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Republican Gubernatorial Rivals Put Differences Aside For A Night To Criticize Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Contact Reporterakuznitz@courant.com

There was laughter and smiles among the five Republican gubernatorial candidates at their latest debate Monday, with the rivals directing their hostilities toward Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his bailout of Hartford instead of at one another.

With just eight days until the Aug. 14 primary, the camaraderie was evident during an exchange at Fairfield University between Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst.

“I will strap myself to I-95 before I put tolls on the highways,” Boughton said with a dramatic pause.

“And I will not let you hurt yourself,” Herbst said, offering his opponent a grin.

But the overtones of the latest GOP matchup were bleak, with candidates condemning the fiscally precarious situation in Connecticut’s capital. The remedy to Hartford’s near-bankrupt status, many said, was not for the Malloy administration and State Treasurer Denise Nappier to pick up $550 million in city debt payments — an arrangement that may span 20 years.

Boughton, who touted his nine successful terms at the helm of Danbury, said that he would have let Hartford go bankrupt.

“A solution for Hartford is not to build a baseball stadium,” Boughton said, referring to the multimillion-dollar Dunkin’ Donuts Park. “That’s a really bad idea. On your list of needs and wants, that really is not ranking very high.”

Herbst, who attended Trinity College, said he’s “embarrassed and ashamed” that Hartford was rewarded for its bad behavior.

“We need qualified people to go into Hartford, take the politics out of the situation, and give the city the hard pill of medicine it requires to get the capital city back on track,” Herbst said. “There’s a reason why businesses are leaving the City of Hartford. There’s a reason why people are leaving the City of Hartford.”

The debate also focused on another reason for the state’s mass exodus: a lack of jobs for millennials. Steve Obsitnik, a tech entrepreneur from Westport, said Connecticut is a state weakened by gaps.

“We have achievement gaps, and income gaps and a skills gap,” Obsitnik said. “We need to bring different innovation models around trends where the state is going and then ride these trends. Let’s encourage creativity so we can attract models that attract millennials, seniors and individuals across the spectrum.”

Looking out at the crowd of about 600 at the university Monday, Stemerman cautioned that two out of every three Fairfield graduates will flee Connecticut. He advocated for vocational institutions, such as Platt Technical High School and Goodwin College, to curb the deficit of manufacturing jobs.

“They need the opportunity to get a good job,” said Stemerman, a former hedge fund manager from Greenwich. “People are leaving the state because they literally cannot get a job.”

While Herbst acknowledged he was born on the cusp of the millennial generation, Madison businessman Bob Stefanowski joked he missed the cutoff by about 30 years. A Fairfield University graduate, Stefanowski said he wants to return Connecticut to what it was like in the 1980s — before the state income tax was introduced.

“The beginning of the end of the state of Connecticut was 1991,” Stefanowski said.

He and Boughton are both proponents of eliminating the state income tax, which has been heralded as an empty and unreasonable campaign promise by the other Republicans in the governor’s race. That point forged one of the most contentious disputes of the 90-minute debate, which was hosted by Fairfield University, the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, the CT Mirror, Connecticut Public Radio and NBC Connecticut.

Stemerman, deviating from his typical attack against Stefanowski’s brief stint as a registered Democrat, subtly urged voters to consider an “honest and realistic plan” where fiscal hurdles are concerned.

“This state has an extraordinary problem ahead of it,” he said.

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