The state House of Representatives offered a fond farewell Thursday to retiring Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey through a video that was part roast, mixed with moments of gratitude and a little advice.
The 17-minute tribute to the Hamden Democrat, whose Twitter handle is @SharkBits88, featured tributes from several dozen current and former legislators — set against an ocean background with scenes of sharks occasionally swimming past.
“You did a great job. You taught me a lot,” said House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, who is expected to succeed Sharkey as speaker next year if Democrats maintain control of the House. “I can’t say that I’m not a little bit happy that you’re going.”
Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, and several others referenced Sharkey’s penchant for “separated at birth” comparisons, matching friends’ profiles with those of famous people.
Willis said she wanted to do a “separated at birth” comparison for the speaker, “I really couldn’t find a match. You were just too plain.”
Willis, who has also announced she is leaving the legislature after this session, added that, “It was a pleasure to work with you, and it will be a pleasure to go out with you.”
Locking Dargan out of the Capitol
Rep. Linda Orange, D-Colchester, said Sharkey became “all right in my book” during his freshman year in 2000 when he locked out Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven — who had slipped out of the bathroom window and onto a rail-protected ledge to smoke a cigar during a legislative debate.
The video immediately shifted to the window in question, where Dargan confirmed the story. But he quickly added, “I did get Mr. Sharkey back by sabotaging his computer and by getting him pulled over by police.”
Those windows no longer can be opened wide enough for a person to exit, Dargan said after the video. “That’s the Sharkey rule,” he said.
Though he clashed regularly with Republican leaders over the past two years — usually on budget matters, the speaker won praise from his GOP colleagues.
“We judge our experience in here based on respect and the belief that people are here to do the right thing,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides of Derby said. “And I want to tell you I feel that way about you.”
“You know, Republican, Democrat, we don’t always agree on issues,” said Republican Rep. Jason Perillo of Shelton. “But I think you get there and you realize who the good guys are. And Brendan is that kind of person. Just a class act.”
Perillo added that his cousins live in Sharkey’s hometown of Hamden. “I actually asked them to donate to Brendan’s campaign,” he said. “I probably shouldn’t say that.”
‘You got nowhere to park. You got nowhere to sit.’
Republicans also were not to be outdone when it came to poking polite fun at Sharkey.
“I know the House is going to miss a leader who cares about this building, who cares about this process, and has truly made a mark on the General Assembly,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano of North Haven.
Fasano, who has a penchant for putting his political jabs in writing, quipped that he hadn’t congratulated the speaker on his planned retirement when it was announced a few weeks ago.
“I started thinking about that,” Fasano said, sitting behind his office desk and leafing through a thick, packed binder. “I think I might have sent you a letter. And I’ve got to look — it’s not in this volume.”
A few minutes later, Fasano reappeared in the video, presumably searching through a second, equally larger binder. “Maybe it’s in this volume,” he said.
Former House Minority Leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk, who retired two years ago, stole the loudest laughs as he warned Sharkey how quickly ex-leaders lose their prestige.
“Let me tell you what it’s really like to be out,” Cafero said. “I got nothing. I don’t have an office. … I’m in a Wal-Mart 15-minute photo booth, because I don’t have an office. I don’t have clothes anymore. I got nothing.”
As the video flashed a shot of the speaker’s reserved parking space, Cafero warned “If you go visit the Capitol you got no where to park. You got no where to sit. You go no where to go.”
But there was plenty of sentiment mixed in among the jokes.
‘His moral compass points true North’
House members praised Sharkey for leading the chamber through a period marked by one of the worst budget crises in recent history and the tragic December 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown.
“He’s been so strong for all of us in very, very difficult circumstances,” said Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, who praised Sharkey for being “a rock for this state and for our caucus.”
Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, said that when her son died two years ago, “Brendan was there for me, not as a speaker, as a compassionate friend. And for that, I will always be grateful to him.”
Pointing to her heart, Gonzalez added, “From here to you Sharkey, best wishes to you and your family.”
“His moral compass always points true North,” added Rep. Livvy Floren, R-Greenwich, who said Sharkey surrounded himself with strong deputy leaders, committee chairmen and staff. “That’s the mark of a true leader and definitely valedictorian material. You done good, Mr. Speaker, and we’ll miss you.”
Sharkey, who laughed throughout the video, told members afterward that, “You were the ones who sustained me through these four years. You were the ones who made it possible for me to do the job that I needed to do for all of you and for the state.”
He called serving as speaker an “awesome responsibility” that he has “loved and cherished,” but not a goal he had set when he joined the legislature 16 years ago.
But when the opportunity arose, he added, “it felt right. It felt like a place where I needed to be — and hopefully you feel the same way.”