Former Webster CEO Smith mulls run for Connecticut governor

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Shortly after retiring in December as CEO of Webster Financial in Waterbury, Conn., James Smith threw himself into working on a blue-ribbon panel tasked with solving the state of Connecticut’s fiscal and economic woes. Now, he’s mulling a run for governor this fall.

Smith, who remains chairman of the $26.5 billion-asset Webster, said Friday that he was interested in seeking the Republican nomination for governor and that he expects to reach a final decision on that “soon.”

“I believe to my core that I would bring to the governor’s office the experience, leadership skills and commitment needed to work with the legislature to bring about the changes needed to put our state government and economy back on solid footing,” Smith said in an emailed statement. “Recognizing that time is short, I’ve been rapidly completing a serious analysis of what it would take to win the nomination and the ensuing election — from building a first-rate campaign team, to raising a considerable amount of funding, to meeting the criteria to secure the Republican nomination.”

Smith, 69, would be a late entry to the race, which already includes New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton on the Republican side, and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and the cable TV entrepreneur Ned Lamont on the Democratic side. Connecticut’s current governor, Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, announced last year that he would not seek a third term.

The state Republican Party will host its convention on May 11 and 12, and the state Democratic Party will convene the following weekend.

The challenges facing the next governor are immense, as the state has been dealing with a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, a shrinking corporate tax base and a declining population.

Yet Smith said that his work on the commission had underscored the depth and breadth of the state’s challenges and further bolstered his interest in public service.

The commission’s recommendations, delivered on March 1 to the legislature, drew criticism from people of all political stripes. They included raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, ending collective bargaining for state employees when the contract expires in 2027, and hiking tolls and gas taxes to pay for transportation infrastructure.

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