Oz Griebel jumps in race for governor, but will Chris Shays follow?

Oz Griebel launched his campaign for governor today, but the buzz belonged to former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays.

After a charity roast Wednesday night in Greenwich, Shays  sounded like he was ready to become a candidate: “I feel that I have a voice that can make a contribution, win or lose,” Shays told the Greenwich Time.

In Hartford, Griebel announced his candidacy on the north steps of the State Capitol, mid-way through a snowy day of campaigning that would take him to Torrington, Mystic, Hartford and Stamford.

Griebel, 60, of Simsbury, the president and chief executive officer of the region’s largest business association, the Metro Hartford Alliance, said he would bring an entrepreneurial spirit to a state that has been bleeding jobs and losing the next generation of workers to other states.

“We’ll think big. We’ll speak candidly. And we’ll act decisively,” Griebel said.

Griebel said he will not seek public financing for his campaign. He said he would run without regard to polls or concerns about re-election.

As president of the Metro Hartford Alliance, Griebel has interacted with political and business leaders in the Greater Hartford region for 19 years, but he acknowledged he is largely unknown in Fairfield County, where Republican primaries are won and lost.

“One of my big challenges, certainly, is name recognition in the southern part of the state,” he said.

He joins a Republican field that includes Tom Foley of Greenwich, a former ambassador and independently wealthy businessman, and Lt. Gov. Michael C. Fedele of Stamford.

Griebel, who also was the chief executive officer of BankBoston’s Connecticut subsidiary, immediately tried to position himself between the two leading Republicans, characterizing himself as business leader with realistic ideas about changing government.

He shook off a question about whether he would run the state like a business.

“It’s not that simple,” he said.

Like the other candidates, Griebel said the state must do what it can to cut costs over the short- and long-term. He said the state must negotiate with state employees for a contract that will allow new hires to be given a defined-contribution retirement plan, not a pension.

The state must examine all aspects of spending, including whether or not the state can afford multiple institutions of higher education, he said.

But he also said he could not rule out seeking new taxes, given that the next governor will face a $3 billion shortfall in an annual budget of $18.6 billion.

“I would never rule anything off limits. I think that’s a foolish thing to do in any time,” he said.

Griebel said he would consider highway tolls, but only if the revenue was dedicated to rebuilding transportation infrastructure.

Democrats also have a large field exploring a run.

Like the GOP, the Democrats’ early front-runners have a downstate tilt: They are Ned Lamont of Greenwich and Dan Malloy of Stamford. James A. Amann of Milford the former House speaker, has arranged to speak to Lamont and Malloy today, a sign his campaign may be about to end.

Other Republicans exploring a run include former U.S. Rep. Lawrence DeNardis of Hamden, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Newington Mayor Jeff Wright and Tom Marsh, the first selectman of Chester.

And maybe, just maybe, Shays.

Shays has given enough mixed signals in recent weeks that one of his roasters, Democrat Ned Lamont, compared him to Brett Favre, the aging quarterback who can never quite bring himself to quit.

Shays could be reached for comment today.