Un­der­stud­ies fail to shine with the same script

The Norwalk Hour - - OPINION - Ken Dixon, po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor and colum­nist, can be reached at 203-842-2547 or at kdixon@ct­post.com. Visit him at twit­ter.com/KenDixonCT and on Face­book at kendixonct.hearst.

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.

Ken Dixon/Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Mark Shiffrin, a former state com­mis­sioner, was the stand-in re­cently for Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Bob Ste­fanowski in Stam­ford.

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