After a few days of controversy in which a scheduled Connecticut gubernatorial “debate” left several candidates uninvited and unhappy, the forum has been cancelled. The event was originally scheduled for Friday as part of the Second Annual New England Maker Summit. Organizers announced WFSB-TV’s Dennis House, the host of the station’s popular “Face the State” program, would be the moderator. House, who was not involved in the planning of the event, told The Hanging Shad via email Saturday that he has since declined to be the moderator and later said the debate was cancelled.
A report in the Hartford Courant’s “Capitol Watch” blog last week said the debate was to be held at the University of Hartford as part of the New England Maker Summit. It listed the participants as Republicans Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Trumbull First Selectman Timothy Herbst, state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan of Glastonbury, and state Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton as well as Democrats former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei of Hartford, former state Sen. Jonathan Harris of West Hartford, and former Wall Street trader Dita Bhargava of Cos Cob.
That roster immediately drew criticism from Middletown Democratic Mayor Dan Drew, also a candidate. Drew was fairly specific in how things unfolded. “I learned of this debate today when a friend asked me why I wasn’t attending,” Drew wrote on his Facebook page. “After a few discreet fact finding calls, we learned that invitations were handled by a donor and supporter of one of my opponents…I wasn’t invited…When a member of my campaign team reached out to one of the other organizers, he was told that there was only room for seven people at the table and that they could not fit an eighth,” he wrote.
The Shad could not confirm the name of the donor Drew referred to, or to which of Drew’s opponents they supposedly donated. Drew said he planned to hold a questions-and-answers session at another location the night of the 17th and would invite other Democrats not invited to the UHart event. Other Democrats running or considering a run for governor include former state Veterans Affairs Commissioner Sean Connolly, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.
Other Republicans running or considering entering the race include Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, businessman Stephen Obsitnik, businessman Bob Stefanowski, and former US Comptroller General David Walker.
Event publicist Bernard Kavaler says things went off the rails after the “Capital Watch” blog labeled the gathering, “The first major debate of the gubernatorial season.” Kavaler says the event was not supposed to be a debate or even a “candidates forum.” It was just supposed to be a panel on the issues covered in the bigger Maker event.
Not being invited may have upset Drew but it didn’t stop him from fundraising off the issue. Under the heading, “The Fix is In,” Drew sought contributions via email saying, “We knew that running a campaign on progressive ideas would not be easy, but now things are getting dirty. We were blackballed from attending the ‘first major Governor’s debate.’” Such fundraising efforts after controversies are not uncommon.
With Democrat Dan Malloy not running again, there is a mad scramble to succeed him. There are likely to be many debates, forums, appearances and campaigning of every stripe. But it hasn’t gotten off to a good start.