New Britain — Precisely timed to attract live coverage Thursday at the top of three local 6 o’clock newscasts, a jubilant Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed into law a bill that makes Connecticut the first state to embrace President Obama’s goal of a $10.10 minimum wage.
“It is done,” Malloy said, as he finished signing a bill that sped through both chambers of the General Assembly the previous day, a victory that resonated nationally for a Democratic Party eager to focus voters on pocketbook issues in the mid-term elections. “We proved that it can be done.”
Malloy signed the bill in the cramped dining room at Cafe Beauregard where he and three other New England governors dined with Obama three weeks ago before a minimum-wage rally across town at Central Connecticut State University in a gym packed with 3,000 people.
“What we want to make sure is that men and women in our state who work 40 hours a week do not live in poverty and have the opportunity to raise their families as we ourselves would want to raise our own,” Malloy said.
The new law raises the state’s $8.70 minimum wage, already the second-highest in New England and fourth-highest nationally, on Jan. 1 in each of the next three years to $9.15 in 2015, $9.60 in 2016 and $10.10 in 2017.
“Connecticut has put the marker down. Other states will follow,” said Malloy, who was congratulated by Vice President Joe Biden in a phone call before the bill signing. “We’re going to get the job done.”
Malloy, 58, a first-term Democrat facing re-election, began speaking at 6:02 p.m., just as a press aide, Andrew Doba, signaled that the cameras had gone live, an immediate dividend for a governor who has yet to break 50 percent in any key polling measure.
Poster-sized black-and-white photos, one of Malloy and another of Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, were on display, giving the ceremony the vibe of a campaign event. Chef Rob Chiovoloni, who served Malloy soup three weeks ago, but forgot his sandwich order, greeted guests who crowded into the small eatery and bakery on Main Street.
Chiovoloni, who lives in town with his wife, Alice Bruno, the former executive director of the Connecticut Bar Association, pays his employees above minimum wage and supports raising the state and federal minimums, the key qualifications that made him presidential chef-for-a-day.
The freshly passed bill was served to the governor on a white cloth-covered table. Malloy sat down and began writing his signature in a few letters at a time, each with a fresh pen that became a souvenir for some of the assembled legislators and activists, including the executive director of the Connecticut Working Families Party.
Malloy, who was cross-endorsed by the Working Families, won by just 6,404 votes in 2010. Without the votes he garnered on the minor-party line, he would have lost.
“I want to thank Gov. Malloy, who spearheaded this,” Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, told the crowd after the last of the pens were handed out. “We proved that it can be done.”
The bill was the first of the 2014 session signed into law.
Christopher G. Donovan, the former House speaker whose 2012 run for congress was derailed by the arrests of two aides in a campaign finance scandal, was in the back of the audience. Over his career, he often prodded the less enthusiastic — on one occasion a few years ago the group included Malloy and Williams — to consider a higher minimum wage.
“I always supported a higher minimum wage. You do wonder if it will continue after you are gone,” said Donovan, who was greeted by Malloy as the governor arrived. “I’m thrilled.”