Q and A with… Dan Malloy
Stamford mayor and Gubernatorial candidate speaks out against antisemitism
By Judie Jacobson
STAMFORD – On May 22, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy won his party’s endorsement for Governor at the Democrats’ state convention at the Expo Center in Hartford. Though Malloy bested Ned Lamont by a substantial margin, the Greenwich millionaire won enough votes to challenge Malloy in the August 10 primary.
Last week, in the midst of his primary campaign, Malloy was slapped with a lawsuit by Greenwich resident Lee Whitnum, who charged the mayor with slander. The charge stemmed from a press conference Malloy held on August 11, 2008 in which he called remarks made by Whitnum “antisemitic.” (see “Israel Becomes A Campaign Issue,” Jewish Ledger, August 21, 2008). At the time, Whitnum, was running against Jim Himes in the Democratic primary in the 4th Congressional District. She had based her campaign on a strong anti-Israel, anti-AIPAC message, going so far as to blame the organization for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and to pin 9/11 on American support of Israel.
“We can break the strangle-hold of AIPAC, the Israel Lobby, on our political system,” Whitnum wrote on her website during her campaign, “No more unnecessary wars for a special interest group. I, like many Americans pledge alliance to one country only; we want our country back…” Then, in a letter to the Connecticut Post, published on Aug. 9, 2008, she wrote: “The Neoconservatives, the right wing branch of AIPAC, were instrumental in our decision to invade Iraq…. So why should AIPAC’s influence-peddling, commonplace in Washington now be shunned? Because of the role of the neoconservatives in the taking down of Iraq and the reasons for rage that led to 2,700 lives lost in our own 9/11 attack. Osama bin Laden was clear about 9/11 as ‘retaliation against the American-Israeli alliance’s aggression against our people in Palestine and Lebanon.'”
Born and raised in Stamford, Malloy is the youngest of eight children. Diagnosed with a severe learning disability, he overcame this obstacle and went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Boston College and Boston College Law School. He then became a successful prosecutor, serving as assistant district attorney and winning 22 convictions in 23 felony cases. He returned home to run for Mayor of Stamford in 1995, winning in a landslide. Malloy served 14 years, the city’s longest tenure as mayor, and oversaw the city’s transformation.
Recently, the Ledger spoke with Dan Malloy about Whitnum’s lawsuit, as well as the upcoming Gubernatorial primary.
Q: Tell us what happened between you and Lee Whitnum?
A: There was no doubt in my mind that the rhetoric that she was using was antisemitic. Comparing levels of guilt to the people who actually flew planes into buildings…it was just incredible and I felt that as a human being I couldn’t give witness to that without raising my voice. I wasn’t politically motivated – she was never going to win the primary; she was not a substantial candidate. But if people don’t raise their voice when this kind of rhetoric is being engaged in, then you’re just standing by and letting people get away with it. I didn’t feel that I could morally do that. So, I called some community leaders and some rabbis and they came and denounced this rhetoric.
Q: And in your statement you referred to her as antisemitic?
A: I did. I referred to her as using antisemitic language. I said in my statement: “This is not acceptable. During her brief run [Whitnum] has used every stereotype of Jewish power in the book. She has blamed the 9/11 attack and the war in Iraq on Israel, the Jewish lobby, the Jewish media control… It is intended to divide Americans, not unite them. It has a far too familiar ring to it. As Jews involved in politics here in Fairfield County, we cannot remain silent anymore while a candidate for public office wages this campaign of antisemitism.” She responded with this letter that confirmed everything that we were calling her out on. My favorite part of her letter was her long list of Jewish individuals that, according to her, are involved in the media and therefore make the media pro-Israel – including Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox TV, the New York Post, News of the World. Next to Murdoch’s name, she points out in parenthesis “Jewish mother.” The guy was raised Catholic; he’s been an uber-Catholic – and she finds the need to point out that he had a Jewish mother. But she’s not antisemitic! It’s the same rhetoric that Jewish individuals living in this country and living in the world have been subjected to for hundreds of years and I just felt I had to stand up and say something.
Q: How will you respond to the lawsuit?
A: I will defend it. Clearly, the standards should lead to a dismissal of the lawsuit on its face. First of all, truth is an absolute defense. Secondly, she is a public figure, so she would have to show malice under The New York Times v Sullivan standard. So, there is no way she could meet the prima facie case. This is a calculated move on her part to get attention and repeat some of the same rhetoric that she has been criticized for. This is just another way for her to get her message out, just like running for Senator is another way to get her message out – and her message is hate. Don’t get me wrong – she can legitimately have differences with AIPAC. But there is a difference between that and claiming that AIPAC is morally guilty of the attacks of 9/11 and the individuals who perpetrated them. That substantially crosses the line.
Q: Let’s talk about your campaign. Your ad focuses a lot on your background. Why do you think that’s relevant?
A: I am what I am – like Popeye. I think it’s important for people to understand what motivates somebody to be involved in politics and what their mission is. So, I thought it is important to share parts of my own narrative; growing up in a working class family, where my mother was a public health nurse and a school nurse. And when she saw injustice – which was a boss who divided jobs that were held by women into parts so that he wouldn’t have to pay benefits – she formed a union. That’s part of my personal narrative. Having to overcome physical and learning disabilities is all a part of who I am. Just like being a prosecutor and a community activist and a mayor is part of my narrative. I think it’s important that people know what motivated me to give up 14 years, a period of time in my life when I could have made a lot of money, to turn a city around. I’m proud of that work and I would be proud to be governor at a time of great financial crisis facing the state and take that challenge on. Most people are middle class and I want people to understand that I understand.
Q: When you came out with your plan to create jobs last week, Ned Lamont criticized you for being late out of the gate. How do you respond to that?
A: The New London Day had an editorial yesterday praising my plan. It’s a very detailed plan. By the way, I’ve been out there talking about jobs and the failure to grow jobs throughout the entirety of this campaign and I’ve had things on my website all along. This is a bit of a calculation on the part of the Lamont campaign to be dismissive. But a plan is an important document that has to move beyond political rhetoric – and this document goes way beyond political rhetoric and spells out in specifics, programs that I would institute, investments that I would make, legislation that I would seek to enact. It’s 12 points and it’s a comprehensive approach. Get [Lamont’s] off his website and get mine and compare the two – which is what I suspect the New London Day did.
Q: What is your number one priority should you be elected Connecticut’s next Governor?
A: Well, I have two number one priorities. Number one is the fiscal emergency that the state will be in with projections of a $3.5 to $4 billion deficit – and finding a way to manage that effectively within the first year in office. The short term is to find a way to balance the budget without trying to balance it on the backs of the individuals who are most dependent on state government to stay alive and to survive. The long term is to create job growth and economic growth in the state. That’s why the 12-point plan needed to be comprehensive, as opposed to a collection of political verbiage. “Let’s get going again” and “Let’s get back on offense” really don’t do the job.
Q: You have criticized your opponent for not opting in to the campaign public finance system. Why?
A: He said he supports the system…he just doesn’t support it now. So, he said he supported it before he was running, he doesn’t while he’s running, but thinks he should be elected so he can save the system. It’s logic turned on its head. I did invite him, if he wasn’t going to participate in the system, at least for the purpose of the primary to live within the statutory limits and he refused to do that. His argument was ‘we’ve got to spend against Foley.’ Well, that’s the general election, we have now a primary. I thought it was important to follow through with my words. I fought for finance reform in the state. I supported it then, I need to support it as a candidate. It’s important legislation – getting big money out of politics is very, very important.
Q: About Nancy Wyman…
A: She’s the greatest. To know her is to love her. On top of the expertise she brings to the operation of government, she is the person who sounded the alarm about structural deficits and she understands health care to a higher degree than just about anyone else in the state. She’s just a great complement to me on the ticket and this will be a true partnership with each of us having our own portfolios.