by Ken Krayeske
* The 40-Year Plan incorrectly labeled Mayor Eddie Perez's chief of staff a convicted felon, when in fact, Matt Hennessey never went to trial. He paid a fine to the Elections Enforcement Commission but never admitted wrongdoing. We regret the error.
P hotos of John F. Kennedy and Jackie O., and John Lennon decorate the wall across from Ned Lamont's desk, in his posh corner office at 35 Mason Street, Greenwich. Lamont the entrepreneur started out as a newspaper man, and found his way into cable television.
But lately, Joe Lieberman's stance on the war has been getting Lamont's dander up, so much so that Lamont, 52, is considering primarying the nationally-recognized incumbent.
Lamont cleared an hour of his schedule this past Saturday afternoon to answer some questions.
- What is your role in Lamont Digital Cable?
- Chief cook and bottle washer. I thought that college campuses were poorly served by big cable tv operators. Universities wanted to use cable for more than just entertainment. We said "Hey look, there's 1,000 different channels via satellite, many foreign languages, some distance learning, some of the likes of which get on traditional cable. You decide what is right fore your campus." We allowed them to customize a service. We have been doing that for 20 years.
- What is the value of the company?
- God, I'd never tell you that. It is a privately held company.
- Pardon me if these are difficult questions, but I'm a jilted voter. I've had hopes dashed before. Why should a progressive like myself vote for you?
- I think not just progressives, folks should vote for me if they feel strongly that the war in Iraq is a mistake and to stay the course is not a winning strategy. As a former newspaper guy, one reason we got into this mess is that we didn't ask good questions going in. I got my blood boiling a bit when President Bush and Senator Lieberman starting critiquing those who were asking questions and coming up with alternate strategies to "stay the course."
- How do we get out of the mess?
- If we have Senator Lieberman on one extreme, and John Murtha on the other, I'm closer to the Murtha strategy. It turns the metaphor on its head. The president says we will step down as soon as the Iraqis step forward. Former Reagan adviser Lawrence Korb and others have said Iraqis won't step forward until we step back. It is time for Iraqis to assume front line positions. It is time from American troops to move to background, it is a first step to bring the troops home.
- Did you ever serve in the U.S. armed forces?
- Never did serve. I salute the guys who serve everyday. Those are heroes.
- If we leave Iraq and the Iraqis step forward, are we leaving them in a civil war?
- If the Iraqis step forward, they are fighting to defend their country and their own nation state. At the end of the day, it will be a political settlement, and taking us out of that sectarian violence will hasten a political solution in Iraq.
- Will removing our troops endanger our energy supply?
- I'm not sure the invasion of Iraq had much to do with securing our energy supply. Energy supply has to have a renewed emphasis on conservation. We squandered a heck of an opportunity after 9/11 and we could have said one of the reasons we are vulnerable to insurgencies, we are dependent on our oil. We keep paying and funding these insurgencies given our addiction to Middle East oil. The first step is conservation, which offers environmental savings as well as energy independence in the most expeditious way.
- How is your campaign going to be energy independent?
- I can't answer that question.
- Are you going to work to build a campaign that is energy efficient?
- I am going to work to espouse policies that move this country towards an energy policy that promotes conservation, and alternative fuels and the least harm to the environment. You're the guy that has the 40-year itch, and I think 40 years out, in the environment and with energy, I see a world with 6 billion people. Two billion in the industrialized nations are sucking up all the fuel, and causing environmental damage and global warming, and I see another 2 billion coming on line. That's India, China, and some of the other emerging tigers. It is going to be a non-stop battle for oil and other energy sources for this generation. You are going to see pollution and global warming that grows exponentially, unless we think globally and work with our neighbors to find an alternative to this addiction to fossil fuels.
- Will we see you taking a train from Greenwich when you have a campaign event in New Haven?
- I have a hybrid. My hunch is that I have so many places to go that I have the same dependence on the automobile as other Americans. That is just a fact of life right now.
- As a senator, what policies can you think of that can help wean us from our addiction to the auto?
- I think of how conservation was at the top of the policy agenda back in the 70s and 80s after first oil shock. We saw economies and efficiencies we were able to achieve. Energy conservation belongs at the top of the agenda. One mechanical way I think about as a business person is trying to show energy investors how we can get a consistent rate of return off of energy sources like wind, biofuels, natural gas, and hybrids. How can we make the economic playing field such that they have a stronger theory over time? That's enough that this early stage of time [in the campaign].
- You said earlier that the media didn't ask hard questions, and you're a media man yourself. Do you think that President Reagan's repeal of the 7-7-7 rule (that prevented one company from owning more than seven of any newspaper, radio or television stations) and the fair time doctrine are responsible for the lack of debate?
- I don't think those were the reasons that we didn't test and challenge a lot of the assumptions that led us into the war. To be blunt, our politicians and our press were a bit lazy, and I suppose after 9-11 we were unwilling to challenge some of the assumptions our president and our allies were putting forward. He told us that the war would be easy, that Iraqi oil revenue would pay for it, that we would be greeted as liberators. These were assumptions that should've been challenged more aggressively. Those that did, they were often challenged or dismissed. Larry Lindsey said Iraqi oil won't pay for this, he was fired. When Shinseki said we are not going to be able to maintain stability with this number of troops, we will need more. He was unceremoniously retired. Our Allies and UN weapons inspectors said "Think seriously, you're kicking a hornets' nest." We didn't follow their reasoning and didn't challenge the president's line.
- You don't think that corporate media ownership, concentrated into to hands of a few, was responsible for the lack of debate.
- It is less the large media conglomerates dampening debate than we're not asking the questions ourselves. The more outlets and vehicles and grassroots ways we can challenge, we must. We can challenge in a Democratic primary: get a certain number of signatures and you have a right to run.
- How is David going to beat Goliath?
- I think that first of all on the issues, I have to see whether people feel strongly as I do on the war in Iraq, how it has damaged our moral authority, and how it is not helping us win the war on terror. I have got to show that the war in Iraq has become all Iraq all the time in Washington. It is stifling the debate on the other issues we ought to be focusing on, health care reform, energy independence, that have really been pushed off the radar screen in the past few years.
- How does David compete against Goliath? Put forth loud and clear what the issues are over time. I'm still developing those positions, trying to figure out how I differ from the senator, and use my bully pulpit down in Washington to see how I can push my agenda.
- If it is proven that president lied about the reasons for taking us into war, how would you vote on impeachment?
- I don't believe anybody lied. I believe that they felt so strongly that we should get into this war, that they read all the evidence and tried to build a case in their head, so I haven't challenged anybody's integrity, I've challenged their judgment.
- How would you have dealt with Condoleeza Rice in the Secretary of State conformation hearings, keeping in mind her comments about Saddam's ability to unleash a mushroom cloud on America?
- I think she didn't serve the President well. The president wanted to go to war, and she helped marshal evidence towards that decision. As National Security Advisor, she should have brought different points of view to the table, and allowed for more robust discussion at the table in the Oval Office.
- How do you plan on involving young people in your campaign?
- I have been somewhat involved in the Bridgeport public school system. I teach a course on entrepreneurship, I bring folks in who have success stories to tell. Not just in a business case, but as role models. I have to show young people why they have to have a stake in what is going on now, why a federal budget deficit that is out of control is fundamentally important to a young person going forward. That a war in Iraq, which says so much about our moral authority, speaks to young people and so much about our future. When the pres says it is up to me to determine what is national security, young people have a longer perspective, while you feel fear of 9-11 today, sacrificing liberties may not be the best way to deal with it. Young people can help us see going forward what is the balance that makes sense. My job is to get them thinking about these issues from a 40-year perspective. If we can get them thinking, we can get them involved.
- As a leader, how do you help your constituents overcome fear?
- I think this president plays to our fears. I love something from Thomas Friedman's book that said we are going to learn so much from 9-11, but remember 11-9, the date the Berlin Wall came down. Define America not by what you fear, but what we aspire to and what we can be. The American ideal, the shining city on the hill was such a vital moral force. It gave people as something to believe in, as Reagan said. We have lost that moral authority, we are willing to give up rights and liberties because people are playing on our fears. Be vigilant, diligent and careful. Don't act on fears, act on your dreams.
- What is a dream you have had that you have turned into a reality?
- A great family. Start close to home. At a certain age you are never quite sure whether you are going to be lucky enough to have a family. I have three kids I adore, one of the things about considering this race is the idea that I can do it with my family. I have an 18-year-old kid, sometimes you're never quite sure what you're talking about with an 18-year-old. But I dream of nothing more than to have my 18-year-old at my side, if I decide to do this campaign, fighting towards something she agrees with. Being able to share strong feelings about war, being on same side of issues on this. You wear a lot of different hats when you get into this game Ð father, husband, politician, businessman.
- I started a business that required me getting out of comfort zone. I had to give up perks. I was working for Cablevision, then all of a sudden I'm in the bedroom making calls, not everybody can be so lucky.
- If you worked for Cablevision, you're familiar with the fleet of boats the Dolan family owns. How can we as a society justify $60,000 for a sail when there are children a few miles from here that are hungry and homeless. The United States has a growing disparity in wealth that hurts the country. How do we deal with that?
- Start from short term, go to long term. When you're spending 250 million a day in Iraq, cutting taxes for those that need it the least, balancing the budget by cutting core services that a lot of people depend upon. The country is going on the wrong direction. You need a senator who speaks up on that loud and clear. I think more fundamentally, we have some core rights that people deserve, that you have a chance at the starting line, that involves an educational system that helps these kids. There are more security guards than coaches at Harding high. It is a 100 year old school. You have got to make education something that can inspire these kids, make them dream, show them what is possible. We are not doing this now.
- Healthcare has to allow us to retain good paying jobs n this country, as long as ford has to put $1,500 of health care into every auto, and our competition doesn't have to put that into one, we are going to have a hard time competing, and creating and maintaining the middle class jobs that made this country
- Most importantly, I am an entrepreneur. I believe everybody has a chance at that dream, nothing is better than starting you own company. You can do it. If you fail, go back and try it again. We are a mobile society, a society with opportunity, if you believe that, a lot of people can step up.
- But what about the kids at Harding, or the youth I worked with in Hartford that graduate barely able to read, that are six to eight years behind their suburban peers? How do you convince them to vote, that voting will help them have the equal opportunities when their education is so clearly inferior?
- It all falls into inspiration. You just have got to be able to inspire kids. My experience was different than yours. I would describe the business meaning of a loan, and commitment, and I lost half the kids. They looked at me as if I had a third eye. When I asked "What type of food would you want?"; "How would you sell it to your friends?" and "Can you put together a power point presentation, go to the web, and tell me a story that will convince me I want to go to your restaurant?"; these kids were as sophisticated and savvy as any would be employer would want. You could inspire people if you talk their language.
- Why shouldn't I vote for you?
- I think a lot of people feel comfortable with what they know. Certainly Sen. Lieberman has been in elected office his entire life in Connecticut, and I think asking people to step out and take a risk - to some people I'd be that risk - it may be too far.
- Any Monday morning quarterbacking on Eddie Perez's visit to La Paloma Sabanera the other day? Anything you'd like to say to him if you had a second chance?
- Even though the mothering-law of Eddie's chief of staff is a key Lieberman aide?
- The party brass is saying don't do it, you'll hurt the incumbent, and potentially damage the party. What I am going to try like hell to do is stick to the issues, and have a civil debate on the issues is long overdue. I think the party is energized by that, I think the debate deserves to be aired in an articulate way. I am going to try like hell not to let these other little things distract us. It doesn't help me, it doesn't help the debate. If it's starts getting negative, and people telling me primaries are negative and terrible, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- How do you feel about Ralph Nader?
- I think that Ralph Nader probably cost the democrats the election. While I was inspired by him when I was younger, he cost Gore the election.
- What about election chicanery in Florida in 2000, the missing votes, the stolen votes?
- I'm the wrong guy on that. I love the policy stuff. I do my thing. Most of the last ten years, I have been good on analog versus digital and fiber core coax. I have been less involved in the details of the Florida 2000 vote.
- Did you see Fahrenheit 9/11?
- In that scene at the beginning, when Congress is certifying the election results, Joe Lieberman is in the Senate. He stands to be vice president if the election results and all the civil rights violations are challenged and investigated, but he doesn't step forward, nor does anyone else. If you were senator, would you have challenged the election?
- I don't know. When people tell me they want a Supreme Court that is a strict constructionist, nothing about that court decision that is conservative, when they try to overturn state law, I thought that was questionable. More broadly, when George Bush takes office as having won 500,000 less votes than the other guy, it was a good opportunity to demonstrate humility. He should have said "I am going to earn all those disputed votes one at a time." He did just the opposite.
- Barbara Boxer challenged the election in 2004 because of similar problems in Ohio. Would you have challenged that election?
- My instinct says, "Of course, if people's civil rights have been abridged, let's get to the bottom of it, so there is not a cloud hanging over the election." But there is usually more to it than this. The bottom line you have to have confidence in our voting system. Obviously our system has taken several hits. You can't have minority communities convinced that the election was stolen from them. I talk about inspiring people, that voting makes a difference, that for you kids, it is going to be your country. But when people say "It is all a little bit corrupt and I'm a bit cynical," that is the damaging story that comes out of those elections. That is the real tragedy of Abramoff, earmarks, and the Bridge to Nowhere, it just feeds a certain cynicism about government. I started off our discussion saying reason #375 I think this war is terrible, it is distracting us from the real war on terror and the domestic issues that are so important. I don't want that gang dealing with health care. If you believe as I do that government is key to our competitiveness in the future, is key to taking care of those folks who are falling behind, we can't let them play upon our cynicisms.
- How do we make this reality?
- One way is to get more feisty outsiders into the U.S. senate. They are there forever, they never leave, and when they do, they become lobbyists. I think our founding fathers imagined citizen legislators who would serve a few years, then return to their communities. These guys stay forever, and that makes change more complicated.
- How much of your own money do you plan on tossing into this race?
- Certainly not as much as I've read on any blog, but enough to get off to a good start. I can't expect people who have endorsed me to give me money. I'm sort of a new kid on the block. It is a sad commentary on our system that you need cash to compete. I'd like to know by the end of February that people are supporting it, by hitting my website. I think the thing takes off on its own. I am going to get us to the starting line and give us a fair shot.
- Tell me a story about an ancestor you relate to.
- My grandfather was a manufacturer's rep in Puerto Rico in 1921, and he sailed the islands, distributing products all throughout the Caribbean, and one day, he heard that a lot of Catholic teachers were going to be arriving in San Juan harbor on a missionary education program. He and the boys put on their Sunday finest to meet them at the dock. That is when he met my grandma, they lived in Puerto Rico for the next 20 years. My mom grew up there. American parents, but they never taught me a word of Spanish, although my mother was as fluent in English as she was in Spanish.
- I always loved the guy. My grandfather lived longer than anyone in that generation of my family. I loved the freedom and independence of what he did, and we argued about politics every day until he died, and I enjoyed the debate.
- He was a Republican, a Quaker Republican. In 1918, he said I can't serve in war, so they sent him to drive an ambulance. His ambulance was blown up in six months, he was injured and came back and the warm climate of Puerto Rico beckoned. It's ironic that a Quaker ended up being one of the first guys over there.
this to a friend.