The House spent 90-minutes Wednesday bidding farewell to House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, who announced that after 22 years in the General Assembly he won’t be seeking reelection.
“This is one of the last places where your word must be your bond,” Cafero said in his valedictory speech to the chamber.
It was just one of the observations the 56-year-old attorney made. A member of the minority party his entire 22 years in the General Assembly, Cafero learned to have a good sense of humor, but he also learned to use the power of the minority.
“Sometimes I drove you guys nuts,” Cafero said gesturing toward the Democratic side of the House chamber. “I never meant to. It was never personal.”
He went on to explain that “we all have principles. We’re all true to them. That doesn’t mean we can’t compromise.”
“It does not mean you are casting aside your principles,” Cafero said. “It means that you recognize that there are people with a different set of principles.”
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said the two men did have their public policy differences, but appreciated each other on a personal level.
“We do have our different philosophies, different positions on different issues, but there is no greater friend than someone who you may disagree with on policy matters but will still support you on a personal level,” Sharkey said.
He said the closed-door discussions regarding the response to the Sandy Hook massacre, which included a bill with strict gun regulations, was a good example of Cafero’s leadership ability to find agreement where there was little.
“Really, what was most important in the end was that we come out of that process with a product that represented the best interests of the state,” Sharkey said. “The best way to do that was to not go down the partisan path. To work on finding common ground.”
The “hero” of that effort more than anyone of the legislative leaders in the room was Cafero, according to Sharkey.
“He had an extraordinarily difficult job of leading the minority caucus in this chamber and it was Larry who brought his caucus together and who stayed at the table despite frustration, a desire to go somewhere else,” Sharkey said. “And it speaks volumes about the man.”
Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, who has been serving with Cafero for more than 20 years, said he remembers when they used to have fun in the chamber. He recalled a time when they used to hold charity softball games and were friends with lobbyists and didn’t care what “the press said”.
Rep. Pam Sawyer, R-Bolton, who sits in front of Cafero in the House chamber, said he was the quickest legal read she’s ever known. She touted his work in fashioning a solution to the Sheff v. O’Neill landmark school desegregation lawsuit.
But he’s also known for his hugs when he’s happy to see you and a clenched fist when he’s angry, she said.
Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, joked that while Democrats may have feared Cafero’s clenched fist, Republican lawmakers feared it even more. But like a family, Williams said he understood Cafero only wanted his caucus members to succeed.
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said he appreciated how Cafero “empowered us as a group.” He said Cafero has the ability to lead people and took pride in the success of his caucus, which was his second family.
“We don’t like it any more than you when Larry gets upset,” Candelora said.
Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, who is seeking to succeed Cafero, said he’s a man who doesn’t care about the title, or the corner office, or the license plate.
“He wants to empower others,” Klarides said. “He cares more about you achieving your goal.”
Cafero who is known for his entertaining speeches on the floor of the House has said he honed his rhetorical skills doing up stand up comedy while attending the University of Connecticut. But he also learned how to command an audience by watching his colleagues in the House.
Cafero said he was grateful to have a “ringside seat to democracy” and watch great lawmakers such as the late Dick Belden, Richard Tulisano, and Bill Dyson: “these people were giants.” He said it was a pleasure to sit in the chamber and watch and participate in “these high level debates.”
In her remarks, Sawyer said Cafero was “one of the greats of this chamber.”
Click here to read our previous story about his announcement, which includes background information on his troubles with the F.B.I.