Wyman attracted by a chance to set fiscal policy
Comptroller Nancy S. Wyman was introduced as Dan Malloy’s running mate Tuesday, the culmination of nearly a two-year courtship by Malloy and weeks of deliberation by Wyman.
After 16 years in a post that makes her a fiscal watchdog and critic, Wyman is risking a relatively safe re-election for what she says is a chance to help set “honest budgeting” from inside the first Democratic administration in a generation.
“He’s inviting me to be part of that as a partner,” Wyman said an interview. “I’ve been doing it from the outside and not in those rooms where the decisions are being made. Dan said as a partner I’d be there.”
From the comptroller’s office, Wyman is responsible overseeing health and retirement benefits for 200,000 state employees and retirees, as well as providing a monthly and year-end analysis of the state’s finances.
In that latter role, the liberal Wyman has emerged as a voice of caution in the Democratic Party on the state’s unfunded liabilities for pensions and retiree health care. She was a critic of Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s retirement incentive plan last year, warning that the pension and retiree health costs would outweigh any short-term savings.
Wyman, 64, a four-term state legislator and four-term comptroller, said she wants to be in a position to push for budgeting that addresses the state’s long-term liabilities, a goal that often conflicts with political realities at the State Capitol and may yet again next year.
“I pushed for that for many, many years,” Wyman said. “I still want to push for it – at the beginning of the budget this time, not after it comes out.”
Her decision to join Malloy comes with significant risk. Unopposed for the Democratic nomination as comptroller, she likely will face a Democratic primary for lieutenant governor with Mary Glassman, the running mate of Malloy’s chief rival for the gubernatorial nomination, Ned Lamont.
Glassman was Malloy’s pick for lieutenant governor in 2006, when Malloy won the convention endorsement by a single vote and then lost a close primary to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, who is backing Lamont this year.
“She wasn’t ready,” said a smiling Malloy, when asked why he didn’t run with Wyman four years ago. “I guess that’s the best way to say it.”
Accompanied by their spouses, Malloy introduced Wyman as his running mate to about 200 supporters from the east steps of the State Capitol.
Malloy, who already was the favorite to win the endorsement of the Democratic nominating convention May 22, can expect Wyman to draw some undecided delegates. A relentless campaigner, Wyman is a hugely popular figure with the party’s activist base.
Thomas D. Ritter, the former speaker of the House, said Wyman’s decision to join Malloy will be seen by convention delegates as a vote of confidence in his strength as a candidate.
“I think it tells people that she thinks Dan is going to win, and that’s a big deal,” said Ritter, who attended the announcement.
One measure of her popularity is that Lamont had urged her to run for re-election as comptroller, suggesting the office might be more influential with a Democrat as governor.
Wyman entered politics with her election in 1979 to the school board in Tolland, where she still lives and her husband, Michael, is the Democratic registrar of voters. They have two daughters and five grandchildren.
She was elected to the House of Representatives in 1986 on a ticket led by Gov. William A. O’Neill in the last gubernatorial election won by a Democrat. In the legislature, Wyman was co-chair of the Education Committee and a supporter of tax reform.
In 1991, she voted for the passage of the state’s first broad-based tax on wages.
Wyman was elected comptroller in 1994, succeeding William E. Curry Jr. The office’s role as overseer of employee and retiree health plans gave her entry into a debate over health policy. She opened the state’s Municipal Employee’s Health Insurance Program to Connecticut’s small businesses, municipalities and non-profit organizations.
With the state health care advocate, Kevin Lembo, she is the co-chair of the SustiNet Health Partnership board of directors, which must recommend ways to control costs and improve access to health care by Jan. 1, 2011. Lembo is a former aide who also has been seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.
The comptroller’s office is a low-profile post that tends to take on greater visibility in tough fiscal times, especially when the comptroller and governor are members of different parties. Curry frequently clashed with Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr.
Wyman has not been as combative with Rell, a friend from their legislative days, but she has increasingly been more critical of the state’s fiscal policies as she watched Connecticut’s unfunded liabilities for pensions and retiree health costs grow.
She considered her own run for governor, deciding instead in January to seek another four-year term as comptroller. Malloy immediately called to discuss their running together, a possibility he had first broached months earlier when Rell still was likely candidate for re-election and Democratic Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz was expected to run for governor.
“He said, ‘I’m not going to ask now. I’m not going to push you until a time when I feel I have a chance of doing this. I don’t want you to give up anything you have,'” Wyman said.
The topic of her running for lieutenant governor frequently came up in her visits to Democratic town committees around the state, but her standard answer was she intended to seek re-election as comptroller.
“I always said, ‘I’m staying. I’m staying. I’m staying,’ ” Wyman said.
The talks grew more serious as the race for the Democratic nomination seemed to narrow to Malloy and Lamont. With Malloy recently qualifying for public financing and the approach of the nominating convention, he pressed her for an answer.
She said her conversations with Malloy continued over the weekend, but as the day progressed Friday, she decided to say yes.
“I don’t give this up lightly. I do love my job, but I do believe in Dan,” Wyman said.
Wyman said the just-concluded budget debate was very hard to watch.
“I just don’t feel the people of the state were told the truth,” Wyman said. “Now I have the chance, working with Dan.”
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