Combing the sand for 2018 treasures
If 2018 was a big-old ocean wave — not a little-bitty Long Island Sound swell — washing ashore, what would be left on our beach of memory?
High up on the sandy shingle would be Gov. Dan Malloy, the perpetual-motion machine whose eight-year reign of haranguing, hustling and pushing the General Assembly will conclude in about a week.
Sure, he never was going to persuade the legislators to swallow their own tails, but much of what he said made infinite sense.
Why should over-taxed cities that cannot afford to pay public-school teachers as much as the suburbs, have to contribute to the pensions of the higher-paid educators in places with growing grand lists and lower tax rates, such as Milford and Greenwich?
The answer: because most of the lawmakers in the suburban and rural-dominated General Assembly wanted it to remain that way.
Malloy failed in his public shaming of lawmakers, but had success in helping restore some sort of order with the severely underfunded pension plans for teachers and state employees, investing billions of dollars that could have made him look better to taxpayers in the short term.
Time will tell whether his administration will be remembered like a sculpted bust from Easter Island.
A little closer to the breakers is Ned Lamont, who in his own low-key, persistent way was a huge story this year, when Democrats said it was OK, too, to run a self-funding Greenwich rich guy for governor.
Sure, the early polls were ominous for the usual Democratic suspects, because of Malloy’s low-20-percent approval ratings during his eight-year attempt to drag the state out of the Great Recession.
But Lamont — who pulled off the upset of the century back in 2006, defeating Joe Lieberman, America’s Scold, in the U.S. Senate primary before losing in the general election — was able to center a 2018 run for governor against President Donald Trump, a man this blue state rejected in 2016.
Say what you want about Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, but his challenge to Lamont, with its incendiary, class-warfare debates, kept Lamont’s campaign in the public eye through May, June and July, into the Aug. 14 primary.
Sure, Ganim lost 168 of 169 towns, and his Pyrrhic victory in Bridgeport showed he’s vulnerable for a re-election bid in 2019, but the mayor’s stalking-horse role helped the Connecticut Democrats’ unlikely November victory. So Ganim has a spot up on the beach, too.
That brings us beachcombers to Connecticut Republicans who showed up in force on Election Day, when it was too late.
They trapped themselves into a five-way primary and allowed their fall candidate for the can’t-lose 2018 campaign for governor, Bob Stefanowski, to be determined by 40,000 ultra-cons, who would make for a smallish crowd at Yankee Stadium.
Pity J.R. Romano, the state GOP ringmaster who had to be neutral in the early field of more than a dozen hopefuls, who were only whittled down to nine by mid-April, on the occasion of the final pre-convention debate in New Canaan’s Saxe Middle School. Romano, the state chairman, is also among our beach-side memories.
My fondest recollection of the year might be witnessing Steve Obsitnik, the articulate, likable Westport tech entrepreneur, finagle enough support at the Republican convention to get on the August primary ballot. Obsitnik had two wily GOP operatives, Ben Proto and Dick Foley, working the floor for him on convention Saturday. Their trips through the throngs of delegates at the Foxwoods Resort Casino, were lessons in cajoling, massaging and body language as they secured the 15-percent support Obsitnik needed to qualify.
My second-favorite memory is from that Friday night in May. Avoiding the potential momentum-deadening effect of being ignored by delegates, Stefanowski, who front-loaded his campaign with TV ads in January, decided to avoid the convention, except for hosting a high-end bacchanal Friday night about 200 yards and two floors away.
Big Bob’s catered event was held in a smallish ballroom, spilling noisy merry makers across the hallway, into the news media’s filing area, where a TV was on with live video of the convention. This allowed drunken, over-catered Republicans to exert loud Trumpian sneers over the shoulders of working reporters, while watching the convention activities, in which they should have been participating instead of getting snookered.
In wouldn’t be until the pre-dawn on the morning of Nov. 7, when Republicans awoke to Lamont’s crushing victory under the blue wave, when the realization that they had nominated the wrong candidate washed over them, in the biggest political story of 2018.
Ken Dixon, political editor and columnist, can be reached at 203-842-2547 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit him at twitter.com/KenDixonCT and on Facebook at kendixonct.hearst.