When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered non-essential state employees to stay home during the storm Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Nancy S. Wyman came to work. Malloy says that was a policy decision, not a punch line.
Wyman, 64, holds the job often dismissed as the spare part of government. Its formal duties are ill-defined beyond presiding over the state Senate and being available if the governor is out of state or incapacitated.
But since their inaugural a week ago, Wyman has been with Malloy at every public appearance, including televised briefings on the storm, and significant private meetings on personnel and the budget. He said her high-profile is proof of the partnership promised during the campaign.
“I know, everybody talks about their lieutenant governor being a partner,” Malloy said Wednesday night after conducting his last storm briefing at the State Armory. “I understand that.”
For the first time in 30 hours, Malloy had waved off Wyman when she followed him and a reporter into the conference room at the Emergency Operations Center at the Armory. He told her the agenda was not the storm.
“We’re going to talk about you,” Malloy said.
“Fine, I’m going home,” said Wyman, who had arrived at the EOC from her home in Tolland at 5:30 a.m., more than 12 hours earlier. She wore casual slacks, a blue sweater and her trademark high heels. As for her being included in the ranks of the essential, Wyman smiled as she gathered her things and said, “Glad we settled that.”
Malloy slumped in a chair at the head of the table. He wore boots, blue jeans, a dark green button-down shirt and a blue campaign windbreaker with white embroidery, “TEAM MALLOY WYMAN.”
“I thought it was important that she play a strategic role in what we did over the last 30 hours,” Malloy said. “Because, hey, listen, it’s entirely possible over the next four years something’s going to happen some time that I’m out state. And the constitution is quite clear. She is the governor then.
“So, this has been a great experience, but I think it’s emblematic as to how we’ll conduct ourselves over the next four years.”
At the time Malloy chose Wyman as his running mate, he was praised for making a canny political pick, someone who could help him draw delegate support at the nominating convention and votes in the Democratic primary from his rival, Ned Lamont.
Wyman had held statewide office as the comptroller for 16 years and was a state representative for eight years, serving in the crucible year of 1991, when she voted for the first broad-based income tax. In 2010, she was considered invulnerable in seeking re-election.
She refused to be Malloy’s running mate in 2006, when he won the convention endorsement by a single vote, only to lose a primary. Accepting his invitation in 2010 was a timely vote of confidence in a candidate who badly trailed Lamont in the polls.
“Getting her to run at a time I was 18 points behind in the polls. Winning that primary. Winning a close election. We’ve been through kind of a testing, very personal,” Malloy said. “This was a collaborative effort on the campaign. That’s an experience that we’ll both live with for the time that we work together.”
Malloy said he was drawn to her as she emerged as a low-key fiscal critic of both Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the legislature’s Democratic majority. As comptroller, Wyman warned against the use of accounting gimmicks and opposed an early retirement plan.
“I always had great respect for Nancy, because she called them as she saw them. I can remember being in the legislature and hearing legislators on the Democratic side complain about things Nancy would say in her reports,” Malloy said. “Well, that excited me.”
Malloy laughed. Then he grew serious and said, “Her willingness to run with me is one of the remarkable things about a remarkable political year.”
The previous day, Wyman was being driven by a state trooper from the Capitol, where her third-floor, corner office is one floor above Malloy’s, when a truck blocked their way on the approach to a briefing at the Armory.
The truck driver seemed indifferent until the trooper hit a button on the dash of the black sedan, activating blue lights concealed in the grill. The trucker suddenly made way. Wyman was surprised.
“Ma’am, that’s what the lights are for,” the trooper said.
Wyman shook her head. She said she still is not used to the fact that her driver is an armed cop, her car is an unmarked cruiser and every time she leaves her office someone whispers into a radio, “Number Two’s on the move. Number Two’s on the move.”
She said the easy part has been the relationship with Malloy.
“It really has become a partnership, and I know everybody says that,” Wyman said. “Dan has really proved that.”
Wyman said she was ready to risk a safe seat as comptroller to help elect Malloy and get a chance to be on the inside of the first Democratic administration since she was a state legislator 20 years ago.
“I couldn’t just sit behind a desk and do nothing. I need to be able to really do the job that needs to be done and be part of that team. This is a team. This is a team that will have different opinions. And he is the governor, and he will make the final decision.”
Malloy’s first act as governor was to sign an executive order changing the state’s accounting rules, something Wyman had advocated for years.
Wyman takes office with an advantage denied her predecessor, Michael C. Fedele, Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s No. 2 for four years. Rell had one top adviser, her longtime chief of staff, Lisa Moody.
Malloy has a circle: his chief of staff, Timothy F. Bannon; his general counsel, Andrew J. McDonald; his media and political adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso; and his secretary of policy and management, Ben Barnes. He has known them all for years. Aside from Wyman, the group is all male.
Wyman said she has a seat at the table.
“When it comes to the budget, all of the major decisions, she’ll be in on them,” Malloy said. “She’s not the secretary of OPM, and she’s not the governor, but she’s at the table with the secretary of OPM and the governor.”
Earlier Wednesday, between storm briefings, Malloy and Wyman met all afternoon on the budget with Bannon, Occhiogrosso and Barnes.
“She’s taken a lead role there. Personnel, she’s taken a lead role. As we get some time to turn some attention to the insurance and medical front, she’ll take a lead role. This is a theme,” Malloy said.
Her influence is hard to measure. Wyman said she was won some early debates over the budget, but she declined to be specific, calling the discussions private. Malloy gave a similar answer, asked about her input.
He thought for a moment, then laughed and added, “There were several points today that she won.”
“When I turn to her and ask her advice, there’s a good chance I’m going to take it,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that I m always going to take it, but it’s counsel I absolutely want. So far, we’ve been on the same side of every decision, every major decision, that we’ve made. And I suspect that’s going to continue.”
“We’ve seen a fake partnership between governors and lieutenant governors,” Wyman said. “This one’s not.”