CTNJ File Photo
Jonathan Pelto (CTNJ File Photo)

(UPDATED 4:30 P.M.) Jonathan Pelto named a running mate Thursday and began the process of petitioning his way onto the ballot to launch a third-party challenge of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Pelto, a former Democratic lawmaker, is a vocal critic of Malloy’s administration and has been exploring a run for governor under his newly formed Education and Democracy Party.

On his blog, Wait What? Pelto announced he has chosen Hartford teacher Ebony Murphy as his running mate for lieutenant governor. He also announced he is beginning to collect the 7,500 signatures he’ll need by Aug. 6 to appear on the ballot.

“Ebony’s background and breadth of experiences will help ensure that she and I can give a meaningful voice to the extraordinary diversity that is Connecticut,” Pelto wrote. “As we continue to explore a run for governor and lt. governor, I’m extremely honored and proud to working side by side with Ebony Murphy in that task.”

Courtesy of The Real Ms. Murphy blog
Ebony Murphy pictured on her blog (Courtesy of The Real Ms. Murphy blog)

Pelto said Thursday morning he intends to speed up the exploratory process and expects to make a formal decision whether to run within the next 10 to 15 days.

He said he’s expediting the process so he can be considered for an endorsement by the state’s labor unions and advocacy groups.

“I feel like their requirement that they will only talk to announced candidates has forced me to speed up my exploratory process one way or another,” Pelto said.

On Wednesday, Pelto released a statement calling the preliminary endorsement of Malloy by the American Federation of Teacher’s Connecticut Legislative and Political Action Committee “premature,” “insulting,” and “inappropriate.” AFT spokesman Matt O’Connor said the union is in the midst of an internal process and would not be making public comments.

Much of Pelto’s criticisms of Malloy have focused on the first-term Democrat’s handling of education policy. He said he was disappointed he would not have a chance to have a discussion with the group’s rank-and-file teachers about Malloy’s policies, which he considers to be “anti-teacher.”

Pelto said he does not want to similarly miss out on an opportunity to address the Connecticut Working Families Party at an event on June 21. As a result, he intends to be formally in or out of the gubernatorial race before that date.

“If groups like American Federation of Teachers and the Working Families Party say we will not discuss with you your candidacy or the issues you’re raising unless you’re an official candidate, it makes it pretty clear that if I want these issues discussed I have to be an official candidate . . . and I have to do it significantly sooner than I intended,” he said.

Pelto is hoping for support among liberals disaffected by some of Malloy’s policies and rank-and-file members of the state’s labor unions. And he notes that in a potential three-way race it would not take a huge amount of support to swing the election away from Malloy, who won in 2010 by only 6,404 votes.

“Whether I take 2 percent of the vote or 10 percent of the vote or, as one would hope 37 percent of vote, I would impact the election,” Pelto said.

Pelto may be hoping for union support but the potential challenge of Malloy has put the former Democratic lawmaker and political consultant at odds with leaders of Connecticut’s unions, who seem firmly behind the sitting Democrat.

While Malloy’s re-election campaign and the Connecticut Democratic Party have said little on Pelto’s potential candidacy, SEIU 1199NE President David Pickus weighed in on Pelto two weeks ago, criticizing Pelto for consultant work he did on behalf of nursing home management during a 2001 labor dispute.

On Thursday morning, CSEA SEIU Local 2001 President Patrice Peterson emailed members to tell them that Malloy stated he would not seek more concessions from state employees to balance projected budget deficits in fiscal year 2016. Malloy’s administration negotiated concessions including pay freezes and reductions in benefits with state employee unions during his first year in office.

“CSEA has not made any endorsements in the governor’s race yet, but candidate statements such as these play a major role in our decision making process,” Peterson wrote.

Peterson compared Malloy’s statement on labor contracts to statements from the three Republican candidates. Tom Foley, the Republican nominee in 2010, again won the party endorsement at the convention but Senate Minority Leader John McKinney and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton both won enough support to wage a primary challenges. Peterson said CSEA will schedule candidate interviews in the coming weeks.

The email did not mention Pelto, who said he expected union leadership to rally behind Malloy but believes there is a disconnect between leadership and members in some unions.

“It’s awkward in the sense of brushing up again union leadership but it reiterates why I’d be running in first place,” he said.