Oz Griebel, the exuberant Hartford business leader who waged uphill races for governor as a Republican in 2010 and an independent in 2018, died Wednesday from complications arising from being struck by a motor vehicle while jogging on July 21 in Pennsylvania. He was 71.
His family issued a brief statement announcing the death.
Griebel was fluent in public policy questions as the president of the MetroHartford Alliance, the region’s largest business group, and a frequent contributor to government task forces, consulted by Republicans and Democrats. But he struggled to convert that into political capital in either race.
He finished third in the 2010 GOP primary behind Tom Foley and Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele and third again in the 2018 general, trailing Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski.
With what appeared to be weak fields in both parties in 2018, Griebel saw a narrow path to a victory between Lamont and Stefanowski that never materialized. He ran with a Democrat, lawyer and gun control activist Monte Frank. They both had a serious command of issues, but they never found a political or fundraising base.
The high point of their campaign was winning the endorsement of The Hartford Courant on Oct. 28.
“The state of Connecticut is underwater. Years of complacent Democratic and Republican leadership have done little to right this ship,” the paper wrote. “The Courant recommends a new leader, one not beholden to political parties or to the narrow partisan loyalties that control them. We endorse the independent candidate Oz Griebel for governor.”
After qualifying for the ballot that year by petitioning, Griebel would genially tell reporters there was a book to be written if he and Frank won — an assertion he never made without a broad smile. Still, Griebel insisted that qualifying for the ballot was a significant milestone, a step nonetheless to a more serious conversation with voters.
“This is where I think this thing catches fire,” Griebel said. “Now that we’re on the ballot — a lot of people have told us from the beginning, ‘Until you’re on the ballot, I don’t know if I want to write you a check. I don’t know how excited I want to get about this.’ ”
At the midpoint of a one-hour debate sponsored by the Connecticut Broadcasters Association in mid-October, Griebel memorably boiled over with what he later called frustration at the failure of anyone to specifically address how the state could close a projected budget shortfall of $2 billion and improve an aging transportation infrastructure.
“You have no solutions, Bob!” Griebel yelled.
“Trust me, ladies and gentlemen,” Stefanowski said.
“Oh yeah, trust me,” Griebel said.
Griebel said later he was equally frustrated with Lamont, but Stefanowski deserved special scorn for his outlandish promise to eliminate the income tax, the state’s single largest source of revenue, without raising the sales tax or finding other new sources of revenue.
The outburst was a rarity for Griebel, a theatrical moment that briefly and belatedly defined him as a fresh and independent voice. If his unwillingness or inability to be cutting was a practical political liability, it also was seen as a personal virtue.
“He sought elected office, but never in a cut-and-slash partisan way, which was why he was so much admired and respected by Democrats and Republicans alike,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.
Griebel and Frank remained a political team, working on election reform issues in Connecticut with SAM, the Serve America Movement led by David Jolly, a former congressman. Griebel led the SAM-CT Task Force.
“Oz was and always will be the vision of courage, a man of passion and integrity, and the epitome of a leader,” Jolly and Frank said in message to the group. “He represented the best and the brightest.”
SAM CT is focused on term limits, open primaries, ranked-choice voting, a vote-by- mail option for all future statewide and federal elections and moving to a single, nonpartisan primary system.
Lamont said on Twitter and in a statement that he always admired Griebel’s spirit.
“Oz Griebel’s heart was with the State of Connecticut – he loved this state and the people who live in it, and he enthusiastically believed that its best days are ahead,” Lamont said. “I loved listening to his spirited energy whenever he spoke about the opportunity to make Connecticut and the Hartford region an even better place to live and work. We can all take a page from his commitment to work across the aisle and remove politics from policy.
“He will be missed, and I extend my deepest sympathy to his family. There is no place like Oz, and there was no one like Oz.”
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz called him “a ray of positivity, a fierce advocate for businesses, and a kind soul.”
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said Griebel was a relentless champion for Hartford, his adopted city.
“Whether you agreed or disagreed with him on the issues, you couldn’t help but be energized by him and by the work he did,” Bronin said.
Nancy DiNardo, the Democratic state chair, praised Griebel as “the consummate public servant.”
“As a business leader and as a candidate for governor, he raised critical issues and the caliber of the debate,” she said. “His passing is a huge loss for all of Connecticut. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family.”
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, called Griebel a contributor to civic life.
“He worked hard to be part of every conversation about improving and strengthening Connecticut and making our home a better place to live for all people,” Fasano said. “He was always a gentleman, in everything he did. He truly cared about Connecticut and its people.”
Richard Nelson Griebel was born June 21, 1949 in New Jersey. A friend dubbed him Ozzie, a reference to the sitcom, “Ozzie and Harriet,” whose children included the pop star, Ricky Nelson. It was quickly shortened to Oz.
Griebel played football and baseball at Dartmouth. He played one year of minor-league baseball after being drafted as a pitcher by the St. Louis Cardinals.
He came to Connecticut in 1993 as the chief executive of Bank of Boston Connecticut, the subsidiary created when the Boston bank expanded into the state through acquisitions. He took over the MetroHartford Alliance in 2001.
Griebel had three children from a marriage that ended in divorce. There was no information immediately available on survivors or a memorial service.