WEST HARTFORD, CT — For the first time since 2010 there’s an open governor’s seat. And while rhetoric has gotten heated on the campaign trail, Thursday’s event was civil and non-combative.
Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Thursday’s event hosted by the Rell Center for Public Service at the University of Hartford was neither a forum nor a debate. She said the format, which was very much like a job interview, was intended to give the audience a glimpse of a candidate’s personality.
For those who didn’t watch it live on Connecticut Public Television there was no back and forth between the candidates and little talk about the state budget, labor unions, or taxes.
Four candidates — three Republicans and one Democrat — each sat down individually with Chris Ulrich, a political consultant and body language expert, for a 12-minute interview that was designed to knock them off their stump speech and give the audience a glimpse of who they are as people, and who they might be as leaders.
None of the candidates were able to listen or view any of the other candidates’ interviews, so they didn’t know what questions they were going to be asked in advance. They drew a number at random before the start of the program to see which candidate would go first.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton was the first to be interviewed.
He confessed to trying yoga, loving NASCAR, and failing to properly communicate his views on illegal immigration.
In 2006, Danbury police assisted federal agents in an undercover operation where 11 undocumented day laborers climbed into a van they thought was headed to a job site. Instead, they were turned over to federal immigration authorities. The case led to a lawsuit that the city eventually settled for $400,000.
Boughton said he now has a “harmonious” relationship with the immigrant community.
He said he’s let the community know he can’t enforce immigration law on behalf of the federal government, and “I can’t condone you for breaking the law to come here.” On the other hand, if you have a pothole in your road and you need it filled, the city will come and do that, Boughton said.
Former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst was up next.
As far as leadership style goes, Herbst said he’s like the Godfather in that he insists on hearing bad news immediately.
He said he also likes having those around him with competing points of view. Afterward, Herbst said he would have liked Ulrich to ask the candidates about their top three priorities if they’re elected.
Ned Lamont, the lone Democrat in the group, was asked about one of his biggest failures and what it taught him.
Lamont mentioned his 2006 campaign to unseat former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
Lamont won the Democratic primary that year, but Lieberman went on to win as an independent candidate.
“I thought that he was wrong on one of the biggest issues of the day. But I gotta tell you, no one in my own party thought that was a particularly good idea,” Lamont said. “None of the Republicans thought that was a good idea. So I did unite people — that’s for sure. “
Lamont said he was proud of the fact that he tried and worked hard and is here again seeking elected office.
The third Republican, Steve Obsitnik, said his daughters didn’t necessarily want him to run for governor because they liked having him around. Obsitnik said his 15-year-old told him that she didn’t want him to run, but wouldn’t be able to forgive herself if in 10 years the state wasn’t better off.
He said his wife has been very supportive of the journey.
Obsitnik has used campaign funds to purchase an RV he uses to travel the state.
He said he appreciated Thursday’s format, which allowed people to let go of their talking points, but he said he would have liked more time.
“At the end of the day that’s what voters want — someone who is authentic,” Obsitnik said.
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim wasn’t allowed to participate because he’s not on the ballot yet, but that didn’t stop him from showing up at the venue.
Ganim was outside the Lincoln Theater Thursday before the debate trying to paint himself as the outsider and underdog.
Ganim feigned ignorance of the rules for the event when confronted by Mildred McNeil of the University of Hartford.
McNeil explained that he can’t campaign outside the theater because the other candidates have agreed not to do that, and it’s private property.
Ganim said he was too busy collecting signatures to get on the ballot to read the rules the Rell Center sent his campaign before the party conventions in May.
“I was out getting signatures,” Ganim said.
Ganim said he doesn’t know how they are going to have a debate with only one Democratic candidate.
“There’s no debate,” McNeil said.
McNeil said she can’t let the media ask Ganim questions on campus.
Ganim was not barred from the event, but McNeil eventually gave him a ticket to let him in to sit in the audience.
At some point during the evening Rell thanked Ganim for coming and for his understanding.
She said he recalled the last time they were in a campaign against each other. It was 1994 and both were running for lieutenant governor.
“I had forgotten about that,” Rell said.