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Oz Griebel seeks grass-roots support in New London

New London — Oz Griebel, independent candidate for governor, "couldn't do this campaign in Texas."

That's what Chris Cooper, a spokesman for Griebel, said of the politician as he shook hands and implored voters to support him on a trek through New London on Wednesday.

The pitch and the issues

Griebel lives in Hartford and has a background in business, serving on the boards of several business and nonprofit organizations. He has a bachelor's degree in English from Dartmouth College and a Juris Doctor from Suffolk University, according to his campaign website. His name recognition is low and he purposely does not have the backing of a party machine. A longtime Republican who ran in the 2010 Republican primary, Griebel came in third out of three candidates.

His running mate is Newtown resident Monte Frank, a lawyer, longtime Democrat and gun control advocate. The two have a slogan: "No politics. No parties. Just solutions."

Both Frank and Griebel agree on the issue of gun control, among other policy questions. On others, they compromise, Cooper said.

New London is just one of the major Connecticut municipalities Griebel intends to visit in the coming months. This on-the-ground style of campaigning, which features volunteers asking for petition signatures as Griebel pitches to would-be voters, could only be done in a small state like Connecticut, Cooper contends.

The thinking within Griebel's campaign goes, rather than appealing to town committees and party insiders, he can go straight to the source.

"The idea is that there are people there on the streets," Cooper said.

The possibility of being too far right for liberals and too far left for conservatives in an ultra-polarized political environment does not concern Griebel.

"I think that's the single biggest asset that we have," Griebel said. "The rabid partisanship is causing people to say ... 'We're sick of the partisanship.'"

According to 2017 statistics from the secretary of the state's office, there are 481,336 registered Republicans, 848,493 registered Democrats and 956,463 unaffiliated Connecticut voters. Opinions on appealing to unaffiliated voters vary, but political scientists often call them "closet partisans" who lean one way or the other when it's time to vote.

While Griebel took pains to avoid appearing anti-union, he brought up the need for repairs to Connecticut's system, specifically unfunded liabilities and pensions.

"Do we respect the rights of people to organize? Absolutely. Do we respect the rights of people to bargain? Absolutely," Griebel said. But, "you have to fund the pension, and what the true unfunded liability is, the retiree health care benefit. If that continues to grow, if we don't get more jobs in this state to generate more income, we're gonna pit people against each other."

In terms of pension checks, Griebel suggested being skeptical of them instead of feeling entitled to them. Possible solutions to the issues he raised include contributing state lottery money to teacher pensions and selling state-owned property, subsequently putting that revenue into state employee health care funds.

Griebel was less equivocal regarding President Donald Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs, which are affecting manufacturers in the area.

"I'm not a tariff fan ... putting tariffs and discouraging exports to me is not healthy for job growth," Griebel said. And there's not "a single manufacturer I've talked to anywhere in this state that doesn't feel the same."

Winking, nodding, introducing

Speaking to anyone who would hear him, Griebel began his day at the Cross Sound Ferry. He moved to Union Station, then to Muddy Waters Cafe, where he introduced himself to coffee-sipping constituents. Traveling in a group of seven, Griebel, staff and supporters took lunch at 2 Wives Pizza. Everyone conversed with the gathered diners in the largely empty restaurant.

"The room's not very full but I'll work it," Griebel said.

"I'm not familiar with you at all," Barbara Seebeck of Groton told him. He responded by outlining his plan to combine the best ideas from the right and left in an attempt to break partisan gridlock in Hartford.

"I love the idea, I don't mind it at all," Seebeck said, noting that an independent candidate gives voters a choice, "and we need a choice."

"I'm not ruling out Oz, just for his demeanor," Seebeck added.

Seebeck, who receives much publicly financed campaign literature from Republican candidates, also was pleased with the fact that Griebel's campaign isn't taking public financing.

A more skeptical 2 Wives Pizza patron wanted to know Griebel's "solutions for Connecticut," an oft-used phrase of his. Griebel told the man of his plans to add 200,000 jobs to the state in 10 years through a combination of public and private partnerships and by expanding Connecticut's public transportation.

Griebel planned to conclude his jaunt at the Groton-New London Airport.

Cooper said volunteers ask residents, "Would you be interested in signing a petition for a third-party candidate?" This gets their attention before the volunteer names the candidate.

Griebel's first name, "Oz," prominently displayed on his campaign literature, stands out. It's a high-school era nickname and replaces his first and middle names, Richard and Nelson. The name comes from the 1950s-60s-era sitcom "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," a married couple with the last name Nelson.

Griebel said he had no idea the odd name would be so useful in 2018.


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