, the Democratic candidate for , estimates he goes through two pair of walking shoes per campaign.
As a state representative for 14 years — he was defeated by in 2009 — he practices the art of retail politics, going from door to door each week day to speak with voters on an individual basis. He has done this since he first sought public office.
Yesterday afternoon, the North Haven resident stopped by the en route to to speak with Patch about why he is back in the fray, why he continues to campaign door-to-door and what he thinks state government can accomplish at this time in our nation’s history.
“It’s because of where we’ve got to as a country and as a state,” said Fontana, who is a self-described policy wonk, of his campaign. “My number one issue is rebuilding the middle class. That’s what we need to do. We need to focus all of our time on rebuilding the middle class, or there won’t be a middle class.
“Unfortunately, I don’t see enough being done up at the state capitol to address that problem, and I think there’s a lot of opportunities to try to help sustain and rebuild the middle class. When I go door-to-door, I don’t hear anybody saying to me, ‘You know, I’m so darn glad that the legislature addressed Sunday sales of liquors, because I’ve been wanting to buy liquor on Sunday for years, and now I finally have a chance to do that.’
"What they say is, ‘That doesn’t go to my quality of life in a meaningful way, and it’s not where we are as a society. We’re in the longest, deepest recession since the Great Depression, and we need to get dig ourselves out of that, and doesn’t get us there.’”
Fontana, who has traversed the streets of the 34th District for 2 ½ months, said the concerns of the people he has met all go back to the well-being of the middle class, even if the concerns citizens have expressed vary depending upon their age, with persons in their 50’s concerned as to whether their children will get a college degree and persons who are older not wanting to wind up in a poorhouse.
And even if the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 — this, a law passed at the federal level — makes it far more difficult for younger persons awash in student loan debt to discharge it, Fontana said the state could examine its system to see if students who enter college with what are termed Advanced Placement credits can graduate from college in three years instead of four.
In addition, he said state schools could follow the work/study pattern of Northeastern University in Boston. There, students complete periods of full-time study and also periods of paid, full-time work.
Or, he remarked, what about the pharmaceutical companies that, he said, have make clear to him that not all of their employees need a Ph.D. — that there is room for employees with community college educations as well?
Said Fontana: “We can do a lot.”
Fontana said he also receives ideas from residents in the neighborhoods he visits, such as the state’s giving taxpayers the option of receiving tax refunds by direct deposit instead of by debit card. The campaign he is conducting, he said, has worked both ways.
“When I first started getting involved in public service, it became clear that if I wanted to serve in political office, it would be advisable, if not necessary, to go door to door,” he said. “How else can you represent people effectively if you don’t introduce yourself to them? Let them hear your concerns and your ideas, and hear what they have to say.
“When you meet somebody face-to-face, they take your measure, and you get a sense of what matters to them.”
Having drained the last of the cranberry juice he had ordered at the diner, Fontana then went outside, checked his altered jobber clipboard—this, the board where he stores street maps and some of the demographics of the people who live there—and found himself prepared for another three-hours-plus of practicing the retail politics he feels the constituents of the 34th district still expect that he, as a contender for a seat in a citizen legislature, perform.