Understudies fail to shine with the same script
In baseball, when a batter can’t quite lean away from an inside pitch, the resulting sting and their subsequent saunter to first base is called “taking one for the team.”
The political equivalent is the role of surrogate. Say a candidate, or three, has been invited to a public forum. Maybe one or two have “scheduling conflicts.” They send a surrogate to take one for the team.
Such was the scene at the Jewish Community Center in Stamford the other night, in which a barrage of pointed questions resulted in cheers for one surrogate and grumbles for another.
There were 100 folding chairs set up facing a stage. In the back were tables with plates of cookies, next to plastic urns of coffee.
The crowd was mostly older, 55 and above, although there was a contingent of rapt high school kids from the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization.
The forum was organized by the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut, the Jewish Federation of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien, UJA-JCC Greenwich, the Federation of Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, the Jewish Federation of Greenwich, and the BBYO.
It was likely the only time these voters would see candidates, or surrogates, up close and personal before Election Day.
In the back row, a grayhaired woman sat with a large copy of the scriptures, the Tanakh, in her lap. She was writing tiny notes in the margin, while on platitude watch, as the night unfolded.
Monte Frank, the running mate for Oz Griebel, the unaffiliated candidate for governor, got cheers when he stressed the need for a governor to protect the reproductive rights of Connecticut women and defend against unacceptable Washington incursions.
When the forum opened, most of the seats were filled. Mark Shiffrin, pinchhitting for state Sen. Joe Markley, the elusive conservative Republican on the ballot for lieutenant governor, walked up on stage. Markley, himself a fill-in for Bob Stefanowski, mysteriously bailed out of the program earlier in the day.
Shiffrin, a New Haven lawyer who was commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection under John Rowland, said Stefanowski, who appeared the previous night in a West Hartford synagogue, had another commitment.
In this unlikely den of skeptical voters, Shiffrin eventually growled.
“This is a vitally important election for Connecticut,” Shiffrin prefaced. “The one big thing that Bob Stefanowski knows that you should know about Bob Stefanowski, is that we need to control taxes and cut spending in order to bring this state forward and have a future for Connecticut. That’s what this race is about. That’s what we’re focused on in this campaign.”
Shiffrin tried to stay on point, touting supply-side economics, even under a barrage of requests for details, from budget priorities to social issues.
A woman stood and asked Shiffrin to “name the top three initiatives” on tax cuts. Shiffrin riffed on one: the private-sector tactic of “zero-based budgeting,” in which state agency heads, for the first time, would be given blank budgets and told to reinvent the wheel.
Another woman pressed for details, and more joined in the chorus. “Bob’s big point is that he’s going to cut taxes and eliminate the income tax over eight years,” Shiffrin said, promising that a billion dollars can easily be cut out of the annual $20-billion budget.
“So, are you saying that you don’t have any idea of what programs you may be looking to reduce ...?” a man toward the front asked. “What you’re saying is that you don’t know what you’re going to cut, you’re just going to cut.”
Shiffrin, free-styling, shifted to criticism of the Hartford financial bailout and a land deal in Orange that benefited a developer who gave political contributions to Democrats. He did not mention that Republicans got campaign cash, too.
Another 70ish man in the crowd tried to call him on the deflection, but Shiffrin, who had already been talking for 12 minutes, claimed he was being interrupted. “Sir, I have given you a moment, now be kind enough to give me one.” That was around the time Shiffrin lost the crowd.
Monte Frank was up next, then, finally Ned Lamont, the lone actual candidate for governor who attended the event. He got an equally skeptical, but more-positive reaction than his GOP opponent’s standin. When the question came up on women’s health issues, Lamont gave them the answer they wanted.
The woman in the back row delicately tended to her marginalia in the Tanakh. I should have asked if she was reading the section on the prophets.