Ned Lamont takes office as Connecticut’s 89th governor this afternoon having settled on nominees for all but 10 of the 28 positions that are classified under state law as agency heads subject to confirmation hearings and votes by the General Assembly.
The focus today will be on pomp, pageantry and his inaugural message. Former Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers, a friend, will administer the oath on a stage in the vast drill shed of the Hartford Armory, then Lamont will emerge to accept a 19-gun salute, watch a flyover by a C-130 and then step off for a short parade to the State Capitol.
He will deliver two speeches, beginning with a brief inaugural address at the Armory to an audience expected to include three of his four immediate predecessors: Dannel P. Malloy, M. Jodi Rell and Lowell P. Weicker Jr. The second speech will be his State of the State Address to a joint session of the General Assembly at 2:30 p.m.
But the first of the many measures to be taken over the next four years is the easiest to calculate: The quality and demographics of Lamont’s hires.
As a candidate and governor-elect, Lamont set a goal of placing women in leadership positions and assembling a government that “reflects the composition of our population,” a direction he also gave to the executive search professionals working for his transition committee.
So far, he has nominated eight new agency heads, four men and four women, and re-nominated 10 holdovers — six men and four women — from the Malloy administration. Eventually, the new administration will get to hire close to 100 people, a relatively tiny slice of the state work force.
Two of his eight new appointees will be the first African-Americans to hold their jobs, each taking on one of the toughest jobs in government: Melissa McCaw as secretary of policy and management, tasked with balancing the budget; and Vannessa Dorantes, whom he nominated Monday as commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.
His choices generally have won strong reviews.
“We’ve searched for the very best people we could,” Lamont said Tuesday in a brief interview. “People have stepped up and have been incredibly generous and said they want to serve the state of Connecticut. And by the way, it is an administration that reflects the diversity of Connecticut.”
Of the 10 unfilled commissioner spots, a special focus of Lamont’s is on the Department of Economic and Community Development, the agency at the heart of any governor’s efforts to grow the economy. Unemployment in Connecticut is low, and the state has had two consecutive quarters of economic growth, but the gains come after years of slow growth and a series of budget deficits.
“I’ve got to make a big change in DECD,” Lamont said.
On Tuesday morning, Lamont could be seen chatting amiably with Catherine Smith, whom he has not asked to return as the head of DECD. Lamont described Smith, a former insurance industry executive, as an old friend, but he wants a fresh approach in economic development.
He would like to replicate the recruitment of Infosys, a tech company that opened a regional hub in Hartford. The CEOs of several companies in the Hartford area, most who were potential customers, took turns meeting with Infosys, selling the company on the region’s workforce, quality of life and potential as a market.
“I think we’re going to be talking about what we want to do in terms of outreach and retention in the next couple of weeks, but I definitely want to get the business community more involved as our business outreach,” Lamont said. “It worked pretty well in Infosys. The business leaders are signed up and ready to do this.”
He and his wife, Annie, who is a venture capitalist, each say they will tap into their own network of business contacts to help grow and retain jobs in Connecticut.
Every administration promises the best and the brightest. The reality is they also make appointments that pay political debts to supporters, or make a nod to political, geographic, ideological, ethnic or racial constituencies.
Over the past two days, Lamont’s designee as chief operating officer, Paul Mounds, has been the bearer of news both good and bad to job-seekers, some of whom are currently members of the Connecticut General Assembly. Mounds is returning to the State Capitol from the private sector after stints as a congressional and gubernatorial aide.
Lamont has hired five legislators, including three senators who range in age from mid 50s to nearly 70, each with at least 10 years in the General Assembly.
Sen. Terry Gerratana of New Britain was an early backer of Lamont in his first statewide campaign, an antiwar challenge of U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in 2006 that briefly made Lamont a national political figure. Now co-chair of the Public Health Committee, Gerratana will be an adviser in the Office of Health Strategy.
Sen. Beth Bye of West Hartford, whose career outside the Capitol was in early childhood education, will oversee the Office of Early Childhood Education. Sen. Tim Larson of East Harford, now the executive director of Tweed New Haven Airport, will become the executive director of the Office of Higher Education.
The two House members joining the administration are in their 30s.
James Albis of East Haven, who has a master’s degree in environmental science from Yale and is leaving the legislature after eight years as the co-chair of the Environment Committee, will be a special adviser to the commissioner of energy and environmental protection. Chris Soto of New London is leaving after a single term to become Lamont’s director of legislative affairs.