Part 13: For Malloy aides, the unforgivable sin
HARTFORD -- Mike Lawlor leans on the railing outside the governor's office on the second floor of the Capitol. The building hums and clatters with the noise of the Legislature in session, the slapping of shoes on marble, voices reverberating, carts of food being wheeled from the dinging elevators.
"Did you hear what Toni Boucher said?" Lawlor asks.
The others have not. When Lawlor tells them, Mark Ojakian's eyes go wide, then narrow again.
Boucher is a Republican state senator from the moneyed woods of Wilton. She is short, with black hair and heavy makeup, and the hurried aspect of a crusader for a cause. And Boucher's cause, the issue whose very mention throughout the building prompts the immediate invocation of her name, is marijuana. Namely, its dangers, its insidious work against the very fabric of society and the moral fiber of the individual. States around the country are relaxing their laws, but Boucher has always prevailed against attempts to change Connecticut's position, using the last, best approach for a member of the minority party. To simply be impossible about a bill, beyond even a dream of reasoning or compromise, was often the best and only way to kill it.
But the Democrats have been emboldened, thanks to this new governor, to push a nose under the tent. While medicinal marijuana failed again, the "decrim bill" passed with a tie-breaking vote by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman on a Saturday in early June. Possession of small amounts of pot would be punishable, the first time, with the equivalent of a traffic ticket, not an arrest. The arguments for it sounded reasonable enough to some people. Toni Boucher is not one of them.
So Boucher said this to a local reporter: "Malloy is promoting this bill. One of his sons has had serious problems with drugs. He has a personal interest in this."
The Malloyalists are, to a person, furious.
The kids are off limits. This is the rule they try to enforce.
It explains why future first lady Cathy Malloy hissed at Jim Amann after the gubernatorial wannabe raised Ben Malloy's drug arrest in 2009. It's why a reporter who peppers the press office with questions that suggest the inspiration for the decriminalization bill comes from Ben's problems is told that repeated invocations of the arrest will get him "cut off." The kids are not part of the story.
The Malloy team faces an insuperable dilemma. The governor himself will say with little prompting that he cannot imagine anyone pursuing the life he has without a supportive, encouraging spouse, without the love of a family that understands his ambition. But it's equally impossible to imagine a pursuit of maximum public responsibility -- and the notoriety that comes with it -- that doesn't trample on your family's need for blessed privacy when something has gone wrong. The family stands by you, and you know what happens sometimes to bystanders.
So the people around Dan Malloy know his desire, however implausible, to keep his sons out of the political crossfire. They largely succeed in shielding them. But they know, as Roy Occhiogrosso does, that the kids are the story sometimes, notwithstanding what they'd all prefer.
Even that terrible night in 2009, one of Cathy's first calls was to Roy, the guardian of the message.
"There are police in my house!" she screamed at him, unable to stay calm, as the cops looked for evidence that Ben had taken part in a robbery. Her husband was a candidate. Her husband was the may-or, and the police were there. There would be newspaper stories, and cameras. And Ben was in trouble.
"His problem was not marijuana; it was mental illness," the governor says, a few hours after the Boucher quote began snaking from person to person around the building. "And I think the lack of understanding and appreciation of that fact is reality."
Malloy isn't out for blood the way some might expect him to be. For one thing, that would mean continuing to talk about this, which he doesn't want to do. It's a governor's aide, not the governor, who jokes darkly that Wilton won't be seeing any projects on the Bond Commission agenda for a very long time.
"Listen, I'm fully cognizant that things like that are going to come up from time to time. You have to be aware of it and let it go," Malloy says. The people around him are "overly sensitive ... They're my friends, and they know how hurtful it is."
It's hurtful for his son, too.
"But life is hurtful," Dan Malloy says. "No one ever promised anyone that life would be easy. There is no such guarantee, and you move on. In comparison to things that have happened or will happen throughout the rest of my life, this is like, sand on the a-- of a flea."
He chuckles at his line. "What are you going to do? You move on."
You wouldn't know it from his speeches and press conferences, where he rarely mentions them, but Dan Malloy talks often to his children. He kids Dannel, the hockey-playing and refereeing eldest, about his nagging injuries and wearing his helmet. Dannel is quiet, protective, and deeply suspicious of interlopers and the press. ("He's the Danimal!" the father exclaims one summer afternoon, leaving the Stamford house, where Dannel was napping in the sun between games. "All he does is eat and work out.") It was Dannel who discovered the film crew from Ned Lamont's campaign grabbing footage of the house on Ocean Drive East for a negative ad. Some Malloy insiders joke that there was concern that afternoon that Dannel might start removing the cameraman's limbs at the outrage.
Ben calls from New York, intermittently curious, and often that's when Dan Malloy gets up from his desk, whisking away a visitor from the leather chair in the center of the room and shuts the heavy office door. His middle son is on probation, a student now at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Ben shows up for a small cocktail party in Stamford with the Malloys and some family friends in mid-summer. He has the friendly eyes and eager manner of a young man keen to impress his father. They say he's doing well.
And Sam. "Artsy," in his mother's word. He had the hardest time packing up and leaving the house in Stamford -- more pointedly not having it to come home to from college. And college, Boston College, his parents' alma mater, has been a struggle. One afternoon in October, Cathy Malloy is waiting to conduct an interview, her new job in Hartford having just made the papers, when the gates swing open in front of the Official Residence and a small sedan pulls to a stop near the front door. Sam is back from Boston, taking a semester off.
"Like a lot of young kids I think he's having a hard time finding himself," Dan Malloy says of his youngest son, in the early evening of Oct. 26, as he waits for the Legislature to finish its debate on his jobs bills. "I don't think it's easy to find yourself when your dad's the governor."
Is he conflicted about that?
"Ah, eh, of course I am," Malloy says.
He's looking at the TV in its wooden case, to the right of his desk, not at his questioner. Spinning to the computer desk, he slaps the mouse around, checking headlines.
"You know. Whaddya gonna do."
He is more forthcoming one evening, late in January, the walls still bare in his office, his family still living in Stamford.
"Cathy never would have chosen this life for us," Dan Malloy says. "But she knew what she was getting when she got me. I think she would have chosen a more private life, and I think she probably would have been happier in a more private life."
How then do they cope with that tension? He answers as if stating something empirical, something not ever in question.
"This is our life. This is what I did with my life."
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
You became mayor and the world of your children is changed, even before they do what kids do: get in trouble, struggle in school, grow through the stages of gawkiness and resistance to scrutiny. And now he's the governor. The unwelcome scrutiny is magnified.
"Dan has an amazing ability to compartmentalize things," says Bill Malloy, the oldest Malloy brother, probably the closest to Dan. "When he was a lawyer, on the board of finance, on the board of ed, if there was something outside, if there was a family situation outside, he'd try not to blend (the two)."
It was true for all of them, even Bill Malloy's 11 children, who received regular warnings about what their family's prominence, via their uncle's public life, would mean: a little less leeway to err in darkness, like all their friends.
"We had to be aware of it as relatives of Dan. And for (Dan), it was 10 times more."
The conversation is long and sweeping, Bill Malloy on the phone from the office of the business that was once his father's, the Malloy Insurance Agency, a Stamford institution. His voice climbs in urgency when he speaks about his nephew.
"Ben has problems. He's a good kid! But he has problems. And he tried to, to some extent, self-medicate, and that only leads to more problems."
Now, the boys are protective of the father, and very proud of him. It's easier to see with the older two, Cathy Malloy says, maybe a little less so with Sam.
"He's 19. His father's the governor. ... It's a 19-year-old thing. Nineteen-year-olds are pains in the neck anyway."
This afternoon, in the fall, in the declining light in the renovated study, she leans back slightly into the couch. Sam's footfalls pound the hallway upstairs, and Cathy Malloy calls the Official Residence "this oasis here." There is a blessing in the fence and the gate. People are always in the house -- the troopers in the little security station in the basement, "the Polish ladies" whipping up lunches for guests. But the Malloys are fine with that. Managing their people is what they do.
You don't manage people on the outside. People ask her all the time, does she ever just go out to dinner, just Cathy Malloy and her husband the governor. Which restaurants in Hartford does she like the best? But they can't do that anymore, not here as they could in Stamford. A night out means the troopers come, too -- though they love them: "love, worship and adore," Cathy says -- and it means the attention of people they can't manage at all. And out at a restaurant? There you have a second glass of wine and you know the waitress is going to go home and tell her friends, "Cathy Malloy is a lush." She's not asking for sympathy but, no, sometimes they would just rather stay in. Sam, too. "He, you know, he doesn't like it."
NO RESPONSE AT ALL
When he is asked, back in June, about Toni Boucher's comment about Ben Malloy, Andrew McDonald's mouth forms the slightest twist of a smile, like a chess player watching his opponent place himself into a stealthily laid trap. Oh, you are going to get it now.
Some of the others -- Lawlor, O.J., Arielle Reich -- are more visibly angry. The idiot. Going after his kids.
What Boucher will actually get in payback is simple silence.
You see, we told her not to say it, her Republican colleagues say. Roy Occhiogrosso learns this immediately, when he calls upstairs to the offices of Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, the senior Malloy adviser flushing to the neck, like the chimney of a steam train in a Warner Bros. cartoon. McKinney just sighs as Occhiogrosso explains the quote he is currently staring at on a website, the Republican senator adopting the weary tone of a parent whose warning went unheeded. Boucher had asked, in a Republican caucus, if they couldn't hammer away on this talking point. It was obvious, after all, that marijuana legislation must be related to the governor's kid. Absolutely not, McKinney says he told her. We don't go after people's kids.
Another Republican says Boucher made the same suggestion in a meeting of the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee and was similarly rebuffed. That's the thing about a representative body of adults who arrive with the untied ends of their lives arrayed like dress trains behind them: kids, divorces, affairs, DUIs, Facebook pages, the Christmas parties they'd prefer to forget. Unless you are a crusader, burning to stop the advance of the foe, it seems a dangerous precedent to bring the family into it.
McKinney offers to send Boucher downstairs this very minute to offer her apology. Don't do it, Occhiogrosso tells him. Her appearance in the office would not be a good idea.
A few days later, a handwritten note appears on Arielle Reich's desk in the breezeway. Toni Boucher's formal apology. The governor receives several apologies in his first year in office. To this one, he offers no response at all.
Months later, a pair of the governor's aides are huddled together in the Capitol, marveling at Malloy's insistence on plunging himself in front of the cameras and questioners, determined to make himself responsible in the wake of yet another major storm. He has this need, near pathological, to be the accountable party, to seize responsibility for an ongoing crisis.
"Why do you think he never talks about his kids?" the aide says, quietly, as if to take the harsh edge off something that could never be said in front of the Malloys. "That's the one problem he can't fix."
Tomorrow: The prospect of UBS pulling out of Stamford has the Malloy administration in crisis mode.