In reversal, realtors back Gov. Ned Lamont over rival Stefanowski

NEW HAVEN — The Connecticut Association of Realtors, one of the state’s largest and most influential trade groups, is backing Gov. Ned Lamont in his reelection campaign against political rival Bob Stefanowski — a reversal of the group’s position during the 2018 race between the two men.

The association announced its endorsement of Lamont last week, citing the Democrat’s support of efforts to lower property taxes and the state’s booming real estate market, which is being driven by an influx of new residents moving out of cities such as New York during the pandemic.

The decision to switch allegiances to the incumbent was made by the association’s endorsement committee, according to President Tammy Felenstein, who said the committee considered Lamont’s record over the last three years and the results of an internal survey of the association’s roughly 20,000 members.

“In this case, Gov. Lamont has been very supportive of us,” Felenstein said. “He made us essential at the beginning of the pandemic, which has been paramount in the success that we’ve had and the growth of real estate.”

Felenstein also pointed to the governor’s opposition to a so-called “mansion tax” on wealthy households, and support for legislation that increased the size of the state’s property tax credit by $100, as reasons for the group’s support.

The Realtor’s Association counts several of the state’s high-ranking political figures among its membership, including Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D- Norwalk, and Stefanowski’s wife, Amy Stefanowski. Felenstein said neither were members of the committee that decided upon the endorsement.

The Lamont campaign trumpeted the group’s endorsement in a press release noting the “sharp turn away” from its support of Stefanowski in 2018.

“Four years ago we promised to turn the moving trucks around and that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’re getting our fiscal house in order – making investments in education across the board and installing business friendly policies that make families want to put down roots in Connecticut,” Lamont said.

A spokeswoman for Stefanowski’s campaign declined to comment on the endorsement.

Felenstein acknowledged this week that the group’s endorsement of Stefanowski in 2018 — along with its decision to spend more than $500,000 backing up that endorsement through an associated political action committee — stirred some discontent among the group’s membership. She said the group did not plan on making any contributions in the gubernatorial race this year, although she said that the reaction to the group’s spending four years ago did not factor into that decision.

“There were plenty of people who were upset about it back in 2018, but there were plenty of people who were very happy about it as well,” Felenstein said. “We from the get-go had no intention of making a financial contribution.”

One of the Realtors who opposed the group’s 2018 endorsement, Matt Murray of Westport, said he had similar concerns about its decision to publicly back the governor, arguing that any endorsement would inevitably be perceived negatively by a large number of home buyers who align with the opposition political party.

“It’s wrong for the association to endorse any candidate,” Murray said. “It’s just plain wrong.”

Political positions championed by the Realtors Association have also at times put the group at odds with other prominent Democrats and progressive groups, particularly on the issues of taxes and affordable housing.

Earlier this year, the association backed an effort to study the effectiveness of a longstanding law, known as 8-30g, which allows developers to challenge the denial of new building permits in municipalities that lack adequate affordable housing. Advocates criticized the proposal as a veiled attempt to weaken 8-30g or get rid of the law altogether.

Stefanowski called for a repeal of 8-30g last week, saying the law had failed to produce more affordable housing and that local communities should have greater control over the placement of new developments.

Felenstein said that while the Realtor’s Association supports adding affordable housing, municipalities should have a “right” to determine where to build it. Ultimately, however, she said Stefanowski’s announcement did not factor into the group’s endorsement.

As governor, Lamont has supported the use of 8-30g to encourage towns to build more housing, particularly in downtown areas. In an interview with Hearst Connecticut Media earlier this week, he said he did not believe the state needs more sticks to pressure towns that fail to provide enough affordable units. “I’d like the towns and cities to take the lead, I believe in local control,” he said.

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