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Griebel For Governor Is A New Pitch For "Oz"

Dan Haar

January 29, 2010

Even before we got to the substance of his speech, a few notable things stood out at "Oz" Griebel's announcement Thursday that he's running as a Republican for governor.

The event started on time. Griebel had the loudest, deepest, fastest and clearest voice of anyone there, probably of anyone in the city. Early on, he explained what he was going to say, and why he was going to say it.

The crowd included at least one well-known Democratic activist.

And on a frozen day on the cold stone portico of the state Capitol, only two people weren't wearing coats R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, 60, and his wife, Kirsten, standing at his side. She put on a coat after he spoke. He didn't.

It all adds up to a picture of Griebel, star athlete who pitched for a year in the minor leagues, teacher-turned-banker-turned-economic-development executive. Here's a guy who has crafted an image over decades as a nonpartisan, hyper-competent, non-wavering guy who gets things done with a minimum of fuss, blunt but good at avoiding controversy and with absolutely no concern for the elements.

It's not just an image; Griebel, as head of the MetroHartford Alliance, is the chief business salesman for the region, and that means he's been close to the political scene but until now, comfortably above the fray. As he points out, the goals he has pushed improved transit, downtown development, a healthy corporate and civic climate are not Republican or Democrat.

He hasn't always succeeded, what with a metro area that has, shall we say, its share of challenges. But the image remains unsullied. One prominent businessman who knows Griebel told me Thursday he didn't realize until this week that Griebel was a Republican.

Is he running for Superman? Is he running for Spider-Man? No, he's ... he's ... he's ... leaping into the open sewer of politics, where every comment is dissected for who it might harm. That will soil Griebel's image a bit, unless he really is Superman. And that's just fine with Griebel, who said he wants to move from influencing what's happening to making things happen.

Thursday's speech showed the process unfolding. Griebel, a fiscal conservative, didn't mention the word "taxes" even once as I heard it, and certainly didn't use taxes as a theme. That's quite a feat for a Republican, and speaks volumes about his stated desire to do politics differently.

But he did float an idea that might make sense, although not without bloody mayhem. Why, he asked, can't the state move its 50,000 or so employees toward a defined-contribution retirement plan, like a 401(k), rather than the old-style defined benefit plan that most corporations have eliminated?

Imagine how that little nuclear warhead would play in state union negotiations. Even before that, imagine the political jockeying that would unfold if Gov. Griebel really pushed for it, rather than floating it as an example of creative thinking in a campaign.

And that's just one piece of one issue.

The Democrat on hand was Dan Papermaster, whose work with Griebel goes back to organizing the 1996 presidential debate at the Bushnell in Hartford. Papermaster, a lawyer downtown, described himself as an active supporter of Griebel's.

More Democrat backers would bring more nonpartisan, outsider credibility, but if he runs a traditional campaign as a Republican, Griebel won't be able to return to the Alliance with the same stature. He of course doesn't care about that.

Playing into the myth, a couple of local dudes are tweeting about Griebel's superhero feats, and Colin McEnroe has joined in, on his WNPR radio show. It could be mockery or flattery, but Griebel wouldn't care he is unbothered by the elements.

Griebel makes it official, Page B2

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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