The two Democratic candidates for governor said they lean toward New Haven’s immigration policy rather than Danbury’s and both agreed the federal government needs do more when it comes to illegal immigration. However, one of the candidates took a slightly harder line than the other.

  -More photos

“I know what they’re thinking about in Danbury. I know what they’re talking about in New Haven,“ said Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont. “I’m a strong believer in legal immigration. I’m tough on illegal immigration.”

Lamont made these remarks Tuesday during the first televised debate since the May 22 nominating convention.

“And the best way to get at those illegals being attracted into this country is to shut down their opportunities in their place of employment. Hold the employers accountable. Make sure they’re not hiring any more illegals,” Lamont said.

Former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy and Lamont agreed that more of the responsibility of illegal immigration is being shouldered by municipal officials.

“New Haven’s gone in the direction of giving out ID cards. That’s not a direction I chose to go as mayor, but I also chose to make sure that the people who are living in our community received appropriate services and required federal services regardless of their status,” Malloy said.

Lamont said he also felt more comfortable with the strategy going on in New Haven where residents were given immigrant-friendly ID cards, than the policy in Danbury, where local police teamed up with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to enforce federal immigration policies. In New Haven, police are forbidden from asking people about their immigration status in most cases.

“As long as employers are willing to hire illegals, illegals are going to keep coming across the border,” Lamont said in a post debate briefing with the media at NBC 30’s West Hartford studio.

As mayor of Stamford, “if someone wanted a library card, they got a library card. If somebody could prove they were living in the city of Stamford and wanted to play golf they got a golf pass,” Malloy said. “But we weren’t vouching for people independently.”

Illegal immigration hasn’t been a central issue in either of the campaigns, which have focused on the state budget crisis, job creation, and a debate about which candidate is more of an outsider to Hartford politics than the other.

Insider vs. Outsider

Asked what the difference is between the two candidates, Lamont and Malloy gave anyone who has been following the campaigns predictable responses.

“I’ve done this job,” Malloy said. “I’ve led a city for 14 years with something close to a half billion dollar budget. We’ve added jobs, we improved education, we built great infrastructure, added open space. We did all of that while minding our Ps and Qs.”

“This is not a time for on-the-job training, in a time of crisis, great crisis in the state of Connecticut,” Malloy said. “I also have a business background. I’ve practiced law. I’ve built houses. I’ve done a lot of the things that Ned talks about doing in his small business. We have that in common.”

“But the difference is I’m ready to lead the state on day one and to expend the kind of energy and knowledge, and wealth of knowledge, towards making the state of Connecticut a better place,” Malloy added during the feistiest parts of the debate.

Lamont fired back positioning himself as the outsider candidate.

“I think the politicians have been running this state for the last 25, 50 years and they’ve driven it into the ditch. And I think it’s time we got a designated driver,” Lamont said. “Somebody from the outside. Somebody whose not afraid to go up to Hartford and shake up the way we do things.”

“The number problem confronting the state of Connecticut is jobs,” Lamont said. “I’ve heard Dan say look we can raise this tax and reduce that property. What you need is somebody who knows we’ve got to expand that economic pie, not divvy up that economic pie. Expand it.”

Given a 30-second rebuttal Malloy said for someone who has run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate and the state senate to be talking about other people being politicians, “is very political.”