The communications team in Gov. Dannel Mally’s has until recently been cordial, responsive and extremely professional. But it seems that when the really tough questions start coming in, they “go dark,” simply choosing not to respond or in the case of one of the top reporters in the state capitol, get nasty.
Headed by top advisor Roy Occhiogrosso and executed by Communications Director Colleen Flanagan, Malloy’s media team has been very effective, having dealt with the thorny issues that have come up as Malloy has sought to fill a $3.5 billion budget gap.
However several reporters tell The Shad (and I have experienced it myself) that the team begs off questions when there seems to be no good answer. Witness the case of Hearst Newspaper Group (Connecticut Post, Stamford Advocate, et al) reporter Brian Lockhart who has been doggedly trying to get a comment from the governor on the possibility of UBS moving a substantial number of jobs out of Stamford—the governor’s hometown—and into the new World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.
Flanagan’s emailed response to Lockhart betrayed why they don’t want to answer the question. Lockhart wrote in his blog, “I e-mailed another request and spokesman Colleen Flanagan wrote back: ‘Google ‘Lockhart, UBS, Malloy’ and take any one of the comments from the last 5 times you’ve asked!!’” Ouch. Jumping ugly with a well-respected member of the media covering the Capitol is a sign things aren’t going well. Lockhart himself tells me he wasn’t sure if the response was nasty or just an exasperated joke and that she couldn’t have been happy he reported it but that he wanted people to know exactly what the response was.
Make no mistake, there are situations when reporters need to be called on things. The Shad did it as communications and media director for the state Senate Democrats—just ask Mark Pazniokas or Keith Phanuef (two of the best), then of the Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, respectively. But Lockhart’s was a case of a legitimate request for a comment on a major company, in the governor’s hometown.
I know Lockhart’s frustration firsthand. Three times this week, I emailed requests to Occhiogrosso and Flanagan seeking information and/or comment on the delay of implementation of the governor’s much-heralded proposal to institute Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). I also asked about the use of surplus funds to help plug the deficit. I got no answer.
This might not seem unusual if had not been such a departure from their regular operating procedures. Occhiogrosso had a Blumenthal-like penchant for the press room during the concession negotiations with labor, many times offering such insightful tidbits as “They’re working hard” or “Both sides are respectful” or “Things could change.” I have emailed questions to the pair many times since the governor took office and I have always gotten a timely and helpful response. Could the wheels be coming off?