Connecticut has 792,934 Democrats. For the second time in four years, a Democrat trying to be elected governor has picked the same one to be his running mate: Mary Messina Glassman.
Ned Lamont named her Monday as his partner in the race to become the first Democrat elected governor since 1986. Lamont’s chief rival for the nomination is Dan Malloy, who picked her in 2006.
So, what’s so special about Mary?
“She’s sensible. She understands. And she listens,” said Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain.
So did Mary Poppins.
But this Mary also provides geographic and gender balance to a ticket led by Lamont, a Greenwich business executive, just as she did for Malloy, who was mayor of Stamford.
She also has one of the unlikeliest back stories in politics.
Glassman, 51, is the environmental lawyer who unexpectedly became the first selectwoman of Simsbury, a suburb of 24,000 nestled in the Farmington Valley.
“I’ve always been an accidental candidate,” Glassman said. “I’ve always been an accidental candidate from the day I entered public service.”
That would be shortly after Labor Day weekend in 1991, when Simsbury’s tiny Democratic Party was stunned to learn that its candidate for first selectman had quit the race.
Glassman’s husband, Andy, attended the hastily-called Democratic Town Committee meeting to settle on a replacement.
“He came home and said, ‘We found a candidate for first selectman,'” she recalled. “And he said, ‘It’s you.'”
It seemed a joke. Between them, they had two legal careers and two young children. And Mary, then 33, was pregnant with their third.
“I said, ‘There’s no way.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll never win,'” she said.
Simsbury hadn’t elected a Democratic first selectman since long before Glassman was born. And Glassman, who grew up in New Britain, hadn’t been long in town.
She won. It was a fluke — one that repeated itself in 1993, 1995 and 1997. After a voluntary break for a career at the State Capitol, she was elected again in 2007 and 2009.
“This is a woman who gets results,” Lamont said Monday, sharing a stage at an arts center in New Britain. “Just ask the voters in Simsbury. They keep electing her time after time.”
Simsbury has been picked as one of the 100 best places to live by Money Magazine. Glassman said it is about to be recognized as Connecticut’s first “bike-friendly community” by a bicycle advocacy group for its network of riding trails.
Over eight years, Glassman immersed herself in the mechanics of government. She became active in the Capital Region Council of Governments, which brought her to the Capitol.
She didn’t seek re-election in 1999.
Moira K. Lyons of Stamford, the new speaker of the House, hired her as staff counsel in 1999. In 2006, she was chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Kevin B. Sullivan when Malloy unexpectedly called.
“I probably would still be up there if Dan Malloy hadn’t called me to run in 2006,” she said. “I had no intention of running for lieutenant governor.”
It turned out to be a quirky race.
She won her primary for lieutenant governor, defeating West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka, whom her boss, Sullivan, had recommended to John DeStefano as his running mate.
Malloy lost to DeStefano, making her his running mate in the general election, partners on a suicide mission: trying to unseat the popular Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Another quirk: If she wins her primary and Lamont loses to Malloy, Glassman could end up where she started in statewide politics, as Malloy’s running mate.
One of the people she met in 2006 was Ned Lamont, the antiwar candidate who defeated U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in a Democratic primary.
Glassman and her husband traveled with Lamont and his wife, Annie, in a camper that Lamont rented in the campaign’s last weeks. DeStefano-Glassman and Lamont both lost.
In 2007, Glassman returned to office as first selectwoman of Simsbury. She and her husband stayed touch with the Lamonts, attending their 25th anniversary party in 2008.
In several months as an exploratory candidate, Glassman and Lamont appeared on stage the same forums, giving Lamont a firsthand look at her knowledge and political skills.
“As an entrepreneur and a business executive, I’ve had the opportunity to make a lot of job offers in my day,” Lamont said.
He said he called Glassman last week and asked her to be his running mate. She was his only choice, he said.
House Majority Leader Denise W. Merrill, D-Mansfield, said Glassman’s connections at the Capitol are reassuring to Democratic activists, some of whom might wonder if Lamont will be able to navigate the politics and personalities of the General Assembly.
“I think it’s reassuring to the base,” she said.
Glassman also offers a counterpoint to the privileged upbringing of Lamont, who grew up in a wealthy family on Long Island, attended Harvard and Yale, and then founded a cable television company.
Her father died when she was four. Her mother grew up in foster care.
Glassman attended the University of Connecticut, graduating with a journalism degree in 1980. She worked for her hometown paper, The New Britain Herald, for five years, then enrolled as a night student at UConn law, paying $500 a semester.
“You might say I’ve had a chance to live the American dream,” she said.
On the campaign trail, she frequently talks about the importance of higher education.
Her youngest son is graduating high school next month and will attend Johns Hopkins. Her middle son is at Tufts University. Her oldest daughter graduates this spring from Yale University.
Her mother will be in attendance at the Yale ceremony, just as she was Monday morning as Lamont introduced her as the next lieutenant governor of Connecticut.