North Haven — Connecticut now has a dozen candidates raising money for declared or exploratory campaigns for governor as Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo confirmed Thursday what has been suspected for months and known for weeks: He, too, is interested in running for governor in 2018.
Lembo, 53, a Democrat and self-described “data nerd” who was elected to statewide office as comptroller in 2010, opened an exploratory campaign that allows him to begin the difficult task of raising $250,000 in small-dollar contributions to qualify for public financing, now a key measure of viability in gubernatorial politics.
His kickoff came with flourishes more typical in the launch of a full-fledged campaign, not an exploratory. He announced at a factory here, accompanied by his would-be campaign manager, Evan Brown, and would-be campaign strategist, Marla Romash, whose past candidates in Connecticut include U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
Lembo immediately began navigating the same challenging path facing any Democrat wishing to succeed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a hero in the party for recapturing the governor’s office for the party after 20 years out of power, yet a burden as a profoundly unpopular governor seen as synonymous with a faltering economy and serious fiscal challenges.
Lembo promised to “shake up the system” and reinforced his independence of the governor, whose economic development policies he has criticized, notably state aid intended to keep a major hedge fund based in Connecticut. He portrayed Connecticut as a state badly in need of new direction.
“I’m doing this because of the frustration,” Lembo said. “The hopes and dreams of the people of the state of Connecticut are depressed, suppressed by this constant cycle of boom and bust. Bad news at the Capitol makes it really hard to grow if you don’t know what the rules are going to be and the path forward is going to look like.”
As c0mptroller, Lembo runs the agency that pays the state’s bills and oversees the administration of retirement benefits, putting him in a position to understand the finances of government. As a candidate, his challenge will be to translate that knowledge into prescriptions for change.
“Being the comptroller, for a data nerd, is like Christmas every day,” Lembo said. “I’m sitting on huge data sets, and I’m able to do real analytics, and look at where we are, and proof concepts and make sure government is operating in an efficient way. That’s what Connecticut government needs. We need to go agency by agency, function by function, and figure out, what are we doing? Why are we doing it? Is there a better way to get the job done? Or, frankly, are there things we need to stop doing?”
Lembo is the fourth Democrat to open an exploratory — and the third since Malloy announced two weeks ago he would not seek a third term. Eight Republicans have formed either candidate or exploratory committees.
His action Thursday does not signify that his friend and former boss in the comptroller’s office, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, has decided not to run. He says he would defer to Wyman should she become a candidate for governor, but wants to begin raising money now.
Lembo is an openly gay, married father of three adopted sons, all black. His first statewide campaign was not a product of movement politics, but biography tends to be a bigger part of campaigns for governor.
“My family is what it is, you know that. We neither hide, nor proselytize,” Lembo said. “We are who we are. It just happens to be how we were born and how our family looks. There are some situations where people say, ‘Wow, that’s really an awesome thing,’ and others that may have trouble with that. Either way, we have to move forward.”