Ending months of speculation, an emotional Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday that he would not run for reelection.
“I am today announcing that I will not seek a third term as governor,” the 61-year-old Democrat said at a surprise press conference at the state Capitol Thursday afternoon. “Instead, I will focus all my attention and energy – I will use all of my political capital from now through the end of 2018 – to continue implementing my administration’s vision for a more sustainable and vibrant Connecticut economy.”
Standing with his wife, Cathy Malloy, their oldest son, Dannel, and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Malloy pledged not to back down from his ambitious agenda. He promised to work to revise the state’s system for aid to schools and towns, create “better” budget practices and reform the criminal justice system.
“I think we’ve done a damn good job,” he told a room filled with staffers and supporters. “I have laid out a very clear vision of what we need to accomplish … I want to finish this job and figure out what to do next.”
The unexpected timing of Malloy’s declaration ignites the 2018 gubernatorial field, which has already drawn interest from more than a dozen politicians from both parties. Wyman, one of those potential candidates, brushed off questions about her plans, saying the Thursday was Malloy’s day in the spotlight.
The governor’s announcement comes as lawmakers are deliberating about how to close a $1.7 billion budget deficit. Members of Malloy’s administration are seeking concessions from state employees to help shore up the state’s finances and those privy to the governor’s decision-making process said the timing of the announcement was driven by a desire to keep the focus on the budget and not on his own political ambitions.
Malloy, who has led the state through damaging storms and the trauma of the Sandy Hook school shooting in addition to the state’s persistent budget crisis, said he spent months weighing whether to run again but ultimately concluded that leaving the office when his term ends in January of 2019 is the right move. “I am overwhelmed with how happy I am,” he said.
He emphasized that he had run for governor three times and “that’s enough. I’ve devoted six full years to trying to turn this state around.” He said his low standing in public opinion polls was not a factor. “I can assure you that my personal popularity has never driven my decision-making as governor. Period,” he said.
Addressing his unpopularity, Malloy stood firm. “I have been vilified for standing up for refugees. I’ve also been recognized for standing up for refugees. I have never failed to call out racial, ethnic or religious discrimination. I will debate anybody who wants to debate me,” Malloy said. “I don’t really care.”
A National Reputation, Unpopular at Home
The announcement effectively renders him a lame-duck with more than 18 months left in his term. Malloy long has been one of the most unpopular governors in the country and even before the governor disclosed his decision, a bevy of potential Republican challengers and at least one Democrat — Middletown Mayor Dan Drew — had announced they were interested in the state’s top job.
Malloy was narrowly swept into office in 2010 promising the right the state’s fiscal ship and tend to longstanding structural problems that have bedeviled previous governors for generations. The former mayor of Stamford, he pledged to bring a can-do pragmatism to the job.
His seemingly boundless energy won him admirers. “Nobody has worked harder,” declared Bob Duff, a Democrat from Norwalk and the majority leader of the state Senate.
But Malloy’s approach also had its detractors, who chafed at his aggressive stance and sometimes brusque personality. He battled with left-leaning union leaders as well as Republicans, and faced storms, both figurative and literal. He signed the two largest tax increases in state history, in 2011 and 2015, and was unable to stop one of Connecticut’s iconic corporate pillars, General Electric, from departing for Boston.
Malloy was reelected in 2014, once again winning a narrow victory over the same 2010 Republican opponent he beat in 2010, businessman Tom Foley. His second term had a markedly different tone–the once hyper engaged governor was seen by some as less focused on state matters as he roamed the region campaigning for Hillary Clinton. It was widely believed that Malloy would land a job in the Clinton presidential administration but that likelihood was dashed when she lost to Republican Donald Trump. As chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, Malloy traveled out of state to attend events and raise money for other Democratic candidates.
“Gov. Malloy is a trusted voice for his fellow governors, guiding a political strategy that helped Democratic candidates win tough races in 2016,” DGA Executive Director Elisabeth Pearson said. “Under Gov. Malloy’s leadership in 2016, the DGA broke fundraising records, re-elected every Democratic incumbent, and won three races in states that Donald Trump carried.”
Despite a rising national reputation in Democratic activist circles, Malloy’s popularity ratings at home were consistently low: just this week he was rated the most unpopular Democratic governor in the nation by Morning Consult. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted last June found just 24 percent of Connecticut residents approve of the job he is doing.
Ideological, he staked out a centrist position on many fiscal issues. His education reform efforts made for a chilly relationship with the state’s unionized teachers. And the progressive Working Families Party, which twice endorsed Malloy, criticized him for failing to raise taxes on hedge fund investors and the wealthy.
Following his announcement, Working Families Executive Director Lindsay Farrell issued a statement that neither mentioned Malloy by name nor thanked him for his service to the state. “We’re hopeful that future candidates will embrace policies that invest in our workforce, our infrastructure, and our future,” Farrell said.
Newtown and Support for Refugees
For many of his supporters, Malloy’s response after the after the fatal shooting of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 will stand out. In the months after, he helped to win approval for some of the nation’s toughest gun laws.
Malloy also supported legislation mandating that certain businesses offer their employees paid sick leave and a bill raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, causes championed by liberals.
And he was a steadfast supporter of gay rights and signed legislation banning discrimination based on gender identity and expression. In fact, Malloy emerged as a national leader on transgender rights, instituting a travel ban to North Carolina when that state approved legislation he viewed as discriminatory.
Malloy was also an outspoken leader on the rights of refugees, winning the prestigious John F. Kennedy Profile In Courage award in 2016 because he welcomed Syrian refugees to Connecticut after they were shunned by the then-Gov. of Indiana, Mike Pence.
“Gov. Malloy assumed the office during some of the most challenging times in our state’s history,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, a fellow Democrat. “During his time in office, he has relentlessly worked to improve Connecticut’s economy. His work on the 2011 bipartisan jobs legislation and embrace of raising the minimum wage and creating a state earned income tax credit has enabled countless families to find a job and improve their lives.”
Looney added: “the Governor’s leadership in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy – one of the darkest days and periods in our nation’s history – will be long remembered for the strength and comfort he brought to the afflicted families and to the entire state.”
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano acknowledged Malloy’s relentless work ethic and commitment to doing what he thought was right. “While we may not always see eye to eye, I respect him greatly for his tireless work ethic and dedication to Connecticut,” Fasano said. “Gov. Malloy has led our state during some of its most difficult times and enormous economic challenges. He has governed when our communities had to rebuild following devastating storms and when we all had to heal following unspeakable tragedy. I thank the Governor for his service and look forward to continuing to work with him through the remainder of his term.”
The friends and supporters crammed into the room to hear Malloy’s announcement offered up several extended ovations. The governor grew wistful when asked about his next move. He said he didn’t know what the future held, apart from spending time with his wife and three sons. He noted that he took up skiing again this year and that he is looking forward to becoming a grandfather.
In the meantime, Malloy pledged to press on as governor. “I’m going to be governor til January of 2019,” he said, “and every single day, I expect that myself and my staff will be working very hard to…finishing the work that we began on literally the first day I was sworn in.”
Courant Capitol Bureau Chief Christopher Keating contributed to this story.