Butler, Malloy Create Ongoing Storm

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Connecticut Light & Power Company President Jeffrey Butler mumbled and mispronounced his way through one consistent message last week: This storm was worse than Irene in August. No matter the topic, day after day, the utility executive found ways to mention the late summer tropical storm.

By week's end, his Irene chorus was one more failure in a strategy stuffed with them. Beginning last Sunday, Butler was inarticulate (droppin' more g's than trees did power lines), vague and confusing. He got worse. By Tuesday afternoon, when the public's mood seemed to change from patient to disbelief, Butler became petulant at his evening public briefing with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

The monotone broke when Massachusetts' speedy recovery was raised. Butler refuted it by resorting to a hoary apples and oranges cliche. A little research revealed why a comparison with Massachusetts' recovery effort unnerved Butler and others.

A lot of snow also fell on leafy trees to our north. The storm did not stop at Enfield. On Sunday, according to the Springfield Republican newspaper, 671,000 customers served by three utilities in Massachusetts — many in the Springfield area — were without power. By the end of Monday, company officials expected that to be reduced to 300,000. On Monday afternoon, one of the three companies posted a comprehensive town-by-town list of expected restoration times. The results suggest the region, utilities and government were prepared and competent.

Malloy was the leader of the frequent briefings that included Butler's bewildering appearances. Whatever the governor says, he infuses it with confidence. On Sunday, with a reported 884,000 customers out of power and cell towers fading, Malloy didn't want to read lists of state facilities that would close on Monday. His command: Just go to the website, which, he seemed not to understand, required a connection to the Internet and electricity.

Nevertheless, Malloy showed he is a fine homeroom leader. He tossed off announcements on how long food lasts and the growing number of shelters without a stumble. His warnings to stop at intersections with dormant traffic signals suggest he rose to the top of the hall monitor ranks in elementary school.

He did not, however, have his Ella Grasso moment. He tried. He took a helicopter ride just as the beloved, indomitable Ella did during a more serious weather crisis in 1978. She lifted the collective spirit and imbued confidence that all would be well, an image that remains vivid 33 years later.

Malloy chose a different method of leadership. He announced on Tuesday evening that the committee studying the response to Irene would enlarge its brief to ponder and review this disaster. He announced several times that he shared our frustrations but his presence, manner and actions did not diminish them. He was surly about complaints from Jet Blue passengers stuck on a Bradley airport runway for seven harrowing hours.

A few months ago, Malloy snarled at Department of Transportation workers who at first rejected a new compensation package that they weren't the only ones who could plow snow. Last weekend, there were no complaints about snow removal. Those DOT drivers did their jobs. State roads were cleared without incident.

It's Malloy who struggles with this crucial part of his job. The power crisis could not be solved by the governor doing what he likes best: giving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to thriving corporations. He found it easier to drop $300 million to build a mouse factory in Farmington than it was to get power restored to that cold, dark community last week.

Malloy often seemed more announcer than manager, suggesting that in private strategy sessions he does not lead a nimble team. It's hard to tell because he's so reluctant to allow others who may have some expertise to speak to the public. He remains self-reverential about his commitment to working hard.

The damage to Connecticut will endure after electricity is restored. Barring further calamities, some residents of the state will have spent 4 percent of the year without power. That reflects a quality of life that places us out of the top ranks of states. Every state has weather. Only one now is stained with a state song that's the grinding whirr emanating from its state symbol, the home generator.

Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at kfrennie@yahoo.com.


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