The woman who healed Hartford
I didn’t go to the “job interviews” the other night to watch four privileged guys in power ties pretend they have rich inner lives.
Spare me from Tim Herbst, the Republican wrecking ball, getting touchy- and- feely about bringing all- day kindergarten to Trumbull during his stint as first selectman.
I was afraid that Steve Obsitnik, the Westport tech entrepreneur, would spill his guts about how, say, during the development of Siri, our ubiquitous electronic servant, he unfortunately lobbied the engineers to use Hulk Hogan’s voice.
I was willing to beg Greenwich’s Ned Lamont to avoid recalling the trials and tribulations of growing up the great- great- grandson of J. P. Morgan’s top adviser in the go- go years before the sinking of The Titanic, when old J. P. was the nation’s central bank.
And if Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton was going to reveal how he plays in several Brazilian volleyball leagues and live tweets under the nickname of “Slammin’ Sandy” nearly a dozen years after the controversial roundup of 11 day laborers by federal immigration agents, well, I’d rather listen to Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim recount all the toilets he cleaned during that seven- year prison stretch.
No, I was at the University of Hartford’s Lincoln Theater to attend an event sponsored by the school’s Governor M. Jodi Rell Center for Public Service.
The program was a nearly relaxed, televised oneon- one between Chris Ulrich, a Washington- based “personal and professional adviser” and the four candidates for governor who escaped their recent conventions with viable campaigns heading for the Aug. 14 primary: Lamont and the three Republicans.
Ganim made a little show outside in the parking lot, pouting for reporters about being locked out of the event. He has a June 12 deadline to present 15,458 valid signatures of registered Democrats to reach the primary. But after walking into the auditorium, he had a moment with Rell, with whom he once debated along with the late Eunice Groark, when the three were vying for lieutenant governor, back in 1994.
“I thanked him for coming and I thanked him for understanding,” Rell said after the hour- long event. “And he smiled and said ‘ I was just thinking about the last time we did a state race together.’ I had forgotten.”
We could all use a visit with the woman who brought us through the ugliness and hangovers of the first Rowland scandal. Rell browbeat the General Assembly into bipartisan submission, creating the landmark public- financing system for legislative and top- of- the- ticket races.
Rell was so likable after John Rowland’s pay- to- play smugness; the sweetheart “design- build” contracts for his buddies the Tomasso Group in New Britain; the cigar- stinking “poker games,” in which the governor was allowed to win; the luxury charters to Florida and Las Vegas from Key Air, the Oxford airline that coincidentally enjoyed million- dollar- a- year tax breaks under Johnny Gee.
Rowland I is not to be confused with Rowland II, when the now 61- year- old former history- revising conservative- radio shlockenspiel most recently completed 30 months in federal custody for trying to obfuscate his role in a failed congressional race.
Rell, 72 in a few days, is a widow and a grandmother, but in my mind’s eye, it’ll always be July 2004 and she’s taking that oath of office at the State Capitol, restoring an aura of ethics that Connecticut desperately needed as the feds were circling around her bleeding former boss.
Sure, with a lot of help from Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and Rowland’s 20- year deal with unionized workers, the state- budget deficit ballooned into the billions by the time she left office. But the woman everyone called Jodi was loved and appreciated at that moment in history.
Gov. Dan Malloy hacked away at the deficit and invested billions in the under- funded pensions, and he is widely disliked at this moment. But unlike Rell, Malloy was never a member of the General Assembly and he came to Hartford as a my- way- orthe- highway smartypants.
Earlier in the day, the State Elections Enforcement Commission, Rell’s legacy, turned down three of the four candidates who were on stage that night: Boughton, Herbst and Obsitnik, who say they’ve raised the $ 250,000 in small contributions to make them eligible for the Citizens Election Program. Maybe next week they’ll each get the $ 1.3 million to wage primary campaigns.
Rell said she knew there was a holdup in the release of campaign funding, but did not know details. “It’s working and that’s what I think we wanted in the first place,” she said of the public financing, acknowledging that many of her fellow Republicans want to terminate the program. “We were a role model for the nation.”