Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Kevin Lembo at Precision Combustion Thursday talking to workers (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

NORTH HAVEN, CT — Ending months of speculation, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo announced Thursday he is forming an exploratory committee to run for governor.

The 53-year-old Democrat from Guilford, who has not been shy about challenging his own party’s governor on fiscal policy, joins an increasingly crowded field.

Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, former Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris, former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei, and Jacey Wyatt have all formed exploratory committees to seek the Democratic nomination. The field of candidates who have formed exploratory committees on the Republican side is even larger.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced a few weeks ago that he won’t be seeking re-election to a third term in November 2018, which essentially started the horse race between those eager to start raising money to qualify for public financing before the Democratic convention in May 2018.

Following a tour of Precision Combustion, a clean energy catalytic device manufacturing company on Sackett Point Road, Lembo told reporters he is contemplating a run for governor because he is both “frustrated” by, and “sick and tired” of the state of politics in Hartford.

Asked if he was considered part of that, Lembo said “there is plenty of blame to go around.”

Like Mattei, Lembo also released a straight to camera video talking about why he wants the job.

He said something has to change.

“We’ve got to demand accountability from Hartford. We’ve got to get the economy moving for all of the people and small businesses in our state,” Lembo said.

He also made a point of saying he didn’t grow up in the “political class.”

“Before running for state comptroller, I had never run for anything in my life,” Lembo said.

While saying he thinks Republicans share in some of the blame for residents’ frustration, Lembo added: “I’ve stood up to Governor Malloy,” stating his staunch opposition last year to Malloy and the state bond commission’s decision to grant a multi-million dollar loan and grant deal to two hedge funds.

Lembo was one of the members of the state Bond Commission to vote against giving $22 million in loans and grants to Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund. He also voted against giving AQR Capital, the second largest hedge fund in Connecticut, $35 million in incentives to expand and create jobs.

Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Kevin Lembo makes his announcement (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

As a Democrat, Lembo has to try to create distance between himself and Malloy, who is, according to recent polls, the third most unpopular governor in the country — and the most unpopular Democratic governor.

Lembo said he made his announcement at the North Haven company, which employs 40, because “this is the kind of company that Connecticut really needs.” He said Precision Combustion and green technology is the kind of business “that we don’t spend enough time helping grow on their own.”

He added state politicians have to “stop changing the rules every day” and work to encourage small- and mid-range business growth.”

Lembo said if he runs he would participate in the Citizens Election Program (CEP), which is the state’s voluntary clean elections system that provides full public financing to qualified candidates for statewide office.

Almost every candidate for statewide office has been using the CEP, which means they have to raise $250,000 in qualifying funds to receive a $1.4 million primary grant and $6.5 million for the general election. Candidates attempting to qualify for the CEP must raise the $250,000 in donations of up to $100 per person, though in the exploratory phase they case accept up to $375 per person.

Asked if contemplating a run for governor meant that he will definitely not be a candidate for a third term as comptroller, Lembo answered: “that remains be to be seen.”

Lembo first ran for comptroller in 2010 and won re-election in 2014 by a smaller-than-expected 64,000 vote margin over a candidate with no resources or name recognition.

In his second term, Lembo has not been shy about taking on fiscal issues locally in Connecticut and social issues nationally.

Besides his hedge fund position, earlier this year, Lembo took on a Mississippi-based group that is known for its anti-gay and anti-transgender boycotts of businesses. As a result of his challenge to the group, it was removed from a list of approved charities to which state employees could donate via payroll deduction. State workers can still donate to the group if they choose, but the option is not included in the state’s payroll system.

In building their own family, Lembo and his husband, Charles Frey, were denied the ability to adopt two children after a New York judge deemed their family unsuitable due to their marital status and sexual orientation. Lembo and Frey successfully appealed the matter all the way to the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division. In 2004, Lembo was commissioned a “Kentucky Colonel,” the highest honor awarded by the Governor of Kentucky, in recognition of his advocacy on behalf of children in foster care.

Besides Lembo, Drew, Harris, Mattei, and Wyatt, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Attorney General George Jepsen have not ruled out running for the Democratic nomination.

Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim, who returned to office in 2015 after serving a prison sentence for public corruption, recently asked the State Elections Enforcement Commission if his felony conviction would bar him from participating in the state’s public financing program should he decide to run for statewide office. The SEEC said it will issue a ruling in June.

On the Republican side, announced candidates are Joseph Visconti, a contractor from West Hartford, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who is making his third run, along with Glastonbury Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, David Walker, Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, and Peter Lumaj, who is running for statewide office but hasn’t said whether he will seek the governor’s office.

And those are just the candidates who have already filed their paperwork with the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

Others who have expressed interest in running include former state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, former congressman Joe Scarborough (who now hosts Morning Joe on MSNBC), Senate Republican President Len Fasano of North Haven, and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides of Derby.