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Famous candidates you’ve never heard of

Connecticut will elect a new governor in a little more than a year and we already have a couple of dozen Democrats and Republicans in line, including one or two you may have heard of.

Given the state we’re in—pun intended—with a governor and Legislature incapable of producing a budget for more than a hundred days after the deadline, crushing debt amassed over the years by governors of both parties and mostly Democratic legislatures and a sweetheart pension deal for state employees that won’t be up for renegotiation until 2027, if then—the number of people hungering to take this job is a bit surprising.

Until you examine the field.

*Not one of them has ever been elected to statewide office.  

*Many have never been elected to anything at all.

*Those elected to something include small town first selectmen, medium-sized city mayors and one mayor of a major city.

*Nine of the 10 candidates with the most campaign money are Republicans and most of them are either little known or unknown.  For example, the best financed candidates  are Republicans David Stemerman, Robert Stefanowski and Prasad Srinivasan.

This should be a Republican year, after the sorry state of a state ruled by a Democratic governor and Legislature for the past eight years, but there isn’t a well known Republican in the bunch.  

Ask the next Republican you meet to identify Republican candidates Mark Boughton, Mark Lauretti and David Walker.  They are the mayors of Danbury and Shelton and the former comptroller of the U.S.  They’re the most famous; the others are not nearly as well known as these three.

Connecticut has had five Democratic and five Republican governors in the past six decades or so, and all 10 of them got the job after running for and winning a significant office or two:  Congress, secretary of the state, mayor, lieutenant governor and state house majority leader.  By the time they ran for governor, people actually knew who they were and, in some cases, even what they stood for.  

Today, the best known candidate from either party is Democrat Joe Ganim but his name recognition is more the result of his criminal record than his mayoral performance in Bridgeport.  The other mayoral candidates are lesser known, although one of them has gained some fame for the wrong reason.

That would be the Democratic mayor of Middletown, Daniel Drew, who sought to enrich his campaign treasury by putting the arm on city employees for $100 contributions—with no hard feelings from the boss, of course, if they chose to pass.  

The other mayors, the aforementioned Boughton  and  Lauretti, tried and failed to get the gubernatorial nomination in 2014 before the party turned to businessman Tom Foley for his second unsuccessful run against Malloy.  

Foley is one of that still thriving breed of very successful businessmen and women who decide it is time to give something back—namely, themselves—to the community by running for the highest office they can find.  You know their names, or at least the most recent ones like Democrat Ned Lamont who tried and failed to win a Senate race against Joe Lieberman and a gubernatorial primary against Malloy and Republican Linda McMahon, the two-time Senate loser who spent $50 million of her own money losing to Senators Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy.  The party tends to like them, mostly for their money.

But that sad record hasn’t discouraged a new tier of tycoons from running for governor—and already showing they have the financial wherewithal—mostly their own—to compete.  

The candidate with the most campaign money at the moment is one David Stemerman of Greenwich—of all places—who shut down his hedge fund last month and announced he would run for governor as “an outsider with a fresh perspective.”  He has already eased his anticipated primary run with $1.8 million in contributions—all from David Stemerman of Greenwich.  

The second biggest fund raiser in the race is one Robert Stefanowski of Madison, a former senior executive of UBS and CEO of DFC Global, who has raised $313,000--$250,000 from himself.  He also styles himself as “a political outsider with a proven track record of driving complex organizations and business turnarounds.” Courant columnist Kevin Rennie also discovered Stefanowski hasn’t voted in many years, which is sometimes hard to explain.   Also running as a business outsider is Republican Steve Obsitnik of Westport, the founder of software and tech service companies.

Attention must also be paid to the candidate who has raised the most money that is not his own, Republican Rep. Prasad Srinivasan of Glastonbury.  There are many others but so little space.

It’s possible none of the above will be the next governor.  It’s also possible one of the least likely will emerge in these bad times and demagogue his way to the top with empty promises and slogans.  

It’s happened.

Space does not permit the inclusion of so many others but suffice it to say, none you would consider a household name, except in their own households and those of a few closest friends.

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.