With a sharp tweak at her predecessor, Gov. M. Jodi Rell today delivered a farewell holiday message to the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, an annual opportunity to offer tongue-in-cheek holiday wishes and zingers to friends and rivals.
It was at the same event in 2003 that her predecessor, John G. Rowland, and his wife Patricia, prompted gasps by turning a parody of “The Night Before Christmas” into an attack on the press and his political critics.
Rell said today she considered delivering her own version of the poem, then remembered, “No wait. That’s already been done. And not very well.”
Her audience at the packed ballroom of Crowne Plaza in Cromwell laughed. There might have been some expressions of surprise, but no gasps.
Rell is leaving office after 6 ½ years as governor with her own legacy jeopardized by a fiscal crisis. Her successor, Gov.-elect Dan Malloy, has repeatedly blamed Rell and the legislature for leaving him a projected deficit of more than $3.5 billion.
She tried to counter those complaints.
“I’m not going to take you all down memory lane and share with you all the hundreds of things I feel we’ve accomplished,” Rell said.
But she offered a few.
In a brief accounting of what she called her most important accomplishments, Rell implicitly criticized Rowland, who resigned in the face of an impeachment inquiry and federal corruption investigation.
“One of the first orders of business, of course when I became governor was to restore a sense of honor to state government,” Rell said. “Our state had been through so much.”
Rell said ethics rules she imposed on the executive branch and campaign finance reforms passed by the legislature with her support helped the state move past the Rowland scandal.
The governor called saving the submarine base in Groton, which was the result of bipartisan effort that involved the state’s congressional delegation, her “finest day” as governor.
She also took credit for the purchase of 380 rail cars to modernize the Metro North commuter lines. The first of those cars are undergoing testing in Connecticut.
Rell quickly moved to her list of holiday zingers, most gentle, a few sharp. She offered them in the form of items she wish she could have included in a time capsule recently buried on the grounds of the executive residence in Hartford.
Her BlackBerry is a device she said she gladly will bury. She is tired of being at its beck and call.
“As long as we’re talking about electronic devices, how about the secretary of the state’s calculator?” Rell said.
Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, who some thought had prematurely declared Dan Malloy the winner of the election for governor, waved from the end of the dias.
“We should also add a spare bag of Bridgeport ballots,” Rell said.
Rell said she also would have liked to preserve for posterity some worn-out office supplies used by legislative Democrats.
“You know, the pair of scissors that just won’t cut,” she said.
One of her sharpest jabs was directed at Kevin Rennie, a blogger and Hartford Courant columnist who has described Rell as an indifferent leader whose administration had its own ethical miscues, some involving campaign fundraising.
“Another item that needs burying? Kevin Rennie’s thesaurus – along with Kevin Rennie,” Rell said.
She also wanted to bury the resumes of UConn coaches Randy Edsall, Geno Auriemma and Jim Calhoun, lest they be attracted to new jobs.
“Let’s also bury the hatchet for Pat Summitt – since she can’t seem to manage it on her own,” Rell said.
As Rell said it was time for her good-byes, her voice briefly cracked.
“You know, it’s a bittersweet moment,” Rell told reporters after the breakfast event. “It’s really an honor and a privilege to serve as governor of this great state. I’m going to miss the people.”
Rell cut the impromptu news conference short for a reason that hinted at her life after politics, when she plans on spending more time as a wife and grandmother.
“I actually have to go to a radio station from here,” Rell said. “Then I have to go relieve Lou. He’s got two little boys chasing him. I promised him I’d be back.”