Ned Lamont: Former Journalist, Businessman, American Idol Fan, Hopeful For Governor | Connecticut Public Radio

Ned Lamont: Former Journalist, Businessman, American Idol Fan, Hopeful For Governor

Oct 28, 2018

It was the summer of 1976, and Will Hunter was living with a group of 20-somethings in farmhouse. Well, calling it a farmhouse might not be completely accurate.

"That summer, we stayed in a place that was nicknamed 'squalor',” Hunter said. 

Hunter had started up a newspaper in Vermont called The Black River Tribune. Living in “squalor” with Hunter and some others was a young Ned Lamont, who is today the Democratic candidate for Connecticut governor. 

"I provided housing, as part of the deal working on the paper, because we didn't pay very well,” Hunter said. “You know, he had a great sense of adventure. And this was an adventure."

Years earlier, when they were in high school, Lamont and Hunter attended the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. They knew each other from working on the school paper, The Exonian.

Hunter ran the paper his senior year, and Lamont took over the next year. Under Lamont's watch, the paper ran articles about Vietnam, women's rights, race and segregation. He also ran a front-page story about how to dodge the draft.

Hunter also took risks, but he paid a price. He was fired during his tenure for publishing an editorial that criticized the school principal. Lamont seemed more insulated. Hunter said Lamont was probably able to take bigger risks at the paper than he was for a simple reason -- his family had been big donors.

The top half of a front page of the student newspaper at Philips Exeter Academy, when Ned Lamont ran the paper.

"I remember joking with my father about the fact that, probably Ned Lamont was not going to go the way of Will Hunter when the principal read something in the newspaper that he didn't like because he might have to make the announcement from the steps of Lamont Hall,” Hunter said. “I think Ned had a little bit of insulation. And more power to him." 

Hunter said even though Lamont came from a family who had their names on Exeter buildings, he didn't act that way.

"He doesn't sound like your typical privileged person who thinks that they're owed something because of the family they were born into,” he said. “I think he's got a genuine commitment to people who have been left behind."

These days, Hunter runs a nonprofit housing organization in Vermont.

He said he never expected Lamont to seek elected office. But he was happy when Lamont stepped into the national spotlight in 2006 when he ran for the U.S. Senate.

Lamont beat incumbent Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary that year, but lost to Lieberman in the general election. His next foray into state politics happened in 2010 when he made a bid for governor.

That's when he met Eric  Bragg.

Eric Bragg.
Credit Uprise Travel

He was Lamont’s candidate assistant, also known as the "body man." Bragg drove Lamont around the state as he campaigned, and he would print out Lamont's speech notes, bring him his newspaper and his coffee.

"I'd carry his business cards, and his comb, and his breath mints,” Bragg said. “ I'd actually take pictures of him at the campaign events."

He said the two of them shared a lot of conversations about politics and policies. But what stood out to Bragg, was Lamont’s domestic side.

"He's a guy that really cares deeply about his kids,” Bragg said. “I remember often late at night, when we were out on the campaign trail, you know, we'd be maybe an hour, hour-and-a-half from home, and you know, thinking about whether or not we wanted to go to another event that night. You know, he was always prioritizing his kids, saying, 'I really want to get home, Teddy needs help with this paper that he's writing,' or you know, 'I told Teddy I'd watch American Idol with him.'"

Lamont actually liked American Idol, Bragg said, and he wasn't afraid to talk about who did well, and who didn't, or if he agreed or disagreed with the audience.

Bragg said Lamont has some trouble with authenticity. One-on-one, he's personable and likeable, but when he gets into politician mode, he changes.

"Chatting about the issues with him when there's no tape recorder on, when there's no cameras on him, and you get him talking about issues that matter,” he said, “you kind of really get a sense of how deeply he cares about the state of Connecticut."

Bragg also pointed out that Lamont can be a little bit of a dork.

“Ned’s just sort of an awkward, dorky guy, in the most lovable way possible, I think,” Bragg said.

At a campaign event in Hartford earlier this year, Lamont was trying to encourage people to make a difference if they participate in civic life. He then began singing “Get Up, Stand Up" by The Wailers, which was followed by a mixture of enthusiastic and tepid applause.

Lamont has also been compared to the goofy neighbor character from The Simpsons, Ned Flanders. That comparison was cemented in a rap made by Ian MacDonald, a supporter of Oz Griebel, another candidate for governor.

Lamont said he’s heard the song, and he thought it was amusing.