On a rainy Saturday Dan Malloy came to middle of main street in Middletown to chat with some of the political junkies that blog for this site and MyLeftNutmeg at Java Palooza, one of the coffee houses that tap into the free municipal WIFI. Fresh from an earlier “Meet the Mayor” meeting in Stamford, Malloy greeted the small group to talk about his campaign, Connecticut and of course the issues.
In the past six years, Main Street in Middletown has changed from empty store-fronts to a more pedestrian inviting look of small businesses like Java Palooza. It’s the kind of small scale growth that has been a small bright spot for the Connecticut economy recently. In this setting it seemed natural that chatting with Malloy would turn to themes of the Connecticut economy.
“I think Connecticut has some surprising opportunities” said Malloy. “We have the capacity to compete in more areas than people think.”
To Malloy, Connecticut is a land of opportunity, but he admits that he worries more about what happens if Connecticut doesn’t change course.
Connecticut Not Competeting
“Connecticut,” he says softly, “is currently headed in the wrong direction.”
It’s clear that the despite the soft spoken tone, Malloy believes deeply that Connecticut is suffering from years of poor management.
New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts are much more competitive than they were in the past, he explained. New Jersey for example made large investments in their transportation infrastructure and now reap the expansion fueled by rail, water and road investments by the state.
“For the past 20 years, New Jersey has made an investment in transportation, Malloy added, “it’s a sin that Connecticut hasn’t.”
New Jersey’s model isn’t without problems. Legislators in New Jersey are currently grappling with issues concerning over development, cost over runs, and budget shortfalls. But the overall result is hard to argue with. According to James W. Hughes, Dean of the School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers “Every period of economic progression in New Jersey was built upon earlier advances in transportation infrastructure investment. These were increments of new transportation capacity that preceded and facilitated subsequent economic growth.”
Connecticut by most measures has not fared as well. A FDIC report from 2005 said Connecticut lagged near the bottom in job creation. Even our farms are closing and moving to Pennsylvania, Malloy pointed out, referring to the recent announcement that Franklin Farms, a grower or organic mushrooms and vegetables is leaving Connecticut.
To Malloy, the list of reasons for the dire outlook of Connecticut’s future is long. “There is no transportation policy. There is no energy policy. There is no job retention, no job growth policy. There's certainly no housing policy.”
Better Government That Costs Less
Malloy points to his record as Mayor of Stamford, not only as a good fiscal model, but also as a model for good governance that communicates better, cuts costs and offers better service.
“This is a good story, a true story,” he begins “In 1995 I went down to Washington D.C. I was trying to get federal funds to improve my city, Stamford. We wanted to add parking, improve the rail stations.”
“They asked me, why doesn’t Connecticut ask for more Federal funds? I couldn’t answer that.” The next year he added a request for 8 rail cars so he wouldn’t be asked the question again. Malloy’s ability to identify problems and work diligently towards solutions is evident in reviewing his record. In 1999, Stamford received $992,500 in federally earmarked funs to start the Stamford Urban Transitway. By 2006, the federal earmarks for Stamford totaled $33,553,00 and the list of projects ranged from high speed ferry terminals, bridges, walking trails and the continued worked on roads and rail improvements.
But federal and state funds aren’t the only places Malloy has looked for ways to fund initiatives. Malloy doesn’t fit the tar brushed mold of what Republicans want people to believe. “We've got to combat this basic rubric of analysis that most citizens engage in, that Democrats are bad for the economy and bad for fiscal management, and that Republicans are good for the economy and good for fiscal management. Now, the reverse happens to be true, but someone's got to be saying this on an ongoing basis, and in my case at least proving it."
Mayors like to tout their city’s bond ratings, in Stamford’s case, still AAA, and then turn to the positives of the yearly budgets. Malloy is no different, he takes pride in his accomplishments, acknowledging that 4 of the past 6 years Stamford has had a budget surplus, but adding with conviction that its 8 surpluses out of nine year's worth of budgets under his watch.
The Future Vision
With the new parking garages and rail station improvements, Malloy turned to the businesses in Stamford to help shoulder part of the investment in making Stamford a better, more attractive place. The result was the downtown special services district contributes money towards the beautification and promotion of downtown Stamford.
“Government should be more proactive on how towns manage their money and their services.” Malloy points out, “Stamford shrunk the size of government but increased services.”
When looking at Connecticut’s rail system, Malloy tackled the outdated thinking that accepts the 100 year old system of fixed passenger schedules. Part of the solution, he says, is to think of it as a subway system with more frequent trains, shorter trains that operate with greater flexibility.
Partnership with business and entrepreneurial approaches do work he explained. “If we wrestled with competition, if government is a partner, there’s a brighter future for Connecticut even in niche manufacturing.”
Yet towns across Connecticut are busy turning industrial zones into residential housing. Malloy is concerned about that, pointing out that he fought to keep a manufacturer in Stamford despite the hard reality that doing business is Connecticut is expensive and often not competitive with other states. He identifies energy costs as one of the many factors that impact business operations using Michigan as an example of a state that offers energy costs about one sixth of what it costs in Connecticut.
Accountability Is Important
Despite Malloy’s enthusiasm for tackling the problems through policy, he came back to a recurring theme. “No one goes back five years later to review policy decisions,” he began, “we do in Stamford.” Malloy, it turns out, is deeply concerned with unintended consequences. It’s not enough for him to craft policy and let others execute it without accountability. That touchstone of accountability is one that resonates broadly, especially for Malloy, a former prosecutor. His view on Jodi Rell’s leadership starkly exhibits his passion for accountability. “She's shocked, she's saddened, she's disappointed in the corruption of people who are working for her.' I mean, we can use the terms, we all know them. This is totally reactive government.”
Malloy is clearly frustrated by the missed opportunities and failures to address Connecticut’s future. He’s hoping for that dynamic to change in November. But he first has to tackle the difficult task of winning the August 8th Democratic primary to get there. He’s itching for a debate with Jodi Rell, “I can’t wait to have a real debate with Jodi Rell,” he says confidently. But when pressed about the campaign for the primary, he admitted his frustrations with the Senate race dominating coverage, and the generally less engaged voter. After the first week of July he promised it’ll be a sprint to the finish. Looking at how he’s tackled each and every task thus far, you can be sure that’s he got a plan to win the race.