Duff’s quiet campaign for majority leader goes public

Sen. Bob Duff

Sen. Bob Duff

Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, was described Thursday by a variety of political sources as the likely successor to Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, as majority leader, the result of a quiet campaign waged in preparation for the day the job became open.

That day has arrived.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams, D-Brooklyn, surprised his colleagues Wednesday with the news he will not seek another term, clearing the way for Looney to assume the top leadership post.

In an instant, a private campaign by Duff to move into leadership became public.

“I am confident that the support is there to help lead the caucus,” said Duff, who was elected in 2012 to his fifth term representing Norwalk and most of Darien.

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, one of the Democrats committed to supporting Duff, said he has been long preparing to move when the opportunity arose.

“It wasn’t any secret. It was in a very positive way. It was never, ‘Oh, we need new leadership.’ It was in a way that was very respectful to Don and Marty,” Bye said.

Such prospective campaigning can be tricky. In the Senate, one can try to line up support for a leadership run, never knowing if the opportunity will arise.

As of July 1, Williams will have held the job for a decade, the longest tenure in state history. Looney has been majority leader even longer, since January 2003.

In the House, there is a tradition of a two-term limit as speaker, allowing the ambitious to more easily plan ahead. In the early 1990s, Thomas D. Ritter lined up the votes to succeed House Speaker Richard Balducci early in Balducci’s first term.

The Senate has no such tradition.

Williams’ predecessor, Kevin B. Sullivan, served for seven years as president pro tem. He did not depart by choice: After Gov. John G. Rowland resigned in 2004, Lt. Gov. M. Jodi Rell succeeded Rowland, and Sullivan automatically succeeded Rell.

Duff, who was elected in 2012 to his fifth term, is not without competition. Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, and Sen. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge, also have talked to senators about running for majority leader, sources said.

And then there are the small matters of re-election in November. Duff must win re-election to his Senate seat this fall and hope that Democrats win a majority of the 36 seats in the Senate as they have in every election since 1996.

After all, if there is no Democratic majority in November, there can be no Democratic majority leader when the General Assembly begins its new term in January.

Duff won re-election in 2012 by a 2-1 margin, but there is precedent for someone to lose while trying to climb the leadership ladder.

Jesse Stratton, a Democrat from Canton, was lining up votes to challenge Moira K. Lyons for speaker in 2002 when Stratton failed to win re-election from her own district.

 

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