Lieberman to retire

Come 2013, Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 will no longer be Connecticut’s newest U.S. Senator.

Senator Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 will announce that he will not seek re-election in 2012 at a press conference today in Stamford, the New York Times reported Tuesday. This means that Connecticut will be represented by two freshman senators in 2013 — a point New Haven officials say will hurt Connecticut’s representation in Congress. But even before Lieberman’s official announcement of his intentions not to run for re-election, the race to replace him was underway, with former secretary of the state Susan Bysiewicz ’83 declaring Tuesday that she will run for Lieberman’s seat.

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“I am running because I have three teenagers and I am extremely concerned that our state leads the nation in young people leaving,” she told the Hartford Courant yesterday, after announcing her candidacy in an e-mail to reporters. Bysiewicz could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. said an important consequence of Lieberman’s departure will be that Connecticut will not be represented at the top of any Senate committees. Chris Dodd, who vacated the seat won by Blumenthal, chaired the Senate Banking Committee, which was influential in crafting financial regulatory reforms, including the Dodd-Frank Act. The 68-year-old Lieberman chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

“We’re going to lose some opportunities and some access, so it might be a letdown initially,” DeStefano said, adding that he believes Lieberman has generally been cooperative and supportive of the city’s priorities.

Bysiewicz is the first candidate from either party to enter the fray. Both U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy of Cheshire and businessman Ted Kennedy, Jr. have been mentioned as possible Democratic primary opponents to Bysiewicz. Linda McMahon, a Republican former World Wrestling Entertainment executive who lost to Blumenthal last November, said she’s leaving the door open for another 2012 run in an interview with the News.

Bysiewicz’s decision to run comes after a difficult year in 2010. Despite polls showing her as a frontrunner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, she dropped out of the race in January to run for state attorney general. Those plans came to a screeching halt, however, when the state Supreme Court ruled her ineligible to serve as attorney general. State law requires that the attorney general practice law for 10 years, and Bysiewicz had only practiced for six. And following Election Day, Bysiewicz drew criticism for statewide ballot shortages under her watch and for announcing current Gov. Dannel Malloy had won when many ballot counts showed Foley in the lead. The Secretary of the State is Connecticut’s chief elections officer.

Despite her trying year, internal polls conducted in December show Bysiewicz leading possible opponents in both the primary and general elections, the National Journal reported Tuesday.

Lieberman, an Independent who won re-election to his fourth term in 2006 after losing a Democratic primary to businessman Ned Lamont, has come under fire from state Democrats in recent years for his support of the Iraq War and Republican presidential nominee John McCain. As part of the e-mail announcing her candidacy, Bysiewicz slammed Lieberman for failing to adequately represent the state.

“We need a senator who is 100 percent focused on helping our state, and Senator Joe Lieberman has been focused on everything but Connecticut,” Bysiewicz wrote. “I will only work for the people of Connecticut so we can create jobs that keep our children and grandchildren here in Connecticut for generations to come.”

Indeed, the past few years have marked a drift away from the Democratic party for Lieberman. After running for vice president alongside Al Gore in the 2000 election, Lieberman mounted his own bid for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 2004, but fell short despite being an early frontrunner. In 2006, Lieberman lost to Ned Lamont SOM ’80 in the Democratic primary, but managed to eke out a general election victory thanks to the support of a majority of Connecticut Republicans. Though he continued to caucus with the Democrats, in 2008 Lieberman by supporting John McCain over Barack Obama in the presidential race. He even delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention, in which he praised McCain and called former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain’s running mate, a “great lady” who could be counted on to “shake up Washington.”

“Only one of [the candidates] has shown the courage and the capability to rise above the smallness of our politics to get big things done for our country and our people. And that one is John S. McCain,” Lieberman said in his speech.

After Obama won the election, Lieberman’s future as chair of the Homeland Security Committee came into question, but in the end it amounted to little more than family infighting, Lieberman said.

New Haven Aldermen Michael Jones ’11 and Matt Smith ’98, in addition to President of the Board of Aldermen Carl Goldfield expressed mixed reactions to the news of Lieberman’s decision to retire.

Smith, who represents Ward 9 in East Rock and is the city’s newest alderman, said he has been disappointed with the positions Lieberman has taken in recent years.

“I remember when [Lieberman] was first elected; I was very excited to support him, and for a long time I thought he was a great representative for Connecticut,” Smith said. “But in the past few years we’ve seen a different Joe Lieberman emerge, one that wasn’t reflective of the values of Connecticut Democrats.”

Jones took particular issue with Lieberman’s opposition to the “public option” in the Congressional debate about the recently passed health care reform law. The public option, which was ultimately left out of the bill, was proposed as a health insurance plan provided by the federal government. Jones said he was disappointed that Lieberman “stood in the way” of the proposal.

Still, Goldfield said while Lieberman’s positions in recent years have been controversial, he should be recognized for his long career in public service.

“I’ve always been disturbed by the vitriol from the left directed at [Lieberman],” Goldfield said. “I thought it was reflective of the bitter divisiveness that seems to be gripping the country.”

During his time at Yale, Lieberman served as Chairman of the News’s managing board of 1964.

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