Disability Advocates Attack Malloy Over New Appointment [The Courant]

July 22, 2014

The Hartford Courant
HARTFORD — Disability advocates and politicians from both sides of the aisle attacked Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Monday for what they said was inadequate consultation leading up to his recent appointment of former Hamden Mayor Craig Henrici to head the state’s disability advocacy office.

At a press conference in the Legislative Office Building, disability advocate Cathy Ludlum; Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, and candidate for governor Jonathan Pelto alleged that Henrici, a practicing attorney, may not be qualified to run the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (OPA).

Markley, Ludlum, Pelto and other advocates said that Malloy did not seek input from the state’s disability community when selecting Henrici for the appointment, which was effective July 1. They also claimed that the governor did not consult the OPA’s advisory board. That panel has multiple open seats, including a vacant chairpersonship, and has not met for months.

“It sounded to me like what I would define as a political appointment rather than a substantive appointment,” said Pelto, who added that he heard of the appointment while out campaigning.

Ludlum asserted that Henrici, a Democrat who endorsed Malloy for governor, may not be qualified for the job and asked Malloy to reconsider the appointment.

“The fact that Gov. Malloy has appointed someone we do not know, very possibly over people in the OPA and … others who might be qualified, should give us pause,” she said.

Markley focused on the lack of a press release announcing the appointment.

“The silence makes one wonder if the failure to [issue a press release] is because there is an awareness that the qualifications may not be what is desired,” he said.

Andrew Doba, a spokesperson for Malloy, said that the office does not issue releases for every appointment.

Henrici said he would “let the governor’s office respond about the [appointment] process.”

But he responded to the assertion that he is not qualified for the job.

“I’ve lived it,” he said. “I have a son who is a client of [the Department of Developmental Services], and my wife and I have been advocating for him for 24 years.”

Henrici added that despite the recent opposition from some in the disability community, he has not run into any roadblocks during his first three weeks on the job.

“Not one,” he said.

On Monday afternoon, a leading lawmaker as well as an official in the Malloy administration jumped to Henrici’s defense.

“I’ve known Craig Henrici for over 20 years, and he brings both professionalism as an experienced administrator in my hometown of Hamden and the personal acumen necessary to help ensure his success in this important job,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, wrote in a statement. “Craig has walked in advocates’ shoes in support of a member of his own family for many years.”

Sharkey added that he was “disgusted that Senator Markley and Jonathan Pelto would try to use this as an opportunity to further their political ambitions.”

Markley and Pelto are vocal critics of Malloy. Last month, Markley held a press conference at the Capitol objecting to Malloy’s veto of a bill that would have required insurers to share more information on the claims that they reject. Pelto is challenging the incumbent governor on the Education and Democracy ticket, a party which he created.

Jon Slifka, the governor’s liaison to the disability community, also defended the appointment. He said Henrici has the background and commitment “necessary to be an effective, aggressive and independent advocate for persons with disabilities.”

The issue of disability care and advocacy is deeply intertwined with Malloy’s personal narrative. The governor has spoken publicly about his continuing struggles with dyslexia; as a boy he had trouble tying his shoes and buttoning his shirt, and he has said that his early teachers identified him as mentally retarded. At Boston College, Malloy dictated many of his papers to his future wife, Cathy, and to this day he very rarely speaks from typed remarks, instead working from loose notes.