|Lamont: "You represent the best of Connecticut values." Lucy Gellman Photo.
How does prison reform factor into youth development? Will home health services look any better under a Democratic governor? What is the state’s role in resuscitating Connecticut’s arts and culture? What about tax exempt status? Why won't anybody treat nonprofits like the economic engines they are?
Those are just a few of the questions Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont got Tuesday, as he addressed over 500 nonprofit professionals in arts, culture, aging, prison reform, health and human services at the CT Nonprofit Alliance’s 2018 conference. Held at the Hartford Convention Center, the conference featured a “candidate forum” with gubernatorial candidates Lamont and unaffiliated candidate Oz Griebel. Republican State Sen. Joe Markley, candidate for lieutenant governor, appeared as a surrogate for gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski. Each spoke to the audience individually for about 25 minutes, instead of appearing in dialogue with each other.
As the three addressed a sleepy-eyed audience in one of the center’s large ballrooms, only Lamont honed in on nonprofits and the role they may play in the upcoming election, and next gubernatorial administration. Mentioning the word "nonprofit" only once or twice in 25 minutes, Griebel gave his standard stump speech, based on a 35-point policy plan and belief that only an independent candidate can bring partisan legislators together (read more about that here and here). He reiterated his hope to involve the private sector in arts and culture, a move that would include privatizing the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), but gave no specifics about the sector.
Markley spoke passionately about nonprofits in the area he oversees as a state senator—Cheshire, Prospect, Southington, Waterbury and Wolcott—but gave almost no information about Stefanowski’s platform, dedicated almost entirely to cutting taxes. In one moment of rare specificity, he criticized Gov. Dannel Malloy’s “Second Chance Society,” and said that a Stefanowski administration was unlikely to continue it without massive structural changes.
Lamont zeroed in on the sector, addressing the room’s potential constituencies—home health care, youth services, and juvenile rehabilitation especially—one by one. He recalled his experience as a volunteer teacher at Bridgeport’s Warren Harding High School, praising youth services professionals for the work they do. He recalled visiting nonprofits in Connecticut's towns—"all 196 of em!"—to get a better sense of needs across the state. He spoke about the impact of the arts in schools, where after-school programming is often run or funded by external theaters and arts organizations. He pitted himself against Stefanowski, promising that “we’re not going to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in our state” and painting a grim image of a Connecticut stripped of social services, in which nonprofits have leaner resources than those they are already working with.
“He [Stefanowski] has said in no uncertain terms, ‘We’re gonna blow it up and start again,’” he said. “That we’re gonna eliminate the income tax, we’re gonna eliminate the corporate income tax, we’ll eliminate the state tax, we’re gonna eliminate the real estate tax … we’re gonna eliminate about 60 percent of the revenue that keeps our state going. I think that’s a false promise, and that would be devastating for our state.”
He also sought to distinguish himself during questions from the audience. He told a volunteer from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) that he would work to expand home care services, a process that entails redirecting funds away from nursing homes and protecting Medicaid dollars in the state(“DNR? DNH! Do not hospitalize! Let me stay in my home!”). He praised Malloy’s “Second Chance Society,” noting that he would do what he could to support, maintain and expand it. And he suggested that investing in arts and culture could be the key to bringing in jobs, building up cities, and giving the state’s economy a big boost.
“I’ve gotta do everything I can to bring our cities back to life,” he said to Eric Dillner, head of the Shoreline Arts Alliance and a member of the Nonprofit Alliance. “I’ve gotta make sure this is a place where young people wanna be … New Haven, Hartford, Waterbury, New London—arts are a big part of bringing our cities back to life. So you’re going to have a partner in the governor’s office that understands the different roles that arts play in our state.”
“You represent the best of Connecticut values,“ he added. “That we’re all in this together.”