A governor comes bearing gifts

Branford — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy stood under an unforgiving afternoon sun, his forehead shiny with sweat, as he announced a state grant for a long-awaited public amenity in this town’s quaint beach community of Stony Creek.

Malloy is buying Branford toilets.

To be precise, the governor is awarding a grant drawn from a pool of discretionary funds controlled by his office under the name of the Small Town Economic Assistance Program, or STEAP.

After 10 years of trying, Stony Creek’s days of port-a-potties are numbered.

“Yeah, indoor plumbing,” Malloy said.

Malloy awarded $5.13 million Wednesday in 14 grants ranging from $100,000 to $500,000, money spread around the state to fix things like a storm-damaged boardwalk in East Lyme, a weed-choked lake in Bolton, a bike trail in Burlington, a covered bridge in Kent, a park in North Haven and a 1.79-mile stretch of Cemetery Road in tiny Union, population 700.

Discretionary grants are one of the perks of incumbency, a useful talking point as a governor travels around a state where, according to last month’s Quinnipiac poll, 44 percent of voters say he deserves re-election to a second term next year and 46 percent say he doesn’t.

He was asked in Branford if he was trying to spread some goodwill along with the grants.

“It has nothing more to do with that than what I did last year and the year before,” Malloy said, noting that STEAP grants are awarded every year. “Let’s leave it at that.”

Malloy, 57, the first Democratic governor elected in more than two decades, has yet to create a candidate committee or an exploratory committee, a necessary step before he can begin raising money.

Neither have his two likely GOP challengers: Tom Foley of Greenwich, the nominee in 2010; nor Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton also is considering a run.

“I don’t feel under any pressure to commit to the race right now. I am the governor,” Malloy said. “I am doing that job day in and day out, going from place to place. I’m going to do my job. Let those guys do what they have to do.”

Last week, Malloy announced $4.9 million in Main Street Investment Fund grants, also to 14 towns. He drove to Berlin, not far from the State Capitol in Hartford, to hold a press conference announcing a grant for $259,000.

He denied he was campaigning.

“I take pride in what we’re doing. This happens to be close to Hartford, so it’s easy,” Malloy said then. “Don’t read too much into it.”

When awarding grants, Malloy has placed a premium on projects ready to put the construction trades to work. A frequent plea to local recipients of grants: “Spend the money.”

“I’ve never hidden the fact that I think an appropriate role of government is to stimulate the economy in an appropriate investment,” he said in Berlin.

On Wednesday, he visited two communities winning money in this round of STEAP grants, Branford and North Haven.

In Branford, a town he won by a vote of 5,688 to 5,156 in 2010, he was joined by a Democratic first selectman, Anthony “Unk” DaRos, one of his early supporters, and Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, an important ally on energy legislation approved this year.

Branford intends to use its $500,000 grant to buy the tiny post office that faces the beach and harbor in Stony Creek, leasing a portion to the Postal Service and renovating the rest into what Reed referred to as a public “comfort station.”

“We’ve been trying to do this for at least 10 years,” she said.

Small towns are not Malloy’s political base, and 10 of the 14 towns winning grants Wednesday chose Foley over Malloy in 2010. One of them was North Haven, where Republican First Selectman Michael J. Freda warmly greeted the Democratic governor.

“This is a great day for North Haven,” Freda said, standing in an air-conditioned meeting room in the town’s 19th-century town hall, which is being renovated with other state money to improve its accessibility to those with disabilities.

Malloy gave North Haven, a town he lost 5,573 to 4,375 in 2010, a STEAP grant of $127,240 to refurbish well-used tennis and basketball courts at Carina Park.

“A very special thanks goes to our governor, Gov. Malloy,” Freda said. “Governor, it’s a pleasure to be with you.”

Malloy acknowledged Sen. Leonard Fasano and Rep. David Yaccarino, Republicans who represent North Haven in the General Assembly. “We don’t always agree 100 percent of the time, but we always work together,” Malloy said.

Fasano, a friend and ally of McKinney’s, said he did not object to the Democratic governor squeezing some personal and political goodwill out of state grants.

“When he has this discretion, he has every right to be here,” Fasano said. “So I appreciate that’s his role, that this is part of political life. To the victors go the spoils. And that’s fine.”

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