Six candidates running for governor attempted to woo 200 members of the state’s largest labor union Monday.
The AFL-CIO hosted five Democrats and one Republican at its 2010 legislative conference Monday at the Hartford Hilton.
With a $3.8 billion budget deficit on the horizon and the likelihood that the state labor unions will be asked for further concessions, labor is eager to find a friendly face in the governor’s office next year. And with more than 300,000 active and retired members, and a fair share of delegates to the Democratic State Convention, labor support goes a long way for a candidate.
Early polling shows Ned Lamont, president of Lamont Digital Systems and a professor at Central Connecticut State University, with a 10-point lead over former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy. None of the other Democratic candidates received over four percent and the majority of voters are still undecided.
But Lamont, who spent $17 million of his own money in his 2006 race against U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, may have more of an uphill climb in garnering union support.
“Let’s face it four years ago I was not a darling of the political establishment,” Lamont said. “I’ve got some uphill climbing to do when it comes to the state convention.”
Unlike four years ago, “I think people know where I stand,” Lamont said Monday following the forum. “They know who I am…they also know where my heart is.”
But “I don’t say anything different to the AFL-CIO than I do to the chamber of commerce,” Lamont said.
Malloy, the only other declared Democratic candidate for governor, talked about his mother’s fight to create a labor union for her fellow nursing colleagues.
“I understand what you’ve done,” Malloy told union members. “Together with the people in this room we’re going to build a new Connecticut.”
The third floor ballroom where Monday’s forum was held was the same room where Malloy’s 2006 bid for governor ended when New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. won the Democratic primary.
“Life is a continuum,” Malloy said. “This was a room where I spoke honestly on the night of August 8 to Connecticut citizens and asked them to support John DeStefano.”
When asked how important it is to have labor’s support, Malloy said, “I want everyone’s support. Obviously it’s important because we’re here.”
Generally union support doesn’t come until after the primary, but Malloy said the Communication Workers and Operating Engineers, two statewide unions represented at the event Monday, have already endorsed him.
The candidates, including Lamont, Malloy, Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman, First Selectman Rudy Marconi, Juan Figueroa, and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, the lone Republican, were asked six questions Monday by AFL-CIO President John Olsen.
The questions centered around issues that labor cares about like the state’s prevailing wage law, project labor agreements, and retention of manufacturing jobs in the state.
As expected most of the Democratic candidates expressed support for organized labor, but Boughton surprised a few of the union members by voicing his support for project labor agreements and prevailing wage laws.
In addition to supporting project labor agreements and prevailing wage laws, Boughton said there should also be a state law that requires the state to use Connecticut labor on all its infrastructure projects. The room applauded the statement.
He said he was disappointed when the state’s Transportation Strategy Board contracted with a Massachusetts company for a study of tolls on Connecticut’s highways last year.
“We’re all stakeholders,” Boughton said on his way out of the ballroom Monday. Boughton said he was disappointed in his other Republican opponents for not taking the union up on its offer to attend Monday’s forum.
Chester First Selectman Tom Marsh, another Republican candidate, attended the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition meeting in West Hartford this past weekend.
Figueroa, former president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, talked about how he successfully worked with a group of labor leaders and businessmen to help pass the state’s landmark SustiNet health care legislation.
Glassman talked about how the state needs an economic development plan, needs to streamline the regulatory process for businesses, and needs to lower the cost of energy to help retain manufacturing jobs in the state.
Marconi talked about highway tolls and how he was able to convince the Ridgefield Planning Commission to change its regulations to make sure a large pharmaceutical company expanded and stayed in town.