Former State Rep. Bill Dyson of New Haven summed up Tuesday’s gathering of lobbyists, lawmakers, state contractors and former commissioners as “an indication of civility returning to the public domain.”

The gathering was a fundraiser for the University of Hartford’s Gov. M. Jodi Rell Center for Public Service and was the first of many farewell events Rell will attend over the next several weeks.

“It’s been a longtime since I’ve been to a gathering with Republicans and Democrats sitting in the same place, carrying on conversations, and not fighting,” Dyson said.

“When I walked in I didn’t expect to see Nikki O’Neill here,” Dyson said referring to the widow of Connecticut’s last Democratic Governor William A. O’Neill. “I did not expect to see that. I did not expect to see a whole bunch of people here. I thought I was going to be the only black guy here. I did.”

He said the kinship and kindness in the ballroom of the Cromwell Crowne Plaza Hotel “is attributable to Jodi.”

But Dyson said Rell isn’t only kind she’s tough and thoughtful.

“She’s going to tell you ’No’ in a kind of way that you think you got ’Yes’ out of,” Dyson said. “I can accept rejection if it comes kindly and Jodi could do that.”

Dyson, who works with youth, applauded the goal of the Rell Center for Public Service to train students and prepare them for public service, which Rell herself described as a “calling.”

Dyson, the only Democrat to offer his remarks as part of the formal program, was followed by Senate Minority Leader Pro Tempore Leonard Fasano, R-East Haven.

“The residents of this state may not agree with all of Governor Rell’s decisions,” Fasano said. “But they always understood that her decisions were made with the best interests of the state of Connecticut and not to advance her own personal agenda.”

“And understanding who Governor Rell was as a person has made her the most popular governor in Connecticut’s history,” Fasano said.

Rell closed out the evening by Tuesday by giving a brief speech thanking those that spoke about her and her love of public service.

Rell teased Dyson about how she would give him a hard time when he was the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and she was a state representative from Brookfield who asked about several line items in the budget during early morning sessions when other lawmakers may not have been paying close attention.

Dyson said he knew he could give flip answers to other lawmakers, but not Rell.

It was clear Dyson and Rell share a mutual respect for each other and a love of public service, which will be the focus of the new programmatic center at the University of Hartford.

“We have to get people involved,” Rell said. “Bill said it right when he talking earlier we need to bring civility back to government.”

“We’re not going to get people to serve in office if we’re going to continue to see negative campaigning, ugly attack ads and the like,” Rell said. “What we really need is to let people know public service is a noble cause that it really is good, proper to serve your fellow man.”

At the end of the evening Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford, announced that Tuesday’s gathering had brought in $60,000. The money will be used to pay stipends to a current University of Hartford professor to run the center and honorariums for guest speakers.

Click here to watch Adam’s report on the center itself.

Close to 500 people attended Tuesday’s event including lobbyists.

Rell’s chief legal counsel asked the Office of State Ethics, in her capacity as a private citizen, if it would be possible for the lobbyists and state contractors to contribute money to the center by purchasing tickets to Tuesday’s dinner. The answer she received was yes.

Asked if this in anyway tarnish Rell’s reputation as someone who cleaned house when former Gov. John G. Rowland resigned and went to jail, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said “absolutely not.”

“This is about recognizing a governor who is leaving office as 25 years of public service,” McKinney said.

While many of Rell’s supporters, friends, and family members attended the event, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele was noticeably absent. Rell refused to publicly endorse Fedele’s run for governor prior to the August primary and the distance between the two has only increased during the waning days of the Rell administration.

Gov.-elect Dan Malloy and Lt. Gov.-elect Nancy Wyman attended the reception prior to the dinner.

YouTube video
Watch Rell’s exit from the fundraiser.