An inveterate networker, Gov. Ned Lamont had a good trip to Washington, D.C. He shared a table at a state dinner Thursday with President Joe Biden’s chief of staff and met Friday with his transportation secretary.
“A lot of life is these relationships,” Lamont said in a telephone interview Friday, shortly before boarding a plane to return to Connecticut. “That’s what the last 24 hours has been.”
He took his wife, Annie, to the White House dinner honoring the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and his top transportation officials, Joseph J. Giulietti and Garrett Eucalitto, to meet with the secretary of transportation, Pete Buttigieg.
Lamont said the trio made a pitch to Buttigieg about how Connecticut, with an aging infrastructure and a share of one of the nation’s busiest commuter rail systems, can showcase the administration’s investments in transportation.
Connecticut is in line for a significant share of billions earmarked for modernizing the northeast rail corridor that passes through the state, used by Amtrak and the Metro-North commuter railroad. But it also is seeking competitive grants.
“You know, a lot of things are discretionary. They think about where the money would be best put with the most impact, where they can tell a story,” Lamont said. “And we can tell what that means to the state of Connecticut.”
Giulietti, the former Metro-North president, is retiring as the commissioner of ConnDOT in January, to be succeeded by his deputy commissioner, Eucalitto, who did a stint in D.C. as transportation coordinator for the National Governors Association.
Lamont said he also met with Steve Ricchetti, the White House counselor and long-time Biden confidant who negotiated the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal that will provide $550 billion into transportation, broadband and utilities.
The first governor to endorse Biden’s campaign for president, Lamont became acquainted with Ricchetti during the campaign and spoke with him the night Biden won the Democratic nomination.
“I think the flesh and blood is a big part of business in my previous life and politics in my current life,” Lamont said.
Paul Mounds, who is departing as Lamont’s chief of staff in January at the start of the governor’s second term, said Lamont’s personal touch has been evident in the attention paid Connecticut by the Biden administration.
Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and several cabinet secretaries have visited the state in the first two years of the Biden administration.
“That’s on a par with larger states like California and New York,” Mounds said. “And that flows from how Ned Lamont is as a person.”
Mounds and the deputy who will succeed him, Jonanthan Dach, said the governor habitually seeks information and perspectives from outside government.
“Being a principal like the governor can be isolating if you only get briefed on things by your senior staff,” said Dach, who worked in the Obama administration as an aide in the State Department. “I think the governor recognizes the dangers of that. And that’s why he spends a lot of time doing what seems like networking.”
Lamont was one of five governors at the state dinner. The others were John Carney of Biden’s home state of Delaware, plus John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, Philip Murphy of New Jersey and Jay Pritzker of Illinois.
Buttigieg attended with his husband, Chasten. The Lamonts spent time with another cabinet official, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, and his wife, Marissa. Cardona was Lamont’s first commissioner of education.
“He’s great. He’s a very good friend,” Lamont said.
The guest list was drawn from the worlds of politics, diplomacy, business and entertainment. One of the attendees was Stephen Colbert, who interviewed Lamont during the 2006 Senate campaign on his old Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report.
Jon Batiste, the Grammy winner who recently left his role as bandleader on Late Night with Stephen Colbert, provided the music.
Seated at the Lamonts’ table was Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, and Klain’s wife, Monica Medina, the assistant secretary of state for environmental and scientific affairs.
“I sat with Ron Klain at the dinner,” Lamont said. “That’s not a bad relationship to have. As you’re having a glass of wine and listening to Jon Batiste, you’re also talking about what’s happening in Connecticut. So that’s pretty helpful to get to know him.”
Lamont hastened to add, “It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.”