Jonathan Pelto taking questions. Behind him is Sal Luciano, the WFP, AFSCME and AFL-CIO leader.
Jonathan Pelto, with his petitions, outside the WFP convention.
Jonathan Pelto, with his petitions, outside the WFP convention. CT Mirror file photo

Wallingford – Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman politely thanked Working Families Party members Saturday for what they did in 2010 to elect her and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The governor then brusquely reminded them of what he did on the strength of that victory.

“Elections have consequences,” Malloy said. “As a result of this last election for governor, I got elected and Tom Foley didn’t. That’s the reality. As a result of Tom Foley not getting elected, we did things that we would not otherwise have done.”

Those things include the passage of the nation’s first state law mandating paid sick days, a WFP priority that Malloy backed as a candidate and delivered as governor, and the first state law setting a $10.10 minimum wage.

A cross-endorsement by the Working Families Party, an off-shoot of organized labor and a not-so distant cousin of the Democratic Party, produced the margin of victory for the Malloy-Wyman ticket in 2010.

“Without you in 2010, we couldn’t have survived and become governor and lieutenant governor,” Wyman said, making the political personal. “Dan and I know we couldn’t have done this without you.”

Malloy and Foley, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination again in 2014, tied in the only two public polls conducted this year. In 2010, Malloy nudged Foley in Connecticut’s closest gubernatorial race in 56 years.

The Democrats want and need that cross-endorsement again.

It is likely to be delivered. AFT-Connecticut and the UAW, two active players in the Working Families Party, already have endorsed Malloy’s re-election. So did the statewide labor federation, the AFL-CIO. Its largest member is AFSCME, another force in the WFP.

Foley, the Republican who sparked derisive laughter Monday when he tried to convince the AFL-CIO convention that his repeated call for a “Wisconsin moment” was not a reference to that state’s political neutering of public employee unions after a GOP win, did not accept an invitation to speak Saturday.

Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, who is challenging Foley for the GOP nomination, came with a realistic expectation: He said he neither sought nor expected the WFP’s endorsement. Instead, he promised an open-door relationship.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy CT Mirror

His running mate, David M. Walker, also attended.

The Republicans were received politely.

If the annual WFP convention is a family affair of union and Democratic activists, then Jonathan Pelto was the relation whose presence provided a low-voltage jolt of tension. He is the Democrat-turned-independent, a spurned administration job-seeker and one-time close friend and colleague of Wyman.

Pelto came to bury Malloy, not praise him.

The AFT and AFL-CIO shunned Pelto, an old ally when he was a Democratic legislator, from its endorsement process, but he was invited to attend Saturday. As the president of the AFL-CIO, Sal Luciano ignores Pelto. As the co-chairman of the WFP, he introduced him Saturday, albeit perfunctorily.

“Considering what’s happened over the past couple of weeks I just appreciate any opportunity to come and talk about the issues that I see out there that need to be addressed,” Pelto said.

Sen. John P. McKinney
Sen. John P. McKinney CT MIRROR

Pelto talks about things that the Working Families Party loves. He decries what he calls the corporate forces behind charter schools. He favors a more progressive income tax, one that would take a bigger bite out of Fairfield County incomes.

But his biggest challenge, at least with the Working Families Party, is the need to convince that he is not just a liberal spoiler who will take votes away from Malloy, the state’s first Democratic governor in a generation, but someone serious about winning.

Pelto says his challenge is based on noble impulses, primarily a desire to point to the shortcomings of a Democratic governor on tax equity and education policy. He says Malloy’s attempts at tenure reforms really were an attempt to abolish tenure.

He quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to the WFP, saying he lives by King’s “observation that at some point silence becomes betrayal.”

His insistence he is not spoiler was muddled by the previous evening’s story in The Mirror about his giving copies of his qualifying petitions to the former Republican state chairman, Chris Healy, who sent an email to GOP members urging them to sign as a way to “bleed votes” from Malloy.

Jonathan Pelto taking questions. Behind him is Sal Luciano, the WFP, AFSCME and AFL-CIO leader.
Jonathan Pelto taking questions. Behind him is Sal Luciano, the WFP, AFSCME and AFL-CIO leader.

“I am not helping the Republicans,” Pelto told reporters after the convention. “There is no secret deal.”

Inside the Carpenters Union hall where the WFP gathered, no one asked him about the Healy story. But the case for Pelto as a credible candidate was a matter of inquiry.

Even if he gets on the ballot by gathering 7,500 signatures by Aug. 6, Pelto acknowledged he has no realistic hopes of winning public financing. That would require collecting 111,000 signatures and raising $250,000 in contributions of no more than $100 each.

The last independent to win statewide office in Connecticut was Joseph I. Lieberman, an incumbent U.S. senator with close to 100-percent name recognition and a $20 million budget.

“You said that you won’t run just to be a spoiler. How will you pull together the kind broad coalition necessary to be a credible candidate?” asked Arlene Avery of Stafford, a member of the WFP leadership committee and the Democratic State Central Committee.

Pelto recited his impressive resume of organizing: Winning a state legislative seat in 1984, the same year he managed Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in Connecticut; his role as the political director of the state Democratic Party, helping to re-elect William A. O’Neill in 1986.

But Pelto last stood for election 22 years ago.

There were no other questions about whether his campaign was a protest or a realistic bid to become governor.

Pelto did not cross paths with Malloy or Wyman. The governor and lieutenant governor spoke in the first hour of the three-hour meeting. Pelto spoke in the last hour.

He told reporters there are no circumstances now under which he would end his campaign. Over his shoulder was a black bag. Tucked inside were a clipboard and petitions.

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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