Race for 111th: Frey wants more of a job he loves
The rewards of representing Ridgefielders in Hartford — voting in the state House of Representatives, pushing bills through committee, helping residents deal with state bureaucracy — have John Frey wanting two more years.
The 10-term incumbent seeks re-election to represent the 111th District — all of Ridgefield south of George Washington Highway.
“I love it. I really enjoy public service. I love helping my community,” said Frey, who’s in the House Republican leadership as senior minority whip.
Frey said he declined invitations to run for the state Senate when Judith Freedman retired from representing Ridgefield and neighboring towns.
“They asked me, why not? Honestly, if someone from Westport called me with an issue, it wouldn’t have the same bearing,” he said. “...My heart is in Ridgefield.”
Frey moved to town at age two.
“I went through kindergarten and on through Veterans Park, through high school,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade growing up in Ridgefield to anywhere.”
What drew Frey, a real estate agent, into politics?
“I went to Western Connecticut. All my friends had gone away. I was bored silly. And Liz Leonard was running for first selectman,” he said. “... I was actually a registered Democrat, but I’d known Liz a long time and she was someone I respected.”
He worked on her campaign, and chaired it two years later.
“She really, over time, became like not just politically, but like a life mentor to me,” he said.
“I realized I was a Republican, not a Democrat, and I switched, and got on the Republican Town Committee. I was the youngest person. My task was putting up yard signs, so I still have a soft spot for doing that,” he said.
He worked for different campaigns, joined the Republican State Committee, became chairman of the state Real Estate Commission.
Today, he represents Connecticut on the Republican National Committee.
In 1998, 111th District Rep. Chris Scalzo stepped down to run for a state office.
“We’d gone to kindergarten together, so I’d known him forever,” Frey said. “... He and others asked me to run ... I thought if I didn’t do it, I’d probably look back with regret that I didn’t give it a try.”
What’s the toughest issue he’s faced?
“I would say there are two,” Frey said.
Seven years after Frey had taken three busloads of Ridgefielders to Hartford to protest adoption of Connecticut’s state income tax, Republican Gov. John Rowland needed to balance the budget.
Democrats proposed raising income taxes, and Rowland negotiated something “significantly lower yet an increase in the state income tax,” Frey said.
“And I voted for it, being the lesser of two evils. And I remember driving home at four in the morning, because it was a special session, and I’m thinking: ‘What did I just do?’ ”
Another followed Sandy Hook.
“That really hit home for me,” Frey said. “The night before that shooting was the Sandy Hook fourth grade concert and my nieces performed in it ... I remember standing near to me was the school principal, Dawn Hochsprung; she had a big smile on her face. All the families were there taking pictures of the kids, like parents do.
“And 12 hours later their world was shattered, their principal was dead. While my nieces and nephews weren’t collateral damage, thankfully, they did suffer, and continue to — to this day.”
In Hartford, stronger gun control was opposed by gun rights groups and Connecticut’s gun manufacturers.
Frey supported it.
“It was the big post-Sandy Hook gun bill, which some hardcore Republicans hated me for — some cut me slack because they understood,” he said. “... It was bipartisan. It was gun control, it was school safety, it was mental health — there were three parts wrapped up into one bill … It did make us the second strictest gun-law state in the country...
“So, that was emotionally tough,” he said.
What he’s proud of?
Frey rattled off Ridgefield projects he’s gotten money for.
“Bennett’s Pond State Park,” he said. “... I can’t tell you how many times I was told ‘no’ before I was told ‘yes,’ ” he recalled.
The state and town split the initial $9 million cost.
“The acquisitions manager of state property, deputy commissioner, commissioner, the governor — everybody told me ‘no,’ ” Frey said. “... That just made me more determined to get the money because I believed in the cause.”
Another was making Route 7 four lanes, from Route 84 to Route 35 in Ridgefield — an $87 million project completed in 2009.
“We averaged four deaths a year. I can remember driving up the road, you’d see all these crosses on the side of the road,” he said. “We’ve had one fatality in the last nine years.”
Frey worried a “two-phase approach” would mean work got done in Danbury, but not in Ridgefield — dumping traffic at the town line.
“It was going to be a mess,” he said.
Frey got a $20-million, 120-unit renovation and 12-unit expansion of senior housing at Ballard Green and Prospect Ridge.
“That took six years,” he said.
“There’s been fun stuff,” he added; “getting $100,000 for the fountain restoration, getting $400,000 for the Playhouse, getting $400,000 for the Boys and Girls Club to expand.”
Frey takes pride in assisting constituents with state bureaucracy.
“Helping people with prescription drugs — seniors and people who can’t afford it, that’s a regular thing,” he said.
He’s helped Ridgefielders get money for prescription drugs, eased the RVNA’s hospice care approval, helped lake associations get algae treatments approved, and a beautician get licensed.
“She couldn’t get Connecticut to recognise a license she’d had in New York for 18 years. She called me, and I called the state and kind of gave the guy a little bit of hell, and the next day it was issued,” Frey said.
“...I’ve been there 20 years. I know who to call, and I’ve called them before for other things.”