Cathy Malloy a powerful force in Dan's world
HARTFORD -- She's a handful. She knows that. It's no secret.
She jokes about it, even with him or in front of others.
"People always tell me, `You're so real! I can't believe how real you are.' And he tells me."
Here Cathy Malloy jerks with one thumb to signify her husband, the governor, who isn't even walking next to her as she parts the glass doors of the building and walks out onto Hartford's Main Street.
"He tells me, `What they mean is, you're crazy!' "
Then she laughs, genuine but hard and loud, a metal-cased thing falling on the floor in church.
No one else says anything.
Cathy makes some people nervous, for all the reasons he teases her about. She says what she thinks, in unapologetic bursts, and with a reflexive persistence that makes even the often filter-less governor seem even more guarded by comparison.
She shares his lack of sentimentality, the resistance to emotionalizing. (She says, for instance, that leaving their house in Stamford is tough for their youngest son, Sam. It's the only house he's ever known. Cathy Malloy says this like she's relating the color of his shirt.)
But Dan Malloy is never more comfortable than with her, and it is to her that he turns when faced with the one emotion he seems most loath to confess: doubt.
"Every once in a while," Cathy says, sitting on a couch in the study of the Official Residence one afternoon, "he'll say to me, `How do you think I'm doing?'
" `Am I a good governor?' "
`WE WERE VERY EMPOWERED'
They met in Massachusetts. Boston College was assimilating the Newton College of the Sacred Heart, a small, all-female college just over a mile from the main university campus in Brookline. The student governments would help with the consolidation, a learning exercise that Catherine Frances Lambert took to with relish.
She, like many of the other first-year students at Newton, was emboldened by her experience in the small, same-sex college. Nearly four decades later, she recalls a sense of freedom at the absence of the male gaze and its accompanying insecurities
And if the trappings of officialdom on the student government transition team were new to the other girls, or to the boys from B.C., they weren't to Cathy Lambert. She had always been a worker and always an organizer. More politically engaged than her twin sister and her parents, it was Cathy who had been a natural campaigner back in Illinois. She set up a task force with the local police to consider the needs and concerns of local teenagers. From the board of education, she wrung out money to stage wholesome entertainment for her fellow youth, including a talent competition.
It was only natural, off at college, that she should wind up in the undergraduate student government, and in turn on the transition team, eager to defend the unique properties of Newton from being subsumed beneath the status quo of B.C. and its male-dominated student body.
"I was there with all these women saying, `No way you men are going to take over our school,' " she says. "Women that go to women's colleges tend to be a little more outspoken. ... We were very empowered in those days."
Similarly excited by the processes of government and bursting to show off his talents was a dark-haired, ambitious boy from Stamford, Conn. He'd been a football player in high school, but now he would throw himself into a pair of unsuccessful runs for student government at B.C. Perhaps he had betrayed his long-held ambition to run for mayor in his hometown. She noticed him.
It is April 6, 1974, a date her future husband will repeat frequently in the years to come, never failing to bring a quiet, admiring sigh from his audiences. That day, they met, at a college party in Brighton. The next time she saw the boy, Cathy Lambert remembered his name as "Donald O'Malley."
crossing the line
As Dan Malloy's political ascent began, Cathy Malloy worked: Running the catering business, directing marketing in the downtown mall, working for the area United Way, then the center for victims of sexual assault.
Along the way, she naturally served in the most natural role: defender of the family against threats political and personal, especially those who would menace their three boys.
The future first couple was a long way from the governor's office in 2009, when Dan and Cathy Malloy attended the Jefferson-Jackson-Bailey Dinner in Hartford. The event is the pre-eminent fundraiser for Connecticut's Democratic Party, a time for most to revel in political common ground, to be regaled by a prominent guest, and (for the few who are jockeying for a nomination) to preen and persuade.
It had been a rough few weeks for the Malloys, with the arrest of Ben, their middle son, splashed on newspaper front pages around the state. But almost everyone in the still-broad gubernatorial field observed the political industry's omertá. Until the first one goes there, no one will go there. And families being what they are, no one seemed eager to set the precedent of making candidates accountable for misbehaving children.
There was one exception: Jim Amann, the former speaker of the House and a rival for the Democratic nomination, who told the Hartford Courant, in the guileless bumbling style that some thought was unintentional, that if he were Dan Malloy he'd not be focused on running campaigns but on straightening out his troubled son.
Now, here came Amann, ambling over through the crowd to greet the Malloys. Every Democrat a chum on this night of nights.
From Dan Malloy, Amann received a cool handshake. Then Amann reached in to greet Cathy, all paws, palms squeezing elbows and forearms in a clutch of Maximum Camaraderie.
Cathy hissed in contempt, as Amann reeled backward, startled: "Get your hands off of me."
When they tell the story, they chuckle, especially her husband. This is Cathy Malloy. Uninterested in niceties, unafraid of violating protocol and fiercely protective of the people in her trust: a few close friends, her husband, her children.
They talk constantly. The governor juggles his two phones, a man in constant fidget, and when the personal cellphone rings, it's a safe bet it's his wife. Cathy managing the team of workers renovating the Official Residence. Cathy telling him there's still stuff to move out of the just-leased Stamford house. Cathy with news about Sam and college, wondering when the final reception of the day will be over, wanting to get out of some horrible bore of an event he's committed them to, wanting to drag the governor somewhere he dreads.
"We find people incredibly interesting," Cathy Malloy says. She's sitting in the just-finished study of the Official Residence on Prospect Avenue and has just finished 20 minutes of explanation about the difficulty she had in finding a job, the latent sexism in the questions about whether she should even need employment other than being Dan Malloy's wife, the worries about conflict of interest she has had to defuse in accepting the leadership of the Greater Hartford Arts Council. She speaks with the deliberateness of someone who suspects you are misunderstanding her. The points come in layers, laid down and repeated again and again, lacquered into place like strips becoming solid plywood. They are interested in people, not interested in the casual, small-talk sense, really, they find them interesting, really, they are the most interesting thing.
Her answers end abruptly, and then she regards the questioner with a skepticism that suggests someone administering a quiz: Did you understand the point she was making or didn't you? She will tell you again if she has to.
`DAN'S not one of those peoPLE'
She scoffs at the people who find her husband a little too hard-charging, a little more aggressive, even in his small talk, than he really needs to be.
"Well, I'm the same way," Cathy Malloy says. "My board (at the Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education in Stamford), in a joking way, after I left, a couple of people on my board told me, `Well, now we can talk at board meetings.'
"I think we're both the same way: We know what we want, we know what we want to achieve, and we're going to get there. And people are either going to be with us, or"-- the sentence, like one of her husband's, heads out abruptly in a different direction.
"I wouldn't particularly hold a grudge if somebody wasn't going my way, but they'd be left on the side of the road, and that's it. And I was going to get there. That's it. And he's the same way."
This all drops, as neat as a jigsawed puzzle piece, into the master narrative. People must understand that Dan Malloy does what Dan Malloy sets out to do. People must understand Dan Malloy's intent, and people should join him. She seems to sense this and puts down her coffee cup.
"I've seen him a million times admit that he's wrong."
All this talk about his aggressiveness, his pitiless ambition, they're reading her husband wrong.
"There are some politicians that would eat their kids to get where they want. Dan's not one of those people."
THE CHRIS SHAYS STORY
One evening in Hartford:
"So what is `the Chris Shays story?' "
"All right, all right," says Dan Malloy, riding shotgun in the black Lincoln as it glides up Asylum Avenue in the darkness.
"Oh, God," says Arielle Reich, in back, with the first lady.
"Should I tell it, Dan?" Cathy Malloy asks, laughing. They have left the last event of the evening, a fundraiser for the Hartford Public Library at the Convention Center downtown, an expanse of multicolored carpet, fogs of perfume liberally applied, white-draped tables, whitened teeth, white wine.
The governor is all too aware of the reporter in the car, and yet he doesn't tell her not to tell the Chris Shays story, perhaps because there's no point in intervening. So she does.
Back in Stamford, Dan Malloy used to hold an annual St. Patrick's Day party, a fundraiser for charity at which the mayor and his wife presided. It was a bipartisan affair, festive and relaxed, so a natural stop on the circuit for then-congressman Chris Shays. One year, Cathy Malloy says, she wore a Kelly green pantsuit in honor of the occasion, and so did Betsi Shays. Partway through the party, as Shays stood talking with one circle, he glimpsed his wife, in radiant green, standing in another adjacent circle, facing away from him. The congressman's hand discreetly approached the lower half of a Kelly green pantsuit and gave it an appreciative squeeze, which came as a complete surprise to Cathy Malloy, not Betsi Shays.
The congressman was mortified, she says -- now Arielle is laughing with a hand covering her brow, and the governor says "all right, all right," willing this story to be over with. But now Shays brings it up whenever he sees her. Their private hilarity.
"I'm like, `Chris, that was 10 years ago,' " Cathy Malloy says. The car is moving uphill, nearing Prospect, and she pauses for a long beat. Then she says, her voice channeling Kathleen Turner, stifling a laugh of her own, "And my a-- is still the same!"
"All right, all right," says Dan Malloy.
Tomorrow: The new governor's determination to court business earns him a nickname in labor circles: "Corporate Dan."