Retiring Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy may be passionate about his party’s ideology and he knows how to throw a political punch, but all the Democrats in the room at his farewell bash Tuesday never let that get in the way of their friendship.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Tim Bannon, Malloy’s chief of staff, Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, Peter Kelly, who has held several positions with the Democratic National Committee, former Democratic Party Chairman John F. Droney Jr. and the current Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo all made their way to Cromwell to bid adieu to Healy, who decided not to seek re-election after fours years in the position.
“Chris was a good opponent,” DiNardo said. “We’re sorry to see him go, but I’ll be honest, there’s many Democrats in the legislature who won’t be sorry to see him leave.”
Relentless in his political attacks that his confidants say were never personal and generally were issue-based, Healy, a former newspaper reporter, congressional aide, and lobbyist wasn’t popular with the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, which was often the target of his attacks.
Healy was the architect of the fake Twitter accounts that targeted Democratic lawmakers in 2009. Some would say the accounts, which were eventually taken down by Twitter, was a creative use of a new social media tool, while others would say they were deceptive.
There were no Democratic lawmakers in attendance Tuesday, but Healy said Malloy gave him the best compliment of the night telling him he was “old school.” To Healy that compliment harkens back to the good old days when Democrats and Republicans could put aside their differences at the end of the day and enjoy each other as people with interests outside of politics. He said it’s a trait that’s been lost over the years as politicians have come to take themselves “a little too seriously.”
Speaking of old school, former Sen. Louis DeLuca, who served as minority leader until he resigned in 2007, said he was asked by DiNardo to present Healy with a “Man of the Year Award” for doing what no Democrat could do in 2010: “Prevent Susan Bysiewicz from running for Attorney General.”
Healy, at great expense to the Republican party, intervened in the lawsuit Bysiewicz filed against herself to prove she was qualified to run for attorney general. The Republicans emerged victorious when the Connecticut Supreme Court decided Bysiewicz did not have enough legal experience to run for attorney general just days before the nominating convention.
Healy also takes some credit for former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd’s decision not to seek re-election. In fact, Healy was so passionate about ousting Dodd, he dragged his wife to Ireland as part of their honeymoon to take photos of Dodd’s cottage, which Dodd claimed had little value. Not satisfied that the Countrywide mortgage scandal would sink Dodd, Healy set out to prove him wrong about the value of his Irish cottage.
Ben Proto, a friend and colleague, used his time at the microphone Tuesday to talk about how they got lost in New Canaan back in 1999 or 2000 while transporting then-presidential candidate John McCain to a fundraiser. When they arrived for the event it was daytime, but by the time they left it was night and there were no lights to guide them back to the Merritt Parkway.
Proto said Healy turned around in numerous driveways, each of which seemed to be longer than the road. He said that at one point, McCain joked that he should just get out and go to the door to ask for a campaign donation every time Healy lost his way.
Proto said despite the balls of sweat accumulating on Healy’s forehead, he had the courage to ask McCain to sign three copies of his book, “Faith of My Fathers.”
As Healy drove, McCain asked to whom each book should be signed. When Healy told him the last one should be signed to Peter Kelly, McCain almost choked before asking if Healy really meant the DNC treasurer? Healy responded, “yes.”
Healy said he thinks he’s the only person in Connecticut to work for Pat Sullivan of Sullivan and LeShane, a lobbyist and Republican fundraiser, and Kelly, a national Democratic figure, who was once his boss at Updike, Kelly and Spellacy.
McCain and Bob Dole both sent letters congratulating Healy on his accomplishments, which were read by Proto.
Former Gov. John G. Rowland noted in some brief remarks that Healy had a knack for bringing together Democrats and Republicans. He joked that he wasn’t sure he was in the right place as he was in the parking lot headed into the event at the Crowne Plaza in Cromwell until he saw Droney, Bannon, and Occhiogrosso walking toward him.
But all joking aside, Rowland gave Healy credit for defining the party’s issues and never being at a loss for words when he called in to the afternoon radio show Rowland co-hosts.
“We all work in a world where we lay it on the line every day,” Healy said. “I hope we can have more times like this where we can all sit around and talk as human beings. That’s not to say we’re going to not grab our knives at the appropriate time.”
Healy took a moment to thank friends and supporters who helped him through a rough patch with alcoholism and the two drunken driving arrests he dealt with publicly as he was coming up for re-election two years ago.
“There was a time when I didn’t know if I was going to make it,” Healy said. “And thankfully, almost everyone in this room, I can say, hung in there with me until I got my priorities in order.”
When depression hits now, Healy joked that all he has to do is read the note cards with all the compliments people left for him Tuesday.
Healy, whose mother and father attended the farewell party, talked about how he got his start in politics.
He was four years old and his father brought him to a park to campaign with a childless man running for New York’s Assembly. Healy, dressed in lederhosen because it was a German neighborhood, stood next to the politician and handed out palm cards.
“So that’s where my political career started, in lederhosen,” Healy said. “I hope it doesn’t end in lederhosen.”
Healy decided not to seek re-election after four years as party chairman. Despite some big gains in the 2009 municipal elections and some small gains in the state House last year, Republicans were critical of Healy’s performance during the 2010 election cycle because the party was unable to pick up any Congressional or Constitutional offices. Several opponents lined up to challenge him.
At least five of his opponents dropped out to endorse former state Sen. Bill Aniskovich, who then dropped out himself after issues were raised about his company’s contracts with the state and adultery in his past.
Aniskovich attended Healy’s farewell party Tuesday, along with several of the candidates still vying for the position, including Republican Party Vice Chairwoman Catherine Marx and Republican Party Treasurer Jerry Labriola Jr., who announced his candidacy this week on the Dan Lovallo show.
The vote to replace Healy will be held next Tuesday, June 28.
Healy says he will stay involved in politics, but it will no longer be his full-time job. Healy will be taking a job as director of business development for Summit Financial Group.