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All five Democrats running for governor in 2010 gathered at Hartford City Hall Wednesday night to let Hartford’s Democratic Town Committee know who they are and how they expect to change state government.

Some were familiar faces, like Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, who ran for governor in 2006, and Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, who has held statewide office for more than a decade. Others weren’t as familiar to the Hartford crowd, like state Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi, and former House Speaker James Amann of Milford.

Following what was a mostly cordial exchange of views, each of the candidates were given approximately one minute to answer questions from the audience.

Former Hartford City Councilman Al Marotta asked the candidates how they expect to unify after what could be a bitter primary battle.

It has been more than two decades since a Democrat has been in the governor’s office and Marotta wanted to know what each candidate planned to do to overcome that inevitable obstacle.

Christine Stuart photo

Under the new campaign finance system Bysiewicz said she doesn’t think it’s going to be a problem. The new system “is going to force all of us to only be positive about what we want to do for the state,” she said. “We’re going to have a $1 million, it’s going to depend on grassroots and I don’t know about them, but that’s why I’m here.”

“The strength of the Democratic Party is our diversity. Our weakness has always been our division,” Amann said.

“We cannot divide our base,” Amann said. “We have to get behind one candidate.”

Malloy suggested they vote for the person they see as governor. He said they haven’t always done that, it’s not always the person who has come through the primary. Malloy lost the primary by a slim margin in 2006 to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, who went on to receive just 30 percent of the vote in the general election.

“We need somebody with a vision about creating jobs and we have to be laser-like about talking about jobs,” Malloy said.

LeBeau said he agreed with Bysiewicz that the new public financing system changes the game. In the past he said the winner of the primary had about eight weeks to raise more money to compete against their Republican opponent. The day after the primary next year the winner is going to get $3 million. “That’s going to change the game,” LeBeau said.

The voters of Connecticut do not trust Democrats, LeBeau said. Since 1990 the state has had a Democratic legislature and Republican governor, “Why? because the voters don’t trust us to govern,” LeBeau said. He said the person who pulls through the primary is going to need to govern from the center and prove they can grow jobs in the state.

But that’s not always what happens.

“We get to the end, we fight, we walk away and we lose the race,” Marconi said. “We need to pull together.”

“We need to give up our egos, we need to check them at the door,” Marconi said. And after the primary the group of five candidates needs to get behind the one that wins the primary. “That’s my pledge, that’s how we’re going to change this state,” he said. 

All of the candidates talked about how they would change Connecticut’s economy, improve its infrastructure and mass transit systems, and grow jobs.

There was also a far share of criticism of Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

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“In terms of being a nice lady, she fills out her dress,” LeBeau said. “But in terms of being a leader she’s an empty scarf.”

The comment didn’t sit well with former Hartford Mayor Carrie Saxon Perry who said that she hadn’t decided yet who she would support, but took issue with several words and phrases LeBeau used during Wednesday’s debate.

“It’s not so much the issues. Sometimes it’s the presentation,” Saxon-Perry observed.

Aside from criticizing Rell, there was at least one barb launched at Malloy, who is one of the perceived frontrunners in the race.

When Malloy made his opening remarks he talked about what he would do for Hartford as governor and what he’s done since he was mayor of Stamford.

“Let’s understand that he’s from Fairfield County,” Amann said to the Hartford audience.

Malloy sat next to Amann wide-eyed and surprised by the remark, but didn’t return the favor.