Crowd to grow in race for governor

Ted Kennedy Jr. said thanks, but no thanks.

Ditto for State Comptroller Kevin Lembo and now Lt Gov. Nancy Wyman, leaving Connecticut Democrats with a void of headliners willing to step forward to run for governor in 2018.

But the party in power appears poised to have its wish granted for a candidate with a household name — for better or worse. His name is Joe Ganim.

The mayor of the state’s largest city, Bridgeport, said Wyman’s decision to rule out a run puts him on the cusp of entering the wide open race. Since April, Ganim has been exploring statewide office, touting his efforts to bring jobs and development to his city while owning up to his 2003 corruption conviction that cost him the mayor’s office and his freedom for seven years.

“You should know that it does in fact move me closer toward ultimately making decision that could be a exploratory to a full announcement,” Ganim told Hearst Connecticut Media. “You said January and I didn’t disagree with you.”

What Republicans wanted to be a referendum on the direction of the state under Wyman and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is not seeking re-election after two terms, is evolving into a competition among mayors.

And the early indications are that it’s about to get more crowded, with Hartford’s Mayor Luke Bronin eyeing a race that already includes his mayoral counterparts from Danbury (Mark Boughton), Shelton (Mark Lauretti), Middletown (Dan Drew) and Trumbull’s first selectman (Tim Herbst).

“It’s not something I had been planning to do, but I’ve heard from a lot of people over the past few days and I’m giving it serious thought,” said Bronin, a Democrat who previously served as Malloy’s general counsel.

The GOP field isn’t entirely settled yet, either, with many gubernatorial hopefuls waiting to see if House GOP Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, who said she wants to take the Thanksgiving holiday to deliberate after four months of budget deliberations.

“I’m still trying to figure out where I can best serve the state of Connecticut,” said Klarides, the first woman to lead her caucus.

While Republicans had been champing at the bit to go up against Wyman, some welcomed the prospect of a matchup with Ganim and Bronin, saying that both Bridgeport and Hartford aren’t shining cities on hill.

“This isn’t their A bench,” said Danbury’s longtime GOP mayor, Mark Boughton, who is exploring his third run for governor. “Listen, Joe Ganim, I think has a similar challenge as Luke. He’s got work to do there.”

Ganim said he’s become an easy target for Republicans since he started testing the waters.

“They’ve tried to tarnish me,” Ganim said. “I’m sure they see me as a threat.”

Ganim said that none of his potential GOP foes has had to grapple with the challenges he has faced since voters returned him to office in 2015, from balancing the city’s budget to combatting crime.

“You can lollygag in some of these other towns and have a nice title like mayor or first selectman,” Ganim said.

Later this month, Ganim will return to court to try to overturn a state law prohibiting those convicted of public corruption from receiving public campaign funds under Connecticut clean-elections program. The mayor maintains that by making him forfeit $1.6 million for a primary a $6.5 million for the general election is unconstitutional.

Ganim’s gubernatorial ambitions aren’t exactly a secret.

“I was under the impression he was already in the race,” Klarides said.

Boughton said it would be a heavy lift for Bronin to run for governor after the capital city recently avoided bankruptcy.

“Look, I like Luke. I have respect for him. (But) how can you possibly run for governor of the state of Connecticut when you’re running a city that’s teetering on the brink of bankruptcy?” Boughton said. “Look, you want to compare Danbury’s finances against Hartford’s finances? I’ll do that all day long. Now if turns around Hartford, he’s got a story to tell.”

Bronin said there’s no comparison between Hartford and Danbury.

“With all respect to Mark Boughton, he inherited a fiscally healthy town and yet he’s raised taxes, year after year,” Bronin said. “In Hartford, I took over a city in full-blown fiscal crisis, refused to raise taxes or kick the can, demanded that our unions be part of the solution, built partnerships around the state and re-engaged our business community.”

Herbst said Wyman’s decision doesn’t change his strategy.

“While Nancy might have been the co-pilot on the Titanic for the last eight years, the iceberg was made larger and more deadly for Connecticut by horrible policy and can kicking from Democrats in the legislature,” Herbst said.

Drew, the first Democrat to declare his candidacy for governor, said Republicans were sending a mixed message by saying that they wanted to run against Wyman and that the remaining Democrats in the race aren’t on her level.

“That’s a contradiction. It’s preposterous,” Drew said. “The simple fact of the matter is the Connecticut Republican Party, the national Republican Party and this crop of Republican candidates have never been focused on middle class economics. They’re focused on the needs of the wealthy.”

Westport businessman and GOP candidate Steve Obsitnik said he’s tired of all the sniping.

“That’s what politicians do,” he said. “They talk about each other. Let’s talk about the people of Connecticut being hurt and get to work solving their problems.”

Dave Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general and GOP candidate from Bridgeport, said Wyman made the right choice.

“I didn’t care who the Democrats put up,” he said.

Mark Lauretti, Shelton’s 26-year mayor and Fairfield County’s longest serving municipal leader, scoffed at the prospect of Ganim and Bronin jumping into the race.

“These people you talk about have relatively little experience,” Lauretti said. “We need people who are tested. Here again, I think it’s pretty telling that some of the top Democratic candidates have opted out, which is untypical of what they do.”