HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut's two major political parties chose wealthy businessmen with little to no elective experience as their gubernatorial candidates in the November election.
While their pedigrees may sound familiar to voters, the two candidates claim to be very different from one another.
"I hear a lot about, 'hey, these are two outsiders and these are two businesspeople.' I'll just tell you, our business backgrounds are as different as night and day," Greenwich Democrat Ned Lamont told reporters on Wednesday, the day after he defeated Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim in the party's primary.
Lamont, 64, said he borrowed $250,000 from a local bank and started a small cable company "from scratch" and built telecommunications system for college campuses. Madison Republican Bob Stefanowski has worked as an executive at mostly major firms, including General Electric and UBS Investment Bank.
"I was taking on the big conglomerates. I was taking on the biggest businesses. I was giving consumers a choice. He worked for the biggest businesses. He worked for the biggest conglomerates," Lamont said of his GOP rival. "He didn't grow businesses. The GE building is now empty. The UBS building in Connecticut is now empty."
During his acceptance speech on Tuesday night, Stefanowski wrote off Lamont as a continuation of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is not seeking re-election. Stefanowski, 56, argued that he's the type of businessman that voters are really looking for.
"For the first time in decades, Connecticut will actually have a real CEO," he said, adding how he can "reduce waste in Hartford" and bring "some commonsense business practices into the public sector." Stefanowski said throughout the primary that he was the only one of the five GOP candidates with the knowhow to run the state like a business.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Stefanowski said he started at General Electric as an entry level person and worked his way "all the way up to the top" of a company with 300,000 employees. He said he learned fiscal discipline, budgeting, leadership, and alliance building during the experience. He contends such skills are needed in Connecticut, which faces a more than $2 billion deficit when the next governor takes over next year.
"It's great he started up a company. I appreciate that skill set," Stefanowski said. "But this is a big, complex, broad organization — the state of Connecticut. You need somebody who's done it before."
Most recently, Stefanowski was CEO of DFC Global Corp., now known as Money Mart Financial Services, which provides payday loans and other "accessible consumer financial services" to consumers. One of Stefanowski's GOP primary rivals, former Greenwich hedge fund manager David Stemerman, criticized Stefanowski for being involved with a firm that charged excessively high interest rates to struggling consumers, a criticism Lamont echoed on Tuesday. Stefanowski said he worked overhaul and improve the business when he came on board in 2014 and is proud of his record.
Lamont founded Lamont Television Systems, later named Lamont Digital Systems, in the 1980s. Controlling interest of the company's biggest division, Campus Televideo, was gained by a private equity company in 2010. The entire firm was later sold in 2015.
Both candidates have MBA degrees from Ivy League schools. Stefanowski earned his at Cornell University while Lamont earned his at Yale University.
President Donald Trump, a former businessman, didn't cite Stefanowski's resume when he gave him his "total endorsement" in a tweet on Wednesday. Rather, the president touted Stefanowski as being tough on crime and a "big cutter of Taxes." Stefanowski has called for eliminating the state's personal income tax.
Lamont noted how Stefanowski was a big supporter of Trump's during the primary campaign and how that should prompt questions where he stands on issues like abortion and "what that means in terms of telling the truth." Lamont has questioned the feasibility of eliminating the income tax.
"I think George Bush, the elder, would have called that voodoo economics in his day," Lamont said.