After the sordid spectacle of John Rowland, the calming influence of Gov. M. Jodi Rell was just the ticket for our state, like slipping on a pair of worn flannel PJs and sitting by the fire sipping hot cocoa after you’ve been caught out in a nasty storm.
But when the time came to get dressed and get back to work to make difficult decisions, Rell’s grandmotherly façade concealed a passive-aggressive streak that prevented her from showing the real leadership Connecticut needed.
Take, for example, her decision to neither veto nor sign the budget passed by the legislature in 2009, but merely to allow it to become law five days after passage. “I will not veto the entire budget,” Rell said. “However, I will not sign it into law, because I do not believe in this budget. I do not want, by my signature, to put a stamp of approval on their spending….”
She actually made me long for Former British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher. At least with the “Iron Lady” you knew where you stood.
In the (thankfully) waning days of her term as Governor, Rell is leaving us with another example of her leadership style – or lack thereof. The day before Thanksgiving, Rell sent a list of fifty proposed cuts to the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, in order to find $38 million necessary to help the state’s low-income residents with their heating bills this winter through the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program. Amongst the ideas was eliminating all service on the Metro-North branch lines.
As you can imagine, this went down like a lead balloon in the commuter suburbs here in Fairfield County, which rely heavily on these branch lines, and not only that, pay over 40 percent of the tax revenues received in Hartford in return for the worst return on those tax dollars. My brother, a generally Republican leaning Stamford resident, and I discussed Rell’s proposal over the Thanksgiving turkey. We both voiced our gratitude that we worked from home offices, because closing the branch lines would add even more congestion to an already unbearable I-95, and would create additional parking problems at rail stations along the main Metro North lines, where people have to wait months for a commuter sticker.
Well, unlike like the Iron Lady, this Granny is for turning, which she did in a spectacularly undignified fashion on Nov. 29th: :
“I can understand the confusion and questions that people have so let me be quite clear: I do not and will not support cuts to the Metro-North branch lines – Danbury, Waterbury or New Canaan. In fact, no one has made more of a commitment to commuter rail than I have, and I will continue to forcefully advocate for rail until I leave office in January.”
The list of cuts was prepared by the Office of Policy and Management as a menu of options for the Legislature to consider as a way to fill a funding hole in the winter home heating assistance program for seniors and low-income families. In hindsight, I can see how inclusion of this item on the list sent the wrong message.
Let me reiterate that the suggested rail cuts are not cuts that I approve or will support. The Legislature has to own up to its responsibility to find funding for the home heating assistance program… As governor, I stand ready to work with the Legislature.
So…if you “do not and will not support cuts to Metro-North branch lines”, then why put them in the OPM proposal? Because you’re so out of touch you didn’t know they were there, or because you’re playing passive-aggressive games with the Legislature? Either way, it shows dismal leadership. We can only hope that our incoming governor, Dan Malloy is an improvement, because to solve the very real problems our state faces we don’t have time for games.
Sarah Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.