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Jepsen, retiring, will remain a close Lamont adviser

January 11, 2019

As Governor Ned Lamont thanked the retiring members of the previous administration during his State of the State address, one name stood out.

“Where’s George Jepsen? I thought you were down here somewhere,” Lamont joked, pretending to look for the former Attorney General who was seated just a few feet to his right on the raised dais in the historic House of Representatives.

“George, you’re just across the street from me now. You can run but you can’t hide,” Lamont said, referencing Jepsen’s Prospect Avenue address, opposite the Executive Residence.

The comment was an obvious nod to Jepsen’s influence over the past two years, and an indication that it won’t wane now that he is out of office.

Jepsen, whose name provoked a standing ovation from the packed House, played an integral part in many of Lamont’s decisions over the past two years, but they became close in 1990, during their campaigns to represent adjacent state Senate districts in Greenwich and Stamford.

He encouraged Lamont to run for governor in the first place; made an early public endorsement of his campaign; was in the room with Lamont and his family during his resounding primary and general election wins; and has co-chaired the Lamont transition-team. Lamont has often sought Jepsen’s counsel, both publicly and behind the scenes.

“For over 30 years, outgoing Attorney General George Jepsen has been a close adviser to me but most of all he has been a friend,” Lamont said Thursday, adding that Jepsen has been instrumental through the years in helping develop his campaign strategy, going back as far as Lamont’s 2006 run for U.S. Senate.

“The state is fortunate to have had his decades of public service and I am especially fortunate that as governor, I will still be able to seek his wisdom and advice,” he said.

Thoughtful and measured

Jepsen, a popular Democrat known as a gifted political strategist, said he and Lamont talked often in the summer of 2017 after now-former Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced his decision not to seek a third term.

Lamont would call to say Jepsen should consider running himself. But Jepsen, who is consistently thoughtful and well-reasoned before he speaks, didn’t want the job and he truly believed Lamont to be the better candidate, and often told him so. Jepsen isn’t one to offer unsolicited advice, but when asked for his opinion, he’s sure to give it.

“I try not to impose myself on people, but if anybody asks my opinion, as he does not infrequently, I’m always happy to share it,” Jepsen said.

Jepsen was at the early meetings of the Lamont campaign, helping put it together, and publicly endorsed Lamont in March of 2018. It was an unusually early endorsement from a prominent political figure, but Jepsen, who had also decided not to seek re-election as attorney general, was free to speak his mind.

The endorsement, which came two months ahead of the party’s nominating convention, was huge for Lamont’s campaign. It set him apart as a front-runner, and candidates quickly began dropping from the Democratic field until now-Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, considered the last serious threat to Lamont before the convention, opted to be his running-mate instead. The suggestion to team up came from Jepsen.

“Smart people seek advice from other smart people and Governor Lamont is a smart person who looked to someone like George Jepsen to get solid political advice,” said Duby McDowell, a communications consultant and former reporter who has known both Lamont and Jepsen for decades.

“I think next to Gov. Lamont himself and the support of his family, George Jepsen was a pivotal person both in encouraging Gov. Lamont to run and also in supporting that run. He was integral to the campaign and the victory,” she added.

The Retired Life

As for what’s next, Jepsen isn’t sure. He’s taking a few weeks off — at the insistence of his wife, Diana, who kindly reminded him he might not have that opportunity again for a while — and then he’s considering joining a law firm.

“In theory everything is on the table, but as a practical matter, my wife and I like where we live and don’t want to move, so I think the most likely outcome is a law firm, but the question is the type of firm,” Jepsen said.

A self-described homebody who loves to cook and has ambitions to spend more time in the garden, Jepsen won’t be jet-setting around the globe or relocating from Prospect Avenue.

“I think I’ll remain politically active, but I can’t say for sure in what ways,” he said.

As for whether he’ll continue to advise Lamont, well: “I expect we’ll remain in communication. We live kind of right across the street. He can borrow a cup of sugar anytime he wants.”

kkrasselt@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt

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