After a lifetime of public service, Ed Meyer ’57 LAW ’61 was virtually retired when he decided to enter one more political campaign. Meyer ran for the Connecticut State Senate against William Aniskovich, a seven-term Republican incumbent, and narrowly defeated him in a shocking upset earlier this month.
Meyer, a Democrat from New York City who now lives in Guilford, attended Yale College and Yale Law School with the intention of becoming an international lawyer. But meeting John F. Kennedy in 1961 convinced him to pursue a political career.
“Yale Law built a consciousness of duty to the bigger world,” Meyer said. “I had a political bent from the time I was in high school, but the person who really raised my political motor was John Kennedy.”
Meyer began a storied political career when Kennedy’s brother Bobby, then the Attorney General, appointed him to a position in the Justice Department, where he aggressively prosecuted the Mafia during the sixties. Meyer served in the New York State Assembly from 1970 to 1974 and sparred with the likes of Robert Moses and Nelson Rockefeller. He lost a congressional campaign in 1976 but inspired New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, then a high school student and a volunteer for Meyer, to begin a career in politics.
After serving on the New York State Board of Regents for 23 years, though, Meyer seemed ready to conclude a political career that had spanned four decades. He moved to Guilford three years ago to be closer to his family after spending his whole political career in New York. But when Connecticut Gov. John Rowland was implicated in a corruption scandal this summer and Aniskovich, the Senate minority leader pro tempore, refused to demand Rowland’s resignation, Meyer saw an opportunity to mount a successful campaign.
In a hard-hitting race, Meyer, a youthful 69, amassed over $200,000 through high-profile fundraising drives and recruited 400 staffers to help turn out a remarkable percentage of his district en route to upsetting Aniskovich, defeating the 14-year senate veteran by three percentage points.
“We were confident that we were going to win as the campaign progressed,” Meyer said. “I’m not sure Senator Aniskovich took [the challenge] that seriously, and we had a strong campaign organization and a strong plan.”
At the beginning of the campaign, Aniskovich seemed unbeatable. He enjoyed wide popularity and name recognition and seemed poised to run for governor in 2006. Furthermore, redistricting in 2000 appeared to cement the 12th district as a safe seat, Tom Swan, Meyer’s campaign manager, said.
Meyer was unfazed. He believed voters would perceive Aniskovich, one of only two state senators not to demand Rowland’s resignation, as an apologist for the corrupt governor. Meanwhile, Connecticut papers cried foul when $500,000 in costs incurred by the Stonington Institute, a private behavioral-health and substance abuse center, were billed to the state. Aniskovich is the Institute’s executive director.
“We did a poll in June which indicated that we could win if we educated voters about Aniskovich’s relationship with ex-Gov. John Rowland,” Meyer said. “We had information that Aniskovich was using state government for his personal benefit. We thought what we were learning back in June indicated bad judgment at best and misconduct at worst. We felt from the standpoint of issues and a campaign plan that this was a good race for a contender.”
Swan, the executive director of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, took leave from his job to run Meyer’s campaign. Meyer had only 7 percent name recognition at the start of the race, Swan said. But Swan, believing that Meyer’s experience would appeal to voters unhappy with Aniskovich’s alleged corruption, worked hard to publicize his candidate’s background.
“Ed’s history in fighting corruption and his history of public service was a contrast to Aniskovich and his ties in the Rowland administration,” Swan said. “There was a stark choice between the two candidates. The reason I was convinced to work on the campaign was Bill’s role [in the Rowland administration], but I was also impressed with Ed, with who he is.”
Guilford Republican Town Committee chairman William Glover ’50 said he heard good things about Meyer personally but objected to the virulence of Meyer’s campaign against Aniskovich.
“Meyer, who is relatively new to the area, ran an attack campaign against a 14-year incumbent,” Glover said. “It was successful, but the negativism of the campaign didn’t serve the public well — it was a victory for attack politics.”
In his concession speech on election day, Aniskovich attributed his defeat to a “smear campaign” and to unusually high Democratic voter turnout, a consequence of widespread interest in the presidential election. He denied that his ties to Rowland were primarily responsible for the election result.
“I didn’t call on him to resign and there were people in my district who disapproved of that,” Aniskovich said, according to the New Haven Register. “But it wasn’t by itself enough to create a loss at the polls.”
Aniskovich could not be reached for further comment.
For Meyer the victory was sweet, the culmination of a political career that began shortly after he left Yale Law School. Born in New York City and raised on Long Island, Meyer majored in American history at Yale and captained both the tennis and squash teams.
“Yale was my first experience of being presented to people from all over the country and the world,” Meyer said. “By the time I got to Yale Law, I was looking in terms of trying to make a difference.”
Meyer entered New York politics as a Republican, but, after defeating a 14-year incumbent to win election as a state assemblyman for Westchester County, he crossed the aisle in the middle of a session and changed his party affiliation for good in protest of what he called the Republican Party’s insensitive and oppressive approach to running the legislature.
Even in Connecticut, Meyer found that political parties had undue control over state government.
“Seventy-eight percent of state senators have no opposition or only a nominal one,” Meyer said. “I think that lack of competition can have a stultifying effect on public service — If the basic goal is incumbency, the John Rowlands get away with murder.”
As an elected senator, Meyer promises to restore integrity to Hartford and pursue tax reform to make the state pay its fair share of public education costs. Meyer also said he would focus on protecting Connecticut’s environment in general and the Long Island Sound in particular. For now, he said, he is glad to have campaigned and to have won.
“On a personal note, this is a great time to run,” Meyer said. “I concentrated for four months on the campaign and never took a day off. What fun, what a privilege to do this.”