La­mont’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer started here

Suc­cess­fully ran for Green­wich’s Board of Select­men in 1987

Greenwich Time (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kait­lyn Kras­selt

When Ned La­mont made his first foray into pol­i­tics more than three decades ago, he was a bright-eyed 33-yearold who had just started a busi­ness.

He was am­bi­tious, full of op­ti­mism and opin­ion about how his new home­town of Green­wich — and the state — should em­ploy busi­ness tac­tics in govern­ment. He wanted to get in­volved.

So when some­one asked him af­ter his first cam­paign speech in 1987, why he thought he could rep­re­sent Green­wich on its three­mem­ber Board of Select­men af­ter liv­ing in town for just four years, he was taken aback and called the ques­tion “hos­tile,” news re­ports from the time show.

Now, jaded by decades of bru­tal cam­paigns and a cur­rent elec­tion cy­cle that’s turned neg­a­tive more of­ten than not, La­mont, the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for gov­er­nor,

laughs at his naivete.

“In hind­sight, that was a pretty le­git­i­mate ques­tion,” La­mont said. “Es­pe­cially for lo­cal govern­ment. You have to know the com­mu­nity. Peo­ple ex­pect you to know the com­mu­nity.”

La­mont went on to win the elec­tion that year and serve as the lone Demo­crat in

a town known for its deepred roots, earn­ing him name recog­ni­tion long be­fore he ever chal­lenged a sit­ting U.S. sen­a­tor.

Though he still cam­paigns as a busi­ness­man — of­ten us­ing a line he used in his 1990 state Se­nate run, “The prob­lem is pol­i­tics and politi­cians. I’m run­ning as a busi­ness­man,” La­mont’s pol­i­tics where un­doubt­edly shaped by those early years in Green­wich.

La­mont, the early days

When La­mont was elected, he and Paul Hicks III were the two youngest select­men to serve on the board in more than a decade. Hicks, 30 at the time, was and soon to be­come fa­ther of now­former White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Hope Hicks. He and La­mont were both newly mar­ried with young daugh­ters, and rep­re­sented a shift in the face of lo­cal pol­i­tics.

Henry Fisher II, a 34-yearold elected to the Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Town Meet­ing at the time, said there was a con­certed “grass roots” ef­fort among young Re­pub­li­cans to vote for La­mont. And though he was the lone Demo­crat on the board, La­mont gained a rep­u­ta­tion for vot­ing his con­science rather than along party lines.

“In lo­cal govern­ment, you take off your par­ti­san hat,” La­mont said this week. “In lo­cal govern­ment and lo­cal is­sues there is not a par­ti­san way to pick up the snow, and I think I learned a lot from that.”

In 1989, La­mont turned down an in­vi­ta­tion from his party to run for first se­lect­man. Party lead­er­ship at the time said La­mont’s bi­par­ti­san sup­port made him the best shot at elect­ing a Demo­crat to the post for the first time since the 1930s. But La­mont de­clined to run. He couldn’t take on the full-time po­si­tion while also run­ning his fledg­ling busi­ness.

“It is true we wanted him to run for first se­lect­man be­cause he is the best can­di­date,” for­mer Demo­cratic Town Com­mit­tee Chair­man Alma Rut­gers said at the time. “It would just come to him nat­u­rally.”

In­stead, he found him­self on the 12-mem­ber Board of Es­ti­mate and Tax­a­tion, where he was of­ten the lone Demo­crat to side with Re­pub­li­cans on the town bud­get, spend­ing, taxes and a con­tro­ver­sial prop­erty reval­u­a­tion. He butted heads with mem­bers of his own party just as of­ten as he did with Re­pub­li­cans, news re­ports from the time show.

The bud­get cri­sis of 1990

Af­ter a year on the town fi­nance board, La­mont de­cided to chal­lenge a sit­ting Re­pub­li­can for his state Se­nate seat in the 36th Dis­trict, rep­re­sent­ing Green­wich and part of Stam­ford.

The bi­par­ti­san sup­port he picked up in lo­cal pol­i­tics po­si­tioned him to do the same in his run for the state leg­is­la­ture. La­mont’s fundrais­ing ef­forts sur­passed his op­po­nents at the time be­cause he was pulling in con­tri­bu­tions from both Re­pub­li­cans and Democrats.

Re­pub­li­cans like Scott Frantz, who cur­rently rep­re­sents Green­wich in the same seat La­mont tried for, and Rene Anselmo, whose son Rev­erge Anselmo has this year poured more than $1 mil­lion into po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees sup­port­ing GOP nom­i­nee Bob Stefanowski, con­trib­uted to La­mont’s 1990 cam­paign.

The cam­paign is­sues at the time sound fa­mil­iar to­day — a loom­ing bud­get deficit, an im­pend­ing trans­porta­tion cri­sis and peo­ple leav­ing the state for lower taxes in state’s like Flor­ida, and that was be­fore the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the state in­come tax, news re­ports show.

“Frankly, the state was sort of in a sim­i­lar pickle to where we are to­day,” La­mont said. “In 1990, we had an enor­mous real es­tate-led re­ces­sion. You had prob­a­bly the high­est sales tax in the coun­try, cer­tainly the high­est cor­po­rate in­come tax in the coun­try. You had very high tax on cap­i­tal gains. And de­spite all of those very high rates, you were look­ing in the eyes of a huge deficit . ... They were skip­ping pay­ments to the pen­sion fund. I was run­ning as a pro-busi­ness per­son who said, ‘Hey, maybe you want to have a Demo­crat up there to work with the ma­jor­ity party.’ It hasn’t changed all that much.”

La­mont lost the elec­tion, Re­pub­li­cans far out­num­bered Democrats in the dis­trict, and he re­turned to the fi­nance board for sev­eral more con­tentious years.

When he re­signed in 1989, he said it was to fo­cus on his fam­ily — he had two chil­dren and a third on the way — and his grow­ing busi­ness. La­mont stayed out of cam­paign­ing un­til he chal­lenged Joe Lieber­man for his U.S. Se­nate seat in 2006, but served on a state fi­nance board ap­pointed by Gov. Low­ell P. We­icker in the 1990s.

“In 1995 I was sit­ting there shout­ing that if the state doesn’t put its share into the pen­sion, you’re go­ing to have a mess,” La­mont re­called. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

A Nov. 1, 1987, Green­wich Time story about La­mont’s cam­paign for Board of Select­men.

Con­trib­uted image

La­mont’s cam­paign photo in 1987.

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