Feuding and fencing with the news media
"Bring up the J-I," he tells her.
After she calls up the story on the Journal-Inquirer of Manchester's website, they read it together, Arielle shaking her head in bemusement. "He wrote the story!"
"Malloy campaign staffer got state job," the headline reads.
There isn't much of a scandal here. Gianquinto has, if anything, pulled down a less desirable job than some of the others who worked for Dan Malloy's election campaign. (Like, say, Brian Durand, who's at OPM, or Arielle Reich, the government affairs director.) And it's not inappropriate to hire your supporters to certain state positions. That's why the job is classified as a political appointment.
No, what makes this so good is that it's going to drive Roy Occhiogrosso absolutely crazy. Malloy's senior adviser had already put in a call to Jacovino, warning him not to write this. Jacovino called to ask for Gianquinto's salary and job description, not long after the administration's angriest liberal critic, blogger Jonathan Pelto, sent a Freedom of Information request for the same material. To Roy, it's clear: Pelto's feeding this to reporters, trying to get someone to write a hit piece. So he warned Jacovino earlier in the week that if they ran with something pitched by Pelto, he'd be "cut off" from the press office. (Jacovino denied that was his source, not that the Malloy press staff believed that.)
The thought occurs to Arielle Reich as she talks to Durand. She bolts up from her chair and all but sprints across the hall, through the heavy wooden door and into Occhiogrosso's office.
He's got a mist of sweat starting to bead up on his forehead, the black plastic receiver jammed into one ear, one hand in the air and his mouth open, though he's not talking. Even his listening seems loud, though. Occhiogrosso has boiled over.
"This is a hatchet job!" he shouts. "It says `Malloy campaign staffer got state job.' What's next? `Dog bites man?' "
The target of his rage is clearly higher than Ed Jacovino. It's Chris Powell, the curmudgeonly libertarian managing editor of the JI, one who has taken pleasure in skewering many of the squishy-soft Democrats for whom Occhiogrosso has worked over the years. From this history of bloodsport springs a certain mutual admiration. They go way back.
"You write columns three times a week ripping the s--it out of my boss, and do I ever complain?" Occhiogrosso says. A plastic takeout tray is open on his desk, a neglected piece of chicken forlornly cooling. He pauses, nodding silently as Powell interjects.
"OK, fine. Two times a week you write a column ripping the s--t out of my boss. Fifteen years of doing this, and think about all the candidates I worked for and think about all the stuff you wrote about them and how many times have I made this call? Two times."
He's made his point and will say later that Powell was gracious, once they'd done their shouting. But he is fuming. Jacovino had better steer clear, and when someone brings up Pelto's name, Occhiogrosso's eyes drop into his searching squint, looking for the slightest sense of empathy with that turncoat, a creature now dead to the administration.
To the Malloy team, as with many politicians' offices, the media is alternately to be tolerated, scorned, avoided, cajoled, fed, berated or pilloried. Malloy's aides -- and the governor himself -- take great pride in being accessible and available. But the news media, they know, is fickle and unpredictable. Friendly coverage gives way to gotchas. And ultimately, they believe, reporters and their editors are simply tools for communication, means to an ends, the often-ornery objects that stand between them and the citizenry.
The Malloyalists also believe in playing offense. No unfair story, no story that misses their point of view, no story that seems to carry an opponent's water, shall go unchallenged.
WINNING, EVERY DAY
Back when Colleen Flanagan returned from a few years in Washington to take the spokeswoman's job at the Connecticut Democratic Party, the Hartford Courant's Rick Green christened her the "Attack Husky." It took little time for the nickname to set. Her news releases lacerated and bludgeoned where simple tweaking and rebutting might have done the job. She served a similar role for Dan Malloy during the campaign, and now does in the Capitol. Other aides take great pleasure in watching her react with genuine outrage at the failures (her view) of the press.
"Colleen was purple!" Occhiogrosso says, reporting back to the Update Meeting on the communications director's response to a new story questioning the administration's budget numbers or crediting the Republicans' job-talking points over Malloy's own.
Occhiogrosso, meanwhile, sees constant opportunity and constant threat. He'll explain it to you, between emails at his desk: "You have to win this day, and then you have to win the day after that, and then you have to win the day after that; that's how you win campaigns."
Spoken like someone who hasn't always won campaigns.
Walking through the Legislative Office Building in those first few weeks, with a Capitol badge on for the first time since the days when he worked for the Senate Democrats, it hit him again and again. Everyone was his friend, and furthermore, they were at pains to tell him, he was very much a genius.
"These people are so fake," Occhiogrosso stage whispered one day in the foyer that leads from the LOB through the underground concourse and back to the Capitol.
He knew how they had talked about him up to the very moment Malloy was declared the winner in the governor's race. Roy Occhiogrosso is a football fan, a son of Queens born to suffer with the Jets, and he knows very well the type they all saw in him. The guy who can't win The Big One. Conventions he could tackle, most notably with Dan Malloy in 2006 and 2010. And primaries: He and Bill Curry stunning John Larson in the race for governor. But he knew that's as far as they all thought he could go.
"You're an idiot around here, a loser, and then you win one race and suddenly you're a genius?"
So he fights for every hour, every day, dependent on Colleen to keep the press ship operating at a smooth, noiseless whirr, so he could focus on the clouds as they amassed down the horizon. His job, his problem, is the public, the broader sense of how Malloy was doing. And that meant his problem is the press.
`THIS IS A GAME'
The boss likes to mix it up with them.
Roy Occhiogrosso likes to call the Malloy team the "most transparent administration in recent memory," a claim that rests largely on the fact that the governor is everywhere, and almost always available to take a question or two. Aides delight in the failure of reporters to stump him with strange topics, and they usually like the competitive flair he shows for answering. Short, quick rejoinders are his specialty, and he could no sooner stop trying to get in the last, most perfectly honed word than a brick wall could try not to return the rubber ball bounced against it.
"This is a game, you get that, right?" Roy says to Malloy one day, after a news conference where the governor has again been defending the extracurricular speech-making habits of his environmental commissioner, Dan Esty. The questions and his answers circled the main topics again and again, Roy growing nervous as the reporters in the gaggle tried to get him to slip up. The senior adviser moves, in those moments, from the crowd at the side over to the center of the pack, behind the TV cameras and their pinpoint lights. Roy is tall enough that the governor can see him; sometimes he raises a hand. He hardly ever does the cutting-off of questions, like a press secretary diving in to save some floundering lesser figure. They let Dan Malloy announce the end of his interrogation for himself.
It's a game, but the wounds feel real, and the slights are remembered. Malloy mutters with disdain about a reporter who treated him roughly on the campaign, challenging his claims about his economic success as mayor of Stamford.
ARE THEY DENSE?
"What kind of a question is that?" he exclaims, sitting in the Lincoln after a brief news "availability" to discuss the ongoing negotiations with labor unions. The stupid question at hand was an inquiry about what the state would be giving up -- a three- or four-year, no-layoff guarantee, was that right? Were these reporters really so dense that they were just picking up on that?
In fact, the reporters mutter, prying some information out of the administration is a damned chore. Sometimes no one tells them anything. So what recourse do they have but these questions that seem so silly to Malloy. It's a frustration common to this administration and any other.
Usually, Malloy can win them over, or outlast their questions, if not necessarily charm them. Not the TV reporter he barks at, during the height of stress after the October snowstorm, chides for showing up late to his live briefing. Roy defends this to others, but he goes in to the governor's office and tells him to call and apologize. He resists for a few minutes, then he calls, from his personal cellphone so the furious reporter will stop screening the calls coming from the Capitol.
When Malloy finally gets her on the phone, the reporter lays into him, chastising him for his rudeness. The governor sits there behind his desk, patiently nodding and looking up at Roy the whole time: You see what I do for you?
Tomorrow: The Jackson Labs deal is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, Malloy believes, but the project's enormous price tag has some balking.