OP-ED | The Avon Episode: Can Boughton’s Candidacy Survive?
For Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, traveling last year to Pittsburgh for surgery to remove a benign brain tumor was a life-changing event. Fortunately, he came out of that operation in good shape and pronounced himself ready to face the rigors of campaigning for governor.
But what happened last week could change that equation. While everyone — even his rivals for the Republican gubernatorial nomination — wishes the mayor a full and speedy recovery, Boughton’s collapse during an appearance March 15 before about 200 people at an Avon Republican Town Committee meet-and-greet could be a campaign-changing event. Boughton was later pronounced in stable condition at UConn Medical Center and subsequently released, but doubts about his fitness surely remain.
It would be one thing if Boughton had merely fainted from exhaustion. This kind of thing happens on the grueling campaign trail for high office. In 2016, while campaigning for president, Hillary Clinton nearly collapsed into her waiting limo after emerging from a 9/11 commemoration ceremony. She recovered fully but the incident left a mark with voters. The episode, along with FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress about her emails and her ill-considered “deplorables” remark (recently reiterated), no doubt led to her Electoral College defeat.
But according to witness accounts, the Boughton health scare was an actual seizure. One of Boughton’s rivals on the Avon stage, state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, who is also a medical doctor, administered CPR on Boughton, whom he believed to be in some form of cardiac arrest.
Srinivasan said the blue-faced Boughton’s pulse was fading and he had to reposition the mayor’s head because he had bitten his tongue and the doctor wanted to make sure he didn’t swallow it. Srinivasan, an allergist who has no doubt treated people in the throes of a seizure, pronounced the situation “one of the scariest moments of my life” and added that Boughton “is lucky to be alive.”
For its part, “Team Boughton” said — and UConn Medical appeared to confirm — that Boughton had suffered from dehydration. The hospital quickly added that it “will have no further updates on this matter.” Unfortunately for Boughton, it is a situation that begs further explanation. I’m no expert but I’ve never heard of anyone having such a severe reaction simply for lack of fluids.
Are there other factors at play? Did he fail to take his medications? Boughton has since said he doesn’t remember. Does he have some other medical condition we don’t know about? While this week Boughton acknowledged we’re in the dark about it because the hospital omitted that information and has pronounced the matter settled. That’s appropriate for a private citizen, but Boughton aspires to the highest office in the state. Voters have a right to know if he’s up to the job.
Then there was the reaction of one elected official close to Boughton. State Sen. Michael McLachlan, a Danbury Republican who was not at the Avon event, said Srinivasan was way off the mark.
“Very alarming to read the headlines of another doctor who was at the event who seemed to describe something that was not even remotely close to what happened,” McLachlan told the Courant.
But Srinivasan’s version was essentially supported by several other witnesses who were at the North House that night, including Avon Republican Town Committee Chairman Brian Ladouceur and another physician who attended to Boughton. Might McLachlan be ascribing a political motive to Srinivasan in talking to the news media about his stricken rival and grabbing some “headlines?”
Before last week, I had considered Boughton the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. The mayor has since vowed to go “full-steam ahead” with his campaign, but if Boughton’s support erodes significantly as a result of this scary moment — or if there is another similar event that forces him to withdraw from the race — which other Republican candidate would benefit the most from Boughton’s absence?
The young former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, who has known Boughton for 20 years and has styled himself as Boughton’s protege? Well, Herbst lacks Boughton’s experience, affability and easy charm. Srinivasan himself? That’s hard to imagine. As I have written before on these pages, notwithstanding the good doctor’s early fundraising success, there have been no Connecticut governors in the last 100 years who have vaulted directly from the General Assembly into the governor’s office.
That would also rule out deputy minority leader and Republican state Sen. Toni Boucher, who is “exploring” a run for the state’s highest office. Besides, in the case of Srinivasan, it’s possible that as a physician he violated HIPAA rules in blabbing so much about Boughton’s condition. If so, how would he explain it?
As I look at the remainder of the red side of CTNewsJunkie’s nifty March Madness Election Bracket, I mostly see the usual suspects: some capable people, some perennial candidates, a couple of financiers and hedge fund managers and some obscure office seekers that even a political junkie like yours truly cannot place. I see others (e.g. Peter Lumaj) who are so far out of the state’s political mainstream that they will scarcely get out of the starting blocks. Click here to see what I mean about Lumaj.
The one who arguably has the best name recognition is also the youngest: rising star Erin Stewart, the 30-year-old mayor of New Britain. Stewart was also “exploring” a run for governor — thanks to the state’s harebrained election law — but this week made her candidacy official. She has lots of potential but is probably too young for most voters’ tastes, which is why I suspect she’s actually running for lieutenant governor.
So the race will truly be wide open if Boughton fizzles. Unless there’s a flurry of back-room deal-making, Republicans could see three or four candidates emerge from the party convention in May with the 15 percent of delegates required to run in a September primary. If that happens, it will be a noisy summer.
Republicans will be falling all over themselves to get the attention of vacationing primary voters. Brace yourselves for the onslaught of campaign ads on WTIC NewsTalk 1080, the only place in Connecticut — outside of the town of New Canaan — with a clear Republican majority.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at [email protected]
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