Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today announced the long-planned departure of his senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, a move that deprives Malloy of his public voice and closest confidant as he begins the two-year march towards the 2014 campaign.
Occhiogrosso, 47, who has been framing issues and political messages for Malloy since the governor's first unsuccessful run for governor in 2006, left open the question of formal or informal involvement in the coming campaign.
"It's a long way away," Occhiogrosso said, brushing aside the question. But he later added, "I'm not ruling anything out."
With the governor preparing to nominate two justices to the Connecticut Supreme Court and at least 10 Superior Court judges, his general counsel, Andrew McDonald, is expected by court watchers to soon be leaving for the bench.
Malloy has signaled to his senior staff at the approach of the mid-point in his four-year term that now is the time for departures; anyone staying past January is seen as signing on the for the remainder of the term.
Occhiogrosso has played a unique role in the quartet of advisers generally seen as Malloy's inner circle: He often is the public face of the administration, especially on matters of political controversy. In private, Occhiogrosso is probably the adviser bluntest with the governor.
"We've been at this together for a long time, almost on a daily basis for six years," Malloy said at his regular press conference after the monthly Bond Commission meeting. "He is someone that I have relied on, the lieutenant govenor has relied on, and he will be greatly missed."
Occhigrosso is a symbol of the Malloy administration's unending campaign. He is the point man who hectors and cajoles the press and engages the administration's critics with emails, phone calls and, more recently, in exchanges on Twitter.
"You know of his dedication," Malloy told reporters. "Some of you have even been witness to his passion."
The divorced father of young twin sons, Occhiogrosso originally planned to depart a year ago and step back from a job that respects few boundaries between work and home.
"About a year ago, I approached him with the idea of staying yet another year. It took him 30 days to give me an answer, but I did get a year," Malloy said. "I've appreciated every moment of that year."
To join the Malloy administration, Occhiogrosso resigned as the partner in charge of the Hartford office of the Global Strategy Group, a national polling and communication strategy group with a stable of political, corporate and non-profit clients.
Occhiogrosso occupies a unique place in Connecticut politics. He is the home-grown hired gun who has played major roles in four gubernatorial campaigns. He was an adviser on Bill Curry's campaigns for governor in 1994 and 2002, as well as Malloy's campaigns in 2006 and 2010.
In 2006, he also was a consultant to Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's re-election campaign, an association that ended once Lieberman lost the Democratic primary and continued as an independent.
Occhiogrosso said he enjoyed his job and his relationship with the governor, but it was time to leave.
"I personally think people tend to stay in these jobs too long some times," Occhiogrosso said. "I had a great time. It's time to do something else."
The governor's original inner circle already has changed with the resignation after one year of Tim Bannon, the governor's first chief of staff. He was succeeded by Mark Ojakian, a deputy budget director who was Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman's top aide during her time as state comptroller.
Ojakian announced a staff reorganization in October that included the transfer of Arielle Reich, who had the job of shadowing Malloy from morning to night, acting as the interface between the governor and his office when he was on the road.
Reich, who also worked for Malloy when he was mayor of Stamford, is now at the Office of Policy and Management. Like Occhiogrosso, Reich had a longstanding relationship that gave her license to be direct with Malloy to the point of irreverence.
As recently as last week, Occhiogrosso was coy when asked by the Mirror if he was ready to leave. Today, he shrugged and noted, "Eventually, the answer was going to be yes. What can I say?"
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas contributed to this report.