Malloy: 'Painful' times ahead

Gov.-elect Dan Malloy, left, talks to the crowd that had gathered at Muddy Waters Café in downtown New London on Wednesday. Among other things, Malloy thanked local supporters for their help in the Nov. 2 election.

New London - The crowd was wedged to the walls at Muddy Waters Café Wednesday night when Gov.-elect Dan Malloy arrived to make the latest stop on a statewide tour of thanks.

Malloy, the first member of the Democratic Party to win a governor's race in Connecticut since William A. O'Neill in 1986, arrived to loud applause and a gantlet of handshakes, embraces and snapshots from the crowd, which included local Democratic loyalists and elected officials from both major parties.

Squeezing onto a small stage in the corner, Malloy and his running mate, state Comptroller Nancy Wyman, thanked supporters for spurring them to a narrow victory over the Republican ticket of Tom Foley and Mark Boughton in November. That victory was among the narrowest in a Connecticut governor's race - with a margin of fewer than 6,500 votes - and came in large part from the Malloy campaign's aggressive push to mobilize the Democratic base and drive up turnout in cities, the governor-elect said.

"The wonderful thing - and there aren't a whole lot of wonderful things about winning such a close election - but the wonderful thing about winning such a close election is I can honestly look everyone in the face and say, 'I wouldn't be here but for your hard work,' " Malloy told the crowd in a brief, jovial speech.

The appearance is one of a string in other Connecticut cities, including Hartford, Bridgeport, Waterbury and Stamford, at which Malloy and Wyman have thanked supporters and issued some gentle I-told-you-so's. The campaign's strategy to turn out more Democrats than voted for the party's 2006 nominee had worked, despite some ominous pre-election poll numbers, Malloy said.

Facing a tall order

Malloy and the supporters who showed up to greet him also acknowledged that difficult times, and far less rapturous welcomes, are surely ahead. Connecticut faces projected deficits of more than $3.5 billion in each of the next two fiscal years, and the governor and legislature will have to fill the gap without the luxuries enjoyed in previous years, especially funding from the Obama administration's stimulus bill and the roughly $1 billion drained over the past two fiscal years from the state's budget reserves.

"It won't be easy; it's going to be painful the next two years," Malloy said, reminding attendees that he had refused to take a pledge not to raise taxes during the campaign, at a potential political cost.

"The next two years are the down payment on turning our state around," he appealed. "You've just got to bear with me. Because I can't tax our way out of it, and I can't cut our way out of it. I've got to lead our way out of it."

Malloy's supporters in the crowd were jubilant but shared his apparent expectation that tough times and far more discontented crowds lie ahead.

Bing Bartick snapped a Polaroid photo of Malloy as he descended from the stage, then offered the governor-elect a marker, for his autograph.

Bartick, a member of the Democratic Town Committee in North Stonington, has been waiting a long time for a member of the party to win a governor's race but said he has no illusions that the current honeymoon will last.

"It's like my son said before this last presidential election: Whoever wins is only going to have one term," Bartick said. "The problems are enormous. Everybody loves him now, but as soon as you start making those decisions ... "

He hastened to add, gesturing toward Malloy: "He'll do fine."

City officials are also hoping that New London will be well-served by a governor with experience at the helm of a city. Malloy served 14 years as mayor of Stamford.

Malloy will be better positioned to care for "needs and concerns of cities, not just a suburban agenda," Councilor Wade Hyslop said. "The cities have to survive."

Hope in the city

Also in attendance were a handful of Republicans, including Mayor Martin Olsen and Councilor Adam Sprecace, who expressed similar confidence that Malloy would understand how to help New London.

"I think he understands what New London's needs are, and I'm looking forward to being able to work with him and get the job done," Sprecace said.

It sounded, in short, like the honeymoon it was.

Mingling along with Malloy were members of the newly elected Democratic underticket, including George Jepsen, who will succeed Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, and Denise Merrill, who will replace Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz. Bysiewicz, who was bounced from the attorney general's race by a ruling of the Connecticut Supreme Court but is considered a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2012, also attended.

Barry and Susan Neistat, the owners of Muddy Waters, marveled at Malloy's determination to stay and chat with attendees. The governor-elect was soon maneuvered behind the counter, where he grinned from behind the cash register.

One invited guest didn't show up. Blumenthal, who was elected to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Chris Dodd, was in Washington, according to organizers.

Party faithful mingled with state senators and representatives in the crowd, and some municipal leaders threw their arms around Malloy in the tell-tale gesture of the political "ask."

But ever-present was the knowledge that Malloy's primary task will be soliciting sacrifice, not doling out perks.

"I'm not asking him for anything because I really feel right now people need to get in the mind-set to stop asking," said Plainfield First Selectman Paul E. Sweet, a Democrat who was standing out on the sidewalk, waiting for the crowd to thin out. "There's nothing to ask for."

Soon after, Malloy and a smaller contingent dropped in at Hanafin's Public House on State Street, where the governor-elect polished off a Stella Artois beer and posed for pictures with supporters.

The last moments of the honeymoon were still being savored before Malloy is inaugurated on Wednesday. But supporters already counseled caution and patience about the challenges ahead.

"If we're looking for a quick fix, it doesn't happen," said Joseph Strazzo, a therapist and career counselor, adding that some of his clients come seeking just what voters may be expecting of the new administration: a silver bullet.

"It takes time and effort and a lot of hard work," Strazzo said. "It doesn't happen overnight."

Gov.-elect Dan Malloy, left, chats with former City Councilor Margaret Curtin, center, and Mayor Martin Olsen during a gathering at Muddy Waters Café in downtown New London on Wednesday.
Gov.-elect Dan Malloy, left, chats with former City Councilor Margaret Curtin, center, and Mayor Martin Olsen during a gathering at Muddy Waters Café in downtown New London on Wednesday.

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