Malloy's first year in the eye of the storm
His style: 'I certainly hope I'm working you too hard'
HARTFORD -- He walks into the glass-walled conference room of the Emergency Operations Center a few minutes past 10 a.m. on June 23. The people in the room all stand, his closest aides, his lieutenant governor, the ring of commissioners and deputies sitting thigh-to-thigh in the stiff metal chairs along the walls.
Dan Malloy usually loves events like this. It's a briefing on hurricanes that the emergency department people want to do as a dry run. A projector flashes recent years' storm surge data on a drop screen, maps of the state's harbors are fixed to the white walls with magnets, and monitors show the weather radar and split screens of traffic whizzing along the highways, undeterred for now.
But Malloy is gloomy and quiet today, stress perceptible on him, from the deepened lines above his dark eyebrows to the locked-down set of his jaw. Peter Boynton, the meticulous emergency management commissioner, heartily directs the briefing, calling on this agency head and that one to explain their preparations for a major storm. Malloy's gaze wanders, hovers for a while on the space behind Boynton's chair. Under the table, he pulls off his wedding ring -- actually three metal bands connected in a chain -- and fingers it absentmindedly. He stuffs it back down onto his ring finger as Melody Currey, the commissioner of the DMV, finishes speaking. She's the last agency head on the list.
Malloy raises his head, and they look toward him.
"Now," he says in a flat voice. "Everyone needs to go back and plan for what you'll do with a workforce that's 25 percent smaller. Because that's what's about to happen."
The room is silent save for the exhalation of breath. Currey's gaze drops into her lap. Next to her, the face of the insurance commissioner, Tom Leonardi, goes from olive to ash. A pair of deputies stare at each other, open-mouthed.
Layoffs. The final, battle royal with the unions. He's really going to do it.
Malloy says a few more words -- they didn't want this, but this is how it's going to be -- then he stands up, and they walk out, all in a line. Dan Malloy, his trooper, his aide, his lieutenant governor. Out the rear door of the State Armory, he drops into the passenger seat of the waiting black Lincoln, stares straight ahead.
What are they all thinking in there, someone asks. The managers he's chosen to run the vast, amorphous state government -- will they be able to do all that work, to fight off a hurricane even if he cuts away a quarter of the workforce?
"Yeah," says Malloy, resigned and stern. "They're going to have to."
A MAN IN A HURRY
The first year of Dan Malloy's term as governor would be one of battles, public and private. It couldn't have been otherwise.
When his victory over Republican Tom Foley was finally certified, days after the election, the first Democratic governor in 20 years could finally turn his full attention to the state capital. There, the greatest challenge would come not from facing down Republicans and winning the broad-brush partisan debate, as he had in the election. The larger struggle that faced Malloy would be with his own kind -- with fellow Democrats, many of whom viewed Malloy with suspicion if not outright hostility, as eager to undo much of the government they had cemented in place during years of near-complete control of the General Assembly. They would be right.
But Malloy also would find himself out of step with many of the political currents sweeping the nation. He came to Hartford as a believer in government. Around the country, statehouses and legislatures fell to those who believed just the opposite. As Malloy bent to the tasks of crafting a balanced budget and renegotiating labor deals with thousands of employees, a wave of anti-tax, anti-government conservatives assumed control in Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida and other states, eager to provide a counter-example. Even closer to home, Democrats like Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York and Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey would demonstrate how a taste for confrontation could provide a boost to a politician's fortunes.
Malloy was determined to be different. Tougher on unions than some fellow Democrats (and his Republican predecessor), but resistant to the temptation to whip up public resentment of them, too. He would push through a $1.5 billion tax increase, the single biggest change in the tax code since the income tax's introduction in the early 1990s. But Malloy would push to make that tax hike broad, adding new brackets that spread it across the middle class, rather than hammering the wealthy alone, who he felt were being scapegoated by the activists to his left.
"Shared sacrifice," Malloy and his trusted aides called it, so repetitively that the term quickly gained ironic resonance within his office.
He yearned to build things, and quickly. Malloy hurled himself into deals that his own party would have criticized in unison if struck by a Republican governor. He would shower tax breaks and grants on insurance companies, ticket vendors and a biotech research institution, banking on job growth in future years to fuel demand in the state's withered economy and in the process to prove his judgment right. Malloy did so with full expectation of the ire he would cause among some Democrats, anger he dismissed characteristically. (You know who else would object to his helping businesses, he muttered one rainy afternoon: "Bolsheviks.")
The Malloy Way is a seismic change for Hartford: The governor is everywhere, directing the emergency department through snowstorms, lunching in the Capitol cafeteria, aggressively selling his budget proposal to the public in town hall meetings, dropping in at businesses across the state, darkening the doors at conferences in Washington, D.C., flying to Afghanistan to rally Connecticut troops in a war zone.
Malloy and his closest aides emulate each other, and their pace is proudly relentless. "I certainly hope I'm working you too hard," the governor will say one morning to a favored commissioner. Pressing one lawmaker to stop obstructing their budget, one top aide reduces the legislator to tears. The frustrating actions of others they attribute, as a group, to the qualities they denigrate most. All around them, they see laziness, or stupidity, or an arrogant resistance to change. A labor leader presumptuously complains about a perceived snub. "Does he remember that I'm the f-----g governor?!" Malloy demands of an aide. The White House, two times over, seems to overlook Connecticut as it struggles to right itself after a storm, and so the governor rips into a hapless White House aide, up one side and down the other, seething at the perceived sin of incompetence.
And yet Malloy is solicitous in a way a governor is usually not. He chats up the people he finds in the cafeteria soup line, administers hugs to the developmentally disabled workers who wash the plastic trays.
He loves the trappings of the office, but he bridles at the way it cuts him off from what is moving all around him: information, borne by people. So out he marches, breaching protocol again, onto the floor of the House of Representatives, or out among his constituents. In a flood-wrecked neighborhood and over the sneeze guard of a salad bar, he exchanges the elbow-to-elbow knock of the caterer's high-five. A man who wants to show people he sees them, who has come to greet them where they are.
The outward energy, the intensity, is a reflection of the private man. Not happy sitting around, he's curious to the point of obsession about all the facts, the information, that could right this moment be passing him by. Driven and intense, Malloy struggles with his own flaws, his occasional self-doubts at odds with his supreme confidence. His mind is that of the prosecutor, relentlessly assembling new pieces of an ongoing argument.
There is no one Malloy doesn't remind about the battles and challenges he faces as the first Democratic governor in 20 years. He squeezed into office with a massive effort to wring every last vote out of the cities, a 6,404-vote squeaker of a win in a year when Republicans all over the country were supposed to be winning the argument. Across the land, it was the time for austerity, for government to be run by its deadliest antagonists. The political consensus was to lop off all but the most necessary limbs of the governmental beast, gut the public payrolls, obey the taxpayers foremost, show them some public-sector blood.
And so in comes Malloy, greeted with a wallop of snowstorms and the largest per capita budget deficit of any state in the nation -- about $3.6 billion, if the shifting estimates were to be believed. This is his newest problem to fix.
So the team sets to work, as if the campaign never really came to an end. Officials were still counting ballots in Bridgeport, waiting for his rival to concede, and Malloy was tapping the members who would form his inner circle. Tim Bannon to be the chief of staff, a veteran of government and corporate life. Roy Occhiogrosso to be what he had been for five long years of plotting and campaigning: strategist, consultant, worrier, counter-puncher on Malloy's behalf. Ben Barnes had run his budgets in Stamford, and he could do the same for the state. Andrew McDonald, of course, his confidante, his lawyer, gladly gives up the state Senate to be general counsel. There is Nancy Wyman, his lieutenant governor. With Wyman, from her years as comptroller, comes her longtime deputy, Mark Ojakian, who shifts easily over to OPM to begin the talks they all knew they'd need to have with the unions. Poor O.J., for his job is simple: Go get us two billion dollars.
They want to do more than close a deficit. They have to do more. Dan Malloy has promised voters reinvention, a renewed state. And they want it themselves.
`THE LOVE OF MY MOTHER'
Bill Malloy doesn't remember his youngest brother talking about being governor. It was being mayor of Stamford, their hometown, that the young Dannel Patrick Malloy talked about. That was only natural, given the way politics, civic engagement if you like, coursed through the house on Revonah Avenue. The elder Bill Malloy, his trim mustache and the sober set of his mouth, Exalted Leader of the local Elks. Never got beyond eighth grade, and didn't like to talk about it, but served on the Board of Selectmen, back in the old Town of Stamford days, before consolidation.
Just as important, there was Agnes.
Dan Malloy mentions his mother more frequently than he does his father. He quotes Agnes' invocation of public service, borrows her salty witticisms. When the unions challenge him, upset about his budget, or schoolteachers attack him for insufficient support of their agenda, he reminds them of his mother, Agnes Malloy, the school nurse, who organized a union, got canned for it, persevered anyway.
And it is Agnes Malloy he credits ("the love of my mother, and the guidance of public school teachers" is his phrase) for fighting back the diagnosis that might have made this all impossible. Her eighth and youngest child seemed so damaged. He was "spastic," he'll tell groups of disabled children. (The campaign staff begs him not to use that word.) "Retarded," the schools proclaimed. If they knew it was dyslexia, no one cared to differentiate between the two. And his frightening lack of coordination: he was unable, at 10, to tie his shoes or button his shirt. The schools would have tossed in the towel -- plenty of good programs for a boy like that -- but Agnes would not have it. She insisted, she cajoled, she threatened. The boy was special, not broken.
Eventually, they found the right therapy. It was humiliating, grueling, but his limbs began to cooperate with his mind. Coordination came, at last, and by the end of his junior year in high school, he was a cocky, brash lineman on the football team.
Then he very nearly died.
He broke his back, playing football, and then lay in a hospital bed, in the care of the nuns, as the ulcers in his intestine grew worse and worse, undiagnosed. Eventually, the ulcers triggered a deadly inflammation in his pancreas, and the doctors whisked the ailing boy into intensive care. He remembers his mother sitting there with him. She was devout in the standard way -- obedient to the Church teachings she agreed with, stubbornly resistant to the rules that were obviously wrong. One morning, when the priests came around again, offering Communion, he was too tired, and waved them away.
"Dannel," he remembers her telling him. "You really should take Communion."
Only later does he realize that this is the moment they offered him his Last Rites.
But he pulls through, he graduates, proud alum of the first graduating class of Westhill High School. Having missed the deadlines, still struggling with reading comprehension, and especially with writing, his family taps a friend, who gets him an interview and an entrance exam for Boston College. The school says yes.
There was nothing therapists could do to make the tangling frustrations with words just disappear. So he learned the way around it: tricks of memory, books on tape, the former Cathy Lambert, now his wife, tapping out the term papers he dictated, striding back and forth like Churchill in the dorm room. From law school, he knows he is headed to the courtroom, to the land of oral argument, not appellate briefs and academia. And from the district attorney's office in Brooklyn, N.Y. in just a few years he's back in his hometown, Stamford, in private practice, running for the Board of Finance. And pretty soon, he can see it, still developing but tantalizing: the way forward. The mayor's chair.
The dyslexia is still with him, Dan Malloy says one day, sitting behind his desk in the governor's office. It's something one lives with, not something one cures. (And then he fixes a visitor with a familiar expression, eyebrows slightly raised. The "are you finally starting to get it?" face.) The shame and the weakness is always under there, beneath the tricks he's learned to compensate.
Already, the murmurs run through the Capitol, in the early months of his first year. The new guy is driven and impressive, a break with the stale past. But he's cocky and vain. He needs to back off a notch or two on the throttle, tone it down a little.
And here he is upstairs in his Capitol office, in rare introspection.
"There is never a day when I don't feel embarrassed," Malloy says. It's an explanation of sorts, but not an apology. If he has to fight so hard, well, so will you.
CHALLENGING THE DOUBTERS
"The people of Connecticut want you to lie to them."
Malloy is frustrated. It's morning, June 27, the Monday after he shocked his commissioners in the EOC. They spent their Saturday in the conference room off Barnes' office at the Office of Policy and Management, winnowing down the layoffs and cuts to something more manageable. They won't shutter the whole vocational school system; it's too harsh, too costly to his political flank, and it doesn't square at all with the line he's been spinning about the rebirth of manufacturing and industry. They can't slash municipal spending too harshly -- that would undercut some of the good they think they did with their budget, preserving state aid and preventing property taxes from rising to cover cuts. And the overall layoff number is down. It won't be the 10,000 Barnes originally thought. It might not even be the 7,500 he began to publicly warn about a few weeks ago (not that that number came from anywhere other than his head).
But 6,000 or so employees, they're going to have to go.
No one thought he would do it. He can't stand this, can't abide it, because he warned them, he told them what he was doing.
"They want you to lie to them," he says, gripping his paper coffee cup, sitting at a table in the cafeteria of the Legislative Office Building. No one wants to believe that their taxes will go up, or that the state will make them pay more for their pensions, if they want to preserve the government they've enjoyed.
He is not, by implication, going to lie to them. And he's not going to stop moving.
Later, back up in his office, Malloy sits at his desk, surrounded by the cut-glass mementos he brought along from Stamford, the framed invitations to his own inauguration and a White House ball on the wall. The gently ticking grandfather clock, and the red binder holding his agenda and his briefing memos for the trips he's about to take. He'll placate the businessmen in Stamford, visit the movie studio in Greenwich, hit the fundraiser for the Democrat in Fairfield.
First, though, he calls Larry Cafero, the operatic House Republican leader, a perennial foe on political matters. He assures Cafero now.
"I don't want to spend a lot of time debating these cuts because, frankly, we don't have the time, and we'll look like a bunch of schmucks." The message: Give me the power to cut this stuff myself.
"This is going to be difficult for Democrats to accept, on a line-by-line basis, as you might imagine," Malloy says. It's a brusque, deal-making voice. "And I don't think you guys want to be in session all summer."
He perceives some doubt about his will -- they are always doubting him, always have been -- so he ends the phone call this way:
"I can assure you, Larry, I'm going to make the cuts."
Tomorrow: The governor's closest aides bear not only the burden of enacting his agenda but the job of protecting his political flanks and his personal privacy. A look at these men and women -- the Malloyalists, as they became known.