Boughton enters GOP gubernatorial race as pickup-truck populist

BETHEL — Mark Boughton struck a populist tone as he entered the race for governor Monday night, touting his record as Danbury’s mayor and needling his leading rival for the Republican nomination as offering little but a fat checkbook.

“Ladies and gentlemen, elections should not be about the size of your checkbook, or who has the most personal wealth,” Boughton said, igniting cheers in a crowded ballroom at the Stony Hill Inn. “Elections should be about the size of your ideas.”

Boughton Announce

Phyllis Boughton joins her husband Mark as he announces his candidacy for governor. (Photo by Mark Pazniokas)

A smile never left his lips, but Boughton took several jabs at the GOP frontrunner, Tom Foley, a Greenwich businessman appointed ambassador to Ireland by President George W. Bush. He also mocked Oz Griebel for considering re-instituting tolls and refusing to rule out new taxes to help close a $3 billion budget gap next year.

“Some candidates in this race are already discussing new taxes, creating tolls, and creating new taxing authorities so that the politicians in Hartford can pick your pocket some more, without any accountability,” Boughton said.

He mentioned no one by name, but his targets were clear.

With one-liners that generated laughter and applause, Boughton offered himself as an alternative to the early frontrunners in both parties, Foley and Democrat Ned Lamont, who each happen to be wealthy, Ivy-League educated residents of Greenwich.

“I didn’t go to Harvard and I didn’t go to Yale,” Boughton said, smiling broadly. “I went to Central Connecticut State University and Western Connecticut State University, and I am proud of it!”

Boughton told the crowd that the race was about them, not his ambitions.

“Let’s make no mistake, there are powerful forces lining up against us. Changing our future takes courage and it takes hard work,” he said.

Boughton, who intends to seek public financing for his campaign under the Citizens’ Election Program, said later the reference was to Foley and his wealth.

In a Quinnipiac University poll released Jan. 21, Boughton ran third among Republican voters behind Foley and Lt. Gov. Michael C. Fedele. Foley was favored by 17 percent, Fedele by 8 percent and Boughton by 6 percent. Fifty-nine percent expressed no preference.

Boughton is a former state legislator who was elected mayor in 2001 and re-elected four times. He is best known outside Western Connecticut for his efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants in Danbury, an effort unmentioned Monday.

Instead, he recounted his record as the longest-serving Republican mayor of Danbury, a city of 80,000 that is Connecticut’s seventh-largest municipality and has been rated by CQ Press as the one of the safest municipalities in the United States. Boughton said it also has the lowest unemployment and some of the lowest property taxes in the state.

“Danbury is a city that by every measurement is well managed and is thriving,” Boughton said. “As your next governor I will bring the same skills, vision, and hard work to the state of Connecticut that I have to Danbury.”

Before entering politics, he taught social studies at Danbury High School.

“I made a choice to engage in public service to repay the community that has been so good to me,” he said. “I didn’t go to Wall Street and try to enrich myself. Instead, I went to Main Street to help our young people get a positive start in life and to make a difference in my community.”

He said the state is suffering from political gridlock.

Boughton thanked Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who lives in nearby Brookfield, for bringing honesty and integrity to the State Capitol after scandal forced the resignation of Gov. John G. Rowland. He exempted her from blame for the state of politics in Hartford.

“Connecticut is broken, and Connecticut is broke,” he said. “It’s broken because we have a legislative body, our General Assembly that is stuck and cannot or will not make the hard decisions that are required to put the pieces of our state back together. The political process in Hartford has ground to a standstill.”

If anyone thought he was just another politician trying to channel Scott Brown, the pickup-truck-driving Republican who recently rode a wave of discontent with Washington to the U.S. Senate, Boughton suggested that with him the sentiment came honestly.

And so does a pickup truck.

He said he bought truck back when he was a teacher starting a cabinet business on the side. Then smiled broadly and said it is “a green pickup truck that I still drive today.”