After two days of behind-the-scenes drama and an afternoon of open revolt, the House of Representatives narrowly voted Tuesday to confirm Dora B. Schriro for a second term as commissioner of emergency services and public protection.
Schriro, 64, the first woman to oversee the State Police and other public-safety functions in Connecticut, was nearly derailed by allegations she misled legislators about brutality at Rikers Island during her previous post as New York City’s commissioner of corrections.
House Republicans voted as a bloc against her, saying that Schriro had failed to disclose a federal investigation of Rikers during her initial confirmation in 2014. But only four Democrats joined them, despite significant reservations by the Black and Latino Caucus.
The final vote was 79 to 65, with seven absences. A majority in the 151-member House is 76.
“I am honored to be reappointed commissioner of this exceptional agency to continue the work of making Connecticut a safer place for all of our families to live and work,” Schriro said in an emailed statement.
The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, learned Monday that Schriro’s confirmation was in jeopardy from solid opposition by the GOP minority and the possibility of significant, if not unanimous, defections by the Black and Latino Caucus.
“I know we can do better,” said Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, a caucus member. “Today, this vote is about justice.”
Gonzalez and Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, were the only two caucus members to vote no. They were joined by two other Democrats, Reps. David Alexander of Enfield and Roland Lemar of New Haven.
“I couldn’t vote for her in good conscience,” Porter said.
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, initially hit the “no” button, but reconsidered before the voting machine was locked and a tally taken.
“There is a lot of history here,” Walker said of the mistreatment of young inmates at Rikers. “I’m hoping that history did not follow her to Connecticut.”
Rep. P.B. Miller, D-Stamford, a deputy speaker and caucus member, declined to share details of the caucus’s private discussions, but she shared that its members met as a group with Schriro.
No objections were raised to Schriro’s performance in Connecticut. She was praised by legislators and the State Police Union for overturning her predecessor’s decision to centralize dispatch operations, which led to the nighttime closures of several barracks.
“The commissioner has an exemplary record at DESPP, where she has been part of a team that has helped bring crime in Connecticut to its lowest level” in decades, said Mark Bergman, a spokesman for Malloy.
But House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said Republicans concluded that Schriro either misled legislators during her first confirmation or her judgment was so poor she thought a federal investigation not worth mentioning.
“We have before us a nominee…who cannot be trusted,” said Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury.
Malloy named her commissioner in January 2014 after the retirement of her predecessor, Reuben Bradford. She was confirmed without controversy.
In August, long after her first confirmation hearing, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan issued a scathing assessment of how adolescents were treated by the jail system during her tenure.
Like all commissioners, Schriro was subject to a second confirmation after Malloy began his second term in January.
Sen. Rob J. Kane, R-Watertown, questioned Schriro at length at her confirmation hearing in February about the federal report and a subsequent New York Times report that city correction officials falsified data to hide the extent of fights involving adolescents.
“I think it speaks to a person’s character,” Kane said.
Schriro was not implicated in falsifying data, but she was accused of ordering that a report sent to federal authorities omit any suggestion that a warden and deputy warden were culpable.
Schriro, who has a law degree and a doctorate in education, is the only person to lead the correction systems of two states and two municipalities. She also worked for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The House also confirmed the reappointment of Joette Katz as commissioner of the Department of Children and Families and Roderick L. Bremby as commissioner of the Department of Social Services, both on voice votes.