Conversation with a governor

On the evening of Dec. 12 my wife Kathy and I found ourselves alone with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in one of the parlors of his Hartford home. The occasion was the renewal of a holiday tradition of the governor inviting members of the state news media to the official residence to socialize with him and members of his staff. Some governors have used the century-old house only for such official occasions. Gov. Malloy and his wife, Cathy, have made it their home, renting out the house where they lived in Stamford while he was mayor there.

Some of my colleagues, I am sure, question the appropriateness of socializing with the governor and sampling some free hors d'oeuvres. Keep an arm's length from those you have to report or comment on, accept no favors, goes the argument. While I can't speak for others, I don't see my opinions being influenced by a petit burger or a bottle of beer to wash it down. Since becoming editor for The Day opinion pages in 2007, this was my second opportunity to attend, the first during the administration of Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

What such rare events do provide is a chance for people to relate on a more human level. While people will always disagree on matter of politics and policy, we all have families and want what is best for them, even while diverging on how to achieve that end.

My intent in attending was to try not to talk shop, leaving budget deficits, economic strategy and tax policy for another day.

And somehow, at a very crowded gathering, my wife and I wandered into a room just as the governor was finishing his conversation with a couple of other guests, leaving us and him.

Gov. Malloy had noticed us looking over the large collection of festive nutcrackers that lined shelves and tables in the room. We soon found ourselves talking about children and the reality of the sometimes violent society we live in. The words, seemingly routine cocktail conversation then, would strike me as poignant just a couple of days later.

The nutcrackers, Gov. Malloy explained, were gifts to one of his three sons, Benjamin. With his December birthday, it had become an annual tradition to give Ben, now 25, a nutcracker. Noting my wife and I also have three sons, I said my youngest, Jon, a sophomore at the University of Hartford, is a member of the cross-country and track teams and sometimes jogs through Elizabeth Park and past the governor's home.

Gov. Malloy brightened, saying he loved jogging through the park. "It's particularly beautiful in June," he said.

I recalled photos of President Bush jogging with a phalanx of Secret Service agents. "Do you have to be accompanied by a state trooper?" I asked. Indeed he did, said the governor, and by a squad car nearby. "That's my reality. And there's good reasons for it," he said, seemingly ready to explain the threat was more than theoretical. Then, perhaps reminding himself he was talking to a journalist, stopped. "Well, let's just say there's a good reason for it."

About 36 hours later, on Friday, Dec. 14, the governor would find himself at a scene of inexplicable, incomprehensible violence. The target of that violence was not some public official - it was children. And on that day Gov. Malloy did what I suspect will be the hardest thing he will ever have to do as governor. He told the parents of 20 Newtown children that their kids would not be coming home.

As I later listened to Gov. Malloy struggle with his emotions as he recalled for reporters why he felt it was not appropriate to let the parents linger with false hopes, I thought of nutcrackers, and childhood traditions, and the challenges and triumphs of helping children become adults. For those parents the traditions ended. They will never learn what their child would have become, never experience the joy and angst that comes with working to get them there.

And how sad, I thought, that we live in a time and place where not only can't a governor go for a run through a park without police protection, but children cannot safely go to their school without it. Something is very wrong.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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