Interview with Mark Robbins, Democratic candidate for State Rep. in the 125th
Published 11:42 am, Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Q: Why are you a Democrat?
A: It speaks to my fundamental values of being a builder and having an interest in innovation, and as an independent voice and a fiscal conservative. My issues are very specific -- infrastructure, environment and jobs. What I like about this country is that we are free to do what we do best. As an entrepreneur, I benefit from FDIC insurance. I can be assured that the money I put in the bank will be there. That's a federal program that frees us to focus on innovation, frees us from risks and trappings, allows us to move forward. We all benefit by having publicly maintained roads, we're not worried about pirates, we can call 911 and know that the government pays for these baseline services that allow us to pursue greater interests above medieval concerns of safety and poverty and education.
And that really benefits any entrepreneur in knowing that in this country there are services available that help to enrich the population with education, safety, a baseline of health care, so we know we're drawing from a pool of people that have that safety net of support. That's something we all benefit from.
Q: Discuss your formative years
A: I was born on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. My father was a scientist and professor of mathematics. He wrote a book called "What is Mathematics?" that was reviewed by (Albert) Einstein and translated into several hundred languages. He had a career in statistics, started off as a pure mathematician, went to Harvard at 16, graduated with a Ph.D. and went to work at the Institute for Advanced Studies with Einstein. He spent 30 years as a math professor at Columbia. My mother was a public school teacher in Manhattan and is a musician.
We moved around a lot as a kid. When my father was on sabbatical, we moved to London and I went to grade school there. We lived in Berkeley, Calif., at one point. When I graduated from public high school on Long Island, I went to college and my parents moved to Princeton, N.J.
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I went to a small school called Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. My interest then was pretty funky. It was ergonomics, the study of man and machine. It was a very independent school. I ended up transferring to Columbia, where I studied economics and philosophy. I went to graduate school at Columbia, the School of Architecture, and did a program which kind of synthesizes building with finance.
(After grad school) I moved to San Francisco and did development for grocers. Eventually I (moved back East) and opened an office in Jersey City. Our clients were grocers, pharmacists, and we would put residents on top. I was with them from 1996 to 2001. I became a junior partner. My job would be to assemble land in dense communities and come up with a plan to present to town bodies and make mixed use housing, redeveloping existing property. I would manage construction. Then we would rent it and ultimately sell the developments. That gave me a lot of experience in dealing with boards, hiring trades, as many local ones as possible. I was presented with the opportunity to work in Connecticut 10 years ago.
Q: What part of your career will make you successful as a legislator?
A: I think having worked with lots of constituents and realizing nothing happens over night. (A project) typically takes seven years from start to finish. All these projects have lots of hurdles and require lots of steps and working with lots of constituents, and ultimately, staying focused on budget and delivery requires perseverance. My strength and focus in the field is cost control and employing innovations in construction to achieve more efficient results.
Q: What do you consider your strongest personality traits?
A: Honest, innovative, tenacious. I don't think anyone has all the answers. I want to be practical and realistic. Also, I'm not a politician. I make my own schedule as a development consultant. I have the time and flexibility to dedicate to this as a full-time job. I would be available for consulting on my own schedule, so I'm able to have a laser focus on this opportunity without being distracted by other (obligations).
Q: Some people in town might look at your inexperience and have criticisms. What would you say to them?
A: I have a pretty strong resume when it comes to public service. I have served on committees here in town. I'm currently on the Conservation Commission, a committee where we're sworn in and go through a vetting process, sign a code of ethics. I'm a trustee of the New Canaan Nature Center, which is involved in public programming, which I've done for the last couple years. I'm on the Business and Environment Committee for SoundWaters, which focuses on working with business to "do better while doing good" and gives them a platform to improve environmental standing. I'm currently the co-chair of the Connecticut Green Building Council.
Q: When you look back on your public service in New Canaan, and if elected, especially time served in the Legislature, what do you want people to say Mark Robbins did?
A: What most excited me about Connecticut's history is its innovation. Currently we're one of the biggest producers of fuel cells in the country, which were actually developed to power space shuttles 30 years ago. That technology currently powers most of the busses in Manhattan. We need to employ that technology locally, bring down property taxes, and improve efficiency. We have the highest energy cost in country and worst service. Gasoline is more expensive in Fairfield County than in Manhattan.
This makes it clear that Connecticut is not a hospitable place to open a factory, and we can see there are many vacated facilities. We need to fill them with technology that focuses on green jobs, that's the future of this country. If we could create a more robust energy environment that would have an immediate impact on employers, to bring us back to a competitive environment for investors. (Companies) look for places where the power is very reliable and inexpensive. There are specific taxes that I think need to be eliminated immediately, namely on energy produced with natural gas, which was supposed to reduce fossil fuels.
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