Unlike last year, Mark Greenberg is now speaking regularly before Republican Town Committees in the Fifth Congressional District, but he says it would be better to abolish the nominating conventions and have the rank and file vote in a direct primary in June.
Greenberg failed to garner enough support at the convention and had to petition his way onto the primary ballot in 2010 by collecting more than 1,860 signatures.
“The system is backwards,” he said in a recent interview at his Southbury headquarters.
“For 18 months you talk to 400 to 500 people through the town committees and the state representatives and state senators,” Greenberg said. “Then after the convention you don’t talk to them so much and instead you talk to 30,000 people for two months for the primary. Then after that you talk to 300,000 people for just 75 days for the general election.”
A year ago he said some Republican Town Committee chairman in the district, which covers much of the northwestern part of the state, didn’t return his phone calls since he was a first time candidate. In this cycle, Greenberg, 57, has already spoken to nearly half of the 41 Republican Town Committees in the district.
The Litchfield businessman, who owns several shopping plazas and office buildings in Connecticut, placed third in the 2010 primary with 28 percent of the vote. He spent $1.37 million of his own money and generated support from several Tea Party members.
But he finished behind the winner, former state Sen. Sam Caligiuri of Waterbury, who lost in the general election to three-term Democratic incumbent Chris Murphy of Cheshire, and former Naval Intelligence Officer Justin Bernier of Plainville, who is again seeking the nomination.
Murphy is now one of the three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, which leaves the Fifth District with an open seat for the first time since 1990.
“It was an ineffective formula the last time around,” said Greenberg his lack of interaction with GOP town committee members. “Now I’m being welcomed with open arms.”
Greenberg said not only does he now have “a better rapport” with the party leaders, but he will win the convention next May.
He faces Farmington Town Council Chairman Mike Clark, Simsbury businesswoman Lisa Wilson-Foley, and Bernier in the race for the GOP nomination, which will likely be determined again in a primary.
“He absolutely is a better candidate than he was a year ago,” said Republican State Central Committee member Art Mannion of Danbury, who calls the race “wide open.”
“Mark now understands the need to meet with town committee members,” he said. “By the time he got into the race last year, a lot of people already had made commitments to other candidates.”
Greenberg said he is committed to “spending whatever it will take of my own money to win,” and is also more aggressively seeking donations from individuals. He received more than $250,000 in donations from individuals last year.
Mannion said Greenberg also is formidable because “he has a good, solid Tea Party message.”
“This is a movement that didn’t exist three, four years ago, where you have grassroots people who are frustrated with government and want change,” Greenberg said.
He said the Tea Party members in Congress were correct in “holding to their principles” in resisting higher taxes during the recent debt-ceiling negotiations.
“I think we just kicked the can down the road further,” Greenberg said of the agreement between President Barack Obama and Congress. “Since they came to that agreement, the stock market has been voting on this issue, and the vote has been negative.”
“They didn’t pass Cut, Cap, and Balance,” he said regarding the pledge he signed last month to make substantial spending cuts, cap spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product and approve a balanced budget amendment.
Greenberg said he believes the 12-member congressional super-committee charged with tackling fiscal problems “will probably come up with nothing.”
He said Congress “is fooling itself if it doesn’t reduce entitlement spending,” which is growing as Baby Boomers retire and collect Medicare and Social Security benefits. He supports raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to at least 69.
Greenberg said the economy still hasn’t come out of the recession that began in late 2008.
“You can see it in the real estate market, which is the worst it’s been in my 36 years,” he said.
“There are some high-priced homes that have fallen 50 to 60 percent in value,” Greenberg said. “People look at the value of their homes as to whether they’re wealthy or have some disposable income. They’re not going to become consumer spenders with the way the market is now.”
He said even after consumer confidence rebounds it “will be hard to get to five percent unemployment again” because technology is eliminating jobs.
“We’ve created an efficiency that is increasing the unemployment rate,” Greenberg said. “The rate may be high for years to come.”