Believe it or not, Nikki O’Neill got her first view this weekend of a Democrat being nominated for governor.

The widow of Gov. William A. O’Neill, the longest-serving governor of modern times, said she and her husband always watched the proceedings from a hotel room, then swept into the hall after O’Neill had won the nomination.

She is at the Democratic State Convention to nominate Comptroller Nancy S. Wyman as Dan Malloy’s running mate. When asked if the popular Wyman should have run for governor, O’Neill said Wyman didn’t want it.

Then she smiled and added, “But I think lieutenant governor is a good place to start.”

Her husband, of course, was lieutenant governor. He succeeded the dying Ella Grasso on the last day of 1980 and was elected in his own right in 1982.

O’Neill had strong memories of that convention at the Bushnell, even from her hotel room. House Speaker Ernest Abate of Stamford nominated himself, the only way to address the convention.

Then a young singer Abate hired from the cast of  “Annie” appeared to sing, “The sun will come out tomorrow.”

Her husband erupted, grabbing a walkie-talkie and telling his convention manager, James Wade, “Get the kid off the stage!”

“What do you want me to do, governor?” a perplexed Wade replied.

“I don’t care, get the kid off the stage,” the governor insisted.

Cooler heads prevailed. The kid finished the song. The delegates loved it, but they didn’t give Abate the votes he need to primary O’Neill.

Mrs. O’Neill said she had no insight about the Democrats’ long drought in gubernatorial races. They haven’t won since her husband’s victory in 1986.

“If I knew the answer, I’d own this building,” she said.

O’Neill said public speaking is not her thing, not even after 10 years and 10 days as Connecticut’s first lady.

Wyman had asked her husband four years ago to nominate her for comptroller, but his health was too poor.

“I love you, Nancy, but I can’t do it,” he told Wyman.

O’Neill said she was comfortable with the task today.

“I’m not nervous,” she said. “It’s not my husband.”

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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