WNPR series exposes 5th District candidates’ weak spots
Mark Greenberg called Islam "a cult" and said he has no plan for health care reform when he appeared on WNPR's "Where We Live" program as part of a series of hour-long interviews with the candidates for 5th DIstrict Congress this year. Photo by Chion Wolf/WNPR
By Matt DeRienzo, Staff Reporter
Connecticut will be sending a new representative to Congress from the 5th District this fall, and the field for Republican and Democratic primaries on Tuesday, Aug. 14, is crowded and controversial.
Yet there have been few opportunities outside of contentious debates, scripted sound bites and headlines about grand jury investigations for the average voter to really get a sense of where each candidate is coming from.
That’s why a series of hour-long radio interviews on WNPR’s “Where We Live” program stands out as one of the best insights so far into the campaign.
There were no “gotcha” questions from host and WNPR News Director John Dankosky. He asked in simple and direct terms about the issues of the day and questions that had been raised about each candidate.
And pretty much unanimously, they had a really difficult time answering.
The exception was Republican Lisa Wilson-Foley, but not because she answered Dankosky’s questions well. She was the only one of seven candidates to refuse to appear on the program. She canceled at the last minute because her campaign did not want Danksoky to ask her questions about a scandal over her involvement with former Gov. John Rowland, which has since prompted a federal grand jury investigation.
As for the other candidates:
Andrew Roraback gave a confusing answer to a simple question about why he reversed his position on repealing Connecticut’s death penalty.
Justin Bernier denied the significance of man-made impact on climate change, and said he supported “Citizens United,” confusing the political action committee with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Dan Roberti said it didn’t matter that 95 percent of his campaign funds came from large-amount donations from out-of-state contacts of his father’s lobbying firm, because the handful of $5 donations he gets from within the district are “much more special to him.”
Elizabeth Esty defended taking money from executives of energy firms her husband regulates as commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection by saying that Donovan takes money from people trying to influence him, too.
Mark Greenberg called Islam “a cult,” said he doesn’t have a plan for health care reform, doesn’t have a plan for campaign finance reform and doesn’t know whether corporations should be considered “people” under the eyes of the law.
“I am surprised by the amount of news generated by our Where We Vote series, but not shocked,” Dankosky said. “There are so few outlets that take any real time to get to know the candidates, and almost none that devote a whole hour to an interview. In that amount of time, I think we had a chance to really explore candidate positions and to hold them accountable for past actions and statements.”
Dankosky’s interview with Greenberg generated significant coverage in the press, and Greenberg’s comments were criticized by Connecticut Muslim leaders and a Muslim congressman from Indiana.
“Audience reaction has been enthusiastic – as it always is – to our series,” Dankosky said. “But I think it was intensified by the controversial nature of some of the candidates and their campaigns, and the sense that we were truly learning things about each person as the shows unfolded.”
Donovan’s comments on “Where We Live” prompted Connecticut House Minority Leader Larry Cafero to say he was “misleading people” over the jobs bill.
Wilson-Foley’s refusal to appear on the program led Roraback in a recent debate to say that she was “dodging reporters and the FBI.”
“Lisa Wilson-Foley’s decision not to take part was amplified by the fact that the other candidates did come on and sit through long and occasionally awkward questioning about things they’d rather not have talked about,” Dankosky said. “Her campaign seemed unwilling to “face the music” – and despite some uncomfortable moments I think the other candidates are glad they did.”
“We don’t ever mean to be “gotcha” journalism. While the candidates never know the questions in advance, they are aware that the forum is completely open with no-holds-barred,” he said. “Each candidate had at least one defining characteristic or position that he or she would have to answer questions about – whether in a debate or in response to a TV ad. We made a concerted effort to spend substantial time on these issues to test candidates’ consistency and facility with difficult questions.”
Dankosky said he’s “never felt like we’ve had more influence over the discussion” than in the 5th District primary race this year. “Speaker Donovan’s clash with Senate Democrats over a jobs bill and Senator Roraback’s changed position on the death penalty come to mind as key moments in the series,” he said.
To listen to each interview, follow the links below: