A Labor Day surprise: Lembo opts out of race for governor

CTMIRROR File Photo

Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo

Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo abruptly ended his exploratory campaign for governor Thursday after a 10-day
“gut check,” removing the best-known Democrat from the field for 2018. He simultaneously announced his candidacy for re-election as comptroller.

His announcement does not signify an entrance into the race by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, a former mentor whom Lembo has said he would support for governor. Wyman, who is out of state traveling with her family, has not notified top Democrats she has made a decision about running, according to numerous sources.

Two sources say they believe Lembo’s surprise decision was a personal one, not based on considerations regarding his ability to win the nomination. He did well in his one and only fundraising quarter, and he was seen as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination as the only statewide official considering a run.

“It’s only personal in that it’s deciding about what I want to do with the next chapter of my life, what’s important to me,” Lembo told CT Mirror. “It’s what I want to work on. It’s the work I’m doing right now.”

In an emailed statement, Lembo said he was most passionate about health care and “a state financial and economic system that works for everyone.”

“I am determined to continue that fight, and believe the best place for me to do that is as state comptroller,” Lembo said. “And so – after reflection, consideration and consultation with my family – I am officially declaring my candidacy for re-election.”

Lembo said he had set September as an informal deadline, not for declaring his candidacy, but for greatly stepping up his exploratory campaign.

“We’re coming into Labor Day,” he said in an interview. “My intention was to come out with a great push on Labor Day.”

He said after a 10-day period of reflection, a time he called his final “gut check,” the right decision was to seek re-election.

Middletown Mayor Dan Drew is a declared candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, while former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei of Hartford, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and former Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris of West Hartford are raising money as exploratory candidates.

“I have spent the past four months, with many of you by my side, traveling to every corner of this state as I explored a run for governor,” Lembo wrote in a statement. “These conversations and your record-breaking support have inspired and humbled me. This journey has also reinforced and reminded me what I’m most passionate about: a health care system and a state financial and economic system that works for everyone.

Lembo won his first term as comptroller in 2010 and was re-elected in 2014, becoming the first openly gay statewide official in Connecticut.

He previously served as the state’s healthcare advocate.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced in April he would not seek a third term in office.

Connecticut’s next governor is expected to struggle with major budget challenges, as Malloy has for the past seven years.

Surging retirement benefit costs stemming from more than seven decades of inadequate funding, coupled with sluggish economic growth, are projected to strain state finances for the next decade and a half.

“Connecticut, with all of its financial struggles, is a place of great potential – in its people, its workforce and its values,” Lembo added. “As state comptroller, I want to work as a team to help re-imagine this state as a place where we spend less time debating who to tax and where to cut, and more time recognizing who we need to grow: the middle class.”

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