A night for in­sid­ers to party, net­work

The News-Times - - NEWS -

To­ward the end of Gov. Ned La­mont’s in­au­gu­ral ball Wed­nes­day, long after the first cou­ple made their exit, the head of a non­profit ser­vices agency greeted state Trea­surer Shawn Wooden.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions,” he said to the newly sworn-in Wooden, who con­trols $34 bil­lion in pen­sion funds. Hold­ing his right hand up to mimic tak­ing an oath, he added, “You re­ally nailed it.”

Wooden joined the gag, feign­ing pride in how he stuck the di­a­logue per­fectly. “I do.”

They touched each oth­ers’ shoul­ders. The non­profit head turned and wheeled into the night but not be­fore turn­ing back to say, “Any­thing I can do.”

Mul­ti­ply that ex­change times 10,000 for a pic­ture of an oddly loose, black-tie cel­e­bra­tion of Con­necti­cut’s Demo­cratic Party power base, lob­by­ists, la­bor lead­ers and foot sol­diers, in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives and friends of the newly seated state of­fi­cials.

On the sur­face, it was an op­u­lent party with dozens of Con­necti­cut res­tau­rants serv­ing small sam­ples of se­ri­ous grub and celebs such as MSNBC’s Joe Scar­bor­ough and Mika Brzezin­ski — as Scar­bor­ough, a for­mer GOP con­gress­man from Florida and later a New Canaan res­i­dent, fronted a very loud R&B band.

Busi­ness ti­tans in­clud­ing re­cently re­tired Pep­siCo CEO In­dra Nooyi and multi­bil­lion­aire Bridge­wa­ter hedge fund founder Ray Dalio, both Ned friends from Green­wich, held forth as La­mont ba­si­cally danced, and wildly, the whole time he was there — wear­ing low-cut Doc Martens or some­thing like them, with thick, bright red laces.

But this is pol­i­tics and busi­ness, where net­work­ing counts al­most as much as deal­mak­ing. And this crowd of more than 1,000, most of whom paid $200 per ticket ($99 for “young pro­fes­sion­als” un­der 29) in­cluded some real pros.

Do­ing the dance of main­tain­ing con­tact for a pur­pose is not an add-on — it’s who they are; who we are, if news colum­nists dressed in tuxe­dos count as part of the net­work­ing ma­chine. See it as cor­rupt in­sid­erism, or as I pre­fer, hu­mans be­ing hu­man.

“We are the law school of the state of Con­necti­cut. Our job is to do right by the tax­pay­ers,” said UConn law school Dean Ti­mothy Fisher. He and I looked around the room and sur­mised there could be 100, maybe 200 UConn lawyers. His goal, be­sides a fun night? “Just to main­tain our pres­ence and show our re­spect for these of­fi­cers.”

Matthew Ne­mer­son, a fa­mil­iar fig­ure as New Haven’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment chief un­der Mayor Toni Harp, and be­fore that head of the Con­necti­cut Tech­nol­ogy Coun­cil, has a brand new gig as vice pres­i­dent at Bud­der­fly, a Shel­ton en­ergy ser­vices com­pany.

“We’re chang­ing the whole model about how to do en­ergy ef­fi­ciency,” Ne­mer­son said. “We take the risk and we share the sav­ings with you.” He was telling that story, aside from just see­ing old friends.

“We’ve got to ed­u­cate gov­ern­ments on how to use our model.”

As my col­league Kait­lyn Kras­selt and I watched and lis­tened, most peo­ple down­played the whole lob­by­ing and ply­ing power stuff. For Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, pres­i­dent pro-tem of the Se­nate, the night was less about peo­ple cur­ry­ing fa­vor with him, and more about him see­ing old friends such as for­mer Rep. Cameron Sta­ples, who co-chaired the ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tee and is now CEO of the New Eng­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Schools and Col­leges.

Any talk about the Mas­sachusetts-based as­so­ci­a­tion ac­cred­it­ing a con­sol­i­dated Con­necti­cut com­mu­nity col­lege sys­tem, after it re­jected the plan last spring? No need, on this night.

A steady stream of well­wish­ers ap­proached House Speaker Joe Ares­i­mow­icz as he sat at a ta­ble with his cousin, Don­ald Arasi­mow­icz (same fam­ily, dif­fer­ent spelling) and Don­ald’s wife, Jen­nifer Arasi­mow­icz. She’s gen­eral coun­sel at FuelCell En­ergy in Dan­bury and might well have net­worked with the likes of Ne­mer­son.

“I’m sure there’s a bunch of that go­ing on,” Arasi­mow­icz said, but she was there just to en­joy her­self, not ad­vance busi­ness.

Sec­re­tary of the State Denise Mer­rill, now the long­est serv­ing con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cer along with Comptroller Kevin Lembo, ac­cepted plenty of con­grat­u­la­tions — and reached out to peo­ple for her po­lit­i­cal cause.

“Are you kid­ding me? I’ve got a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to pass,” Mer­rill said, re­fer­ring to the open-vot­ing ini­tia­tive that failed in a ref­er­en­dum in 2014, which she’s com­mit­ted to see­ing through.

La­mont set the tone for an in­for­mal at­mos­phere of talk­ing — at least when the band wasn’t play­ing — with some jokes, like the “dilemma” of whether he would have an in­au­gu­ral ball at all.

“I asked my friend Low­ell We­icker,” he said, talk­ing about the for­mer gov­er­nor, who was also from Green­wich when he served from 1991 to 1995. “I said, what do you think? He said, ‘I love a Con­necti­cut party.’ ”

We­icker, re­call, left the Repub­li­cans to run un­der “A Con­necti­cut Party” as a re­former.

If you wanted to talk to La­mont, you’d have to cut a few moves with him and his wife, An­nie, on one of two dance floors at the cav­ernous Con­necti­cut Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. “It’s a re­laxed set­ting, set­ting the tone for the next four years,” lob­by­ist David Kozak said.

We’ll see about the whole four years. For this night, the lob­by­ing, or at least net­work­ing, was sub­tle but real.

La­bor lead­ers and union em­ploy­ees didn’t need to ply any­one. Sal­va­tore Lu­ciano, pres­i­dent of the state AFLCIO, said la­bor had “a few hun­dred” peo­ple in the room, to cel­e­brate. “We knocked on over 60,000 doors,” he said. “Tonight is just a cel­e­bra­tion, not only for the con­sti­tu­tion­als, but for a gov­er­nor who is truly at the bot­tom of his heart an op­ti­mist.”

An­other op­ti­mist, Sen. Ge­orge Lo­gan, R-An­so­nia, was one of the few Repub­li­cans on hand and he brought his ax. After play­ing his trade­mark, kick-ass ver­sion of Jimi Hen­drix’s solo gui­tar “Star Span­gled Ban­ner” — made fa­mous at Wood­stock — he stayed late. “I grew up with a lot of these peo­ple” in the New Haven area he said.

The hard stuff will come soon enough. For now, Lo­gan said, “It’s the hon­ey­moon.”

Dan Haar / Hearst Con­nencti­cut Me­dia

State Trea­surer Shawn Wooden, cen­ter, with Alan La­zowski, chair­man and CEO of LAZ Park­ing, one of the na­tion’s largest park­ing com­pa­nies, at the in­au­gu­ral ball in Hart­ford on Wed­nes­day night. La­zowski founded LAZ in 1981 when he was a stu­dent at UConn. He and Wooden and neigh­bors and friends.

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