In the wake of a number of public relations debacles at the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s office in recent years, office executives have seen fit to fire the guy who adeptly handled them all. It’s unclear why. Anyone who has dealt with Av Harris (The Shad did both when Harris was a WNPR reporter and when he joined state government) know him to be a talented, capable and hard-working communications professional. He was told by Secretary of State Denise Merrill back in September that his last day would be November 6th, three days after last Election Day.
First word of Harris’ departure from the SOTS’s office came from reporter Brian Lockhart in a story about the comeback of Bridgeport Mayor-elect Joe Ganim. Lockhart quoted Harris saying he “was let go” by Denise Merrill.
I caught up with Harris this week and asked him why he left Merrill’s office. He said, “It wasn’t my decision” and that if I had questions as to why he left, they’d be better posed to Merrill’s office. So I did just that. I spoke to Merrill’s chief of staff Shannon Wegele Thursday morning and asked her under what circumstances did Harris leave. She said she’d have to get back to me. She did and left me a message saying she wouldn’t comment “on personnel matters.”
There have been a number of unforced errors on Merrill’s part over the years that very nearly caught up with her in November of 2014 when she eked out a reelection win. She got just 51 percent of the vote against two unfunded and largely unknown opponents.
It was Harris’ skill with the media that kept the wolves at bay since before Merrill. There was the great “Bridgeport-reverse-911-ran-out-of-ballots” election of 2010 under Susan Bysiewicz that comes immediately to mind.
But Merrill’s string of embarrassing gaffes or, more directly, lapses in judgement would have made her look a whole lot worse had it not been for Harris. Let’s review:
• The court challenge to her ruling on ballot name order. (2012)
• Her decision to plaster her own face on “get out the vote” billboards. (2012)
• Her using her office to email monthly newsletters touting her achievements to thousands of Democratic insiders and campaign contributors (for which she apologized). (2014)
• Despite her denials, her intervention into a controversy involving a notary public. (2015)
• Her choice of a lesser-ranked applicant—but one with political ties—to a position in her office. (2015)
For his part, Harris on balance has fond memories. “It was a great experience. I’ve worked with some really amazing people [at SOTS] who I’ll never forget. We’ve been through some things that form a strong bond.”
Of Merrill, Harris says, “I worked hard in my free time to get Denise Merrill elected, I’m proud of the work I’ve done at the Secretary of State’s office and I’ll always remember it,” he said.
Harris hasn’t decided just what he’ll do next. He could potentially join the Ganim administration in Bridgeport (who better to ride herd over that media circus) but logistics could be a problem—he lives in Western Massachusetts and has teenaged daughters.
There is always the chance he returns to radio or some other sort of journalism. There is no doubt however, that wherever he lands, he’ll be successful.