Stew Leonard Jr. wrestle a turkey named after Dr. Anthony Fauci. Appropriately, the bird seemed insistent on social distancing. mark Pazniokas /
Sen. Richard Blumenthal watches Stew Leonard Jr. wrestle a turkey named after Dr. Anthony Fauci. Appropriately, the bird seemed insistent on social distancing. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

There was U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Stew Leonard Jr. and a turkey un-ironically named for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the patron saint of common-sense restraint during a resurgent COVID-19 pandemic that claimed another 44 lives in Connecticut on Wednesday.

On the day before Thanksgiving, the lively 25-pound tom would be granted a pardon by the state’s senior senator outside the Stew Leonard’s in Newington, hard by the fresh-cut Christmas trees. Inside, the avian Fauci’s relatives were on sale for $1.69 a pound.

Leonard is an instinctive marketer. The pardon-the-turkey thing has been a staple of Stew Leonard’s for a decade. Leonard thinks Mayor Harry Rilling did the honors last year outside the flagship store in Norwalk.

Blumenthal is his own brand after four decades in public life, a politician hard-wired for constant contact with public and press, pandemic or not.  

On Monday, the 74-year-old Blumenthal stood coatless in the damp chill of a parking garage underneath the Hartford Public Library to announce a federal grant of $211,194 for the library to offer digital training during the pandemic. 

That was after a press conference about vaccines at a community health clinic.

“I’ve cut back,” Blumenthal said of his public events during the pandemic. “They’re all outdoors. I don’t know, when it gets to be 18 degrees out, I might cut back further.”

He toured the Middletown business district on Tuesday with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and a representative of the Small Business Association, then he went to an Army aviation support facility in Windsor Locks to welcome home a military police unit from an overseas deployment.

An annual event that dates back to his days as a state attorney general with a focus on consumer issues was relegated to Zoom. It is a toy-safety event he typically would hold at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

The turkey pardon was sandwiched between a stop at the Foodshare distribution site at Rentschler Field in East Hartford and a visit to a church on the New Haven Green where an undocumented Ecuadoran immigrant, Nelson Pinos, took sanctuary three years ago.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal held a press conference in a garage Monday to announce a grant. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

Blumenthal is bringing Pinos a pie, as he did last year.

The senator already has said he will be a candidate for re-election to a third term in 2022. He was elected in 2010 after 20 years as state attorney general, a position he turned into a high-profile advocate for consumers. He won a second term in 2016 with 63% of the vote.

There is no discernible difference in Blumenthal’s schedule from the start of an election cycle to the end. Blumenthal never has needed to gear up for a campaign. It’s just what he does.

“It’s the way I do my job,” Blumenthal said. “Listening to people is one of the most important things I do, and there is no substitute for being with people, face to face.”

Even when it means watching Stew Leonard Jr. wrestle a reluctant turkey out of its cage for a photo op. Feathers flew. Leonard grunted. Behind a blue surgical mask, Blumenthal seemed amused. The bird seemed a believer in social distancing.

When the bird settled, Blumenthal said, “I hereby pardon this turkey, Dr. Fauci.”

The other Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was on ABC earlier Wednesday, urging people to use good sense during the holidays. Fauci is 79, the same risk cohort as Blumenthal.

“”We’re going to get through this,” Fauci said. “Vaccines are right on the horizon. If we can just hang in there a bit longer and continue to do the simple mitigation things we are talking about all the time — the masks, the distancing, the avoiding crowds, particularly indoors. If we do these things, we’re going to get through it.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, left, and Stew Leonard Jr. talk in front of a turkey that’s to be freed to live on a turkey farm. Yehyun Kim /

Fauci the doctor was unavailable to discuss turkey pardons.

Fauci the bird will get through the pandemic on an animal sanctuary, Leonard said. With smaller Thanksgiving dinners this year, 25-pound birds are not in great demand, anyway. His best seller is 15 pounds.

Blumenthal said he and his wife, Cynthia, are dining at their home in Greenwich on Thanksgiving, hosting three of their four children. They are dining outdoors or, if the weather is inclement, in the garage. 

On Monday, Blumenthal heads back to Washington, relayed to New Jersey by a Connecticut staffer and picked up by someone on his Washington staff. Blumenthal said he has not been on a plane or a train since the start of the pandemic. All his COVID-19 tests have been negative.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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