The big-city mayors of Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport have all worked with Dannel Malloy, who was mayor of Stamford for 14 years.
They have common interests as Democrats, as mayors, as fighters for urban renaissance, and as advocates who have stood together when pleading for more money at the state Capitol.
But instead of supporting their fellow city-dwelling Democrat in the upcoming gubernatorial primary, all three mayors have turned away from Malloy to throw their support to Ned Lamont of Greenwich, who lives and works in one of the nation's wealthiest suburbs.
When Lamont unveiled his plans for the cities this week, he stood side by side with New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, who defeated Malloy in a bitter gubernatorial primary in 2006. Without any experience as a big-city mayor, Lamont still has the ability to get the job done on education, transportation and other issues, the mayors said.
The dire need for job creation this year, DeStefano said, is sharply different from the issues that the state faced four years ago in the last primary.
"Ned's skill set and his life experiences are unique in this respect,'' said DeStefano. "I respect his opponent as a manager, but in terms of temperament and where we've got to go as a state in terms of job creation and having a public policy background, Ned is the right package of skills, experience and temperament. This is not 2006, man. This is a very different world.''
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said the three mayors talk on a regular basis, and they all came to the same conclusion that Lamont was the better candidate to win both the primary and the November election.
"We looked at the political landscape,'' Finch said Wednesday. "We looked at electability, and we threw it all in the mix. Ned would be the one who would help me get a new Harding High School and a new train station, which we desperately need.''
Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez worked hard for Malloy in 2006, but now supports Lamont. One key reason was that Lamont was persistent in asking the mayors about their needs and in pledging support.
"He convinced the other two large-city mayors the way he convinced me,'' Perez said in an interview Wednesday. "What works for Hartford works for New Haven and Bridgeport. We're very, very dependent on state aid, and we need a governor who understands the human side and the economic development side. I mean jobs. We have to grow the state. The state unemployment rate might be 9 percent, but my unemployment is 18 [percent] to 25 percent, depending on which age and which cohort.''
Malloy did not have an immediate explanation on why the big-city mayors have swung their support to Lamont.
"I don't spend a lot of time wondering about it,'' he said.
He then cited his own support among mayors and top officials in smaller cities, such as New Britain, New London, Bristol, East Haven, East Hartford and West Haven. With that level of support among delegates, Malloy won the party's convention endorsement last month by a ratio of more than a 2-to-1. Lamont, however, has been leading Malloy among Democrats statewide in the past four Quinnipiac University polls over the past six months and was ahead last month by 17 percentage points. A new Quinnipiac poll comes out today.
During the next two months of the campaign, both Lamont and Malloy will be fighting for the all-important votes in the cities, which traditionally represent deep bastions of Democratic support. Despite the endorsements by the high-profile mayors for Lamont, Malloy says he is the one with the life experience and the work experience that has focused sharply on urban improvement.
"This is something that is my life's work,'' Malloy said. "I've always lived in cities. I'm a guy who was born and stayed in a city. … I'll take my urban backing and stack it up against Ned's urban backing.''
In his first job out of law school, Malloy noted, he moved to New York City and worked there as a prosecutor. When that stint ended, he returned to the city of Stamford, where he was raised and now lives with his family.
Malloy served as mayor from 1995 through 2009 — running the state's fourth-largest city — before he decided against seeking re-election and, instead, started running for governor full time.
After Lamont unveiled his plan for the cities this week, Malloy countered that he is the mayor who was actually working in the trenches for 14 years on the urban issues of crime, affordable housing, transportation and job creation.
"The difference between Ned and myself is he can do it on an academic level,'' Malloy said. "It's like building a house and not being a carpenter.''
Along with their views about how to create jobs and improve education, the candidates will be battling over who has the right experience to solve the state's myriad problems as the next governor.
"I think experience is the issue,'' Malloy said. "He's highlighting, in many ways, his inexperience. … I'm not the self-funder. I'm not the wealthy guy. I'm the guy who has done it.''
Malloy's words were echoed by East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey, a former Democratic state legislator who is supporting Malloy as a fiscally moderate Democrat.
"I think Dan Malloy showed in Stamford his ability to take a city and turn it around to make it into one of the most livable cities in the country,'' Currey said. "People want to move there. … Government is not a business. It's government. We don't have time to educate someone how to run government.''
But Hartford City Council President Pedro Segarra said that Lamont — despite having a completely different educational background and upbringing — has a strong understanding of the cities that would make him the best candidate for governor. Segarra volunteered that he arrived in Hartford as a 15-year-old runaway in the 1970s and the son of a welfare mother from The Bronx.
Lamont, by contrast, grew up as the son of a wealthy family who graduated from a prestigious prep school and Harvard College before attending graduate school at Yale University.
Segarra, who attended Lamont's announcement on revitalizing the cities, says he will do whatever he can to help Lamont win.
The issues facing the cities and the rest of the state — jobs, transportation, education and health care — will be widely discussed during the next two months as the candidates start broadcasting TV commercials and increase their direct-mail campaigns leading up to the primary on Aug. 10. For his part, Lamont said that cleaning up contaminated properties and transforming them into job-creation centers is the type of expensive groundwork that the state can provide to the cities.
"I tell the mayors that there are some things that a governor can help,'' Lamont said. "It starts with brownfield remediation. It starts with property tax reform. … You want precision, high-end manufacturing right here in our cities. We can continue to forgive property tax on that equipment so people have an incentive to be here in New Haven, an incentive to be in Hartford, and that's how you go forward.''
Among the six candidates for governor, only Malloy and Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele currently live in a city — with both having attended high school in Stamford and still living in the city. Besides Lamont in Greenwich, Republican R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel lives in Simsbury, and Republican Tom Foley has lived in Greenwich for the past two decades. Independent candidate Thomas E. Marsh lives in the riverfront suburb of Chester.
All six candidates are scheduled to appear at 1 p.m. today at a forum at the annual Connecticut Business Expo at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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