MANCHESTER – A leading Democratic candidate for governor, Ned Lamont, took heat on and off stage Monday night for missing a forum sponsored by a coalition of social-service and anti-poverty groups.

On stage, Democrat Dan Malloy was rewarded with laughter and applause after referring to two missing Greenwich entrepreneurs, Lamont and Republican Tom Foley, as “the two rich guys who are boycotting us tonight.”

Without offering details, Lamont’s campaign attributed his absence to “a scheduling conflict.” A spokesman for Foley could not be reached.

But the audience of 200 at Manchester Community College seemed to focus on the absence of Lamont, a recognition that social-service providers typically are a Democratic constituency.

griebel and malloy, 5-11-10

Republican Oz Griebel and Democrat Dan Malloy at a gubernatorial forum Monday. Independent candidate Tom Marsh also attended (Mark Pazniokas)

Lucy Nolan, the director of End Hunger Connecticut!, said Lamont made a mistake skipping the forum.

“I think there are a lot of people who haven’t made up their minds. I think we’re an important group,” Nolan said.  “I’m disappointed Ned Lamont chose not to show up.”

“We’re thankful for the candidates who did come,” said Jim Horan, the executive director of the Connecticut Association for Human Services. “It was a missed opportunity for those who did not.”

Malloy was joined on stage by Republican Oz Griebel, a Hartford business leader, and Chester First Selectman Tom Marsh, a Republican seeking the nomination of the Independent Party.

Griebel declined to criticize the missing Republicans, who included Foley, Lt. Gov. Michael C. Fedele and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton. “I’ve missed some forums,” he said.

Malloy had no such reluctance.

“I’m embarrassed for Ned,” Malloy said. “I don’t know how else to put it. How do you say to these people, who we turn to time and time and time again, that I just couldn’t find time in my schedule to be with you today?”

The discussion on stage was cordial.

Three on stage

Griebel, Malloy, Marsh and room to spare. (Pazniokas)

John Dankosky of WNPR was the moderator, posing questions submitted by the sponsoring organizations, who represented more than 800 non-profit providers of human services.

Griebel, who is on leave as the president and chief executive of the Metro Hartford Alliance, told the audience that job creation was the best anti-poverty program.

“I don’t think there is an opportunity to reduce poverty, unless there are jobs in Connecticut,” he said.

Marsh had a similar approach.

“What we need here is opportunity. The people I run into, they are not looking to be given something, they are looking for an opportunity,” Marsh said. “Right now that doesn’t exist.”

Malloy said he favored enacting a state version of the earned-income tax credit, a benefit geared to the poor.

Asked how to close the achievement gap in public schools, Marsh said he would expand charter schools.

Griebel said he would better link curriculum to meet the needs of business, making students more employable.

Malloy did not directly answer when asked by Dankosky if he wanted to see more charter schools established in Connecticut. The topic is controversial among unionized teachers.

Instead, he talked about his history in Stamford, where he expanded early-childhood education, and decried the statewide layoffs of more than 2,000 teachers in the past year.

“We should be ashamed of ourselves,” he said.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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