Earlier this year, Stamford Mayor Dannel P. Malloy announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to run for governor of the State of Connecticut in 2010. Later he also announced that he will not seek reelection for another term at his current position as a mayor of Stamford. The publisher of Stamford Plus magazine, Naiden Stoyanov, recently sat down with Mr. Malloy for an exclusive interview to talk about his tenure as mayor and his views on Connecticut’s past, present and future.
Mayor Malloy in his office at Stamford's City Hall
NS: Mayor Malloy, thank you for taking time to talk to us today. What do you think is your strongest accomplishment as a Mayor of Stamford?
DM: I think there are a number of those. I think lowering crime substantially, in excess of 60 percent, is important. I think building housing downtown and promoting housing development throughout the commercial part of the city has been very important. I think attracting RBS and other financial services companies to Stamford has been important and certainly, if you look at the future, the redevelopment of the South End of Stamford, and the construction of the Urban Transit Layer are going to be things that will pay dividends in the long run. As well as that whole corridor that we’ve created along the Mill River and the Mill River plan.
The Mill River plan, the South End, as well as the East-West road systems, the Urban Transit Way, I think, are going to be things that people will look at 50 years from now and say, “Wow, that’s something they got done.”
NS: In hindsight, what would you do differently, what would you take on a different course?
DM: Take on a different course... It’s an interesting question, I haven’t thought about it that way. I think urban education and tackling issues of urban education are important. And I am not sure I could’ve done more about it. Certainly, we started universal pre-K, which is another program of Stamford that we’re known for. But I wish we had made more progress in lifting levels of achievement, particularly for minority students. I don’t run the school system, so it’s not something that I could do myself, but I wish we had started that earlier and I wish we were further along in raising achievement levels amongst our minority population.
NS: So you are back on the trail now...
DM: Yep, back on the trail!
NS: How does it feel?
DM: Good, good! It’s very different than when I initially ran for Governor. People know me now, that makes it a little bit easier. It’s not all about introduction or why is this guy from Stamford, who they don’t know, running? It’s a little bit easier in that sense. I’m enjoying it, I’ve been around, talking to a lot of people in Connecticut, so it seems to be going very well. I’ve been to over 40 Democratic town committees and talked to them and reaching out to people across the state.
NS: What’s different between your first bid and this one?
DM: Just that I’m better known. When I began this the last time, nobody knew who I was outside of Fairfield County. Now they know who I am, at least the political leaders do, so I think that’s the biggest difference. The other difference, I think, is, in the past I think there was a resentment towards Stamford or towards Fairfield County, by the rest of the state. Now, there’s an appreciation for the work that we’ve done down here, building a great urban city, a great urban center. So, I sense less resentment.
NS: Why do you think that is?
DM: I think people came to understand Stamford a little bit more through my first run and what I’m doing now, and understand that we have a lot in common with the rest of the state, that we are a lot more like other cities of the state. And people tend to think, “Gee, how did Stamford accomplish all those things?” and hopefully I get some credit for that.
NS: What do you think Governor Rell did right during her stay in office?
DM: That’s a fair question. I think the governor stepped in after Governor Rowland resigned and restored some sense of normalcy, of kind of a cleaner or less ethically challenged administration. I think that that’s what she did. I think she stepped in and she calmed things down and she restored a feeling of ethics in the state government, so that ethics were present. I think that’s her chief accomplishment.
NS: Would you prefer to run against her or against somebody else from the Republican party?
DM: It doesn’t make any difference. As a Democrat, I don’t get to chose who the Republicans run, I think there’s a 50/50 chance that the governor will run for re-election, and that means there’s a 50 percent chance I’ll run against somebody else.
NS: Your personal opinion?
DM: The governor’s got very high personal popularity numbers, so, in some senses, you know, you look at those numbers and say, if she doesn’t run, maybe it’s a little bit easier. On the other hand, I firmly believe that things are catching up in Connecticut. People recognize that our state has been more adversely impacted in the economic downturn, particularly outside of Fairfield County, than most other states and I think there’s that sense that they are starting to blame government and they’re not going to draw the fine line between the Democrats in Hartford and the governor. It is all, kind of, getting started to be put together as not behaving well. So I’m not sure she’ll be as popular a year from now as she is today.
NS: So, you think it’s time for revolution, pretty much, in Connecticut?
DM: Well, I think you used the term “revolution”, I don’t want to be quoted as [saying] “revolution”, but I think it’s time for a very big change, systemic change.
NS: Revolution, as far as changing the majority of the government.
DM: You know, there used to be a saying “you want to run government more like a corporation”. I think we need to run state government more like local government.
NS: Corporations have failed us in the past few years...
DM: Yes, I do think we need a more efficient state government, I think we need a government, state government, that moves substantially faster, that addresses issues of transportation and education and tax policy that’s constantly throwing out new ideas. I think the model of leadership that needs to be pursued in Connecticut is what is being modeled by Barack Obama, who just doesn’t stop—he’s coming at every single issue. Yesterday, as we have this interview [Editor’s note: This interview was conducted on May 5, 2009], we’re reading about his full frontal attack on tax loopholes for people who are parking money, are trading money, offshore... On top of his efforts on health care, on top of his efforts on stabilizing the economy, on top of his efforts in reforming the mortgage market, on top of his efforts in going after Wall Street. I mean, this is a full agenda presidency. And what we’re going to need in Connecticut is a full agenda governor, who doesn’t pick and chose issues to maintain popularity, but understands that the only popularity that really counts is whether the state is moving forward.
NS: How would you answer critics that say that such an all-wide full frontal attack [on the issues] and complete change is pretty much utopia?
DM: I don’t think it’s utopia. First of all, I did it in Stamford. I did it here. Stamford’s a very different place than it was 14 years ago. And when I came in we decided we were going to attack a number of issues. Crime, housing, education, economic development... were all issues that we went full frontal on. And I think that’s what we have to do in state government. I think this idea that you pick one issue and you work on that and that’s how you’re going to measure whether you’re successful is so last decade.
NS: With the current widening budget, there seems to be a very long way to recovery ahead of us—in our state and probably in our country as well. How do you ensure stability in our future and how do you make sure that we don’t end up like states like New York and California?
DM: We are like those states. And that’s the problem. We can’t draw those lines anymore. Connecticut has one of the largest deficits, as a percentage of its total budget, of all of the 47 states currently in deficit. So, we’ve got to stop using terms like “How do we prevent from being New York or California?”. We are! And this is kind of a dirty, dark secret that the governor is trying to hide from us. And it’s one of the reasons why her popularity is artificial. So, we’re going to have to do a lot of things. One of the things is that we’re going to have to deal with the immediate crisis. That means cutting expenses, creating efficiencies, raising revenue. All of those things are going to have to be done. But the biggest problem in Connecticut is the lack of job growth for the last 20 years. And to put it another way, we failed to grow in the best of times, and therefore we’re suffering more in the worst of times. And there’s no padding anymore. But the deep dark secret of Connecticut is – we’re in tough shape. The best way to look at it is... if you eliminate the jobs that were created by the casinos—which aren’t great jobs, by the way, some of them are with decent salaries, but most of them are not—and a limited growth in the Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk marketplace... you take those two things out—Connecticut is in a job depression.
Hartford is no longer the insurance capital of the world. Manufacturing has left Connecticut more severely than any other state in New England or the Mid-Atlantic. We have the highest electric rates in the country. We have one of the worst-rated transportation systems in the country. Quote frankly, under this governor’s leadership, the wheels are coming off. We are on the rims, I guess we’re gradually moving forward, but there’s no rubber left on those tires.
NS: So you think that compared to New Jersey and New York, Connecticut is pretty much in the same basket?
DM: Yeah. I think that that’s the point. And we have to confront that, I mean, other states are actually confronting those sides of their economies.
NS: And how do you plan to confront them?
DM: We’re going to have to limit the size of government, we’re going to have to create great efficiencies, so that we can maintain services, we’re going to have to raise revenue... everything has got to be on the table. Now, what we have to do when we’re raising revenue, particularly when you talk about progressive income tax, is not overdo it. I think there are lots of people who would have us adopt a tax policy of “soak the rich”. The problem is the rich are more mobile than anybody else. So, whatever we do, on a progressive income tax basis, which I support, we have to do it monitoring what our competitors are doing. We can’t out-price ourselves. We can’t send people fleeing this state.
NS: A more progressive income tax—that means pretty much a tax increase.
DM: Oh, anyone who thinks that you’re going to solve this crisis without adjusting revenue… Let me put it this way… if we lay off every state worker today, that would not close the budget gap. So what are you going to do? We can’t eliminate paying people their Medicaid or hospitalizations, we can’t close our jails, we can’t… So, it’s going to have to be a combination of things. We need to start talking about the truth. It’s going to have to be a combination. We’re going to have to limit the size of government and we’re going to have to grow revenue, maybe temporarily... maybe this only lasts two years or three years and then you can go back to a lower tax basis. I’m not saying that this has to be permanent, but what I’m saying is, nothing we do should be allowed to put us at a competitive disadvantage.
NS: Wouldn’t a tax increase put us at a competitive disadvantage?
DM: I think every state that we compete with is going to raise taxes to some extend. Every other state that we compete with in the immediate area has some of the same difficulty. We’re just in a bigger whole. I’m not a tax-and-spend Democrat. I’m saying you’ve got to limit the size of government, and we’re going to have to dig ourselves out of the whole. The only other way to do it is borrow the money. But the deficit at $8.7 billion is too big to borrow ourselves out of it. And as I said, I mean, I wish the governor would tell the people the truth – if we lay off every state worker, we’d still have the deficit.
NS: If you can elaborate a little bit more: How would your tax plan stimulate actually the economy and what about the population growth?
DM: Well, right now, stimulation’s got to come from a number of areas. We’ve got to confront, for instance, having the worst, one of the worst transportations, actually, the worst transportation systems in the North corridor.
NS: Worse than New Jersey?
DM: Yes, it’s much worse than New Jersey. Look at what New Jersey has done. Let’s be very specific. In the last 20 years, New Jersey installed light rail systems, they re-introduced ferry service on the Hudson river, it hadn’t existed for 40 years. They enlarged their airport, they built a monorail system in and out of their airport, they reworked their entrances and exits on their major highway system and Connecticut basically did a couple of exits. I mean, there’s a very large difference – New Jersey has a fiscal crisis, like we do, but if you look at, since 1991, they’ve grown jobs substantially at faster numbers than we have. We’re the last. We’re dead last for job growth in this country since 1991.
NS: So, what are the lessons learned from the New Jersey since they increased their transportation system and grew jobs and they are still in fiscal crisis?
DM: Well, 47 states are in fiscal crisis. Of those 47, we’re ranked in the top 5. So we can’t point at anybody. There are differences on a state-to-state basis. The most glaring difference about Connecticut is – no job growth. What I’m trying to say is that the role of government is to be constantly comparing itself to other governments. To benchmark where we are on taxes, on services, on crime, we need to constantly be benchmarking ourselves to understand where we fit in the world and what our competitive advantages are. Now, our competitive advantage to just about any other state, is the quality of our workforce. But the quality of our workforce is not matched by the quality of our government. And as of that, our workforce is lost out to other states. So, what I would say to you is, when it comes to infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, New Jersey has done substantially better than we have, and that’s why they’ve gotten many more jobs that have moved out of Manhattan than we have.
NS: Just coming back real quick on the tax issue. You talked about benchmarking ourselves to other states – Connecticut is one of the states with highest taxes in the nation…
DM: Yeah, that’s not really the whole truth of it. Connecticut has higher income, so more taxes are paid on a per capita basis. And in some areas we have higher taxes and other areas and in some areas we have lower taxes than others. I’m not arguing that it should be our job to raise taxes. What I’m saying is, we need to have a reasonable discussion about the crisis we’re in and how do we get out of it. And what I am saying is, a portion of that is going to be curtailing the size of government, cutting government. And a portion of that ultimately is going to have to be on the revenue side. And some small portion may have to be that we borrow. But we can’t borrow the whole thing. And we can’t lay off our workforce. So, as opposed to what the government is doing, right now as we speak, pretending that you can close an $8.7 billion budget gap without looking at revenue is utterly and fantastically ridiculous. To put it in another way she [Governor Rell] has not said how she’s going to cut her way out of that.
NS: How would you prioritize the issues that you want to tackle in the state?
DM: Jobs, jobs, jobs, would be the top three. But, within that group of issues, there are many other issues that are part of that. Transportation - very large problem in the state. In fact, what people in the rest of the state are starting to realize, is that the inability to get through Fairfield County is a block to growing jobs further up, to New Haven County and beyond. Electric rates —huge impediment to growing jobs in Connecticut. Constraint in the electric marketplace in Fairfield County—very large problem. The fact that our urban educational systems, with the exception of Stamford, are graduating a very small portion of their population, not nearly meeting the national standard for employment, is a very large problem.
I think that [another issues is] housing—Stamford’s still the only city in the state that requires a percentage of all new housing to be set aside as affordable. We understand that people have got to live here to support the economy. Connecticut is locally inadequate when it comes to its affordable housing policy.
NS: How about healthcare?
DM: Healthcare, I think, is a very large issue. Healthcare in Connecticut has been bungled by the Governor. She leaves hundreds of millions of dollars in Washington unclaimed. That money otherwise going to other states or going back to the Federal budget. We have not made the kind of progress that other states have made. When I ran for Governor previously, I laid out an “Every child matters” healthcare plan. Where I said we should subsidize healthcare for every child in the state living within 385% of the poverty rate. Obviously that would be on a sliding scale. We need to start somewhere, so we need to make sure every child [is covered]. We need to have a pooling bill so that we can drive down the cost of healthcare for small businesses and municipalities and boards of education. To try to open up the pool so that you have the largest bargaining power. I think ultimately we look to work with the Obama administration. The president announced $649 billion in his 10-year budget plan, to bring about a form of a national healthcare. I also think, and I’m the only person that says this in Connecticut, we also have to rebuild our public health system. Because it’s a less costly alternative to people being ill. And what I mean by that is simply the following: at the end of WWII the United States had the best public health system in the world. And largely we dismantled that. Because we believed that eventually everyone would have health insurance or healthcare availability. Even in this small state we now have to confront the fact that we don’t have enough healthcare providers in many of our communities and the way to do that and provide a cost effective healthcare is to rebuild that public health system – more clinics, more doctors, more nurse practitioners being located in communities providing healthcare services, vaccinations, checkups. Dental care needs to be looked at. Now we know that there’s a very close relationship between dental care and heart disease, for instance. So, we need to make sure, everybody that we can provide insurance to has insurance, we need to build the public health system, as well. The worst, most expensive healthcare, I shouldn’t say the worst care, but the most expensive healthcare provided in the state is provided by the emergency rooms. Which is where every poor person ends up who doesn’t have health insurance after they’ve ignored their health problems.
NS: How would you entice healthcare providers to expand?
DM: I think the government has to play a role. I think that the reality is we are paying hospitals, basically, we are subsidizing hospitals for unreimbursed healthcare, provided in the most expensive way. For every dollar we lessen that, we should be putting that dollar into a public health system that actually is far more efficient and far less costly.
NS: What do you think about the current immigration laws and their enforcement, or lack thereof, and how do you plan to address the issue of illegal immigration?
DM: I think that we need a comprehensive immigration reform in the United States. I think the United States should decide who comes into our country and who doesn’t. We should be in control of our borders. First and foremost. And I believe, I know the President believes that, and I think this is and issue that will be addressed relatively quickly. So, I am not an open borders guy. I believe firmly that we’ve got to control our borders. When we do that, what we’re going to find out is, we can increase the numbers for legal immigration and we can in some senses have people have to this country who are well qualified, who don’t have criminal backgrounds, don’t have issues that they’re bringing with them. In fact, are coming to this country voluntarily, ready to work hard, work toward citizenship and alike. Then I also have to say that realistically, we’re going to have to figure out what to do with a large number of people that are here, that are never going to go home. I just recently had a 17.5, 18-year-old, actually, it was last Spring, a 17.5 year-old young woman came to my office. Her parents have brought her here when she was six months from Guatemala. She’s never been to Guatemala, she’s only gone to Stamford schools, she’s only lived in Connecticut. We’re not going to send her home. We need to figure out how to resolve that issue. She’s as American as anybody you would meet on the street. So we’re going to have to figure that out. And I think I want a clear message from the President that he gets the borders issue and that I want a clear message from the President that at that point we move forward with reform.
NS: What do you think is the state’s role in actually enforcing those laws. Right now, there’s actually a law that prevents people from working illegally or employing people illegally. But those laws don’t seem to be enforced. What do you think the state should do if nothing else changes.
DM: Well, I think the state’s role is secondary to that of the federal government, I want to be very clear. So, I want the federal government to take the steps that I’ve outlined to you. With respect to people working in this country illegally, it’s a bit of a balancing act. There are industries where those folks are absolutely required. In fact it’s kind of this dual national policy – we look the other way.
NS: That’s why I was talking about enforcement. I mean, there are laws already.
DM: But you know… Listen… We know when we go to parts of Arizona and California and literally, every apple orchard in the country in the fall or tobacco picking in the right season, we all know, you could go to any one of those places and round up people who are here illegally. But how are those products then be harvested. How are those apples get from being on the tree to being in the grocery store? And so, we have this very weird situation, where because of lack of a national policy with respect to immigration we have this kind of dual weird policy, where we let lots of people in illegally, understanding they’re coming here, we let very people in legally and we end up with this mess that we have. I think that first and foremost the state’s role is to make sure that people are not being abused whether they’re here legally or illegally. That our labor laws are being honored by all parties with respect to legal or illegal employees. And ultimately we’re also have to guarantee that people are here illegally are not being used in such a way to diminish the lifestyle of those who are here legally. And you do see that on construction jobs. You see contractors and others employing people in jobs that they are not qualified for, basically taking money, dollars, jobs, away from people who are here legally. So, there’s no one answer, I think, is what I’m trying to say. We need a national policy, we need enforcement, appropriately, by the federal government, potentially by the state government, along the guidelines of what I just said. But I can’t give you a simple answer, because I keep going back to my apple orchard – if we didn’t have a policy on the federal level that recognizes that a certain number of people are here illegally and are going to continue to come, we wouldn’t be able to continue to harvest anything.
NS: With a heavily democratic legislature, some would conclude that electing a democratic governor would turn Connecticut into a strongly blue state with a voiceless opposition. How would you work across the line, are there any points that you agree with the Republicans with whom you would work on them?
DM: I’m very familiar with the point that’s the basis of this question. That somehow a Republican governor has served us well. So, I’m going to push back. Is being dead last for job growth a good thing? Is having the highest electric rates in the country a good thing? Is having the worst transportation infrastructure a good thing? Is having some of the worst performance in urban school systems, is that a good thing? Because if you think all those things are good things, you should vote for Jodi Rell.
NS: Where’s your biggest disagreement with the federal government? You already talking about how you agree with the Obama administration, but how about your biggest disagreement with the whole federal government and congress as a whole at this point right now?
DM: I think the president is doing an outstanding job in laying out a whole agenda. And as I said to you earlier in this interview, the model that he is accepting is to say, in a crisis we’ve got to do many things. And I accept that as a way to run government in the foreseeable future. I do think we have to get around to immigration, to go back to that. I do think that with respect to the stimulus package, the President and Congress made a mistake in sending too much money to state government and not enough to local government and as a result that money is not being spent as quickly and maybe even as wisely as it would’ve been. So I do think that that’s an issue. And I think Congress should be adjusting how some of that money could be spent. So, really, it gets down to some fine details about the stimulus that I have my biggest disagreements with [the administration and Congress]. But overall, here we are, we’re 105 days into this administration, and this is the boldest-acting administration since F.D.R., so I don’t have a whole lot of disagreements with them.
NS: What do you think is the biggest advantage, and disadvantage, that Connecticut has at both national and global level?
DM: We have a great location. We have a great workforce. Those are our strengths. And, by the way, we are a beautiful and interesting place. Having said that, we have failed to take advantage to the extent that we should, of those attributes.
One of the interesting things about Connecticut—second only to Alaska, we lose young college graduates in this state because we haven’t created the jobs. So, we educate people. We raise them, we educate them, then we send them to some other state to work, where they then pay taxes. That’s not a good equation. That’s not good public policy. But it comes about, because over a long period of time, we failed to make the kinds of investments to position Connecticut appropriately.
And again, I go back to the New Jersey example or the post 9-11 example. We had the attack on New York City. Many jobs left New York City and they went to Northern New Jersey, and they went to Westchester County and almost none came to Connecticut. And I will push back—it has a lot to do with transportation and hosing policy, education policy and the failure to address those things over a long period of time. And here I sit, years after the 9-11 attacks and [we have] same infrastructure, same systems, same failure to make investment. Again, if you like this kind of slow death of a state, then don’t vote for change.
NS: Mayor Malloy, thank you again for your time today and good luck!
This interview was edited for grammar, clarity and brevity.