Question: What kind of person would you want to steward upward of $30 billion in pension assets and manage a busy office of about a dozen people whose business it is to look after the retirement plans of about 194,000 workers?
You’d want a person with advanced knowledge of investment policy, a solid, hands-on manager and, in the case of an elected official, someone willing to appear in public and defend her record against the man who wants to replace her.
This is not asking a lot of a public official, especially a constitutional officer charged with protecting the interests of so many taxpayers. But based on what we’ve seen in the last few years — and especially the last few months — state Treasurer Denise Nappier fails that test on two of those three accounts.
Nappier is the first African-American woman elected as state treasurer, which is similar to the position she held previously with the City of Hartford. She is obviously a qualified candidate for re-election for the office she has held since 1998, but you’d hardly notice it. Campaign appearances have been kept to a minimum; media availabilities are rare. And for good reason: in her few appearances, Nappier has looked erratic and confused.
She has thus far refused to debate her opponent, Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst. A debate to which the Nappier camp had agreed was scheduled for last Tuesday. But that morning she abruptly pulled out and would only say it was “for personal reasons.” Nappier’s elusiveness has even given Herbst the opening to engage in the gimmicky debating-an-empty-chair routine.
After bowing out of that debate, Nappier had no problem the following morning making an appearance before the editorial board of the New Haven Register, where she was questioned about the previous day’s debate cancellation. She refused to elaborate. Really? It is simply unacceptable to pull out of a previously scheduled event of such importance without a darned good excuse.
For some strange reason, Nappier seems to feel that exchanges with editorial boards are lower risk for her than other public appearances or an actual exchange with her opponent. She did another editorial board meeting Sept. 17 with The Hartford Courant.
She was just as unsteady with The Courant as previous appearances suggested she would be. On numerous occasions, Nappier paused uncomfortably for several seconds before answering and gave rambling and sometimes incoherent answers. Rather than try to knock her further off balance, the board appeared to feel sorry for her and later, bored to tears with her long-winded and vacuous replies.
Some observers, including the admittedly partisan Chris Healy, found factual errors in Nappier’s Courant interview as well. Still others have mockingly wondered who would be seen in public first — Nappier or reclusive North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un?
Even before her halting performance in this year’s campaign, Nappier’s reputation preceded her. Some Democratic insiders acknowledge she keeps strange work hours, is given to outbursts at employees and blathers on during her rare public appearances.
A video has surfaced of Nappier speaking at an event honoring firefighters and extolling their virtues in bizarre terms, telling them, “You are strong. You are good looking and you are committed to a noble profession.” The body language of fellow Democrats Gov. Dan Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman (staring at their feet) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (looking nervous with every word) is most revealing.
And there was that mysterious 2011 event in which Hartford police responded to a call in what the cops said was “a well-known narcotics outlet” in one of the city’s high-crime neighborhoods, only to find Nappier pulling into a housing complex parking lot in what a DMV check erroneously said was an unregistered vehicle — her state-issued Crown Victoria. Nappier disputes the police account that she refused a ride home (she called it “fictitious”), but the cops insist that she did so. Instead, Nappier inexplicably walked the three miles back to her West End home.
Strangely, there is almost nothing on her campaign website, aside a from a recent television commercial — the first of her mercurial 2014 bid for re-election. I don’t know Nappier personally and I’m not privy to the goings-on in her life, but no candidate who refuses to engage her opponent in a public forum deserves to re-elected. Like most of the other five elected constitutional officers in the state, hers is a very important job in whom taxpayers place an enormous fiduciary trust. One need look no further than Nappier’s predecessor to see the damage a truly bad treasurer can do.
No matter what their political persuasion, the people of this great state would be fools to re-elect Nappier.
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