A run­ner’s fi­nal lap

The News-Times (Sunday) - - Opinion - John Bre­unig is ed­i­to­rial page ed­i­tor of the Stam­ford Ad­vo­cate and Green­wich Time. Jbre­[email protected]; 203-964-2281; twit­ter.com/john­bre­unig. JOHN BRE­UNIG

Af­ter I be­came the Stam­ford Ad­vo­cate’s city ed­i­tor two decades years ago, I went to lunch with then-Mayor Dan Mal­loy. He tried to gauge my sense of his home­town. I tried to mea­sure the thick­ness of his skin.

Mal­loy was a pop­u­lar guy in Stam­ford at cen­tury’s end, but he was al­ready bait­ing crit­ics.

As we con­sid­ered our down­town din­ing op­tions, I made a sug­ges­tion by thumb­ing across Colum­bus Park to Cur­ley’s Diner, which re­sem­bles a gi­ant top­pled Diet Coke can. A sign in the Quon­set hut’s win­dow de­clared Mal­loy “The Grinch who stole Cur­ley’s Diner,” a cri­tique of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to claim the 1940s prop­erty by em­i­nent do­main.

Mal­loy took a pass on my choice but didn’t flinch. Thick skin, check.

Dur­ing ed­i­to­rial boards over the in­ter­ven­ing decades, I’ve seen Mal­loy crack wise him­self on most oc­ca­sions, and show hu­mil­ity dur­ing a state probe that cleared him of ac­cu­sa­tions but re­sulted in the only de­feat of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer in the 2006 gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­mary.

That loss may also have en­sured him a per­fect Novem­ber record as in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Jodi Rell won re-elec­tion with 63 per­cent of the vote. In 2009, I was in Mal­loy’s of­fice when he ca­su­ally di­a­grammed how po­lit­i­cal pieces would fall into place to clear his path to be­come gover­nor (e.g., “Blu­men­thal won’t run”). Ev­ery­thing he pre­dicted came true

We met for a fi­nal ed­i­to­rial board in the gover­nor’s of­fice in Hart­ford a few days be­fore Christ­mas, a few weeks be­fore Mal­loy plans to end his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer at 63. It reaches back longer than most peo­ple re­al­ize.

“I lost a stu­dent gov­ern­ment race at Bos­ton Col­lege in the spring of ’75,” he re­calls of his alma mater, which will wel­come him back as a teacher af­ter he leaves of­fice Jan. 9. “But pretty much I have con­tin­u­ously held pub­lic of­fice since fourth grade.”

His set­backs are well-doc­u­mented (Cur­ley’s Diner stands tri­umphant), but Mal­loy’s most re­mark­able po­lit­i­cal feat may be in fore­cast­ing a Demo­crat’s abil­ity to suc­ceed him. It should have been a gimme for Repub­li­cans to re­place one of the most un­pop­u­lar gov­er­nors. In­stead, Ned La­mont is the first Demo­crat suc­ces­sor for an open gover­nor’s seat in Con­necti­cut since 1877.

I haven’t seen this ver­sion of Mal­loy in a while. He’s so re­laxed that he tilts his lean frame into a wall and swings his foot like the pen­du­lum of a grand­fa­ther’s clock to demon­strate a suc­cess­ful rem­edy for nag­ging plan­tar fasci­itis that sus­pended his daily run­ning rou­tine.

I’ve doc­u­mented his tics in the past, like when his voice gets pitchy as he goes on the de­fen­sive. He seems to have packed them along with “so much crap” from his of­fice.

He briefly im­per­son­ates co­me­dian Jon Lovitz do­ing his “that’s the ticket” rou­tine. As he talks, he places his hands on the arms of his chair and rocks it on the back legs like he’s va­ca­tion­ing on a wa­ter­front porch at sun­set.

We toss out a ques­tion we asked ev­ery pri­mary can­di­date in Au­gust, about how he would spend a per­fect day off. Mal­loy of­fers de­tails that are un­ex­pected (“I took up koi gold­fish pond­ing as a hobby”), and a fi­nal one that is down­right ro­man­tic.

“My wife is my best friend. We met on April 6, 1974. We’ve been mar­ried since Sept. 25, 1982, and on a per­fect day that I’m not work­ing I’m do­ing some­thing with my wife and on a per­fect day when I’m work­ing I start with my wife and end with my wife.”

He be­comes more en­gaged by an­other fan­tasy ques­tion, a re­quest to take us on a vir­tual tour of Con­necti­cut, sans the VR gog­gles. He sprin­kles a lot of nut­meg, rid­ing buses from New Britain to Hart­ford, tour­ing cam­puses, grow­ing in­dus­tries and arts in­sti­tu­tions he pro­moted. He pauses to honor the vic­tims of the 2012 Sandy Hook shoot­ing.

Mal­loy doesn’t con­ceal that wel­com­ing a pa­rade of jour­nal­ists in his fi­nal days is an at­tempt to bang dents out of his halo.

Mostly, though, he de­faults to his per­sonal jour­ney. Mal­loy’s en­tire body clenches like a fist clutch­ing a mem­ory as he re­counts a fourth-grade re­port that “I was men­tally re­tarded and my mother’s ex­pec­ta­tions were too great.”

He is the prod­uct of a mother’s re­solve

“You’ve known me for a long time. This race and re­li­gion and na­tion­al­ity stuff is all very im­por­tant to me. It’s foun­da­tional in who I am. I got picked on as a kid be­cause of my learn­ing dif­fer­ences. That’s bad enough. But get­ting picked on be­cause of the color of your skin or be­cause you’re poor ... I could work through some of my is­sues as a kid, and I did, but you can’t change the color of your skin. You can’t change the wealth of your par­ents. You shouldn’t change your re­li­gion un­less you want to. Or your na­tion­al­ity. Some­body has to stand up for peo­ple.”

It reads like a time­less stump speech, but he de­liv­ers those fi­nal seven words not in a ris­ing flour­ish, but in a hush.

Dan Mal­loy has al­ways stood up for peo­ple. In time, more peo­ple should stand up for him.

It should have been a gimme for Repub­li­cans to re­place one of the most un­pop­u­lar gov­er­nors. In­stead, Ned La­mont is the first Demo­crat suc­ces­sor for an open gover­nor’s seat in Con­necti­cut since 1877.

Jacque­line Smith / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Out­go­ing Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy jok­ingly puts his glasses on a bust in his outer of­fice to prove that it is re­ally him.

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