GREENWICH — Senate Republican leader John McKinney had no idea that Thursday would be among the worst traffic days in Greenwich in recent years.
Traffic is often bad in lower Fairfield County, but a tragic accident that killed a Connecticut Army National Guard soldier caused a traffic jam on Interstate 95 South from Darien to Westchester County, N.Y. that spilled over into local streets.
That caused McKinney, who is running for governor in Tuesday’s Republican primary against business executive Tom Foley, to be 1 hour and 15 minutes late for his campaign appearance at the Greenwich Senior Center. Some seniors had already left by the time he arrived, but others greeted him with a warm welcome.
“I’m so sorry,’’ McKinney said as he greeted the center’s program director, Suzanne Testani, near the front door. “Oh, the traffic was horrible, and I actually know the back roads, too.’’
As he worked the room, McKinney went from table to table and expressed his regrets for his lateness. Many of the seniors were playing cards at tables in groups of two, four or six.
When an elderly man asked him how he was doing, McKinney responded, “I’m doing well. I’m not in traffic any more.’’
McKinney then approached a table of four women who were serious card players with about six decks of cards on the table.
“I’m smart enough not to interrupt this game,’’ McKinney said by way of introduction before asking who was winning. He then chatted with the foursome about card games played by his family members before mentioning why he had traveled to the center along Greenwich’s main shopping street.
“You may have remembered my dad, Stewart McKinney,’’ he said of the former Congressman who represented Greenwich and other communities in lower Fairfield County until his death in 1987. “I am running for governor. There are two of us left, down from six.’’
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Avon attorney Martha Dean, Shelton mayor Mark Lauretti and former West Hartford town council member Joseph Visconti are no longer running in the Republican primary. Visconti has finished gathering signatures in an attempt to get on the ballot in November.
He then asked the foursome: “What would you like to see from the next governor of Connecticut?’’
“Lower taxes,’’ responded Nancy Heintz, a Republican who lives in the Cos Cob section of town. “I pay more to Connecticut than I pay to the [federal] government.’’
That opening allowed McKinney to segue into talking about his plan to eliminate the state income tax for anyone earning less than $75,000 per year. He noted that some other states have more favorable tax treatment on pensions for elderly tax filers.
The player who was winning the card game was Helma H. Varga, who said after McKinney walked to the next table that she would be supporting Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in November’s election.
“I’m a Democrat. I’m happy,’’ said Varga, who serves on the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee. “Moneywise, I’m doing very well now. I have no complaints. Absolutely none.’’
After finishing his chat with the seniors, McKinney said in an interview that it was not fair to judge the state’s transportation system based on a “horrible, fatal accident’’ on I-95 in nearby Rye, N.Y. that involved a Connecticut National Guard truck that flipped over. The truck had collided with another vehicle on a routine mission as the soldiers were headed to Fort Dix, New Jersey.
“Transporation is a top priority for me because it is critical to our economic future,’’ McKinney said. “As I’ve been to train station platforms [campaigning] throughout Fairfield County this week, I’ve had a number of people in New Canaan, Westport, Stamford and Fairfield – actually all of those towns – say that the transportation system is so problematic and troubled now that they question whether they can continue to live here.’’
McKinney added, “We have to fix our mass transportation system. That means not wasting money on the busway to nowhere. It means, again, bringing the legislature together with the governor and making a commitment to fund mass transportation. We did that in 2005 with Governor Rell and Speaker [James] Amann. I actually worked in a bipartisan fashion with Democrats in the legislature and the Republican governor to help create the largest investment in our transportation infrastructure in decades. That’s the type of leadership I bring.”