In his first gubernatorial press conference, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today addressed matters of public policy, personal preference and realpolitik. First, the personal. It turns out he prefers Dannel to Dan, his nom de campaign.
“My cards say Dannel. I insisted that we go back to my formal name, as opposed to Dan. I like Dannel. I’m hopeful that more people will spell it correctly in the future,” he said. “I like the name that my mother gave me. She was fond of it. I’ve become attached to it.”
Malloy talked to reporters in the governor’s sun-splashed corner office, the white walls still bare on his first full day in office. He was joined by Lt. Gov. Nancy S. Wyman. The mood was light, even when questioned about the fiscal crisis and potential conflicts with fellow Democrats.
The governor conceded that some of his calls the previous day for greater fiscal accountability generated louder applause from the Republican side of the House chamber.
When asked if he would use the GOP as a counterweight to his own party in budget negotiations with the Democratic leadership, Malloy feigned surprise that such a thing might be possible.
“Have you ever thought of that?” Malloy said, turning to Wyman, a former House member.
“Not me,” Wyman replied, deadpan.
“Cause you never mentioned it me,” Malloy said.
“I will later,” Wyman said, sotto vocce.
It was Malloy and Wyman, but it could have been Burns and Allen.
Then Malloy gave a more serious response, one that telegraphed a willingness to play hardball as he struggles to erase a deficit estimated at more than $3.5 billion. He emphasized a philosophical kinship with Democrats on progressive issues, but he also called himself a fiscal conservative.
“I think when you are in the position I am in and you have to do the things that have to be done for the good of the state of Connecticut, you’re going to pick up allies on any issue you can pick up allies on,” Malloy said. “So I think on the financial side, I want every ally I can have. On the progressive side, I want every ally I can have.”
Malloy made clear, though, that he thinks he will win or lose the budget debate on the strength of his ability to sell a fiscal plan of shared sacrifice to the public.
“What I’ve got to do is come forward with a message and an agenda that resonates with people who live in the 169 communities. They’re then going to tell the legislature what they want,” Malloy said. “And I think ultimately they are coming to understand that this is the moment to change. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Malloy, who opposes the death penalty, said in response to a question that he does not intend to use up political capital pushing the legislature to abolish capital punishment.
“This is not an issue which I’m going to be expending leadership on at the moment,” Malloy said. “That’s a question for the legislature.”
But if a repeal bill is passed, Malloy will sign it.
Malloy, who was elected with 49.5 percent of the vote in a three-way race, did say he will use whatever political capital he has accrued to push his agenda. His predecessor, M. Jodi Rell, left office with a high job-approval rating, and legislative grumbling she was not daring enough.
“I think political capital is just that. It’s supposed to be expended,” Malloy said. “To leave office with a bank of political capital because I had failed to take on the big challenges would be wrong.”
Malloy, who says he stayed at his inaugural ball until nearly midnight Wednesday, spent his first night as governor in a hotel. He and his wife, Cathy, will stay tonight for the first time in the Executive Residence, the 19-room, 101-year-old brick Georgian Colonial that has been home to governors since 1945.
In a governor’s first days, especially in tough fiscal times, everything can take on symbolism. His willingness to attend a privately financed ball has generated some criticism.
Today, he was asked about his new leather office chair.
“Well, I need a chair. I noticed it was the only chair here behind the desk,” Malloy said. “It’s a chair.”
For the record, a spokeswoman at the Department of Administrative Services says it is same style of chair that has been purchased for every new governor, stenciled with the chief executive’s name. It cost $1,240.76.
It was a question about the chair that yielded Malloy’s preference for Dannel over Dan. He said the only office purchase he has directed as governor was his new business cards: