Democrats endorsed Ned Lamont for governor Saturday, putting their stock in a wealthy Greenwich businessman who became a national figure in 2006 with his antiwar challenge of U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman. They rejected an 11th-hour plea by Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim to overlook his criminal record and place him on the primary ballot.
But delegates dealt Lamont a rebuke over his choice of Susan Bysiewicz as running mate. Bysiewicz was assured of the endorsement, but nearly 40 percent of delegates swarmed to Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, whose protest candidacy took flight in just three days, guaranteeing her a place in the primary.
Overall, it could be a busy August for Democrats, with three-way primaries guaranteed for state treasurer and attorney general, plus a two-way contest for lieutenant governor.
Lamont, 64, who is largely self-funding his campaign, as he did in his Senate race and again in 2010 in an unsuccessful challenge of Dannel P. Malloy for the gubernatorial nomination, is promising a left-leaning approach to the state’s fiscal issues that he insists can coincide with economic growth and a welcoming business climate.
“We’re going to save Connecticut. I’m going to remember each and every one of you,” Lamont said. “And Bridgeport, I’m going to be on your side each and every day, don’t worry about that. All of our cities, you’ve got my word on it.”
He was briefly overcome by emotion as he accepted the nomination, his wife, Annie Lamont, a managing partner in a venture-capital firm, and their three children behind him. With a smile, Lamont noted it was the first time he could enjoy the view from a convention stage, accepting the endorsement of the Democratic Party.
“I’ve been here on the floor not winning it, you know,” Lamont said later. “It just meant a lot, standing there.”
The tally was 87.03 percent for Lamont to 12.97 percent for Ganim.
Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats steadily winnowed their field in the days leading up to their statewide nominating convention as Jonathan Harris, Sean Connolly and Bysiewicz dropped out and endorsed Lamont, with Bysiewicz signing on as his running mate Tuesday. Ganim and Guy L. Smith, another contender who skipped the convention, still can qualify for a primary by petitioning.
Ganim seconded his own nomination, a ploy that gave him access to the convention stage so he could plead with delegates to give him the 15-percent share of the vote that would qualify him for a primary in August. He asked them to look past the exortion-and-kickback scheme he devised in his first stint as mayor, which cost him the office and seven years in prison.
“I made my mistakes. I broke the law,” Ganim said. “I left office and came back. I ask for a second-chance opportunity.”
Bridgeport voters gave him that second chance in 2015, returning him to city hall as mayor of Connecticut’s largest city. He quickly grew restless in his old job, opening an exploratory campaign for statewide office on April 27, 2017, less than 18 months after his mayoral inaugural.
Ganim said he would continue his petition drive to qualify for a primary. He needs signatures from 2 percent of registered Democrats.
But the party’s bigger challenge to unity is a lingering debate over whether Lamont stumbled with his pick of Bysiewicz, rather than a black or Hispanic candidate. It caused dissension in his own campaign, as well as among delegates. New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, whom he tried to recruit as his choice for lieutenant governor, gave a seconding speech for Lamont, as did Connolly, the former veterans affairs commissioner.
“I’m fortunate to know Ned Lamont. I know his work. I know his values and, most important, I know his heart,” Harp said. “We all know Ned was among the first to speak out against the bogus war in 2006.”
Zimmerman, 30, a Puerto Rican labor activist who grew up in Hartford and lives in Newtown, challenged Bysiewicz for the nomination for lieutenant governor, quickly assembling a floor operation staffed by experienced labor organizers. They delivered her 39.83 percent to 59.01 percent for Bysiewicz.
Rep. Charlie Stallworth, an African-American minister from Bridgeport, also was nominated, but registered negligible support.
Lamont and Bysiewicz jointly led a procession of supporters into the convention hall. Bysiewciz bore the burden of trying to tamp down support for Zimmerman, but Lamont reiterated that he and Bysiewicz are a team.
“Susan and I are going to fight every day to keep Connecticut blue, side by side as full partners,” Lamont told the delegates.
As winners of the convention endorsement, each would appear on the top line of the primary ballot, assuming one of Lamont’s remaining challengers gathers the necessary signatures.
Lamont made a strong outreach to labor in his acceptance.
Pledging to back a $15 hour minimum wage and paid family and medical leave, Lamont said he would not forget labor when it comes to close huge projected deficits in the first new state budget after the election.
“I’m not going to balance the budget on the backs of our teachers, not the backs of state employees, and not on the backs of the most vulnerable,” Lamont said, his voice rising. “That’s not going to happen — not on my watch.”
“Each and every one of you are going to be at the table,” he said. “We’re all going to be part of the solution. We’re going to be doing this together.”
Lamont also pledged to craft a “jobs budget” that invests in education — community colleges in particular — and a transportation infrastructure that supports business.
“Connecticut people for Connecticut jobs,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re training our people,” he said. “Those moving vans that are thinking about heading up for Massachusetts, turn around.”