Tim Bannon, a once and future adviser to Democratic governors

Twenty years after he walked out the door with the last Democratic governor, Timothy F. Bannon is back at the state Capitol, preparing for the return of a new Democratic administration.

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Tim Bannon at the Capitol with an armload of transition files (Mark Pazniokas)

Bannon, 63, the first hire of Governor-elect Dan Malloy, is a former confidant of William A. O’Neill, the blunt, underestimated taproom owner who left the Capitol in January 1991 as Connecticut’s longest-serving governor in 100 years.

On January 5, the day Malloy takes office, Bannon will become the new governor’s chief of staff, one of the toughest jobs in politics. Until then, he and Nancy Wyman, the lieutenant governor-elect, are overseeing the Malloy transition team.

In Washington, the players drift in and out of the executive branch with each electoral tide.  For Democrats in Connecticut, it’s been a long time between administrations.

Malloy has Bannon searching nationally, relying on contacts with top aides to several former governors, to populate the new administration, which faces a $3.3 billion deficit, an outdated transportation infrastructure, a stagnant economy and a hostile reputation for job creation.

“There is a mix of talents to be successful and there is a mix of responsibilities. And the goal is to find the mix of talents to match the mix of responsibilities,” Bannon said. “If you just take everybody from a bygone era, you’re not going to be successful, just because of the evolution of government and its practices.”

As a chief of staff, Malloy has chosen someone known for a dry sense of humor, a collaborative approach and a fashion sense unchanged since prep school. He is a lawyer and writer with a varied career in law, the corporate world and government.

“I like to surround myself with really bright, really articulate folks who challenge me a lot,” Malloy said. “Tim is the cornerstone of that.”

Malloy called Bannon at 2:15 a.m. last Wednesday, hours after the polls closed and days before Republican Tom Foley would concede defeat, to say he wanted Bannon’s appointment to be his first public act as governor-elect.

“He was addressing these remarks to my voicemail at the time,” Bannon said, smiling as he recalled the message. ” ‘We won. I’m ready to go and make an announcement about you today.’ He criticized me for being asleep. ‘It’s only 2:15. I can’t understand why you are asleep. Call me when you get up.’ “

Bannon in Doonesbury

Bannon in an old Doonesbury strip

So, on a day when he and his wife, Lorraine M. Aronson, who held top jobs in three administrations before retiring as UConn’s chief financial officer, expected to be driving to New Haven for a party honoring his Yale roommate, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, Bannon found himself at the Capitol, enlisted as the first member of the Malloy administration.

Malloy, 55, who first ran for governor in 2006, had settled on Bannon as his choice for chief of staff a long time ago, long before the first vote was cast or the last vote was counted.

“Let me put it this way, if I had been elected four years ago, it would have been Tim Bannon,” Malloy said.

They met when Malloy was mayor of Stamford and Bannon worked for Purdue Pharma. They met regularly for lunches to talk politics and public policy. Bannon is now executive director and president of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.

Bannon is the father of an adult daughter from a previous marriage. He and Aronson, who also worked for O’Neill, live in Manchester. They married a few years ago–the ceremony was sufficiently low-key that neither could immediately summon their wedding date.

Bannon is a graduate of Yale and Yale Law School who attended Andover with George W. Bush. As Trudeau memorably recounted in an essay in Time magazine, it was Bush who supplied Bannon with his first fake ID. Bannon was not long for Andover.

“I got thrown out at Andover within the first year. I went there in September and I was gone on Mother’s Day of 1964, just gone,” Bannon said. The offense involved making good use of the fake ID.

Despite the blemish on his prep-school record, Bannon was accepted at Yale in the last all-male class. As a roommate of Trudeau’s, he was immortalized as a corrupt lawyer, T.F. Bannon, in a Doonesbury strip. Along with Charles Pillsbury, Bannon is sometimes credited as an inspiration for Michael Doonesbury.

After graduation in 1970, he was hired in the planning department in the administration of New Haven Mayor Richard Lee, then considered a cutting-edge mayor.

“That was the place to be if you were interested in urban issues,” Bannon said.

He began law school at Yale in 1974. He became a lawyer at Robinson & Cole, where he worked with James Wade, a partner who was one of O’Neill’s close friends and advisers.

He juggled a legal career with writing. He wrote articles for Harper’s and edited a book written by Gary Hart, who ran for president in 1984. The book was Hart’s answer to Walter Mondale’s famous question, “Where’s the beef?”

Even though O’Neill had backed Mondale, the Hart connection led to O’Neill asking Bannon to write a budget address in 1985. He soon was hired as a special counsel to O’Neill.

He served as O’Neill’s tax commissioner, then returned to the Capitol as a special adviser.

He since has had two tenures in the private sector, working at Aetna in Hartford and Purdue Pharma in Stamford, separated by a stint in the state treasurer’s office.

He was one of the aides hired by Treasurer Denise Nappier after she succeeded Paul Silvester, who went to prison on corruption charges.

“He was here in the middle of trying to craft a legislative response to the criminal activities that occurred under Silvester,” said Howard Rifkin, a legal counsel to O’Neill and deputy treasurer to Nappier. “There was an enormous amount of pressure and a need to craft the message as well as the substantive package. He was great, and he was level headed.”

David McQuade, who was O’Neill’s chief of staff, said the O’Neill administration employed him as a jack-of-all-trades – often as a trouble-shooter who oversaw priority projects for the governor.

“He is a great utility infielder. He can handle just about anything,” McQuade said. “Malloy is lucky to have him.”

Bannon has the same trim runner’s build he did 20 years ago, though creaky knees limit his workouts to the treadmill. He still occasionally wears a suit purchased in college, which Rifkin attributes more to Bannon’s frugality than his success in fighting middle-aged weight gain.

“He is cheap,” Rifkin said. “Wide lapels come and go. Bannon stays the same.”

He also favors round eye-glass frames that were first fashionable the last time Connecticut had a Democratic governor. It seems both are back in style.