Gov. Dannel Malloy’s national profile has grown all the more prominent this week, as he can now claim one of the country’s most revered honors: the 2016 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
On Monday, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation named Malloy this year’s winner of the award in recognition of the work he has done for Syrian refugees in Connecticut. He will officially receive the award in May. New Haven made national headlines last fall when, in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, Malloy accepted a family of Syrian refugees that had been turned away by Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana. Speaking in City Hall in November, Malloy said the choice to welcome the family had been a simple one, made out of his own Catholic moral conviction.
Malloy will receive one of the country’s most prominent awards for courageous public service in recognition of his welcoming stance. Malloy told reporters Monday that he was moved when he learned about his selection, adding that he hopes it will send a message to the nation during the presidential race about the importance of respecting religious freedoms and upholding the Constitution.
“I think that what I have always stood for is a more inclusive society where people recognize their obligations to each other — whether it’s on transgender recognition or other human rights issues, or on Second Chance Society or, quite frankly, standing up to a fair amount of ignorance on the refugee issue,” Malloy said.
The statement was a succinct summation of Malloy’s social philosophy as governor this year. His policies, including the Second Chance Society — his criminal-justice reform initiative — garnered national attention and earned him a seat next to Michelle Obama at the 2016 State of the Union. Malloy’s refugee policies stood in stark contrast to the attitude Pence expressed in Indiana. Following the Paris attacks, Pence said he would ban Syrian refugee families from entering Indiana until “the proper security measures are in place.”
Malloy’s action in November resonated across the country. Malloy, who received phone calls from dozens of people, said one of the most moving was from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York.
Jack Schlossberg ’15, President John F. Kennedy’s grandson, said in a statement released by the foundation that Malloy’s acceptance of Syrian refugees emulated the attitudes of his grandfather, a fellow Irish Catholic.
“Malloy took a stand against the hateful, xenophobic rhetoric,” Schlossberg said. “In doing so, he put principles above politics and upheld my grandfather’s vision of America that, he said, ‘has always served as a lantern in the dark for those who love freedom but are persecuted, in misery or in need.’”
Malloy is the second governor of Connecticut to receive the award. One of his predecessors, former Gov. Lowell Weicker ’53, won the award in 1992 for demonstrating the political courage to raise taxes at a time when he was deeply unpopular in the state. The irony was not lost on Malloy — who vowed at the press conference not to raise taxes to alleviate the state’s daunting budget deficit.
But despite the tense political atmosphere in Hartford, where the state faces a $900 million deficit for the upcoming year and hundreds of layoffs for state workers loom overhead, Malloy told reporters Monday he still relishes his job.
“I’m really energized,” Malloy said. “I enjoy being the governor, I enjoy working, I enjoy taking on these issues. And when I can take on Second Chance issues, or stand up with the gay and lesbian and transgender community, or bring solace to a mosque that’s been fired on … I’m happy. Don’t anyone think I’m unhappy.”
Malloy said the family in New Haven is doing well in adapting to their new home — the parents are taking English-language classes, and their son is enrolled in a local school.
More refugees — though not many — have arrived to Connecticut from Syria in the months since the Paris attacks, Malloy said, and the state has no plans on letting up.
Malloy will receive the award in Boston on May 1.