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An exultant Lamont: 'I'm happy to join the governors' club'

BY MARK PAZNIOKAS AND CLARICE SILBER | CT Mirror

1/9/2019
HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever
HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever
Ned Lamont became Connecticut's 89th governor on Wednesday.
Edward Miner Lamont Jr., an unlikely Democratic standard bearer as a wealthy Greenwich businessman whose family tree includes titans of Wall Street and a left-wing philosopher, took office Wednesday as the 89th governor of Connecticut, a state buoyed by great wealth and burdened by decades of fiscal mismanagement.

Lamont, 65, who once told his local paper he looks like a Republican and thinks like a Democrat, faces the challenge of delivering on a campaign that promised a blend of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism to a populace worried by successive years of budget deficits and one of the nation's biggest unfunded pension liabilities.

He took the oath from his friend, former Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers of the Connecticut Supreme Court, reaching the pinnacle of state politics after losing statewide races for U.S. Senate in 2006 and governor in 2010. At his side was Annie Huntress Lamont, his wife of 35 years and a successful venture capitalist.

On stage were his three children: Emily, 31; Lindsay, 27 and Teddy, 25.

Watching from the front of the vast drill shed in the William A. O'Neill Armory were three of his four living predecessors: Democrat Dannel P. Malloy, Republican M. Jodi Rell and Lowell P. Weicker Jr., an independent who gamely made his way on a walker. Missing was the twice-convicted Republican John G. Rowland.

"I'm happy to join the governors' club," Lamont said. To Malloy, he noted, "You've only been an ex governor for about 30 seconds. But we have something in common — that's we've been in the arena, and to paraphrase my favorite president, Teddy Roosevelt, the credit belongs not to the critic on the sidelines, but to the men and women in the arena."

Lamont had one final delay before taking office. His oath followed those administered to his running mates: Attorney General William Tong, Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Treasurer Shawn Wooden and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz took office in the morning, so she could preside over the Senate.

Ned Lamont is the first Connecticut Democrat in more than a century to succeed another Democratic governor in an open race, an unexpected first given that Malloy left office as one of the most unpopular governors in the U.S.

Lamont struck a light tone in inaugural remarks that lasted less than nine minutes, knowing he would deliver a more substantive State of the State to a joint session of the General Assembly by day's end.

The Rev. Ralph Ahlberg, his former pastor at Round Hill Community Church in Greenwich and a one-time tennis partner, told the audience of 1,200 that Lamont was a man of integrity, a tennis player who fairly called the lines.

Ahlberg's presence gave Lamont an opening to note he was a something of a political oddity, the Democrat from Greenwich, long an icon of wealth and the Republican establishment, even if it recently elected local Democrats to the state House and Senate.

Lamont recalled the day Ahlberg presented the Lamonts and another new couple to the congregation, giving a little background on each. One was a Lutheran, another a Greek Orthodox, and Annie was the Episcopalian. " 'Ned, he's a Democrat!' The congregation thought that was pretty funny."

He mentioned recently watching Hamilton with an audience of high school children at the Bushnell in Hartford, then talking to them about the meaning of the song, "My Shot." Hamilton sings about being an immigrant with great opportunities, just like his new nation, Lamont said

"That's what I love about America. Every generation, we get a chance to reinvent ourselves, and every election gives us a fresh start," Lamont said. "This is our chance to reinvent Connecticut – to think big, act boldly."

Lamont said he and the legislature must strive to move beyond the endless budget fights.

"I will not allow our next four years to be defined by a fiscal crisis. Together we will craft an honestly balanced budget which does not borrow from the future, but invests in the future," Lamont said. "We owe our kids, our extended family, nothing less.

Lamont left the Armory to accept a 19-gun salute, then march the Capitol, accompanied by a ceremonial military unit, the Governor's Foot Guard, and a marching band from Harding High School in Bridgeport, where Lamont was a volunteer teacher.

Pat Ludwig, a 58-year-old Middletown resident, stood outside the state armory waiting for Lamont to emerge after the ceremony. Ludwig, who campaigned for Bysiewicz, Wooden, and state Sens. Mary Daugherty Abrams and Matt Lesser, is hoping that the new general assembly will improve higher education, help residents stuck in the welfare cycle, and get more diversity among legislative aids.

"I think that (Bysiewicz) being lieutenant governor with Ned Lamont is what our state needs right now, especially when our national leadership is so divisive and cruel," Ludwig said. "I think that here in Connecticut we're going to have leaders that are going to stand for human rights and an economy that serves the masses rather than the one percent."

Two freshman lawmakers waiting with the rest of the crowd outside the state armory had caught the excitement of the day.

Will Haskell, the 22-year-old Democrat who unseated state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, in one of the year's big upsets, said the opportunity to serve is a tremendous honor

"I was nervous walking into the Senate for the first time—for me it all feels very real today.

State Rep. Anne Hughes, who defeated Adam Dunsby of Easton, described the day as euphoric.

"I know we have some hard work to do but I also feel like we have some great colleagues with a really bold vision for Connecticut going forward and I think we've got an amazing team of leadership," Hughes said.

Hughes said the state has a real shot at transitioning to a renewable, green economy.

"We are on the front lines of climate change, let's have some bold initiatives that really say we are taking this urgent crisis seriously and taking steps to address, it not just in words but in serious deeds," Hughes said. "We can't afford not to invest in that."

One of the last to leave the armory was Weicker, a three-term U.S. senator as a Republican, then a one-term governor as an independent who overhauled Connecticut's tax structure, imposing a tax on wages and cutting taxes on sales, corporate profits and investment investment income.

Weicker, a former Greenwich resident, called Lamont an old friend.

"He's going to be a great governor — not a good one, a great one," Weicker said. "He's got the passion, he's got brains, and he's got energy. He truly is for the underclass. By that, I mean the people on the outside for one reason or another. And I like that, just a great guy."