The short, fast life of a political gaffe

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy knew the drill. The last step in dealing with a political gaffe is address the press, take a few questions, smile and say something mildly dismissive like, “You know, we’re pretty much done with it.”

And so it was that Malloy waited for reporters to surround him Thursday evening outside the State Capitol and ask questions about him reimbursing People magazine $1,234 for his trip to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

A TV reporter asked about the previous day’s claim by Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, that Malloy violated state ethics laws by accepting a freebie to one of D.C.’s hottest political/social events.

“You know, Sen. McKinney says lots of things,” Malloy said, smiling. “I just decided to head the whole thing off, rather than take away from the important work, for instance, on education reform, that has to be done.”

He spoke after leaving an education rally to applause.

“You know,” he said, “we’re pretty much done with it.”

A print reporter noted that the statement issued by his office about the reimbursement was defiant, not apologetic. It made a case that Malloy was justified, because he talked business at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

“It’s not defiant,” Malloy said. “I work really hard. And I gave you a snapshot of some of the work I did.  This has taken on a life of its own, and I just thought it was better to end it.”

But does the reimbursement say it was a bad political call by him to attend the dinner on People’s tab?

Malloy smiled, then slightly went off message, assuming the goal was to be seen as taking responsibility.

“You know, I gotta tell you, my staff makes a lot of decisions about where I go,” Malloy said. “This was thought, because of what we’re trying to do on digital media, as well as public policy on other issues that were referenced in the press release, that this was a good opportunity.”

He paused.

“In retrospect, you know, probably shouldn’t have done it,” Malloy said. “Pretty straightforward.”

He made the admission of a gaffe, albeit without a pronoun, first person or otherwise.

McKinney, a potential GOP challenger for the Democratic governor in 2014, said Malloy’s decision to reimburse was a tacit acknowledgement he shouldn’t have let People pay his way.

The senator noted he generally applauds Malloy’s travels, such as his attending the economic conference in Davos, Switzerland. No matter how diligently Malloy talked up Connecticut at the correspondents’ dinner Saturday night, McKinney said, the governor still was at a party.

But McKinney acknowledged that Malloy’s actions Thursday most likely ended a controversy that erupted at 2:31 p.m. on a Wednesday and was pretty much knocked down by noon on Thursday.

The governor’s former senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, a communication strategist who is expected to advise Malloy’s re-election campaign next year, was willing to see the flap as a quick drill on how to respond to “a distraction.”

“They were smart,” Occhiogrosso said, taking care to employ the third-person. “I think the faster you can make a distraction go away — and that’s all this was — the better off you are.”

“A mistake many people make is they don’t act quickly,” Occhiogrosso said. Of his old boss, he said, “He doesn’t have that problem.”