Gov. Ned Lamont, speaking at a press conference in Farmington, said Chief State's Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr. would "be gone" if he could fire him.

Last Thursday, on February 3, our governor, Ned Lamont, expressed his shock and outrage over the results of a report that described improper patronage by Richard Colangelo, the Chief State’s Attorney. The governor was eager to lay blame on Colangelo and his compatriot in patronage, Kosta Diamantis, the former Deputy Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management.

Alan Calandro

Lamont was quick to claim the high moral ground by saying that he has “zero tolerance for this type of ethical malfeasance” and that he believed it “was an abuse of the public trust.” Notice that the governor’s anger was focused on Colangelo. “I do not hire him. I do not fire him. But if I did, he’d be gone” and noticeably left out any criticism of OPM – an agency he is responsible for. The very upper ranks of OPM are long known as patronage slots for past pols.

The rank and file OPM employee has nothing to do with these appointments. They do their jobs and tolerate what they must. The managers there are not in unions and those who make the jump to management usually regret it, since they generally get raises less often than the union workers while their workload increases as state government employees and the work they did gets spread to who’s left.

I noticed this story since it first arose in November 2019 in an article by former Republican State Sen. Kevin Rennie, now partly employed by the Hartford Courant. Rennie began his coverage of Diamantis in November 2019 when he characterized his hiring at OPM as “raising eyebrows.”

He also included the “fulsome” email (or “long announcement/testimonial/valentine” as Rennie put it) that OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw – who has a reputation as a straight arrow – sent to her staff announcing her hiring of Diamantis.

Judge for yourself whether her email qualifies as a “valentine.” Half of it talks about what his role will be. Almost anyone employed has seen hiring announcement emails and naturally they are full of niceties and often overblown qualifications. Perhaps Rennie knew something we did not at the time to justify his critique.

Later, in October 2021, Rennie published a column in the Courant entitled: “Equity and Fairness took a holiday when Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo hired an executive assistant.” The opinion piece describes a suspicious hiring process, especially considering the young woman hired was the daughter of the second in command at OPM (Diamantis) and received a significant pay increase. A reasonable person could not help but conclude that something fishy was going on.

Since the governor had no part in this particular potential patronage scheme he suspended Diamantis (bad publicity equals less votes) and shortly afterward launched a presumably highly expensive investigation by the esteemed and highly compensated attorney class in Hartford, in this case longtime political player Stanley A. Twardy, managing partner of Day Pitney LLP (a “U.S. law firm with more than 300 attorneys spread across 13 offices in five states & the District of Columbia”!) I am sure that Twardy was chosen for never engaging in “patronage” of any sort to advance himself during his long career.

I knew Diamantis in the 1990s when I was a young analyst and he served as a subcommittee chairperson of appropriations for lower education which includes one of the largest pieces of the budget pie, the highly coveted grants to towns for education.

He followed Nancy Wyman after she moved on to become Comptroller. A word about Nancy, the high point of any legislator I worked with — and back in those days there were quite a few. The ever-present cameras in the hearing rooms and House and Senate chambers along with social media and the decline of real journalism has brought her breed to near extinction. She was not my boss (I worked for the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis). But she made you want to do quality work for her. She listened and acted on objective, independent budget analysis. As all of Hartford knows, friend and foe, everyone liked Nancy, then and now.

Kosta was also likable and apparently Nancy’s protégé who did his best to be like her. He didn’t do anything improper that I saw except for going along with underfunding the recommended actuarial level for teacher’s retirement – a small percentage cut in the recommendation and boom! Big money to use for other political purposes – to benefit his party, of course, like every politician in Hartford routinely does.

He stayed in that position for about four years before moving on to something else. Such is the nature of the political party system that most people say they dislike – yet they generally keep supporting their party year after year fed by the political demagoguing that has nothing to do with truth or the public good.

The point, if you haven’t guessed it yet, is that, to paraphrase Hamlet’s mother, “methinks Lamont doth protest too much.” Lamont (like every politician) lives on patronage! But whereas it is built into the political system and mostly unseen by outsiders among the rank and file lower level political types, patronage is the lifeblood not only of the political system but part of almost any system run by human beings.

Yes, sure, the private sector is different. There is of course a distinction. But what is laughable about the governor’s outrage in this case is that Lamont hired every one of his department heads and appointed multitudinous and various board members almost exclusively based on patronage and politics!

Merit? What’s that? You’re a mayor? Now you’re head of national transportation. Congratulations! The appointment of these individuals generally without being “qualified” is fully and completely acceptable by us under our current political system –especially and most visibly at the top by governors and Presidents. Just send out lengthy “valentines” overblowing whatever qualifications they do have. It’s routine.

Kevin Rennie prints some great stuff. He is able to find things out that would likely/perhaps never be found out – especially in this journalistically challenged age. But as a former state senator, perhaps he should think back to all the things he did to become one and all the things he did once he got there.

This doesn’t excuse the Diamantis situation, but the hypocrisy is staring everyone in the face if they stop and look.

Alan Calandro is a life-long independent and former director of the Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.