House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, who oversaw the difficult passage of a state budget Friday on a 74 to 70 vote, said Sunday he will not seek re-election this fall to a ninth term in the General Assembly.
Sharkey, 54, who had lined up votes for a relatively rare third term as speaker next year, confirmed what multiple sources had told The Mirror earlier: He was planning a formal announcement this week about stepping down at the end of his current two-year term.
House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, intends to seek the position.
“If it is true and that announcement comes, I would seek the office of speaker of the House and begin the process of talking to my colleagues about that,” Aresimowicz said.
Sharkey was poised to become only the third legislator in Connecticut history to serve more than two terms as speaker, the leader who controls everything in the House from committee assignments to which bills are called for a vote.
“I’ve had some time to reflect on the wisdom of the two-term tradition of speakers,” Sharkey said. “If my interest in running for a third term was driven more by, say, for lack of a better term, ego or ambition, that was precisely the wrong reason to do it.”
“The other reality is it is an extremely exhausting part-time job. At 54 years old with a small business and a family, the prospect of two and a half more years of keeping and maintaining this role” had grown less attractive, Sharkey said.
Sharkey has had a grueling time as speaker, trying to rally a diverse House caucus around a series of difficult budgets, most recently as his relationship with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had grown strained.
“It’s been a brutal four years. My tenure as speaker began with Newtown and all that that entailed,” Sharkey said.
By helping to win passage of one of the nation’s most sweeping gun-control laws, Sharkey overcame the doubts of gun-control advocates who had become alarmed at his insistence on a bipartisan response to the shooting deaths of 26 students and staff at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown.
On Friday, Sharkey embraced Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, the co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, after the passage of an austerity budget that displeased organized labor, a major element of the Democratic base. Sharkey knew then the budget would be his last as speaker.
“”It was somewhat bittersweet,” Sharkey said. “It was very stressful for everybody involved. Getting across the finish line was a tremendous relief.”
Democrats first must win a majority of the seats this fall for Aresimowicz or any other Democrat to succeed Sharkey. Democrats, who now hold an 87-64 advantage in the 151-seat chamber, have won a majority in every election since 1986. But the GOP has steadily closed the gap.
Republicans have gained 27 seats over the past three elections. After Barack Obama carried Connecticut by a landslide in the 2008 election, Republicans were outnumbered in the House, 114 to 37.
Sharkey was facing a challenge for the Democratic nomination for his House seat, but he said that played no role. He said Democrats in Hamden were solidly behind his serving another term, and he was in a position to easily qualify for public financing for his campaign.
The speaker is one of the most powerful and demanding jobs in state politics, even if it is ostensibly part-time, with annual compensation of $43,189, including a $4,500 stipend for expenses. Sharkey is one in a series of legislative leaders who struggled to balance legislative duties with an outside job.
Sharkey owns Amerizone, a consulting firm that primarily advises national retail clients on permitting issues. His election to the House in 2000 forced him to give up his biggest client. He had been the zoning attorney for T-Mobile in Connecticut, representing the phone carrier on locating cellular towers, but as a legislator he no longer can appear before the Connecticut Siting Council.
Aresimowicz is employed outside the Capitol by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, one of the state’s largest public-sector unions. He works with municipal unions, but his job with AFSCME could complicate his role as speaker.
Analysts already are projecting another difficult budget cycle next year, and state employee benefits are likely to be an issue.
The tradition for speakers in Connecticut was two terms until 1997, and most speakers served a single term before 1971, when the legislature began meeting annually instead of every other year.
Seeking a third term, Irving J. Stolberg of New Haven was blocked by a stunning coup on the opening day of the 1989 session. Dissident Democrats enlisted the GOP minority to stop Stolberg and elect a different Democrat, Richard J. Balducci of Newington. James J. Kennelly of Hartford tried and failed for a third term in the late 1970s, losing to Stolberg’s predecessor, Ernest N. Abate of Stamford.
The first speaker to successfully break the two-term limit was Balducci’s successor, Thomas D. Ritter of Hartford. His successor, Moira K. Lyons of Stamford, also served three terms.
Ritter’s son, Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, is a likely candidate to succeed Aresimowicz. Walker, the Appropriations co-chair, has been encouraged at times to seek one of the two top leadership jobs in the House.
If she were to succeed in a bid for majority leader, she would be the first African-American to hold one of the two top leadership jobs in the House.
With Sharkey’s decision, there are 20 House members and two senators known to be retiring after their current terms.
|District||Incumbent||Party||Previously Held||First elected|
|88||J. Brendan Sharkey||Democrat||Republican||2000|
|97||Robert W. Megna||Democrat||Republican||2000|