Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
William Tong, Ned Lamont, Shawn Wooden, Denise Merrill and Susan Bysiewicz outside Bear’s. (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Democratic candidates who will appear on Row A in the August primary met at Bear’s Restaurant Wednesday to see what they can do to work together, but aside from a loose affiliation on a ballot line there weren’t a lot of concrete examples of how they would run as a slate.

“It’s a great group, I’m proud to be here with them,” Ned Lamont, the endorsed candidate for governor, said.

He said they were just beginning a discussion about how to go together into the Aug. 14 primary.

It’s likely each of the candidates, with the exception of incumbent Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, will have one or two primary opponents.

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim is looking to petition his way onto the ballot, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz faces a challenge from Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, state treasurer candidate Shawn Wooden faces a challenge from Dita Bhargava and state Rep. William Tong, who won the endorsement for attorney general, faces a primary from Sen. Paul Doyle and former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei.

In a statement following the press conference, Mattei said “It’s disappointing to see party insiders presumptuously declare ‘we’re the Democratic Party’ long before actual voters get the chance to do so in August. This is exactly the type of establishment, top-down politics that voters in Connecticut have been frustrated with for years.”

Lamont, a Greenwich businessman who earned his millions in the telecommunications industry, described the group as “smart, battle-tested, and ready to fight for Connecticut values. And we’re just beginning to discuss how we can work together going forward into the primary and then how we win in November, because this is such an important lights-on, lights-off election.”

Asked about Bermudez Zimmerman and his decision to choose Bysiewicz before the convention, Lamont said he thinks Bysiewicz knows Hartford and “we’re very complimentary.”

“We’ll be all working together as the endorsed slate going forward and we’ll let the primary voters make up their minds,” Lamont said.

Lamont’s decision to choose Bysiewicz set off a firestorm of criticism regarding the Democratic Party’s view of diversity as being reserved for other statewide offices.

“I think we presented the most diverse group of candidates that we’ve ever seen in this state by any party,” Tong said.

He said the Row A slate represents the voters of Connecticut.

At the same time, Wooden said he doesn’t believe they should allow the discussion about diversity to “obscure the great talent that we have on this slate right here. It’s historic, it’s diverse, but it’s also experienced.”

He said the challenges they will face are too great to be distracted.

“Look we’re not afraid of a primary,” Lamont said. “We all have a primary going forward.”

Bysiewicz said primary’s are healthy for the democratic process and they get to discuss the views much sooner than they would if there wasn’t one.

Also the Republican Party has primaries in all but one of the races for statewide office.

Connecticut has a closed primary system which only allows voters registered with a party to vote in the primary.

Asked if they were concerned their political friendship could cause problems for compliance with Connecticut’s election laws, they said they were taking their compliance very seriously.

Lamont is not using the Citizens Election Program, but the rest of the candidates are, which means they have an expenditure limit.

Officials from the Connecticut Democratic Party did not attend the press conference.

The party paid a $325,000 fine in 2016 to the State Elections Enforcement Commission as part of a settlement agreement.

Election regulators accused the party of using funds from its federal account to pay for about $300,000 in mailings featuring Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy who was running for a second term and a get-out-the-vote message for a member of congress. Since state contractors can contribute to the federal fund, election regulators felt the party was circumventing Connecticut’s clean election laws which prohibit state contractor contributions.

One of the things federal investigators were looking at was whether the party should have used its federal account, which includes prohibited state contractor funds, to pay for about $300,000 in mailings featuring Malloy. The party argued it had to use the federal account because the mailings included a get-out-the-vote message.

Based on Connecticut’s election laws, Lamont may benefit from not using the public financing system because it means the party can actually give him more money.

The party can make direct contributions to a self-funded candidate of up to $50,000. Town committees can give candidates $7,500.

Publicly financed candidates can only accept organizational expenditures from the party, such as emails listing the candidates name, events featuring the candidate, or help from advisers.

Democratic Party – Row A press conference

Posted by on Wednesday, May 30, 2018