As Top Republican, Fasano Strives For Legislative Consensus [Hartford Courant]

January 6, 2015

Photo: Melanie Stengel/Special to the Courant – State Sen. Len Fasano is the new GOP leader in the chamber. He is holding office hours with constituents at the North Haven McDonald’s, on Washington Ave.

By Daniela Altimari | Hartford Courant

Sen. Len Fasano: “If you leave the field with no regrets then, win or lose, you can live with you.”

NORTH HAVEN — Len Fasano learned an important lesson from his football coach at Yale, the legendary Carm Cozza.

“When you leave the field, have no regrets,” Fasano said. “If you leave the field with no regrets then, win or lose, you can live with yourself.”

It’s a lesson Fasano has long applied to politics, waging spirited, though sometimes doomed, battles against the Democratic majority in the General Assembly.

As he prepares for a new role as the top Republican in the Senate, Fasano’s opponents say the former Yale running back’s competitive streak is tempered by an analytical approach and a willingness to build consensus to get things done.

Martin Looney, a Democrat from New Haven and the incoming Senate president, has known Fasano for close to 30 years. “He has an excellent temperament,” Looney said, “very reasonable and deliberative.”

With their shared Elm City roots, a professional bond as lawyers and similar low-key styles, the two men have forged a close working relationship.

“We were counterparts in helping to manage the floor operations for our respective caucuses,” Looney said. “We always made sure there were no misunderstandings … we were the firemen, dampening the flames and restoring harmony.”

Fasano underscored the point. “We can be very open with each other. When there were disputes and the Senate came to a screeching halt, Marty and I were able to get into a room and figure it all out because we let our guards down,” Fasano said. “There’s nothing Marty would say that would offend me and there’s nothing I would say that would offend Marty. We can speak our mind. We don’t have to play mind games. We can talk as we feel and come to a resolution.”

New Haven Roots

Fasano lives in suburban North Haven and his district includes East Haven and Wallingford. But New Haven is, in many ways, at the center of his life.

Born at the Hospital of St. Raphael, now a part of Yale-New Haven Hospital, Fasano lived in the city until he was 16, when his family moved to Woodbridge. His father was a well-known family physician in New Haven; his mother was a homemaker.

Fasano, who has an older sister, recalled the fall ritual of attending Yale football games.

“My grandparents lived about three blocks away,” he recalled. “On Saturday morning, we’d get to my grandparents’ house at 9 and at about 10:30, the whole neighborhood would walk to the game. That’s when we used to get … 40,000 fans on an average day at the bowl, and Harvard would be sold out.”

The memories are tinged with nostalgia. “Now even the Harvard game is not sold out, which is kind of sad,” Fasano said.

Fasano and his wife, Jill, frequently dine out in New Haven’s restaurants. And he praised Yale for helping to revitalize the city.

But the vibrant city of strong neighborhoods that he remembers from his childhood has changed. The manufacturing jobs that provided a good living for generations of city dwellers have largely disappeared.

In his new post, Fasano said he intends to emphasize an urban agenda that aims to bring new opportunities to New Haven and the rest of Connecticut’s cities.

The Senate Republican caucus has hired its first urban affairs director. Avery Gaddis, a former Democrat from Waterbury, will help Senate Republicans shape their policies and hone their message.

“We let the other side of the aisle … frame our ideas,” Fasano said. “We haven’t done a good enough job getting down to the grassroots.”

Gaddis, who once worked as a legislative aide to former Democratic House Speaker Moira Lyons, said he took the job because he believes strengthening ties between minority voters and Republican lawmakers is good for the state as a whole.

“This position is about reaching out to people, finding out what communities need and embracing new, practical approaches to reach shared goals,” Gaddis said.

Coffee, Conversation

At 56, his dark hair shot through with silver, Fasano is comfortable being the public face of the Senate GOP caucus. But he came fairly late to politics. He first got involved in local campaigns in 2002. “Someone asked if I would run and I was so naive I said yes,” he recalled. “I didn’t even know what it took.”

Fasano showed up at the Republican nominating convention in June completely unprepared. “I didn’t know you had to call delegates,” he said “I didn’t even know what a delegate was.”

His time in the legislature has been marked by some tough votes on divisive issues. He supported the post-Newtown gun control law and opposed repealing the death penalty.

But Fasano said one of the toughest votes he cast was in support of same-sex civil unions in 2005.

“It was not a popular Republican belief and I probably got 200 or more emails and phone calls [from people] upset with my vote,” Fasano recalled. “I called back every single one of them and I explained my rationale.”

When he was done explaining, “some people said, ‘I never thought of it that way, and we’re OK.’ Some said, ‘At least you thought about it and we can respectfully disagree.’ ”

“And very very few, by far a significant minority said, ‘I hear what you’re saying but I’ll never vote for you again,’ ” Fasano recalled.

On a recent Friday morning, Fasano and Rep. Dave Yaccarino, R-North Haven, mingled with the breakfast crowd at a busy McDonald’s just off I-91. It is part of an informal coffee with constituents that the two lawmakers host every month or so.

The crowd consisted largely of retirees and the chitchat was fairly light, although one woman repeatedly pressed Fasano on the need to do more to address what she called the “huge epidemic of heroin use in this town.”

Nancy Maroney, a retired school psychologist from North Haven, said she felt as though Fasano heard her message. “I’m impressed,” she said. “He came right over, sat down with a cup of coffee … he knows about it. He talked to me about seeing lines of people in the ER waiting to get help.”

At a table nearby, another constituent wants to talk about electricity rates. Richard Ardolino of North Haven, a retired motor vehicle inspector, comes to Fasano’s community coffees every month. This time, he was joined by a friend, Steve Kozak, who lives in Hamden, outside of Fasano’s district. “I’m just happy he’s not from the Gold Coast,” Kozak said.

Ardolino said Fasano’s temperament will serve him well in Hartford. “He’s well-spoken, he’s well-educated and he has plenty of experience,” Ardolino said. “He doesn’t explode. He’s a pretty thoughtful guy.”