Story and Photographs By John Murray
J. Paul Vance Jr. has been appointed Claims Commissioner in Connecticut and has dropped out of the 2011 mayoral race in Waterbury. Although he accepted the job three weeks ago, Vance didn’t get his official appointment until Monday, August 15th, his first day on the job.
Two years ago he came within a whisker of toppling Mike Jarjura in a primary, but in 2011 he was a political phantom. Although he was first to declare his campaign for mayor in August 2010, Vance never held a fund-raiser, and never scheduled a campaign event.
When contacted in February, Vance told the Observer he was “waiting to figure out the lay of the land”.
While continuing to state he was running for mayor, most likely as a petitioning Democrat in the general election, Vance did nothing to convince his opponents, or his supporters, that he actually had any intention of running.
“When he didn’t march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade it became clear to me that Paul wasn’t all that serious about running for mayor,” Neil O’Leary, the Democrat nominee for mayor, said. “I’ve marched in that parade for the past ten years and Paul Vance has always been right there. He didn’t seem too enthusiastic this year.”
Vance’s inactivity led political insiders to speculate that he was trying to leverage the threat of a campaign to land a job with the state of Connecticut. O’Leary was the presumed front-runner and had a friendly relationship with Governor Dannel Malloy. Additionally, O’Leary strategist, Atty. Gary O’Connor, is a former classmate of Malloy’s at Boston College Law School. The Waterbury rumor mill kicked into high gear and for the past several months it has been widely speculated that O’Leary and O’Connor would approach Malloy about getting Vance a state job, and clear the path for an O’Leary-Jarjura showdown in November.
The rumor has been so strong that in many people’s minds it is now a fact. Of course Paul Vance has a state job, O’Leary set him up with one to get him out of the race. A foregone conclusion, right?
Only problem is that both Vance and O’Leary deny it.
Vance told the Observer on July 26th that he was offered the position on July 22nd by Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman. Vance said he accepted the job and was told he would start on August 15th.
“ I was offered a job with Nancy Wyman several years ago when she was comptroller,” Vance said. “The timing wasn’t right and I didn’t pursue it. When Nancy offered me the job as Claims Commissioner I was delighted. It’s a good gig.”
Basically the Claims Commissioners decides if someone can sue the state of Connecticut.
“Connecticut has sovereign immunity and no one can sue the state without the permission of the Claims Commissioner,” Vance said. “I’m the gatekeeper.”
Vance asked the Observer not to publish the news until he signed a contract, and the ink was dry.
“When it’s official, you’ll be the second person I call,” Vance said. “My wife will be the first.”
Vance never called.
Efforts to confirm the hiring were unsuccessful for two weeks. Vance did not respond to cell phone messages, e-mails, or Facebook messages. After saying he would go public with the news in a few days, Vance went silent for weeks.
Unable to get Vance, the Observer contacted Governor Malloy’s press secretary, Juliet Manahan, on August 10th, to ask for confirmation of Vance’s appointment. Manahan said she would look into it. The Observer followed up the next day and Manahan said she had asked around and nobody knew anything about it. She promised to contact me if she learned anything. She never did.
Something was off, was the job offer being rescinded for political reasons? Once the hiring was announced there would be negative blowback on O’Leary’s campaign for mayor. Vance had been bought off…..More old school politics….Another backroom deal……
While personally happy that Vance now had a job paying $114,000 a year, Neil O’Leary doesn’t like the perception that he had anything to do with it.
“I never contacted Governor Malloy about trying to get Paul Vance a job,” O’Leary said. “He got it on his own, but I kind of wish he’d waited until after the election so we didn’t have all these rumors swirling around.”
Vance expected the rumors. He told the Observer several weeks ago that people will believe what they want to believe, “but I’m really proud that I got this job on my own. There was no quid-pro-quo.”
With Vance officially out of the race, the Observer tracked down O’Leary in Maine, where he was on a family vacation. “I’m watching the lobster boats head out to sea right now,” O’Leary said, “and then I’m going fishing.”
When he learned of Vance’s appointment he said, “that’s not unwelcome news. I’m happy for Paul. He’s a Democrat in good standing and he was president of the board of aldermen for eight years. I wish him the best.”
So now it's O'Leary versus Jarjura, with the Independent Party still waiting to select its candidate. The Independents are holding their party caucus on August 27th at 2 p.m., in the Community Room at the Thomaston Savings Bank, on Watertown Avenue in Waterbury.