The question at bat is: Was Lisa Moody, Governor Jodi Rell’s chief aide, the governor’s Svengalli?
Svelgalli was a fictional character, an evil hypnotist in George du Maurier’s novel “Trilby.” Not even Moody’s most severe critics would assert that she manipulated the governor by hypnotizing her or casting spells over her.
But did she influence the governor?
It would be odd if she did not. One always hopes that chief aides are more influential than, say, the editorial board of the Hartford Courant.
There is a temptation on the part of press people to over inflate the influence played by aides, perhaps because they are reluctant in their criticisms to mortally injure the king. During ex-president George Bush’s administration, Vice President Dick Cheney was portrayed pretty much as Bush’s brain. The president was thought to be a major duffer. Since Svengalli was a fictional character, it may be more helpful to inquire whether Moody was Rell’s Cheney.
Yes and no. Cheney’s influence over Bush has been greatly exaggerated. Moody and Rell were a pair; they played well together. And when things went wrong, Moody took the bullet for her chief. She kept the jackals at bay and performed the more disreputable chores of politics with a certain aplomb. Moody would be the first to admit that she made mistakes. In fact, she has admitted to mistakes. But she was no Svengalli. Rell ran the executive department, and Moody aided her.
There is always a danger in the misattribution of power and responsibility. Sometimes the king deserves a thwacking, but this becomes less likely the more the king is thought to be under the influence of a shadowy aide. If Cheney really was Bush’s brain, we can hardly blame the brainless executive for whatever mistake he may have made in office, many of which had been attributed to Cheney.
Moody was a Democrat whom Republicans in Vernon coxed to their side because she was useful to them. It is proper to characterize her as a person “of no certain address,” someone for whom party affections and ideas mean very little. Now, that is a note of character that most certainly is important. But you will not find it stressed in any account of the cross influence between Rell and Moody – because part affiliation is unimportant to many commentators writing on politics in Connecticut.
It is very interesting to see who, among her past political acquaintances in Vernon, came readily to her defense after it had been suggested in several commentaries that her service to Rell was, on the whole, not beneficial.
Former Mayor of Vernon and partisan Democrat Marie Herbst said, “She's very, very, very compassionate.” And former Vernon Mayor Ellen Marmer defended Moody against a charge of nastiness: “Lisa is powerful, opinionated and bright. She's in a position of power. All of those things put together in the political arena don’t make you popular most of the time. What I can say of Lisa very easily is maybe some of her actions are self-serving, but most of her actions are for the state (or), in our case, the local climate. Her ways may be problematic for some people, but she's not doing anything to be nasty.”
Accusations of nastiness have been raised in a Greenwich Time story by “anonymous state workers,” precisely the people one might expect to be at loggerheads with the governor and her aide, both of whom in economic hard times are duty bound to say “no” to the sometimes unreasonable demands of anonymous union connected state workers.
Kevin Rennie, a Courant columnist, reasonably points out that “Rell sleepwalked through the year's critical budget debate… When a wreck of a budget reached her desk at the end of the summer, she took a powder. Rell would neither sign nor veto the $38 billion behemoth; she would watch it pass into law. To distract attention from her abdication, Rell tried to veto a few million dollars in expenditures, though she'd been told she'd given up that authority when she didn't sign the budget. From her address in Never Never Land, she persisted in the silly ruse.”
All true, sadly. Rell talked the talk, but she declined to walk the walk. And she got hornswoggled.
Rennie also suspects that both Rell and Moody will attempt to sabotage the campaign for governor of Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele:
“Rell got the open race for the Republican nomination for governor off to a bad start when she stuck the knife into loyal Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele. He had quickly signaled he would be a candidate for governor and said he had Rell's support.
“Rell declined to confirm that she supports Fedele and declared there are several competent candidates. Fedele says Rell promised to support him; Rell says she did not. One of them is not telling the truth. In the credibility stakes, Rell runs far behind Fedele.
“Fedele holds a special place on Moody's long list of enemies. Had Rell sought another term, Fedele could not be sure he'd have been her running mate.”
As Attorney General Richard Blumenthal – the Democratic Party’s Great White Hope for either governor or U.S. senator – might say, “Stay tuned.”