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A Quantum Leap



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Hartford beckons like Kubla Khan’s Xanadu, its reflection glittering across the top of an SUV rolling north on I-91 at night. The stately, illuminated onion dome of the Colt building glistens in the cold darkness like a cobalt-blue–neon mosque. From the back of the SUV, a man from Stamford gazes tiredly through opaque glass, munching on cookies for dinner and contemplating an alien landscape he hopes to make his new place of work this fall.

For the moment this man’s destination is Enfield, a Hartford suburb where members of the Democratic Town Committee are gathering to meet him and answer for themselves the question echoed now by other Democrats all across the state: Who is Dan Malloy, and why should we want him as our governor?

Malloy’s eager-beaver campaign staffers call Malloy the man who can reverse a sixteen-year gubernatorial drought for Democrats by courting moderates and business folk in the Republicans’ own backyard. Back in Stamford, where he has been mayor for ten years, allies claim he can grow jobs in the state just as he has there, focusing needful attention, too, on transportation woes that threaten to choke off lower Fairfield County’s success.

Malloy himself says he’s just someone trying to make a difference: “My mother told me a million times, ‘Dannel, you have an obligation to leave the world a better place for your having lived in it.’ I think in some sense, I took that very much to heart.”

Hartford beckons like Kubla Khan’s Xanadu, its reflection glittering across the top of an SUV rolling north on I-91 at night. The stately, illuminated onion dome of the Colt building glistens in the cold darkness like a cobalt-blue–neon mosque. From the back of the SUV, a man from Stamford gazes tiredly through opaque glass, munching on cookies for dinner and contemplating an alien landscape he hopes to make his new place of work this fall.

For the moment this man’s destination is Enfield, a Hartford suburb where members of the Democratic Town Committee are gathering to meet him and answer for themselves the question echoed now by other Democrats all across the state: Who is Dan Malloy, and why should we want him as our governor?

Malloy’s eager-beaver campaign staffers call Malloy the man who can reverse a sixteen-year gubernatorial drought for Democrats by courting moderates and business folk in the Republicans’ own backyard. Back in Stamford, where he has been mayor for ten years, allies claim he can grow jobs in the state just as he has there, focusing needful attention, too, on transportation woes that threaten to choke off lower Fairfield County’s success.

Malloy himself says he’s just someone trying to make a difference: “My mother told me a million times, ‘Dannel, you have an obligation to leave the world a better place for your having lived in it.’ I think in some sense, I took that very much to heart.”

Sitting down at a breakroom table before addressing the Enfield DTC, he powers up his cell phone while detailing a background of public service, beginning as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn from 1980 to 1984. With his crisp bearing, lean face, probing gaze behind rimless spectacles and cagey, steel-trap wit, Malloy could maybe spell Sam Waterston on Law & Order. When he is asked about his main Democratic gubernatorial opponent, New Haven mayor John DeStefano, Malloy mispronounces DeStefano’s name, with a long a instead of a short one. He grins when this is pointed out.

“I noticed and I’m enjoying it,” he chuckles.

Longtime backers throw up adjectives like “Kennedyesque” with hearty abandon when speaking of Malloy. You’d think he was the kind of guy who was always the smartest in the room, the kid with his hand raised, whom the teacher always selected to read aloud. You’d be wrong.

The youngest of eight children, Malloy grew up with a processing disorder that complicated his education and made him a magnet for teasing from fellow students and teachers alike. “I had perceptual difficulties, gross and fine motor control difficulties,” he says. “I couldn’t button a shirt or tie a shoe until I was in the fifth grade. Listen, I was thought to be mentally retarded as late as the fourth grade.”

Malloy credits his parents with helping him overcome his problem by encouraging him to focus on what he was good at. Still, his processing disorder remains with him. He was the first person without sight impairment to take his bar exams orally. The world of written communication, of Blackberries and e-mails, is unknown to him. “I could probably dictate a book to you, but I couldn’t write one,” he says.

So when he takes his place in front of the Enfield Democrats minutes later and tells them after a brief introduction that he much prefers answering questions to giving a long speech, it’s partly a way to engage them and partly born of necessity. “I’m just not a good guy to work from a prepared text,” he admits. If he does end up winning it all in November, he could be the first governor to deliver his inaugural address entirely off the cuff.

Enthusiasm for Malloy runs deep in lower Fairfield County, in and around his Stamford base. Democrats across the state’s panhandle are lining up to support him, months before their party chooses a candidate to face incumbent governor M. Jodi Rell.

“It’s wonderful to have a mayor in Fairfield County taking a run; the issues here have been ignored so long,” says Bob Duff, a Democratic state senator from Norwalk who also represents two-thirds of Darien. “He seems to have the whole package. He speaks well, he’s personable and he’s smart. Many times, with elected officials, it’s one or the other. Dan has all the qualities, and what makes him a successful mayor will make him a successful governor.”

New Canaan selectman Johnny Potts acknowledges some risk to his early Malloy endorsement. “But you’ve got to take risks in politics,” he declares. “The people on the fence now, what do they think they’re going to get? The ones who really support a candidate are those who come out early. Otherwise you’re chicken, and you’re not going to get anything out of that.”

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