Governor-elect Dan Malloy’s approach to selecting his top aides may be best reflected in the story of Ben Barnes.
Today, Barnes, 42, of Stratford is a candidate for any number of key jobs in the new Malloy administration, including the pivotal post of secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, which oversees the budget and labor relations.
Nearly 10 years ago, he was Malloy’s unconventional choice as mayor to oversee a wide swath of government in Stamford. Malloy found Barnes by calling Jim Finley of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, scouting more for talent than specific credentials.
“He wanted to know about smart people,” Finley said. “Unfortunately, I mentioned Ben Barnes.”
At the time, Barnes worked for Finley as a valued young expert in government finance. He soon was on Malloy’s payroll as the director of public health, safety and welfare in Stamford.
To those who watched Malloy as mayor, a post he held for 14 years, the appointment of Barnes was an example of Malloy’s willingness to disregard a lack of specialized credentials and embrace candidates with broad skills and smarts.
The public-safety and health job was one of just four positions that directly reported to the mayor. Before Malloy left office in 2009, Barnes had held three of them, overseeing the city’s finances and its operations. The fourth post was legal counsel, and Barnes is not a lawyer.
“Barnes is the real deal,” Finley said.
Finley said his talents include being a “numbers cruncher who understands the policy implications of those numbers,” which could be a succinct job description for the next secretary of OPM.
The only appointments announced so far are Timothy F. Bannon as chief of staff and Colleen Flanagan as the transition press secretary. Bannon declined to comment on the search for an OPM secretary, but he spoke generally of Malloy’s approach.
“The governor-elect’s operating premise is to get the best talent for the job,” Bannon said. “For certain jobs,” Bannon said, the emphasis will be on “energy and an aggressive intellect.”
With one notable exception, the last three governors have relied on former legislators for OPM secretary, leaving speculation at the Capitol focused on current and former legislators.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell named Robert Genuario, a lawyer and former state senator. John G. Rowland initially picked a former House member, Reginald Jones, as did Lowell P. Weicker Jr., who chose William Cibes.
But after Jones retired, Rowland named Marc Ryan, a young advisor who had been an editorial writer at the Waterbury Republican American. With near total control over the budget and labor relations, Ryan became one of the most powerful OPM secretaries.
Bannon, 63, was an adviser to Gov. William O’Neill, the last Democratic governor. He became friendly with Malloy while working in Stamford for Purdue Pharma. His relationship with Malloy was not widely known, but Malloy has said he would have chosen Bannon as chief of staff had he been elected in 2006.
One Malloy backer noted that few people anticipated Bannon’s appointment. As the executive director and president of Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, Bannon kept to the background in the Malloy campaign, helping to prepare for a transition.
Barnes, who resigned from city government in Stamford once Malloy left office, also played a low-key role in the campaign, working on policy analysis. Barnes, now a manager in the Bridgeport school system, did not return a call for comment Tuesday night.