WEST HARTFORD - Four major party candidates for Connecticut governor each showed their congenial side on Thursday night, in the early days of a highly contested election that's likely to become heated in the coming months.
The three Republicans and one Democrat, who appeared in a series of live, televised one-on-one interviews, each promised to be collaborative, consensus-building and empathetic leaders if ultimately elected in November. Meanwhile, each bemoaned the often harsh tone of today's politics.
“We have to break down these social media walls,” said former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, a Republican. “We have to be willing to have civil discourse, face-to-face.”
The event was organized by Connecticut Public Television and the Gov. M. Jodi Rell Center for Public Service at University of Hartford. Besides Herbst, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, the GOP's endorsed candidate, and Republican Steve Obsitnik, a Westport tech entrepreneur participated. On the Democratic side, Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont, the party's endorsed candidate, was part of the event. Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who is attempting to petition his way onto the Aug. 14 primary ballot, complained outside the venue that not all potential candidates were allowed to participate.
He and several others are collecting signatures. It's a crowded race this year, given the fact that Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is not seeking a third term.
The interviews were conducted by Washington D.C.-based political and media consultant Chris Ulrich, who also is an expert in body language. The event was more of a conversation, billed as a unique opportunity for voters to learn more about candidates beyond stump speeches and prepped debate statements.
“I honestly believe that Connecticut is at a crossroads now. Civil discourse is probably needed more now than any other time in our history,” said Rell, who made a rare public appearance since leaving office in 2011. “The next governor of Connecticut will make some difficult decisions, decisions, that will affect our economy, our schools, our transportation system. All of these decisions will determine the future trajectory of our state.”
Like in a job interview, each candidate was asked about their strengths and people management skills.
Boughton spoke about how he often uses humor to disarm people and bring them together to help solve problems.
“One of the challenges we have is breaking down silos and getting people to talk,” he said.
Lamont stressed the importance of relating to people, even though they may come from different backgrounds. The wealthy businessman joked how he's “hardly out of central casting” to be a fighter for organized labor, for example.
“You've got to walk in other people's shoes and you've got to know what they're going through to understand where they are,” he said.
Obsitnik, a former U.S. Navy officer, said most people would expect someone with military experience to have a top-down approach to governing. But he said he's more of a consensus builder.
“I'm all about team-building and esprit de corps and setting large missions and visions to go after,” he said.