One 13-year-old girl came from distant Bethel to get Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature on a petition. A neighborhood cobbler came looking for business. Others simply wanted a moment with the new governor without the expense of going to an inaugural ball.
For two hours on a snowy Saturday, Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy S. Wyman greeted them all, making small talk and posing for pictures in the State Capitol rotunda. It was a low-key open house that marked the new administration’s third day in office and the end of inaugural activities
“This is a nice thing to do, to meet and greet the people,” said Paul Ellis, 41, whose voice still carries the lilt of his native Jamaica, nearly 17 years after arriving in Hartford.
Ellis is a neighbor of sorts. He operates Paul’s Shoes Repair on Asylum Avenue, between The Hartford and Union Station. Malloy accepted a business card that says Ellis is available Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and urges, “COME & GET GREAT DEALS.”
Shoe leather is something every politician goes through, especially in election years. Unfortunately for Ellis, his timing was off. Malloy balanced on one foot and showed Ellis the new soles on his black dress shoes.
“You’re only one week late,” Malloy said.
Maybe next time.
One couple handed the governor their smart phone and gestured to the screen. They were deaf employees of the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, and their message to him and Wyman was on the screen.
Malloy and Wyman crowded together to read. As Malloy scrolled through the message, he read it aloud, though too softly to be overheard. The governor smiled and nodded to the couple. Wyman signed, “Thank you.”
They walked away waving their hands, sign language for applause.
On his third full day as governor, Malloy was ready to declare his inaugural week a success. A deficit of more than $3.5 billion still lurks, but he managed to survive his first snow storm without political damage.
Malloy had a 5 a.m. conference call on Friday to prepare for a storm that moved through the state in bands, dumping only a few inches in many towns, but closing I-84 in western Connecticut with 15 inches. There were 189 accidents, but no fatalities.
Weather looms over elected chief executives everywhere – see Bloomberg, Michael – but especially so in Connecticut, where Thomas Meskill’s absence during an ice storm and Ella Grasso’s bravura performance during a blizzard marked their tenures, for ill and good.
“He was in town,” Wyman said, smiling.
“I have made it clear to my friends that I am not leaving he state if I look at a weather map and it says during the period of time I am going to be gone there is a likelihood of snow,” Malloy said. “I take it seriously.”
While talking to reporters, Malloy noticed a shiny penny on the floor. As is his habit, he picked it up.
“If I ever get too important to pick up a penny, just shoot me,” Malloy said.
Malloy, who held similar events while mayor of Stamford, said the open house went as expected.
“You get a little bit of everything. People looking for employment. People looking for help. People representing the interest of their not-for-profits,” Malloy said.
And plenty of people looking for a picture.
Jalen Bowen, a precociously verbal 6-year-old, did not hesitate to greet the governor and lieutenant. He shook hands with both.
“You have a good handshake, and you know how to make eye contact,” Malloy told him, bending low. “You could be governor some day.”
His mother, Brenda Colon of Windsor, said the visit was her son’s idea.
“Jalen wanted to meet my new boss,” Colon said. She works at the Department of Children and Families.
Other state employees also waited on line. One Department of Labor employee asked when her department was going to get a new commissioner.
Malloy indicated it would be soon. When she pressed for details, the governor nodded toward some reporters and suggested there were too many ears nearby to be sharing secrets.
The governor was asked about the Executive Residence, the 101-year-old mansion that comes with the job. Had he encountered any ghosts?
Malloy replied he is only haunted by the deficit.
Fred Bauer of West Hartford reminded Malloy they met 30 years ago at Boston College. Bauer was set to be Malloy’s assistant in a campus housing job, then got to be the boss when Malloy took another position.
Malloy thanked him for coming, saying he already had heard from a “Holy Cross guy.”
The governor seemed to make a personal connection with everyone. To a woman from Poland, Malloy talked about his visit to Poland. Many in line shared a common acquaintance with Malloy.
When all else failed, Malloy relied on one or more of his seven siblings or 27 nieces and nephews. To a physical therapist, he mentioned his nephew, Brian, also is a physical therapist.
Small talk about school with 16-year-old Darius Burke of Manchester prompted a quiet exchange about challenges. Burke told Malloy he attended High Road, a school for children with autism in Wallingford.
“I grew up with some learning disabilities, not autism. We have to persevere,” he told Burke, then added, “I have a niece and a nephew who are on the [autism] spectrum.”
Patty Burke, the young man’s mother, said she had told her son about Malloy’s struggle to overcome severe childhood learning disabilities. Their lawn was covered with Malloy campaign signs.
Alexis Kaiser and her 13-year-old daughter, Trianna, came all the way from the Danbury suburb of Bethel with a cause. The girl is circulating petitions, seeking support for a law that would give children age 12 and older the right to voice their opinions directly to a judge in custody cases.
The governor declined to sign onto a piece of legislation, but promised to consider it.
“You’ll just have to give me a little time,” Malloy said.