Governor uses official residence for wedding of state contractor and political crony.
You'd be excused if you think Connecticut has returned to the dark Rowland years. You'd be wrong. It was last weekend and the governor with the bad judgment is that former crusader Dannel P. Malloy.
Last weekend, Malloy allowed use of the Prospect Avenue mansion in Hartford for state contractor, campaign guru, mouthpiece and former senior adviser Roy Occhiogrosso's wedding. Invitees were directed to send their reply to the governor's residence. This was the sort of mixing of state business, politics and personal relationships that Malloy and Occhiogrosso once decried. Now they glory in the cocktail of influence, business and moneymaking available to the powerful and connected.
The Malloy administration has lost its way.
Occhiogrosso, who left Malloy's office early this year, is a partner at the public relations firm Global Strategies Group. It recently snagged a fat contract with the Access Health CT, the state's new health insurance exchange. Though the organization has been adding its own employees at a steady clip, it decided to enter into a contract for "crisis communications" services.
This is state government, so there's always money to be found for friends, no matter what the condition of the economy. I overstated the case last week when I wrote that the contract to Global Strategies had been awarded by competitive bid.
Three insiders at Access Health CT invited three public relations companies to submit proposals for the lucrative contract. They did not open the process to the many firms that could meet the basic requirements of a public relations contract whether with innovative or stale ideas. The insiders included former Enfield Democratic state Rep. Kathleen Tallarita, Access Health CT's head of government relations and communications. In 2012, Tallarita became the rare suburban legislator to lose her seat in a party primary.
Tallarita was a leading Malloy ally in the governor's quest to make liquor widely available in the state on Sundays. Though not known for expertise in health care or insurance issues, the Democratic stalwart landed at the health insurance exchange that will operate under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Tallarita and her two colleagues decided which three firms would be invited to bid on the contract and then chose from the trio. Access Health CT's board of directors, according to Tallarita, was not required to approve the $20,000 a month contract. In government, it's not unusual for the winner to be decided at the start of the process and all that's left to do is the stage manage the farce.
This appears to be the point that Tom Foley, the clumsy Republican gubernatorial hopeful, struggled to make in his calamitous appearance on WFSB's "Face the State" with Dennis House two weeks ago. The 2010 Republican nominee, who came close to defeating Malloy, bundled the Occhigrosso contract story with three unrelated allegations under the broad theme of the death of ethics under Malloy.
Foley served a dog's breakfast to viewers in his return as a candidate for governor. Foley was a flailing amateur. He's been unable to provide proof for some of his allegations, despite claiming they met some journalistic standard that lives a solitary life in Foley's head.
Tallarita, who had worked at a community bank before losing her seat, said she had no contact with Malloy's office or Occhiogrosso when she was applying for her job at Access Health CT. Malloy's office said Thursday the governor's residence is available to non-profit and community-based organizations for a $100 fee, which was charged for the Occhiogrosso wedding. The Malloys also have discretion in using the residence for personal events, such as this one. Occhiogrosso said in an email that he followed all protocols at the residence and called the issue "a politically manufactured one, at best."
Although the nuptials at the residence break no rules, it violates the spirit of what the Malloy administration said it would be. We do know that a state contractor and political operative looking to attract business is sending a message, with which Malloy is complicit, that the governor's administration is open for business if you hire the right crony. Few better ways to do it than holding your wedding at the mansion.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor's note: People who work for the Courant's opinion page were among those invited to Roy Occhigrosso's wedding.