Duby McDowell and Kevin Rennie are out as hosts of WFSB-TV’s ‘Face the State’ after criticism of her PR firm’s $250K, no-bid state contract with Lamont administration

Jon Lender, Hartford Courant

Duby McDowell and Kevin Rennie will no longer be co-hosts of WFSB-TV, Channel 3 1/4 u2032s weekend Face the State news-interview show after this Sunday’s broadcast, following criticism that McDowell had a conflict of interest because of her private public-relations firm’s new $250,000, three-month, no-bid contract with the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont, a fellow Democrat for whom she has expressed public support.

McDowell and Rennie, who is a Courant columnist, were hired as a team in October to replace recently departed Face the State host Dennis House — but now the problem of one, McDowell, is the apparent reason for the departure of both. Face the State will continue, but WFSB has not said who will replace the duo after their final broadcast Sunday at 8:30 a.m. on the local CBS affiliate.

The station had made no announcement by early Friday evening of the change, including whose decision it was and the reasons for it.

Instead, word of it filtered out through the local broadcast community after McDowell and Rennie taped their final show earlier in the day.

Reached about 6 p.m. on the phone, Rennie said that “all parties acknowledged before we began in October that because we are not full-time journalists” — he is an attorney, in addition to a weekly Courant columnist — “we would likely have conflicts. And we had agreed that if either of us had a conflict, the other would conduct the interview of the guest. That proved insufficient in light of the the contract” between the McDowell Communications Group and state Department of Public Health (DPH).

“And we were told early in the week we were being let go from Face the State after our 13th program,” he said.

McDowell had faced controversy since a Jan. 2 Courant column raised questions such as how she could be objective in her co-host’s role conducting interviews about the administration’s performance. The issue arose after her firm was awarded the lucrative three-month contract — without conducting a competitive selection process or even contacting a competitor about it — to take the lead role in handling DPH’s communications about the COVID 19 pandemic from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28.

The contract could be extended beyond that, Dr. Deidre Gifford, DPH’s acting commissioner, told Government Watch a week ago.

Criticism of the contract award included state House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora’s statement that “it smells more of politics than of policy.” He said the “extraordinary powers that the governor has right now” under emergency pandemic orders, which enable him to bypass bidding, “should be used as restrictively as possible, and I am not sure in these circumstances...they have been used in a restrictive manner.”

In a statement posted on its website Jan. 2, in response to the Courant column, WFSB said McDowell would remain on the program but not report on issues related to the coronavirus.

“WFSB’s Face the State is meant to address the pulse of Connecticut politics, and that is why Duby McDowell is one of the independent contractor hosts,” it said. “We understand that her unrelated PR firm has a state contract regarding to COVID-19 communications, and for that reason going forward she will not report on COVID-19 for the show. She brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and understanding of a variety of other hot button topics that will surely keep Face the State viewers engaged and educated.”

But by Tuesday, a link to that posting instead returned a page that read: “Sorry, the page you’re looking for cannot be found.”

McDowell had a high-visibility career as a political reporter and interviewer on WFSB from 1988 to 2000 before moving on to public relations work. A registered Democrat, she has made financial contributions to committees and candidates affiliated with that party,and had expressed strong support for Lamont in recent years.

A Nov. 8, 2018, post in her firm’s online newsletter said “we congratulate our friend and client, Ned Lamont, on winning Tuesday’s election.” The newsletter went on to say that McDowell’s partner in the firm at the time, Steve Jewett, “served as the campaign’s senior advisor and chief strategist.” It also said: “We look forward to continuing to support Governor-Elect Lamont and seeing the positive change he will bring Connecticut.”

McDowell and Rennie each will discuss their departures in the taped show on Sunday, he said. “We explain at the conclusion of Sunday’s very interesting program why we are leaving, and on Sunday morning we will each put a statement on our websites,” Rennie said. McDowell’s website is www.thelaurelct.com. Rennie’s is www.dailyructions.com.

Sunday’s guests are U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, and Yale political science professor Jacob Hacker, discussing Wednesday’s rioting by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol.

Jon Lender can be reached at jlender@courant.com..