On opening day, nine empty chairs in the House and Senate

The resignation of nine Democratic legislators will take effect when the 2011 session of the General Assembly opens at 10 a.m. Wednesday, leaving six empty chairs in the House and three in the Senate to be filled by special elections in late February or early March.

Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, who was named Tuesday evening as a special advisor on urban economic issues, was the last legislator to land a job with the new administration of Dan Malloy before the door closes today on movement between the legislative and executive branches.

Caruso was one of eight legislators who submitted letters of resignation Tuesday, officially notifying the secretary of the state that they will not take office. It will be up to Malloy, who becomes governor Wednesday afternoon, to act by Jan. 15 to set a date for the special elections.

The elections must be held no later than 46 days after Jan. 15. The major parties must nominate candidates at least 36 days before the special elections, while petitioning candidates have eight days after the elections are scheduled to qualify for the ballot by collecting signatures from 1 percent of the voters in the previous election.

Democrats won 100 of the 151 House seats and 23 of 36 Senate seats in November, but they will begin the session with only 94 House members and 20 senators.

Six legislators are joining the Malloy administration: Caruso, Sen. Donald J. DeFronzo of New Britain, Rep. Michael P. Lawlor of East Haven, Rep. Deborah W. Heinrich of Madison, Rep. David McCluskey of West Hartford and Sen. Andrew J. McDonald of Stamford.

Two are leaving for other government jobs: Rep. James Spallone of Essex is becoming the deputy secretary of the state, and Rep. John Geragosian of New Britain is becoming the Democratic state auditor.

Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey of Meriden, the only one of the nine who had not submitted a resignation letter Tuesday, announced Monday he would resign after pleading guilty to misdemeanor larceny charges in connection with double-billing for legislative travel.

Once they take the oath of office to begin the new term, no legislator can accept a job with any other branch of government for the remaining two years of their terms.

The appointment of Caruso was evidence of last-minute scrambling to find a job in the first Democratic administration since William A. O’Neill left office 20 years ago. It was announced by email at 5:19 p.m., hours after Malloy aides said they expected no further legislative appointments.

Caruso, who was elected to the House in 1990, will “provide counsel to Governor-Elect Malloy on urban initiatives, housing and smart growth,” the announcement said.

These towns will have special elections: Berlin, Bridgeport, Cheshire, Chester, Darien, Deep River, Essex, Farmington, Guilford, Haddam, Madison, Meriden, Middlefield, Middletown, New Britain, Stamford and West Hartford.