopeful

Frey's newest challenger speaks about his experience in Ridgefield and why he thinks he should get your vote.

Interview with Jeff Bonistalli, Ridgefield State Rep Hopeful


When hit Patch earlier this month, it generated quite a buzz of 45 comments—some supporting him, some deriding him, and some questioning his experience and intentions. Ridgefield Patch decided that our readers might want to know more about this young Democrat who is vying for the 111th seat to represent the town of Ridgefield. Bonistalli is challenging Republican incumbent in the upcoming November elections.

Why did you get into politics?

My generation faces some incredible challenges. We are the ones who will have to repay the mountains of debt that have been piled up over the last 30 years and still grow an economy that has enough left over to care for an ever-graying population. I want to be part of the solution.  Government is imperfect but it will not get better until we seek to make it better. I believe I can help make government better and I believe I can lead and inspire others to make it better. It starts with bringing people together.


How have you found this experience - coming into the political arena - so far?

It has been extremely positive. I have received contributions from not only Democrats and Unaffiliated voters, but a good number of Republicans. In fact, I have received enough contributions to qualify for a state grant as part of the Citizens Election Program. It’s a great experience going out and meeting voters to hear what they have to say.


How long have you been in Ridgefield and what is it that you’ve done for the community?

I have lived in Ridgefield since I was a baby. My parents instilled within me the belief that public service is not just a good idea but a duty. I’ve been involved in local sports as a captain, referee and administrator. I also formed the Matt Turley Summer League for RHS Alumni, which just finished its seventh year and has doubled in size to sixteen teams since its creation. The league also provides participants jobs and community service.

In the heart of town we have a teen center called “The Barn”. For many years it carried a bad reputation with various directors coming and going. However, since director Linda Caponetti and I took over, we turned The Barn around into a positive place where many teens can relax and be themselves in a non-judgmental, safe environment. Between pressures of school, home, and peers, many teens just need someone who they can talk to and can provide a little guidance. It has been rewarding for me to be a mentor to them and positively influence their lives.

Most of us take for granted that we can get in the car and go to the store, or a restaurant just about any time we want.  But for people with mental challenges it is not so easy. That is why my mother directs the “Out and About” program to take groups of those with special needs on field trips to improve their quality of life.

My experience helping my mother with “Out and About” led to me becoming a Direct Support Professional.  In that role, I work individually with Ridgefield citizens that are mentally disabled to help them become integrated into the community.  I may assist them in functioning in a job or in a social setting.

I have been active in local government, serving on the Board of Assessment Appeals and as a member of the Youth Commission.  I have also been successful in fundraising efforts for multiple local causes.


Your opponent, 111th incumbent John Frey has been in politics for a long time and has an extensive experience record. How do you think this works for you and how do you think this works against you?

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  So experience is not necessarily an indicator of success.  We need different results in Hartford.  We need to improve our economy and to lower our long term debt.  More important than political experience is approach and adaptability.  Thinking beyond party politics and being open to good ideas wherever they come from.  I will do things differently.  In the end, it is up to the voters to decide not what works for me or my opponent but what works for them.


What problems in town do you feel need fixing, and how would you do so?

Currently there is a disconnect between state government and our town government.  Too often the state tries to fix things that don’t need to be fixed and is unwilling or unaware of what really needs to be fixed on a local level. Before offering suggestions, I want to hear from our local government and our citizens.

As State Representative, I will reach out to our , , Board of Finance, and Planning and Zoning Commission.  At their convenience, I will meet formally and publicly with each board each year to hear their concerns and suggestions regarding state government.  I will report on legislation – past, present, and future.  I will value feedback from all board and commission members. Perhaps this kind of dialogue can set the standard for the state.  I’m certain that if our town governments had been given their say we would not be dealing with the zoning problems of 8-30g today.

When I am your representative, every three months, I will hold a Town Hall-style meeting to report on state government and take your questions and comments.  In addition to those meetings, I will have public hours twice a month at Ridgefield Town Hall, once a month during the day and once a month in the evening. This will be an opportunity to meet with me one-on-one, face-to-face. I will be available to discuss any state governmental matter important to you. I may not be able to investigate or resolve your problem on the spot I will provide my best estimate of when you can expect an answer.  In any event, you will not be ignored. I will, of course, be available by phone and email. 

I feel that by bringing people together in this way, I can represent the people of Ridgefield in a better way.


What’s your stance on 8-30g housing?

It needs to be corrected to restore control to town governments not developers. I will not draft a specific proposal until hearing more from our citizens and local government. It has been a headache for Ridgefield for a long time.


Any other thoughts or closing comments?

When I am your state representative, any legislative reports that I send out or go out on my behalf will be non-partisan. They will not criticize or seek to elevate either party. They will focus on what the legislature accomplished as a body and the work that remains to be done. My reports will explain clearly and accurately my role in any legislation. When voters see partisan, so-called “Legislative Reports” from our current state representative they are turned off and may be hesitant to seek his help because they do not belong to his party. As your legislator I will make it clear that I represent all voters.

There are certainly some skeptics who are saying, “Jeff, that’s nice that you want to bring people together but it won’t happen. Things aren’t going to change. You’re just one guy.” 

When I hear that I think about my grandfather who served in the Navy in World War II.  He was just one guy. I try to imagine what he was thinking about as he sailed across the Pacific towards Asia. There was no giving up in his mind. I know that. There was no coming back until the job was done and if he didn’t make it back, there would be someone waiting to take his place.  We were going to win.

The Navy didn’t put Democrats on one ship and Republicans on another either. They all sailed together. The captain didn’t say, “You don’t have to salute an officer if he belongs to the other party. In fact, you don’t even have to follow orders from a superior if he belongs to the other party.” Imagine how things would have turned out if those had been the rules.  Fortunately they weren’t.  To win the war, people united and overlooked their differences.  Just one guy became just one nation.

And that’s what we have to do now to solve our problems. Whether I win or lose this election, there are many more of my generation who are following right behind me.  We will be united until the job is done.

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