Published May 23. 2010 4:00AM Updated May 23. 2010 9:00AM
Hartford - Former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy cruised past rival Ned Lamont by a more than two-to-one margin Saturday, winning the Democratic endorsement for governor and setting the stage for a primary in August.
Malloy won 1,232 delegates to the Democratic convention, to just 582 for Lamont, an even greater margin of victory than some Malloy supporters had expected. But Lamont easily beat the threshold of 15 percent support, enough to qualify for the Aug. 8 primary
"Ladies and gentlemen, what a difference four years makes," Malloy declared, taking the stage alongside his wife, Cathy.
That was a reference to the convention of 2006, when Malloy and his staff eked out a hard-fought endorsement win over the favorite, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who went on to win the primary but lost to Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
This year, Malloy came into the convention as the favorite for the endorsement, though Lamont continues to lead in recent polls.
Speaking to reporters after the voting concluded, Malloy struck a confident, combative tone, boasting of his accomplishments over 14 years in Stamford City Hall and swiping at Lamont for his failure to participate in the state's public campaign finance system.
"Experience, experience, experience," Malloy declared, when asked what would set him apart from Lamont in the primary campaign to come.
"He didn't move in the direction of universal pre-K. I did," Malloy said. "He didn't lower crime by 64 percent. I did. He didn't create thousands of jobs. I didn't either, but my city did, under my leadership. So there are these very big differences between somebody who talks about government and somebody who's done government."
Malloy also renewed his attacks on Lamont's decision to forgo the state's public financing program, which provides public campaign grants in exchange for strict limits on both fundraising and campaign spending.
"This is a guy who said he's for clean elections before he was against them, but if you elect him, then he'll be for them again," Malloy said.
Lamont dismissed Malloy's argument about experience, arguing, like many candidates in both parties this year, that he is an "outsider" who can bring new perspective to government.
"I would argue we've had many, many years of experienced politicians running this state," Lamont said. "I think the people want a change. I think they want a different kind of leader."
As for public financing, Lamont continued to point to the likelihood of a well-funded Republican foe in the general election, including Tom Foley, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland who is considered a leader for the Republican nomination.
"We're not going to fight the Republicans with one arm tied behind our back," Lamont said.
But Malloy contests that line of argument, noting that his qualification for the public financing program entitles him to as much as $8.5 million in grants and matching payments between now and election day.
"Now," he said, "we have the time and the resources necessary to get our message out."
Malloy had scant support four years ago from the delegation from Stonington, but this time around took nine votes, compared to just one for Lamont, said Ray Trebisacci, the town committee chairman.
"I think Dan really received more of a vote from this convention than anyone expected," said Trebisacci, adding that he hoped Lamont would consider withdrawing from the race rather than force a primary.
Malloy outworked Lamont among town committees such as Stonington's, Trebisacci said.
"There are two ways to really gain recognition in politics," he said. "One way is by really working the chairs, like Dan did. The other is by spending money, if you've got it, to get your name in the press. And that's the essential difference between these two candidates."
Lamont dismissed such misgivings among delegates, however, as "insider/outsider" complaint.
The real contest will be among the broader Democratic electorate in August, Lamont said.
"It's good for voters to give em a choice, give them an option," Lamont said. "I haven't been to every single town committee picnic, I haven't been to all the DTCs over the years. I've been doing other things."
"These are the activists that really energize the party, but now I'm looking forward to the chance to really talk to the voters," Lamont said.
A Lamont campaign spokesman noted that he had received almost exactly the same percentage of delegates - 33 percent - as he did in 2006, when Lamont entered Connecticut politics with a challenge to longtime Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
After the gubernatorial vote, delegates voted heavily for Malloy's running mate, longtime state Comptroller Nancy Wyman.
Wyman won 1,236 delegates to the 577 earned by Mary Messina Glassman, who is running with Lamont. Like Lamont, Glassman also earned enough support to qualify for the primary ballot.
The convention delegates also nominated Treasurer Denise L. Nappier for re-election, and former state Senate Majority Leader George Jepsen to succeed Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
Secretary of the state
State House Majority Leader Denise Merrill had a comfortable lead after the first round of voting Saturday in her race for the Democratic nomination for secretary of the state.
Merrill, of Mansfield, won 808 delegates in the initial round, compared to 552 for state Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, and 455 for former New Haven alderman Gerry Garcia.
But with no candidate winning an outright majority, the voting went to a second round, and Merrill fell victim to a classic convention-floor deal.
Just after the second vote began, Garcia withdrew from vote and released all his delegates, with instructions to vote for "the next-best secretary of the state candidate, Jonathan Harris."
The deal came after Harris huddled in the middle aisle of the crowded convention floor with members of the New Haven delegation - the convention's largest - and other delegates, including New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
But it wasn't enough to block Merrill out of the party endorsement. On a second round of voting, with her supporters parading in circles through the convention floor with turquoise Merrill signs, the majority leader pulled out the win anyway.
The final vote was 966 for Merrill to 826 for Harris.
Taking the stage in a suit the same color as her campaign signs, Merrill grinned and pumped her fist.
"Thank you, everyone," she exclaimed.
Merrill promised to "build on the strong foundation" established by current Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, who is not seeking reelection.
All three candidates had already qualified for the Aug. 8 Democratic primary by winning more than 15 percent of the delegates on the first ballot.
More delegate wrangling secured a likely three-way primary for state comptroller, with Kevin Lembo, the state healthcare advocate and a former deputy comptroller, securing 998 votes, 55 percent of the vote, to clinch the endorsement.
As health care advocate, Lembo has been a driving force for progressive legislative initiatives, and was supported by the Connecticut Citizen Action Group in his campaign, including on the convention floor.
Lembo added praise for Wyman's 16 years as comptroller.
"Those particular shoes can never be filled," he said. "Really, it's not possible."
If elected, Lembo would also be the first openly gay constitutional officer in the U.S., noted Rep. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, in a nominating speech.
Also qualifying for the primary ballot were Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura, who arranged a vote-swap with Garcia to ensure that each would receive enough votes to qualify, and Rep. Tom Reynolds, D-Ledyard.
Reynolds earned 450 votes, for about 25 percent of the delegate vote, while Jarjura took 348, or 19 percent.
Both Reynolds and Jarjura said they would decide within the next week whether they would mount primary challenges against Lembo.
The race was crowded when it began. But Fairfield First Selectman Ken Flatto was trailing far behind and withdrew at the end of the voting, releasing his delegates to vote for Lembo.
That triggered a wave of vote-switches that pushed Lembo, who lives in Guilford, well over 50 percent to win the endorsement.