(Updated 7:39 p.m.) Last year the revival of the Crocodile Club—where serious political discourse and post-mortems are discouraged—the U.S. Senate candidates took center stage, but this year the only one who showed up is the one who has yet to announce he’s running.
Former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, who will be running for U.S. Senate in 2012, was invited to the stage after Crocodile Club President Ray Dunaway was told U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal was running late.
Shays joked about Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo’s press releases welcoming him back to Connecticut detailing all the things he missed and took a jab at lobbyist, Patrick Sullivan, who worked on Linda McMahon’s 2010 Senatorial campaign.
Shays harkened back to his days as a state legislator when he introduced legislation to increase competition in the liquor industry, which Sullivan represented for many years. He said that instead of being upset, Sullivan thanked him because it meant he could ask the industry for more money… He said maybe Sullivan will appreciate that he’s getting in the Senate race because it means he can ask McMahon for money. McMahon hasn’t officially announced but rumors are she will run again. Sullivan, who runs a successful lobbying firm in Hartford for years, will likely be her consultant again.
He said he thought Sullivan may be mad at him for running, but once he recalled the liquor story he said, “I realized that actually, Pat likes me a lot.”
Afterward, Shays said that he didn’t realize Sullivan no longer represented the liquor industry.
The lobbyists who attended the luncheon felt Shays’ jokes fell a little flat and showed he has been out of Connecticut politics for a few years. At one point Shays even suggested that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wouldn’t have won his election if it hadn’t been for Blumenthal, when there was no synergy between the two campaigns.
Some Democrats in the room were a little harsher.
“He was awful,” Leo Canty, Windsor’s Democratic Party chairman, said. “In fact, he was so bad I hope he wins the nomination.”
But Shays brushed off the faux pas regarding Sullivan. He said he’s having a lot of fun coming back to Connecticut.
“First of all, there are good people on both sides of the aisle, but the state’s in deep shit,” Shays said. “The era of kicking the can down the road that has ended.”
Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr., who spoke before Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman on Friday, said he was asked by the organizers of the event to crack a few jokes about Republicans who hold higher office in Connecticut.
“I’d like to do that except we don’t have any,” Labriola said.
He also decided to tackle the obvious by poking fun at U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who was away on vacation when Tropical Storm Irene hit.
“She wanted to be here and asked me to send her regrets. She had to catch a plan to Italy,” Labriola joked.
He also made fun of Sen. Joseph Markley of Southington. He said Markley wanted to be there but he couldn’t catch his bus.
Markley is a vocal opponent of the Hartford-New Britain busway.
Wyman, who was filling in for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Friday, said he was away taping a show with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“On the Jerry Springer show,” Wyman said. “They’re kind of advertising this as a unique mix of political debate and ultimate fighting championship.”
Christie and Malloy have been trading barbs regularly on national television.
She also joked that Connecticut has seen a lot of her and the governor lately between the hurricanes, blizzards, and earthquakes. She said the weathermen are beginning to think she and the governor want their jobs.
Attorney General George Jepsen made fun of his Danish heritage, saying he may have been elected to higher office earlier in his career if there were more Danes in the state.
And Rep. Themis Klarides, a Derby Republican and a self-described Crocodile “virgin,” thanked the Democratic Party for taking the burden of having a governor from the Republican party off her plate.
“Now you understand what it’s like to have a governor in your party,” Klarides said. “Now you can feel our pain.”
Blumenthal, who arrived late, said he was happy to get a chance to address the dwindling crowd. In seniority amongst the 100 U.S. Senators, Blumenthal is 97th.
“I’m glad you’re cheering. The point is any day I get to speak is a good day for me,” Blumenthal said. “My being here should show you how desperate I am to have an opportunity to speak.”
He also took a jab at some of his colleagues in Washington, saying some are so bad they make Connecticut’s worst politicians look like statesmen.
Blumenthal has been coming to the Crocodile Club for more than 25 years.
Last year’s event was packed. But even though this year is a municipal election year and turnout was a little lighter, more than 200 people attended and helped raise thousands of dollars for the Carousel Museum.
The club was started in 1875 by Gad Norton, a former legislator, who decided to thank his colleagues in the General Assembly for their help in passing a statute that changed the town line between Bristol and Southington so that he was able to put his farmhouse in Bristol.
The reason for this request was so that he could vote in Bristol, where he did all his trading and knew more people. Also, in the days of horses, buggies, dirt roads, and tough winters, the three-mile ride to Bristol was a lot easier than the six miles to Southington.
Video will be uploaded later.