Updated at 11 a.m.
Natalie Braswell, a former high-ranking official in the office of the comptroller, is Gov. Ned Lamont’s choice to complete the term of Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo, who is resigning at year’s end due to a serious heart condition.
“This is a bittersweet transition from Team Lembo to Team Braswell,” said Lamont, aware that Lembo’s staff were in attendance at a news conference in the lobby of the State Office Building.
Braswell was the general counsel and assistant comptroller for a decade, departing at the end of February to become the chief of legal, planning and regulatory affairs at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
She will be the first Black person to become comptroller, one of the state’s six elected statewide constitutional offices. Calling herself a public servant, not a public figure, Braswell will not seek a full four-year term in 2022.
“I’m honored and humbled to be appointed to finish up the term of Comptroller Kevin Lembo,” Braswell said. “I want to thank Kevin, first of all, for his leadership, for his friendship, and for setting an example for all of us of what a good public servant is.”
Lamont had said earlier this week that he would pick a caretaker successor willing to complete Lembo’s term and not use the appointment as a head start on running next year.
In doing so, he would be following the example set by Gov. William A. O’Neill, who chose caretakers to fill vacancies for secretary of the state, treasurer and attorney general.
“I think Gov. O’Neill was a pretty wise man,” Lamont said. On Friday, Lamont said his intent was to provide stable, experienced leadership to the job and “give an open shot to folks that want to compete for the job.”
Braswell said she never considered seeking a full term.
“Anyone that knows me knows that I don’t have an interest in running for public office,” Braswell said. “As I said before, I consider myself to be a public servant.”
Braswell, Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz were effusive in praising Lembo, 58, whose election in 2010 made him one of the few openly gay elected officials in the United States holding statewide office. He opened an exploratory committee for a possible run for the open gubernatorial seat in 2018 but pivoted to a reelection campaign.
Lembo was not at the news conference.
“I’ve talked to him several times over the last couple of days,” Braswell said. “It’s a hard transition. I think it’s especially hard for him, because it’s not the way he envisioned leaving the office.”
Braswell’s appointment is not subject to legislative confirmation. Had the legislature been in session when Lembo offered his resignation, his successor would have been elected by the General Assembly.
Braswell holds bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees from the University of Connecticut. She is the former vice president of the George W. Crawford Black Bar Association, the Black Law Students Association, and a former member of the UConn Law School Foundation Board.
The office of comptroller has a relatively low profile. It is responsible for paying the bills and administering payroll and benefits. Lembo has characterized the office as a fiscal guardian. One of his innovations was to create Open Checkbook, an online portal into state spending, contracting and salaries.
Lamont’s general counsel, Nora R. Dannehy, had advised that no member of the General Assembly can be appointed the elective office, the same prohibition that applies to all executive or judiciary branch jobs.
No one has created a candidate committee to run for comptroller. Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, who has long been considered a likely candidate if Lembo did not seek a fourth term, said Friday he will make a decision after the holidays about running.
“I love the legislature and being the executive of a growing airport, but the opportunity to serve our state at a higher level and continue the work I’ve done with Kevin is something I am seriously considering,” Scanlon said.
Scanlon’s job outside the part-time legislature is executive director of Tweed-New Haven Airport.
All six statewide constitutional offices are on the ballot next year. Lembo and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill are the only two who announced they are not running. Lamont and Bysiewicz have opened their reelection campaigns. Attorney General William Tong and Treasurer Shawn Wooden are expected to follow.