Edward M. “Ned” Lamont announced on March 13 his intention to contest Joseph Lieberman for his U.S. Senate seat. Writer Cynthia Coulson talked with Lamont several days later about his candidacy and plans to file for a primary in August if Lieberman, as expected, wins the state Democratic Party endorsement this month.
Lamont grew up in Syosset, New York, and graduated from Exeter, Harvard and the Yale School of Management. He worked as editor of a newspaper in southern Vermont and for Cablevision of Connecticut before founding Lamont Digital Systems, which builds and operates advanced telecommunications networks for college campuses.
He has lived in Greenwich since 1983 and is a former member of the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Estimate and Taxation. He was chairman of the state Investment Advisory Council that oversees state pension funds.
He has served on the boards of the Land Trust, YMCA, Young Presidents Association and Urban League. He is also a member of the Business Advisory Group at the Brookings Institution, a prominent nonpartisan think tank in Washington.
His wife, Annie, is a partner at Oak Investment Partners, a venture capital firm. They have three children: Emily, eighteen; Lindsay, fourteen; and Teddy, twelve.
Q. Press coverage identifies you as the anti–Iraq war candidate. Is this a winning issue for you?
A. The press can call me anything they want. But I’m in this race for a wide number of reasons. No. 1, it seems to me that the federal government is intruding into our private lives in ways that the founding fathers never expected. The Terri Schiavo case woke me up. President Bush flies back from Crawford after one of his long vacations. Tom DeLay says the federal government’s got to intervene. And Senator Lieberman supported them on that federal intervention. I thought that was wrong. I see the NSA wiretaps as maybe necessary but clearly illegal. The President thinks he’s above the law, another example of where the government continues to intrude in our private lives. The Judge Alito nomination fundamentally tilts the Supreme Court in a way that’s going to jeopardize a lot of our freedoms. You see the bill coming out of South Dakota outlawing a woman’s right to choose, even in the case of rape or incest. I look at some of the bills coming out of Congress like the bridge to nowhere. I spend a lot of time talking about the sort of legal cronyism and corruption that I think we’ve got to stand up to because it undercuts good government.
I can go on and on. There are a lot of issues, and the war is a big one. I think the rush to war was a big mistake for this country. We didn’t ask the tough questions going in. I think Senator Lieberman cheered on the President every step of the way. We should have challenged the President when he suggested the war would be easy, that we’d be greeted as liberators. But that’s then. Here we are today. And what do we do? It’s made us no safer; it’s made Israel no safer. The Middle East has been further destabilized. Iran is on the prowl. Osama Bin Laden is still on the prowl. And we have 130,000 troops stuck in the middle of this bloody civil war.
Q. Do you have an exit strategy for the war in Iraq?
A. I do. I’ve looked at [U.S. Representative] Jack Murtha’s proposal for troop withdrawal. I’ve talked to Lawrence Korb [former assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan and expert on national security]. One of the interesting things for me about throwing your hat in the ring for the U.S. Senate is for the first time everybody starts returning your calls. So I’ve been talking to military people, people in the Bush Defense Department. I think there’s really a consensus out there that it’s high time the Iraqis take responsibility for their own defense, for their own destiny. We’ve got to start pulling our troops back from the front lines. What I hear from the people on the ground, military people in particular, is that in some ways the Iraqi government and military use us as a crutch and that they will not step forward, to use the President’s metaphor, until we start redeploying from the front lines, moving to the periphery, and start bringing our troops home.
Q. How about the prospect of a civil war if we pull out?
A. I would do a phased withdrawal. But I think, at the end of the day, with the potential for a Shia-Sunni civil war, that having our troops in the middle of that is not helping. And that the best hope we have is that the Shias and the Sunnis will be staring into the abyss and that they will reach some sort of political accommodation, with us in the background doing everything we can on the political front.
Q. Lieberman’s campaign manager said after you announced your candidacy that you were going to run “a very negative and angry campaign where the truth doesn’t get in the way.” What’s your response?
A. Well, when I announced my candidacy, I had my parents there, I had my kids there. I explained as part of my announcement that in my family, we often had kitchen table debates on the issues of the day, and we’ve been doing that for years. It’s something my dad used to do. I went on to say that from my point of view, a Democratic primary is just a kitchen table debate for the Democratic family. Where do we stand on issues, what do we believe, what type of a country do we want, and how do we get there? Then I tried to lay out some very positive, constructive ways that I think we, as Democrats, should stand up and express ourselves.
Q. But how about this accusation that you were going to run an angry, negative campaign?
A. I can’t respond to every hyper-caffeinated political consultant that takes shots at me. I think people know me — people around here know me. I think clearly that description flies in the face of who I am, what I am about. And I’ve got to make sure I get around the state, introducing myself, expressing why I’m in this race and the ideas I have before somebody else tries to typecast me.
Q. Are there any federal policies that specifically impact Connecticut that you want to change?
A. Yes. I would start with safety and energy bills. Energy independence is one of our two or three priorities for this country, and if we don’t get that right, we are really going to be in trouble. After 9/11 I think we had a real opportunity to deal with conservation and independence in a serious way. Tom Friedman [New York Times columnist] always points out that we are financing both sides of the war.
I thought the energy bill was a step in the wrong direction. What it did was provide tens of billions of dollars in subsidies for selected oil drilling and nuclear power, and it really did very little for conservation and efficiency standards. I would have worked a lot harder in terms of trying to push toward energy independence.
Specific to Connecticut, what I didn’t like about that bill is that it takes away local jurisdiction over the siting of a large floating liquefied natural gas barge in the middle of Long Island Sound. So I don’t know why Senator Lieberman — almost the only guy in New England [who did] — supported that. It was certainly strongly opposed by Chris Shays and Chris Dodd and others. I think it would be terrible for Long Island Sound and really not key to our energy future, especially since we have two large LNG facilities being built in Canada, with pipelines ready to bring the LNG to this part of the country.
Q. In addition to the areas you’ve mentioned, what do you see as Senator Lieberman’s major liabilities?
A. Generally, I like to talk about what I’m for, as opposed to someone else’s liabilities. Let me put it this way: When I go around the state and talk to folks, the overwhelming impression of Senator Lieberman is that he’s all Iraq, all the time. And the folks I’m talking to are saying, “My healthcare costs are going through the roof. My employer is putting more and more of the burden on me. And my employer says, ‘I’ve got to do that because I’m having a hard time competing, given the high cost of healthcare.’ What are you doing about that?”
People tell me our kids are falling behind, especially in the schools in the big cities. We’re not paying attention to those kids and those schools. And we’re losing jobs in the state. Those schools and jobs are going to be closely related. What are we doing about education? Those are the types of bread-and-butter issues that
I hear people say we’re not paying attention to. It’s all Iraq, all the time.
Q. How are you going to get greater name recognition?
A. It’s a grass-roots campaign. But I’ve been amazed — everybody knows where Senator Lieberman stands on the war; they don’t really know much more than that. We’re getting lots of people volunteering on our website: thousands. We’re getting really good turnout among concerned citizens and teachers and veterans — it’s a real wide mix. Across the board in this state, people feel the country has really lost its moorings right now, and Iraq is just a symptom of that. That’s a long way of saying that I think the issues are bringing a lot of name recognition and a lot of energy to our campaign.
Q. Is it much of a disadvantage that some of the leading Democrats in the state, like Chris Dodd, Dick Blumenthal and Kevin Sullivan, have announced their support for Senator Lieberman?
A. I don’t think it makes that much difference. Look, the party brass is a club; they’ve lined up; they’ve said what they’ve said. I know all these folks — we talk privately. They smile. They know where I am on the issues. What they say publicly and what they tell me privately is private, but nobody’s being that discouraging.
Q. What in your background qualifies you to be a U.S. senator?
A. I think the impression that U.S. senators and politics are for a political class and for career politicians is way off base. I think that the Founding Fathers really thought that our legislature — House, Senate, local — should be made up of citizen legislators, citizen activists, people who have a broad range of experience, not simply folks who have spent the last thirty years getting elected and re-elected. I’m a dad, I’m a coach, I started up a business from scratch, I teach a course on how to start up your own business at Bridgeport High School. I’m involved in the Brookings Institution, and I deal with big issues from a high level as well. I was a selectman and on the Board of Estimate right here in town. I think it’s a wide range of experiences that makes you a common-sense senator, and maybe that’s what we need.
Q. How do you plan to finance your campaign and overcome Lieberman’s fundraising advantage?
A. With tons of support from the readers of GREENWICH Magazine who are going to turn out in droves after they read this article and say, “I’ve never supported a Democrat in my life, but I’ll make an exception this time!” [Lamont lets out a burst of laughter.] That’s a good start. I’ve told supporters that I would do what I could to get this race off to a really credible start. I am doing that, but that’s all I can do. I’ve got the best organizers in the state. I’ve got a really good team that’s hit the ground. I’ve had well over a thousand donors already register on our website, so we’ve got a lot of grass-roots support. I’ll be frank: The traditional two-thousand-dollars-a-head political donor types sort of hold back when it comes to primaries. They tend to lean more toward incumbents. But that’s okay. We’re going to be able to compete.
Q. What is it that attracts you to the Democratic Party?
A. An internationalist Republican, a moderate Republican, would not even recognize their party today. I just think [the Democratic Party] is a more entrepreneurial party. I think it’s a party that is progressive. I think it’s a party that tries to find entrepreneurial solutions to old problems. It’s the party that believes that government can make a difference. Not that the government is the solution to all things, but we have big issues on the table when it comes to American jobs, healthcare, education. I think it’s the party that’s going to address those issues in a way that’s best for our country going forward.
Q. Anything you’d like to add?
A. The readers of the magazine are probably not political groupies, and they look at this and say, “Oh my God. Senator Lieberman, he’s a former candidate for president and he’s got a 75 percent approval rating against Ned Lamont.” What people have got to understand is a couple of things. It’s a primary. Folks care very strongly about the issues, and they are going to turn out on a hot day in August. It’s very important that you don’t let these incumbents take the voters for granted, don’t let them take the state for granted. I’m in this race because I think I can make a big difference. I think I’m going to win in August. I think people really care about the issues. I believe that this administration is leading the country in the wrong direction, and Senator Lieberman is not challenging this administration where it’s wrong.