Ann Hui Ching
On Monday night, the battle for Connecticut’s highest political office moved to the Elm City.
For the second time in a week, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski faced off against Democratic opponent Ned Lamont SOM ’80. But this debate took an even more caustic tone than the last one. Hosted at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, the debate touched on a number of issues, including education, affordable housing and health care. But nearly every answer the candidates gave circled back to taxes and jobs.
And no matter what the question was, each candidate found a way to turn his answer into a jab at the other. Stefanowski criticized Lamont for flip-flopping on the issues, while Lamont called out Stefanowski’s attitude, saying he had “never heard such arrogance.” Stefanowski consistently tried to paint Lamont as a clone of Gov. Dannel Malloy, and Lamont harped on Stefanowski’s support for President Donald Trump.
“This state is dying for leadership,” Stefanowski said. “Right now, we are in a death spiral, and Ned Lamont is going to continue it.”
The debate, hosted by the Connecticut Association of Realtors and the news station WTNH, was moderated by Michael Barbaro, the association’s president, not to be confused with the New York Times podcast host of the same name. Two hours before the debate was slated to begin, the candidates’ supporters had taken over College Street. As the Lamont-dominated crowd waved signs and chanted candidates’ names outside, the atmosphere inside the theater more closely resembled that of a cocktail party.
But when the debate started, the cordial atmosphere inside Shubert Theatre turned more raucous, as the candidates began to attack one another.
“That was a cheap shot,” one crowd member yelled between loud boos when Lamont called Stefanowski arrogant during his closing statement. Barbaro repeatedly told the crowd to quiet down and hold its applause, noting that he could not “throw everyone out.”
When discussing the issues, both candidates emphasized their own business experience and attempted to undermine the other’s. Lamont focused on his history of bringing business leaders together to solve problems and repeatedly emphasized his small-business acumen.
Stefanowski, on the other hand, touted his experience managing $500 billion budgets at UPS and General Electric, while expressing a desire to cut down government at every turn.
The main focus of this debate was the Connecticut economy. Stefanowski said that cutting taxes — especially eliminating the income tax over the next eight years — would benefit the state’s long-term economic growth. But Lamont countered that the tax produces about 50 percent of Connecticut’s revenue, and eliminating it would make it impossible to balance the budget.
Lamont added that the decrease in revenue would force lawmakers to limit education funding and push cities to raise property taxes to make up the lost revenue.
“This election is about taxes and jobs,” Sacred Heart University professor and frequent gubernatorial debate panelist Gary Rose told the News after the debate. “Everything else has been relegated to secondary status.”
Asked about investing in education, Stefanowski said the best way to grow education is to have tax cuts foster a “vibrant economy.”
“It is very obvious that Bob Stefanowski is going to stay on message irrespective of the question,” Rose said.
Oz Griebel, the Independent candidate for governor, was not allowed to participate in the debate because of his low poll numbers. In an email to Lamont and Stefanowski posted on his campaign website, he called on both major-party candidates to boycott the debate.
An Aug. 23 Quinnipiac University poll showed Lamont leading Stefanowski by 16 points in a head-to-head matchup.
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