The big news today is Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie’s abrupt resignation to, according to Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s office, “pursue long-term employment opportunities and spend more time with his family.”
Marie in a phone interview posted earlier on this blog confirmed that to be the case.
It’s a fact that when a governor retires, as is the case with Rell, their top agency heads begin looking for opportunities elsewhere, either because they don’t want to work for someone else or believe that the next governor will want to bring their own people on board.
But I would have thought of any commissioners, Marie had perhaps the best chance of being rehired by Rell’s successor. Legislators from both parties and transportation advocates in general have lamented the turnover at the top of the DOT. And while some lawmakers have questioned a few of Marie’s initiatives, such as signing a 35-year-deal with a private contractor to manage the state’s highway rest stops and a recent plan to build a new commuter garage in Stamford, he is generally respected and liked.
But following a brief interview with Lt. Governor Michael Fedele of Stamford, a Republican candidate for governor who played a major role in the national search that resulted in Rell’s hiring Marie in 2008, I understand why the commissioner might have been on the look out for something with more security.
Fedele said he had not been given the heads up about Marie’s departure.
I asked Fedele if he would have kept Marie on board should he be elected governor.
“I don’t know,” Fedele said. “Look, as far as I know Joe’s done a good job. I’ve not heard anything different. It’s my understanding he resigned. There’s only six months left and he’s looking for long term opportunities … Any new administration, be it Fedele or whoever, is going to look at all the commissioners and say ‘good job, bad job, new job, new person, different skill sets’. There’s no guarantees there.”
On the other hand you have Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont of Greenwich, who actually issued a press release lamenting Marie’s departure as a “great loss.”
I asked Lamont spokesman Brian Coy if Lamont would have kept Marie on board in his administration, and Coy responded: “Ned has said throughout the campaign that he will hire the most talented and qualified people out there to help him create jobs and move Connecticut forward, and Joe Marie certainly fits that bill.”
Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley of Greenwich declined to comment on Marie’s departure.
Democratic nominee Dannel Malloy said he believed Marie was the victim of a politicized environment created by Rell and her powerful chief-of-staff, Lisa Moody.
“On a personal level I liked him a lot. On a professional level it’s tough to get a read because I always felt that in Connecticut transportation was political … We’re not talking about his politics, we’re talking about the administration’s politics,” Malloy said. “I think he didn’t do well in that environment.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Oz Griebel, former head of the state Transportation Strategy Board, worked with Marie in the past and found him to be bright and energetic with good experience.
“After I first met him I thought the governor made a very good hire,” he said.
Asked if Marie would have had a place in his administration, Griebel said “I wouldn’t give you a clear answer. I’d step back and look hard at it. I would say there are four major areas in which a governor has to play a meaningful management role. Transportation is one of them.”