Legislative special elections could turn on Malloy’s budget

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is not on the ballot in any of the nine districts with legislative vacancies, but he will instantly frame those campaigns if he sticks to a plan to release his budget Feb. 16, six days before the special elections.

Once Malloy proposes tax increases and spending cuts to erase a projected deficit of $3.7 billion for the coming fiscal year, candidates can expect their campaigns to turn on one question: Will they support the governor’s mix of higher taxes and reduced spending?

“It’s going be painful at both ends,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New New Haven.

One of the longest-serving legislators, Looney suggests a safe answer for the would-be legislators: “We’ll take a look at it.”

Republicans say that answer will be inadequate.

Cafero McKinney

Larry Cafero, John McKinney: ‘Nothing to lose.

“Candidates are going to have to stand up and tell voters where they are on that budget. It’s the most important question they will have to answer in that special election,” said Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield.

For Republicans, the special elections are a second shot at seats won by Democrats in November. Six Democrats in the House and three in the Senate quit their seats, all but one to take new jobs in other branches of government.

“We have nothing to lose. We can only gain,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, whose caucus picked up 14 seats in November, the biggest swing in a generation.

Democrats won 100 of 151 House and 23 of 36 Senate seats in November.

By the end of last week, Cafero said he was hearing rumblings about delaying Malloy’s budget speech until after the special elections. Malloy’s staff indicated they would defer to Democratic legislative leaders.

Spokesmen for the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate said they might ask the governor to delay his budget speech to a joint session of the legislature by a day or two to avoid conflict with a Feb. 16 deadline for some committees to make their initial cut on bills.

But the speech will become before the special elections, they said.

It is hard to handicap whether Malloy, who was elected with just 49.5 percent of the vote in a three-way race over Republican Tom Foley and Independent Tom Marsh, would be a help or a hindrance to Democrats if he joins them on the campaign trail immediately after proposing a tax increase.

“It all depends. Being very candid, I would imagine that Gov. Malloy, especially in his hometown of Stamford, is going to be very helpful,” McKinney said.

One of the three Senate vacancies is in Stamford, where Malloy was mayor for 14 years. Andrew J. McDonald of Stamford resigned his seat to join Malloy’s inner circle as general counsel.

If Malloy does campaign in Stamford, he could find himself indirectly debating his budget proposal with Foley, who lives in nearby Greenwich and is expected to campaign for the Republican, McKinney said.

The best Malloy may be able to do for the special-election candidates is to deliver a budget that convinces voters that a new Democratic administration, in concert with a Democratic legislative majority, will be fiscally responsible. The governor will campaign to sell his budget, but he may not directly campaign in the districts with vacant seats.

“He is not going to have much time to deal with the special elections,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s political and media adviser. Holding a hand to his forehead, the senior aide said, “He is up to here with the budget. The people of Connecticut would not be thrilled if he was spending a lot of time on the campaign trail.”

In special elections, local organization can be decisive. The campaigns are a five-week sprint, with little time for newcomers to introduce themselves or to develop isuses.

“It’s a whole different campaign,” said House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden.

Door-to-door campaigning, a staple of most House races, becomes difficult in February, when it gets dark in late afternoon, and voters are unlikely to engage in conversations at their door.

“It’s a truncated campaign,” Cafero said.

By naming Democratic legislators to his administration, Malloy is responsible for six of the vacancies.

In addition to McDonald, he has hired Sen. Donald J. DeFronzo of New Britain and state Reps. Christopher Caruso of Bridgeport, Deborah Heinrich of Madison, Michael P. Lawlor of East Haven and David McCluskey of West Hartford.

Reps. James F. Spallone of Essex and John C. Geragosian of New Britain resigned to take other jobs, Spallone as deputy secretary of the state and Geragosian as Democratic state auditor, a legislative appointment.

Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey of Meriden resigned after pleading guilty to larceny charges in connection with double-billing for legislative travel.

The best Republicans can hope for after Feb. 22 is being on the short end of a 20-16 split in the Senate and 96-55 in the House.

Republicans have little or no chance in two of the six House races. No Republican is seeking Geragosian’s 25th District seat in New Britain, ceding the race to Democrat Bobby Sanchez.

Caruso’s 126th District seat, which has attracted a half-dozen Democrats, also is seen as safe in heavily Democratic Bridgeport. Democrats on Saturday nominated the Rev. Charlie Stallworth, but he could face a crowded ballot of petitioning candidates, including Rep. Robert Keeley.

In the 20th House District of West Hartford, Democrats have nominated Joe Verrengia, a town councilman and police officer who once opposed McCluskey for the seat as a Republican. The GOP nominee is Allen Hoffman, who held the seat for one term, beginning in 1995.

In the 36th House District, the Republicans have nominated Janet Peckinpaugh, a former television news anchor who unsuccessfully ran for Congress last year.  Democrats are expected tonight to nominate First Selectman Phillip J. Miller of Essex as their choice to hang onto Spallone’s old seat, which covers Chester, Deep River, Essex and Haddam.

In East Haven’s 99th House District, Republican Linda Monaco, who took 44 percent of the vote in a losing race to Lawlor, will be on the ballot against Democrat James Albis.

In the 101st House District, which was held by a Republican until Heinrich won in 2004, Democrats nominated Joan Walker on Saturday to run against Republican Noreen Kokoruda. The district includes Madison and part of Guilford.

In the 6th Senate District, Mayor Tim Stewart of New Britain is the GOP choice to oppose former Democrat state Rep. Theresa Gerratana for a seat DeFronzo took away from Thomas Bozek, a Democrat-turned-Republican, in 2002. New Britain comprises most of the district, which also includes Berlin and part of Farmington.

In the 13th Senate District, which includes Meriden, Middlefield and parts of Middletown and Cheshire, Democrats chose Thomas E. Bruenn, a retired teacher and Board of Education member, as their candidate for Gaffey’s seat. The GOP nominee is Len Suzio, who took 42 percent of the vote in a losing race to Gaffey in November.

In the 27th Senate District, state Rep. Carlo Leone is the Democratic nominee for McDonald’s seat. The Republican is Bob Kolenberg, who took 41 percent of the vote in a losing race against McDonald in November. The district included parts of Stamford and Darien.

If Leone wins, it will be the second time he has followed a McDonald. His predecessor in the House was McDonald’s mother, Anne B. McDonald.