Navigating potential conflicts, a first lady finds a new job

One spouse lands his dream CEO job, but it’s 79 miles away. Faced with a horrible commute or living apart, the other spouse, also a senior executive, eventually finds a comparable job in the new city. It’s a familiar story in the age of two-career couples.

But when the first spouse is Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the job search for the so-called trailing spouse is anything but simple, as Cathy Malloy learned before her appointment Monday as chief executive officer of the Greater Hartford Arts Council.


Andrew McDonald (l) and the Malloys on election night.

“There were significant restrictions,” said Andrew McDonald, the governor’s general counsel. “I know of very few not-for-profits that don’t have some nexus to state government in one form or another. That area has been her professional expertise for most of her adult life.”

Until her resignation in June, Cathy Malloy had been the executive director of The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education in Stamford for a decade. For three years before that, she was vice president for development of the United Way of Stamford/Greenwich.

McDonald said his office gave her advice about potential conflicts while she still ran the rape crisis center, since the center long had received state grants. It also advised her prior to her new job search.

“Back in the spring, we provided that information to the first lady so she could include that type of discussion with any potential employer,” McDonald said. “We would thought it would be much wiser to address the parameters of those issues well in advance of any actual employment opportunities being made available to her.

As the chief executive of the Arts Council, she will oversee a non-profit that raises and distributes funds to 150 arts, cultural and heritage organizations, including the Bushnell Memorial, Hartford Stage, Hartford Symphony and Wadsworth Atheneum. In recent years, its annual budget has ranged from $4 million to $5 million.

Less than $200,000 of its annual funding has come from the state, sparing Malloy from running an organization indirectly reliant on a budget prepared by her husband.

Still, a major function of her job will be raising money, and questions always can come up about appearances if a major donor to the Arts Council turns out to have significant business with the Malloy Administration.

“Our organization looked at this and said she’s the best candidate. We think this is the right thing to do. People can say whatever they want or think whatever they want,” said Jay Benet, chairman of the council’s board.

Benet said the council conducted an extensive search, interviewed many candidates and explored any special issues raised by hiring the governor’s wife.

“We wanted to be make sure she would not be inhibited, because she was the governor’s wife,” Benet said. “At the end of the day, you want to get the best candidate.”

The council has not released Cathy Malloy’s salary. According to publicly available tax returns, her predecessors have made as much as $171,000 annually.

She is the first gubernatorial spouse in recent years to engage in a major job search. Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s husband, Lou, was a retired airline pilot not in the job market when Rell became governor in 2004. But she is hardly the first political spouse to struggle with maintaining a career.

Jackie Clegg Dodd, the wife of former Sen. Chris Dodd, was the deputy head of the Import-Export Bank of the U.S. before her marriage. While Dodd was a senator at the center of a financial reform debate, his wife was a member of the board of a major futures exchange.

Cathy Malloy is first to arrive at the Executive Residence in mid-career, determined to find a job comparable to one she held before her husband’s election.

“There is no doubt that she gave up a position that she passionately loved in Stamford to move to Hartford. Having said that, she is a very accomplished business executive in the not-for-profit community. She has a lot to offer,” McDonald said. “I don’t think anybody would expect she would forgo those opportunities.”