DANBURY – Two Democrats who have been major players in the Danbury political scene for the past decade threw their support behind John DeStefano's gubernatorial campaign Wednesday.
At a gathering of Democrats at Broadview Middle School, former U.S. Rep. James Maloney and former Danbury Mayor Gene Eriquez announced their support for the New Haven mayor.
They were joined in the endorsement by Danbury Democratic Party Chairman Bernie Gallo.
The school setting was to highlight DeStefano's accomplishments in education, Maloney said.
"Mayor DeStefano cut the dropout rate by 40 percent, and he rebuilt most of the schools in the city of New Haven," Maloney said.
"The state of Connecticut, over the past 12 years, has not kept faith with the educational needs of the cities and the community," Maloney said. "John DeStefano is a mayor, a man and a candidate for governor with a commitment to education."
DeStefano is competing with Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy for the Democratic nomination in 2006. Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell has announced her bid for re-election and runs more than 30 points ahead of both Democrats in the most recent polls.
The Wednesday event was billed as the kickoff of the grassroots campaign for DeStefano in Danbury.
Eriquez said DeStefano would make needed educational changes and provide state funding so cities and towns won't have to bear as much of the burden.
"Our curricula remains geared towards the demands of a different century," Eriquez said. "John has managed to make the city of New Haven the largest provider of preschool services in the state of Connecticut."
DeStefano said it's time for a "22nd century curriculum" in schools. He said as governor he would provide more state funding for schools, full-day kindergarten across the state and universal preschool.
"Under the Jodi Rell-John Rowland administration, we are dead last among 50 states in job growth and second only to Alaska in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds who leave the state," DeStefano said. "It's as if they were trying to get young people to leave the state."
DeStefano has been aggressive in pointing out Rell was the three-term lieutenant governor of now imprisoned ex-Gov. John G. Rowland, who resigned last year amid a corruption scandal. He sent out a fund-raising DVD to potential contributors with a Rowland-Rell theme.
But thus far, Democratic efforts to tie Rell with Rowland have caused little damage. The governor has maintained approval ratings at or near 80 percent.
Both Democratic candidates seem to have a solid fund-raising base. DeStefano has raised about $2.5 million, while Malloy has raised $1.7 million. In the last quarter, Malloy raised $403,000 to edge out DeStefano's $339,000.
There has not been a poll to measure support of the two Democratic candidates. But a Quinnipiac University poll of potential races for governor in July showed Rell beating DeStefano by 61-22 percent and Malloy by 63-18 percent.
The Danbury endorsements are the latest for DeStefano, who has wrapped up the endorsement of 20 labor unions, including those representing the state's police, carpenters and communication workers, and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd Dist., plus several mayors and state legislators.
Malloy has picked up some big endorsements as well. George Jepsen, the 2002 Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor and former party chairman, sent a letter to 6,000 Democrats urging them to support Malloy.
Other supporters include former House Speaker Moira Lyons of Stamford, several other state legislators, and Dianne Farrell, the Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays in the 4th Congressional District.