As Gov. Dannel Malloy prepares to hand over the gubernatorial baton to fellow Democrat Gov.-elect Ned Lamont SOM ’80 in January, he leaves behind a mixed legacy.
While the Malloy administration passed progressive policies such as gun restriction laws, expanded protections for transgender identity and criminal justice reform policies, it failed to stimulate robust economic growth and witnessed the longest budget impasse in Connecticut history in 2017. The state’s stagnant economy became the central issue in the gubernatorial election, and Malloy will leave office with an approval rating in the mid-teens.
“I don’t like to classify anyone as a failure, but Malloy won’t go down in history as one of Connecticut’s great governors,” said Sacred Heart University professor Gary Rose.
Born in Stamford and a graduate of Boston College and Boston College Law School, Malloy practiced law in New York City before running for mayor of Stamford in 1995. During his 15-year term as mayor, Connecticut’s third-largest city witnessed a significant decrease in crime, one of Malloy’s priorities in office.
In 2006, Malloy received the state Democratic convention’s endorsement for governor but lost the primary to then-Elm City mayor John DeStefano that August. Four years later, Malloy defeated both Lamont in the Democratic primary race and Republican nominee and former ambassador Thomas Foley in the general election. In a rematch between Foley and Malloy in 2014, Malloy clinched a second term by a narrow margin.
“I am especially thankful this year to the residents of Connecticut who have allowed me to serve as Governor for the past eight years,” Malloy said in a Thanksgiving statement. “Together, we have braved major natural disasters, endured unthinkable tragedy and recovered from the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression. But we came together as a state and emerged stronger than ever.”
Despite Connecticut’s left lean — roughly 790,000 registered Democrats to 450,000 registered Republicans in the Nutmeg state in 2016 — Malloy has faced consistently low approval ratings. A Sacred Heart poll in October estimated his approval rating at 14.6 percent, less than half of President Donald Trump’s 35 percent approval statewide.
The rating makes him the least popular sitting governor in the country and one of the least popular governors in Connecticut history. Republican Gov. John Rowland — who held the state’s highest office from 1995 to 2004 and served two nonconsecutive prison terms on corruption charges — boasted an approval rating of 24 percent after the first set of corruption allegations against him came out in 2004.
According to Rose, Malloy’s unpopularity can largely be attributed to his tax increases, his inaction on issues such as transportation and infrastructure, as well as his “stiff” demeanor.
Nevertheless, Rose noted that Malloy managed to extract around $1 billion in concessions from Connecticut unions, and his “finest moment” came when he took up of the role of “healer” in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.
In an interview with the News, mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer said that Malloy’s administration has funneled a lot of state funding to the city for port refurbishments and transportation initiatives as well as projects such as the new “Q House” — a Dixwell community center that is set to reopen by 2020 — and the District — a hub for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
On an ideological scale, Grotheer said that Mayor Toni Harp and Malloy see eye-to-eye on issues like immigration and criminal justice reform.
“Mayor Harp feels kinship with Gov. Malloy in his pro-immigration and immigration rights ideology as the mayor of a large city with a large number of recently arrived residents,” Grotheer told the News.
In spite of social reforms, Connecticut has financially struggled in recent years. According to reports from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Connecticut is the only state with negative growth in gross state product since 2010, even though Connecticut has one of the highest median incomes in the nation.
Malloy’s unpopularity was a central tenet of the tight race between Lamont and his Republican opponent Bob Stefanowski. Stefanowski came up just 40,000 votes shy of clinching the governorship. But Lamont prevailed while Democrats also won by wide majorities in both chambers of the Connecticut General Assembly.
On the campaign trail, Stefanowski repeatedly referred to Lamont as a “clone” of Malloy, while the Democratic nominee tried to distance himself from the current administration.
“We need to do exactly the opposite of what Dan Malloy has been doing for the last eight years. Mr. Lamont will just continue it,” Stefanowski said during the first gubernatorial debate in September.
According to Rose, Republicans overestimated the impact that Malloy’s unpopularity would have on the race. He said that the “animus” against Trump exceeded that against Malloy.
Malloy has accepted a teaching position at Boston College Law School after his term ends.
“While our time in office may be coming to an end, I am more optimistic than ever about the future of our great state because of the strength, resiliency, and courage of our residents,” Malloy said in his Thanksgiving statement. “We are a small state with a big heart, and I pledge to continue working to make Connecticut an even better place to call home.”
Nancy Wyman, who was the first female State Comptroller from 1995 to 2011, currently serves as Connecticut’s lieutenant governor. She will be succeeded by former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz ’83.
Nathalie Bussemaker | firstname.lastname@example.org