From the attack ads on television, a Connecticut resident might think that Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski are the only candidates running to be the state’s next governor.
In fact, the race has a third, lower-profile contender: Oz Griebel. Griebel, a former Republican, has partnered up with Democrat and Newtown lawyer Monte Frank to form an independent ticket on the ballot this fall. But news on Tuesday about the arrest of Griebel’s campaign manager, Kyle Lyddy, on charges of embezzlement may cast a shadow over the campaign as it faces an uncertain future.
“There are those who were wavering whether or not to support [Griebel], but now it will probably drive some of those people away,” said Gary Rose, professor and chair of government at Sacred Heart University and frequent Connecticut political commentator. “This is about as bad news as you can get for a campaign.”
Lyddy was charged with larceny after a police investigation found that he had embezzled $500,000 from his former employer, the Norwalk-based company Match Marketing Group, to pay for various personal costs, including $7,000 on a family charity event and a vacation on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship. Norwalk police began investigating on Aug. 1, when Match Marketing Group employees contacted them and accused Lyddy of stealing funds.
Lyddy also stands accused of stealing $60,000 from the company through fraudulent purchases on the mobile app Venmo.
In a Facebook message, Griebel referred the News to a Tuesday tweet by Frank, who said he was “devastated” about the charges against Lyddy and that two other officials would take over Lyddy’s responsibilities.
“I’m as shocked as everyone else who knows him,” Frank said in the tweet.
Colin McEnroe ’76, a Connecticut political radio talk show host, said he believes the news will not have much of an effect on the race, given that the Griebel campaign has been struggling from the beginning.
“I know Oz. I like Oz. I think he’s a smart guy,” McEnroe said. “But this has not been a well-run campaign.”
An Aug. 23 poll by Quinnipiac University placed Griebel’s support at 4 percent, ahead of Libertarian Rod Hanscomb, at 1 percent, but well behind Lamont, at 46 percent, and Stefanowski, at 33 percent.
The poll also surveyed voters’ opinions of Griebel. Over 80 percent of those surveyed had not heard enough to form an opinion on him, compared to only around 30 percent who said the same of Lamont or Stefanowski.
Griebel qualified for the election ballot on Aug. 28, when he surpassed the requisite 7,500 signatures.
Two minor party candidates, Hanscomb and Mark Stewart Greenstein of the Amigo Constitution Party, have also garnered enough signatures to appear on November’s ballot.
Griebel participated in the first debate of the general election season last Wednesday, held at the University of St. Joseph. Griebel and Lamont debated a number of issues, including tolls, state finances and Stefanowski’s plan to eliminate the state income tax more than eight years.
Stefanowski declined an invitation to the debate, but his campaign has publicly stated he will participate in five upcoming debates, including a debate Wednesday in New London.
But Griebel may not be present. Along with the two other candidates for governor, he has been excluded from Wednesday’s debate because he’s polling at below 10 percent.
Although he may not be present at future debates, both Rose and political columnist Chris Powell agree that Griebel’s effect on this election will largely depend on which main party candidate he siphons votes from.
Rose and McEnroe both said Griebel is more likely to steal votes from Stefanowski’s coalition than from Lamont’s, citing his history as a Republican gubernatorial candidate and businessman. McEnroe added that Griebel might take unaffiliated voters away from Stefanowski, although he noted it is still too early to know for sure.
But Powell said he disagrees.
“I suspect that only the political junkies know anything about Griebel, much less that he used to be a Republican,” he said. “I do not think former membership is going to carry much.”
Powell said Griebel’s positions on state taxes and finances more closely align with Lamont’s, which may entice potential blue voters to his side.
However, with the revelations surrounding Lyddy, Rose said he believes Griebel stands much less of a chance of spoiling the election than before.
“Without this problem, he could have been an important player,” Rose said.
In an Aug. 29 article in the Hartford Courant, Griebel emphasized his distrust of the two-party system and rejected the label of “spoiler.”
“The two-party system has spoiled the Connecticut economy for the last 30 years,” he told the Courant. “The spoilers are Ned and Bob, who will prevent us from getting over 50 percent.”
Lyddy, the arrested campaigned manager, is the former chair of the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission.
Vivek Suri contributed reporting.
Conor Johnson | email@example.com