Si­lence from La­mont on next party chair

Nick Bal­letto has told Gov.-elect he’d like an­other term

The Day - - OBITUARIES - By MARK PAZNIOKAS

Nick Bal­letto is mak­ing calls seek­ing sup­port for his re-elec­tion as Demo­cratic state chair­man next month, de­spite the pointed ab­sence of an en­dorse­ment from Gov.elect Ned La­mont, whose vi­a­bil­ity as a can­di­date was sharply ques­tioned by Bal­letto in the early months of the 2018 cam­paign.

In an in­ter­view Thurs­day, Bal­letto said he told La­mont he would like an­other term, but the con­ver­sa­tion was brief and in­con­clu­sive. “I had a cur­sory con­ver­sa­tion and ex­pressed my in­ter­est about a month ago, and that’s it,” Bal­letto said. “I haven’t had any other con­ver­sa­tions.”

La­mont’s si­lence has cre­ated a vac­uum, open­ing the door for Bal­letto to make calls in an at­tempt to thwart a soft bid for the job by Justin Kron­holm, a Demo­cratic State Cen­tral Com­mit­tee mem­ber, long­time po­lit­i­cal oper­a­tive and for­mer ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the party.

Kron­holm, who serves as a se­nior coun­selor to At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ge­orge Jepsen, said Thurs­day he is in­ter­ested in as­sum­ing the chair­man­ship once held by his grand­fa­ther, the leg­endary state and na­tional party boss John Bai­ley, but he views the de­ci­sion as be­long­ing to the gover­nor-elect.

“I’m not ac­tively cam­paign­ing for it,” Kron­holm said.

Rep. Sean Scan­lon, D-Guil­ford, a mem­ber of U.S. Sen. Chris Mur­phy’s staff in Con­necti­cut, has been asked to con­sider seek­ing the chair­man­ship with La­mont’s bless­ing, but sources close to La­mont and Mur­phy say Scan­lon has con­cerns about per­form­ing the dual role of party chair­man and state law­maker.

Scan­lon de­clined to com­ment.

Gover­nors in Con­necti­cut typ­i­cally control the choice of state party chairs, though not al­ways: the Demo­cratic State Cen­tral Com­mit­tee elected a fu­ture gover­nor, Wil­liam A. O’Neill, as chair­man in 1976, ig­nor­ing Gov. Ella T. Grasso’s sup­port for Peter Kelly.

Cel­e­bra­tion Mon­day

La­mont is un­likely to make a de­fin­i­tive pub­lic state­ment on Bal­letto be­fore Mon­day night, when the chair­man is to host a vic­tory cel­e­bra­tion in Hart­ford fea­tur­ing speeches from La­mont and Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy, the first Con­necti­cut Demo­cratic gover­nor in more than a cen­tury to be suc­ceeded by a mem­ber of his own party in an elec­tion.

“The Gover­nor-elect is look­ing for­ward to join­ing CT Dems on Mon­day night to cel­e­brate their col­lab­o­ra­tive work over the 2018 cy­cle and their suc­cesses across the state,” Lacey Rose, a La­mont spokes­woman, said in an email. “Cer­tainly he looks for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to build a strong and in­clu­sive state party, but his fo­cus right now is on stand­ing up a gov­ern­ment that will be ready to lead on Jan­uary 9 on be­half of all Con­necti­cut cit­i­zens.”

Bal­letto was among the Democrats who ques­tioned the abil­ity of La­mont, a Green­wich busi­ness­man and un­suc­cess­ful can­di­date for U.S. Se­nate in 2006 and gover­nor in 2010, to win in 2018. But with the tacit back­ing of Mur­phy, who was up for re-elec­tion and work­ing on his own getout-the-vote ef­fort, the party largely co­a­lesced be­hind La­mont be­fore the state con­ven­tion in May.

Bal­letto said he has not spo­ken about his re-elec­tion to Mur­phy, whose roles in­flu­enc­ing the nom­i­na­tions for gover­nor and the open 5th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict seat have been the source of much pub­lic praise and some pri­vate re­sent­ment among Democrats.

The fate of the state chairs of both par­ties are un­cer­tain for far dif­fer­ent rea­sons in the af­ter­math of the 2018 elec­tions that pro­duced a Demo­cratic sweep of con­gres­sional and statewide of­fices and their first state leg­isla­tive gains in 10 years.

J.R. Ro­mano, the GOP chair whose term ex­pires in June, is try­ing to con­vince his de­mor­al­ized party that he can lead a con­struc­tive eval­u­a­tion of a dis­as­trous elec­tion and help de­vise a strat­egy to grow a party los­ing ground to Democrats by nearly ever met­ric, in­clud­ing voter reg­is­tra­tion.

Ques­tions about role

Bal­letto’s prospects turn more on the per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with La­mont, Mur­phy and other lead­ers — as well as peren­nial ques­tion about the ap­pro­pri­ate role and skillsets of a state party chair­man in an era of open pri­maries. There has not been a true party boss in Con­necti­cut since the death 44 years ago of Bai­ley, a mas­ter of ticket balanc­ing.

Bal­letto is close to nei­ther La­mont nor Mur­phy, and his dis­ap­proval of Mur­phy pro­mot­ing the con­gres­sional can­di­dacy of the in­ex­pe­ri­enced Ja­hana Hayes, a charis­matic Water­bury ed­u­ca­tor who quickly be­came a po­lit­i­cal sen­sa­tion, widely is known in Demo­cratic cir­cles.

“Cer­tainly I’m talk­ing to peo­ple about where the fu­ture of the party should be and where the fu­ture of the party should go,” Bal­letto said. “I’m hav­ing those con­ver­sa­tions as we go along with state cen­tral com­mit­tee peo­ple and other elected of­fi­cials. We have a lot to build on. We had some great, tremen­dous vic­to­ries. We’ve got to make sure we pro­tect those vic­to­ries, which is go­ing to be a dif­fi­cult job in it­self.”

Bal­letto pre­ferred to talk about his re­la­tion­ship with La­mont as the cam­paign ended, not how it be­gan.

Democrats say Bal­letto ini­tially was de­ri­sive when La­mont in­formed him he was about to an­nounce his can­di­dacy, then openly pes­simistic about the party’s chances of hold­ing the gover­nor’s of­fice with La­mont lead­ing the ticket.

But once the gu­ber­na­to­rial field shrank to La­mont and Bridge­port Mayor Joseph P. Ganim, La­mont and Bal­letto met one morn­ing at Portofino’s, a New Haven restau­rant, to clear the air. The chair­man and the party’s pre­sump­tive nom­i­nee had a pro­duc­tive work­ing re­la­tion­ship for the re­main­der of the cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to Democrats ac­tive in La­mont’s cam­paign and friendly with Bal­letto.

The in­abil­ity to quickly re­solve the ques­tion of Bal­letto’s sta­tus is ev­i­dence of grow­ing pains by an in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion as well as an un­der­stand­able fo­cus on first round­ing out the se­lec­tions of the gover­nor’s top aides.

La­mont an­nounced his first ap­point­ments Tues­day, nam­ing Ryan Dra­jew­icz, who also is his tran­si­tion di­rec­tor, as his chief of staff, and Melissa McCaw as his sec­re­tary of pol­icy and man­age­ment, over­see­ing the of­fice re­spon­si­ble for state bud­get­ing and la­bor ne­go­ti­a­tions. Other ap­point­ments are ex­pected next week.

Mark Pazniokas is a re­porter for The Con­necti­cut Mirror (www. ct­mir­ror.org). Copy­right 2018 © The Con­necti­cut Mirror. [email protected]­mir­ror.org

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