Tony Hwang pops open the tailgate of his SUV, adorned with a campaign poster, which in effect, has become the 134th District state representative’s rolling headquarters, pulling out brochures, business cards and tucking those in a bag that he flings over his shoulder. Hwang is ready to tackle the streets of his district, to head out door-to-door, as he does almost every day.
Hwang, a Fairfield Republican, is running for re-election in the 134th District, made up of parts of Fairfield and Trumbull, against a Democrat (opponent), who lives in Trumbull and has a Fairfield business. Hwang won the seat in 2008 from one-term Democrat Tom Christiano.
On Wednesday afternoon, Hwang set out on a campaign swing on Mountain Laurel Road to meet constituents and find out what is on their minds. While not everyone opens their door, Hwang is sure to leave behind a personal note on a campaign card.
A real estate agent, Hwang, 46, is on hand for dozens of local civic and community events. That, he says, is one of the things he is most proud of.
“We restored the sense of pride that this community, when asked who their state representative is, they can say, ‘It is Tony Hwang'” he says, and then refers to an earlier conversation. “Like Dorothy (a constituent) said, they can say, ‘We know what you have done in the community, we know that you have been engaged.’ That to me is a reflection of a job well done; that we have done what we promised to represent the community in every way possible.”
Born in Taiwan, Hwang immigrated to America with his family when he was 9 years old, settling in Syracuse, N.Y. After attending Cornell, Hwang moved to Connecticut and worked at United Technologies, before starting out on his own as a Fairfield County real estate agent (with Coldwell Banker). He has lived in the legislative district for nearly two decades, is married and is the (proud) father of two children.
In his travels throughout Fairfield and Trumbull this campaign season, Hwang says it has become obvious what people care most about: JOBS and the ECONOMY.
“Hartford doesn’t really understand or act in a manner that people are having tough times,” he says. “The biggest challenge I’ve had is to share with people that as an incumbent, we are working really hard not to be the status quo, to offer solutions that represent what people have really been telling us.”
With just about 10,000 households in the district, Hwang says it is possible to visit virtually every voter. He says he goes to all doors, not just those of Republicans, but also Democrats and unaffiliated voters. He says he considers all people in his district to be his constituents, whether they vote or not, and wants to learn what matters to them.
“People have opinions. If you are sincere and engage with them, they tell you what they think,” says Hwang. “And one of the frustrations I have is when people say, `You are a Republican or you are a Democrat and I can’t talk to you.’ Instead, you should judge individuals for what they do. You can’t wear a label and just get away with it.”
Going door-to-door feels comfortable for Hwang, who says that what he learns when talking to his constituents is vital to him. “It’s our job title,” he says. “We are their representatives. I am their vote in Hartford.”
Hwang says he likes to ask people, as former New York City Mayor
Ed Koch ofted did, “How am I doing?”
One Mountain Laurel resident asks Hwang how he feels he is doing and he replies, “It’s a challenge right now. If more people operated with a more “common sense” mentality, like households in managing their budget and not overspending, and cutting out waste and getting rid of cronyism and (entitlements), we’d (all) be in a much better position.”
“We are in a tough situation and all you hear is doomsday, but this state is a great, great state. We just have to get past what is in front of our noses and stop arguing with people,” he adds.
Hwang repeatedly drives home the idea of applying “common sense” to government as he walks through the Mountain Laurel neighborhood. Bringing back jobs and balancing the budget is job No. 1, nothing else can get fixed until that is done, he says.
Hwang says he would also like to see the state cut waste by allowing private, nonprofit social-service facilities to bid on running programs the state now provides at nearly double the cost. He also says that he knows that the state has guaranteed pensions to its employees, but thinks it is time to possibly look into fixing the system for new employees.
After a lengthy conversation with a retired man concerned about the state’s economy, Hwang says that he values those talks and that is why going door-to-door is essential. “It takes time, but it gives people belief that there are people that are running for public office that care,” he says.
Hwang is not apologetic for being active in town or for his use of social media to promote what he does and what is going on in town.
He says that he wants to “recognize great things, (people and activities) in our community … If that means we are covered (as a state representative), and we are in the media, so be it – (we are representing the people in our community).
“I want to recognize Operation Hope, I want to recognize Hall-Brooke, and I want to recognize kids who do great things. If we don’t do it, who else will?”
That, he adds, “is part of our job. We’re the representatives of the people in our community and we should say, ‘This is great, what you are doing,’ when we see something great.”
Even after the support for his candidacy he heard while campaigning in the Mountain Laurel area, Hwang says that he “does not take anything for granted.” Instead, he will hit the streets again the next morning, saying hello and trying to learn as much as he can to win a second term in Hartford.
By Tom Cleary
Reprinted from “The Fairfield Citizen” © Copyright 2010