Dannel P. Malloy took office today as Connecticut’s 88th governor and its first Democratic chief executive in 20 years, assuming responsibility for a state with a stagnant economy, a historic deficit and an appetite for change at the start of a new decade.

Under a vast skylight in the drill shed of the State Armory in Hartford, the 55-year-old former mayor of Stamford told an audience of about 2,800 that he begins his four-year term “humbled by the sense of history that lives within the soul of our great state.”

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Dan Malloy is greeted by well-wishers as he arrives at the Armory to take the oath of office

But Malloy struck a direct, blunt tone in his inaugural address, the first of two speeches he is to deliver today, as he prepares to erase a deficit of more than $3.5 billion with tax increase and spending cuts.

“Today I see an economic crisis and an employment crisis, both fueled by an unfriendly employer environment, a lack of educational resources, a deteriorating transportation system, and an enormous budget crisis of historic proportions.  All coddled by a habit of political sugarcoating that has passed our problems onto the next generation,” Malloy said.

His inaugural touched on his personal story, recalling his large, Irish family and the learning disabilities he overcame to graduate with honors from Boston College and then from B.C. law school.

“My parents both worked very hard while raising eight children, but my mother, who was a nurse, knew I was different,” he said. “She knew I had learning disabilities, but she never let those challenges overshadow my strengths. She never gave up on me, and in doing so she taught me to never give up, to press on, to recognize challenges but focus on strengths, and possibilities.”

Malloy said he would confront the crisis facing the state in the weeks ahead. He warned of the sacrifices that would be demanded next month in his first budget.

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Dan Malloy and his wife Cathy parade past the state Capitol on their way to his taking the oath of office

“I believe the people of Connecticut are willing to make sacrifices if ‘shared sacrifice’ is really shared, that we understand where we’re going, and that it is sacrifice with a purpose,” he said. “At this crossroads of crisis and opportunity, I believe we will hold fast to our heritage – while we reach deep, rally hard and choose well to leave Connecticut a better place.”

Malloy had to wait his turn to take the oath. He followed Attorney General George Jepsen, Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Treasurer Denise Nappier and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman took office in the morning, so she could preside over the Senate.

“Danny Boy” then was sung for the governor to be at the request of his wife, Cathy. She reached out and held her husband’s hand during the ballad.

Malloy took the oath at 2:40 p.m., which was administered by Gerald Fox, a probate judge from Stamford. Then embraced his wife and each of his three sons, Dan, Ben and Sam.

He thanked his predecessor, M. Jodi Rell, who took office in dramatic fashion, after the resignation of John G. Rowland in the face of an impeachment inquiry.

Rell did not attend, but she hosted Malloy and legislative leaders at a luncheon at the Executive Residence in Hartford’s West End.

Malloy arrived at the century-old Armory after a long journey — he has been seeking or planning to seek the office since losing a Democratic primary in 2006 — and a short walk, an inaugural parade that wound from Bushnell Park around the State Capitol to the imposing granite military building.

Spectators gathered along the parade route cheered as Malloy, his wife and sons walked by. Some waved American flags and shouted, “Congratulations!”

Others had more direct messages.

“Let’s get that raise this year. Let’s get that raise,” one woman said on Trinity Street, probably not loud enough for the almost-governor to hear. State offices dot the route.

“Save our jobs!” another woman called out.

Three women on Capitol Avenue carried one letter each, spelling a state agency, “DPW.”

“Look forward to working with you!” Malloy yelled to them.

It wasn’t politics or concern about a job that brought Carolyn Antonucci to Trinity Street to wait in the cold with her dog, Daisy, for the governor-elect to pass by. Like many voters, the Hartford woman said, she had been turned off by the nastiness of last fall’s campaign.

But there was something stirring about hearing the drums from the parade, about witnessing people with different political views coming together and a democratic process that could withstand even the ugliest of campaigns.

“It’s kind of awe inspiring,” she said.

Antonucci used to work in a hotel, where she met people from other countries that don’t have such stable political systems.

“We can have a peaceful transition of power,” she said. “I just think it’s a marvelous thing.”

As they passed in front of the Capitol, photographers swarmed Malloy. “I couldn’t get you guys to cover me a month, a year ago,” he said.

A block later, a line of supporters too young to vote chanted “Dan Malloy! Dan Malloy!”

“Congratulations on what you did for me,” Malloy told one young supporter after giving him a hug.

While Malloy was taking the oath, the National Guard waited outside to greet the new governor with a 19-gun artillery salute and a flyover by four helicopters, who would pass overhead in a diamond-shaped formation.

A snow squall enveloped the Capitol in the morning. By afternoon, it was blue skies that welcomed the new governor, at least on his first afternoon as chief executive.

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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