OP-ED | Felons, Millionaires, and Nobodies: The Race for Governor
Are you a filthy rich businessman who wants to be governor and has $1.8 million lying around to pump into the campaign? If so, too bad, the Republicans already have one of you.
Republican David Stemerman of Greenwich is a Wall Street exec who left his billion-dollar hedge fund to run for governor on the mistaken belief that managing a financial company is the same as running a state. So far he only has one other donation, from his own treasurer, but since he’s staying out of the Citizens Election Program’s public financing it hardly matters.
Self-funded candidates from Greenwich aren’t new: Tom Foley, Linda McMahon, and Ned Lamont spring to mind right away. Stemerman should beware: the wealthy Greenwich businesspeople trying to buy a race have yet to actually win one.
In short, Stemerman is spending a lot of money to come in anywhere from third to seventh at the convention — if he even makes it that far.
Stemerman is one of two wealthy, self-funding gubernatorial candidates who announced in September. Republican Bob Stefanowski of Madison threw his hat in the ring, and promptly threw $250,000 of his own money in after it. Unlike Stemerman, he’s actually raised some money from other people, as well, to the tune of $65,000.
Meanwhile, Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury, has quietly been raising over $250,000 totally from small-dollar donations, making him the first candidate to qualify for public financing. Srinivasan, Trumbull Mayor Tim Herbst, and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton seem like the ones to keep an eye on — for now.
On the Democratic side former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei had another strong fundraising quarter, raising $104,455. However he was eclipsed by another candidate, the ex-con mayor of Bridgeport, Joe Ganim, who raised $109,720.
I feel nauseous. I have the worst feeling about how this is going to go. It’s too much like what happened with Ganim in 2015, and with Trump in 2016. We dismiss the guy, saying he’s too toxic, too tarnished, and he has no shot, but then he just keeps coming back until suddenly he’s won.
Democrats would be fools to put Ganim in higher office. How would he ever have the credibility to actually govern? But just because something’s a bad idea doesn’t mean Democrats won’t go for it.
Who else do the Democrats have, really? Mattei appeals to the party’s left wing, but most people have no idea who he is. Wall Street trader Dita Bhargava says she’s a moderate, but Democrats in 2018 aren’t going to nominate a moderate. Middletown Mayor Dan Drew is burning money and losing altitude following a scandal in which he stupidly solicited campaign donations from city employees. Jonathan Harris, the former mayor of West Hartford, may have a chance — even though I keep forgetting he’s in the race. He raised a respectable $82,000 this quarter.
It’s a huge field, and yet I’m not at all thrilled with the choices. Quite a few of the candidates are outsiders with little to no experience in state government. Voters may like that, but I just keep thinking of the huge mistake America made last November and I can’t really get behind it.
There’s also some geographic clumping happening. A few candidates are mayors from towns in Fairfield County, while one, Toni Boucher, is a state senator from a Fairfield County town. All of the people trying to vault from business to the top of state government are from Fairfield County, as well. Our last two governors, Malloy and Rell, were from Fairfield County as well. For all that Fairfield County complains about being forgotten by Hartford, they sure do have plenty of candidates running.
I’d like to see someone from another part of the state. By comparison, the last governor from Hartford County was Ella Grasso (1975-80), the last governor from Litchfield County was Lorrin A. Cooke (1895-97), and the last governor from New London County was Thomas Waller (1883-85).
Most of these candidates aren’t too well-known outside their regions, if they’re known at all. The biggest name statewide may be Joe Ganim, and it isn’t for good reasons.
Who are the frontrunners? Mattei? Boughton? Srinivasan? I have no idea. Everything’s up in the air.
Hey, John Rowland gets out next May. Maybe he can run! There’s plenty of time, and clearly nobody cares about past corruption convictions.
It’s 2017. The old rules don’t matter, everything’s topsy-turvy, and anything can happen. I’ll be in my foxhole with my helmet on.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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