Bumpersticker politics is nothing new. Working to reduce what may be complicated political issues to short, rhythmic slogans repeated ad nauseum by supporters are a staple of every candidate, and every election season.
But even before they became a political strategy, newpapers had it perfected. Headlines (or newsies selling papers, for Disney fans) had to get you interested enough to get you to buy the paper, or in todays verbiage, click the link. Whether the headline was deceiving, or even blatantly inaccurate meant less if the end result was more sales, or yes, clicks.
So its no wonder Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie used a catchy, “Connecticut: Where Connections Matter More than Qualifications” headline to try and sell papers. It kinda rhymes. It has a bounce to it. And it reeks of political conspiracy, a guaranteed money maker.
The problem is Rennie uses the example of Tweed Airport hiring Sean Scanlon as its new Executive Directory, followed by a convoluted stream of consciousness rant connecting the hiring to Governor Lamont and then Secretary of State Denise Merrill. Its not all logical, but to those of us in the geographic region that have been impacted by the lack of Tweed expansion, the column is written by someone clearly lacking the facts and a working knowledge of how corporate America works, which is key in this case.
Scanlon, who worked for Senator Chris Murphy and is elected as a state representative representing Guilford and parts of Branford, was approached for the position earlier this year. Rennie accurately points out that Scanlon has no direct experience in transportation or in managing airports.
The problem is, the Executive Director doesn’t manage the airport. A separate management company handles the day-to-day operation.
What the Commission was looking for in the hire is someone who can handle a long-standing issue at Tweed on two fronts: first, the political knowledge and maneuvering needed to get the runway extended, and second, the ability to convince major airlines to bring service to Tweed.
The opposition to the Tweed expansion is being led by two key elected officials, at least publicly: Democrat Martin Looney and Republican Len Fasano, both who represent the area, and more specifically, neighbors of Tweed who don’t want the runway extended. Additionally, despite a lawsuit being decided in Tweed’s favor, the Democratic attorney general, William Tong, is considering an appeal. Whether he actually files an appeal or is simply appeasing Looney depends on where you stand.
If you are the Tweed board tasked with hiring an executive director who can maneuver between the various political figures and has experience dealing with the public, as they would need to do with the Tweed neighbors, the choice of Scanlon, an elected official with working relationships with all key political figures, is an enlightened choice.
While Rennie makes much of Scanlons lack of airport experience, there is no airport manager that could come anywhere close to the political experience and connections with the specific figures involved that Scanlon possesses.
Second, those connections extend well beyond the state. The task of attracting large airlines to the area is monumental, and connections play a key role in making that happen.
Consider calls made to say, the JetBlue CEO, in an attempt to bring direct flights between Tweed and Florida. Two calls go in to the CEO’s secretary, one from an executive director with extensive day-to-day management at a tiny airport in New Haven , and another who is an elected official on the state level with strong ties to U.S. Senators Murphy and Dick Blumenthal (who serves on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation), not to mention Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.
Which call do you think gets returned?
The selection committee likely doesn’t care about the opinion of Kevin Rennie and the Courants ability to sell papers, it cares about having someone who can get things done. Someone whose call gets returned. That takes connections. While the headline wants to push the idea of a connected official getting a job without qualifications, the selection committee knows different: those connections, which took years to make and cultivate, are the qualifications. They are what makes Scanlon a match for the needs of the position.
What makes the claim even more comical is simple: the position Scanlon is taking pays $105,000. Scanlon, if he so chooses, could announce he is leaving the legislature now and enter the private sector, and local lobbying firms would have a bidding war for his services, starting at double what he will be paid by Tweed. If he and his wife chose to relocate their family to Washington, the money would likely be well in excess of $250,000 a year.
Along the shoreline, we have lived, in real time, the impediment the lack of services at Tweed has had on economic development. We can champion bio-tech and Yale and every other corporation we would like, but there isn’t one forum or corporate tour where the first issue for every one of these companies is the inability to have a close, working airport. And to make that happen, the decision makers made an inspired choice, one that fills the very specific needs of Tweed with someone uniquely qualified to fill them.
Will Scanlon be successful? Only time will tell. But opinion writers like Rennie would do well to look at the facts, the needs of the region, and thought process behind a hire before pushing conspiracy theories. But, that may not sell papers.