Picking a nominee: Experience and qualifications vs. character and personality

Dan Malloy’s fans call him strong, confident, aggressive. Does that make him too bullheaded to deal with legislators? Ned Lamont’s say he is collaborative, partial to roundtable discussions. Does that make him weak?

The two candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination are running on their records: Malloy as a former mayor of Stamford, Lamont as an entrepreneur who took on Joe Lieberman in 2006.

But what of their personalities? Who would have the best leadership style for a state Capitol that often has been paralyzed over how to reform its finances or improve the state’s business environment?

malloy and lamont

Dan Malloy and Ned Lamont

Buried deep in the latest Quinnipiac University poll are questions that balance qualifications and experience against personality and character. By narrow margins, the voters prefer Malloy’s qualifications and Lamont’s personality.

Each man has his supporters among Democratic legislators, who say a new leadership style is needed to break an atmosphere of drift that has developed under Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the Democratic legislature.

“The kind of incrementalism that comes out of the Capitol is so frustrating,” said Sen. Andrew M. Maynard, D-Stonington. “People get frustrated with us, because they can’t understand why we can’t do big things.”

Maynard supported Malloy for governor in 2006, but he is backing Lamont this year. He says he fears that Malloy might be limited as governor by what others see as an asset – his strong, confident personality.

“Ned’ll have the best minds in the room,” Maynard said, after touring a biofuels startup company in Groton this week with Lamont. “Dan wouldn’t need everybody, because he already knows everything.”

Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, a former corporation counsel in Stamford, said Malloy actually held weekly, free-wheeling cabinet meetings as mayor.

“He tests his thinking by exploring and sparring about alternatives and possibilities with others,” said McDonald, who remains a friend and supporter. “He tests ideas and wants others around him who will challenge him.”

Contrary to Malloy’s image, McDonald said, he often “just sat back and just soaked in everything the members of his cabinet might be saying about the issue at hand.”

Still, Malloy projects a picture of constant motion. In 2006, he won the endorsement of the Democratic State Convention by the force of his personality, cajoling and hectoring delegates to switch their votes.

By the end of the roll call, Malloy had turned a defeat into a stunning one-vote victory over New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, who is backing Lamont this year. It was classic Malloy, a frenetic, energetic performance.

This year, at the Jefferson Jackson Bailey Dinner, the Democratic Party’s major fundraiser, Malloy methodically worked the cavernous room at the Connecticut Convention Center.

He stopped at each table, circling until he greeted every diner, then moved on. At the end of the night, Malloy stood by the main exit, looking for anyone he missed throughout the evening.

“I’m a leader. That’s what I do,” Malloy said Thursday. “Throughout my life, people have asked me to play a leadership role. I’m ready for this challenge. I took a city that was like every other industrial city in New England, and I changed it. Did I act forcefully? Yes, I did.”

He laughed at the idea he might be too aggressive. He said his personality seemed to wear well enough as mayor.

“I was elected four times in my city. Four times. I served for 14 years,” Malloy said. “No one ever served for more than eight. It’s a style that works.”

Lamont is endorsed by House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, and Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn.

He was asked during a campaign stop Thursday at a printing business in West Haven if it would be a good thing to have a Democratic governor working closely with a liberal Democratic legislature.

“I know exactly what you’re asking,” Lamont said, smiling. “A Democratic governor? A Democratic legislature? Is that a slippery slope to socialism?”

“Here’s my case to you: For the last 20 plus years, you’ve had a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature blaming each other, nobody working together.”

Lamont said the state could use a “pro-jobs, fiscal conservative” Democrat who can work with the legislature.

Lamont is a fan of Lowell P. Weicker Jr., the independent governor who served one term as governor. He has borrowed Weicker’s slogan, “Nobody’s man but yours.” But he lacks Weicker’s swagger and bravado.

Just as Malloy’s detractors see him as too confident, too strong to deal with the legislature, some politicians wonder if Lamont is too collaborative, too contemplative.

Lamont’s response is the he was bold enough to launch a cable-television niche business, competing with major companies to wire college campuses and private residential communities. And he ran against Joe Lieberman, a three-term incumbent senator, over the war in Iraq.

He never has been afraid to be unconventional.

“I think I can talk to all these people from a very different point of view,” he said. “But am I firm enough at the end of the day to make that tough call and make the tough choices necessary to get a budget under control? You bet I am.”

He said he admires Weicker for not caring about a second term as governor as he wrestled with the legislature over imposition of an income tax in 1991.

“Could just be four years, and you move on,” Lamont said of his approach to the job. “I don’t worry about the long-term political consequences.”