After 24 years as East Haven's state representative, Democrat Mike Lawlor is jumping from legislating to policy-making. It was that Gov.-elect Dan Malloy has tapped Lawlor to be a senior staffer in the Office of Policy and Management.
Lawlor will leave the legislature and a special town election for his seat will be held next spring. Lawlor is to take office Jan. 5 at the governor's inauguration.
In his new gig as undersecretary of OPM's Criminal Justice Policy and Planning office, Lawlor said he hopes to decrease spending and crime while restoring trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.
Two names to replace the veteran lawmaker immediately started circulating in town: Democrat James Albis, East Haven's coordinator of Community Development, and Republican Linda Monaco, a local attorney , losing 3,770-2,951.
The governor sets the date for special elections, usually held in March.
Albis said he's definitely going for the nomination.
"I've been thinking about it since Dan Malloy won. I knew that Mike and Dan were close and there was a possibility that [Lawlor] would work for Malloy," said Alibis, 26.
While James Albis, who holds an economics degree from New York University, is not yet a household name around town, his father, Mike Albis, is well known as East Haven's and as a longtime local attorney. James' mother is Jackie Albis, an English teacher at East Haven High School.
Monaco could not be reached for comment Thursday.
"Linda is going to kick up her campaign again. I'm optimistic because she did do so well [in November]," said Lou Crisci, Republican Town Committee chair. "I suspect she'll be at the forefront of the Republican Party. She's got all her stuff [from last election] to start a campaign ready to go."
But Crisci said he's not making a definitive statement. "I don't know if there's anyone else. There's a lot of people I think would be viable. I'm not going to start dropping names," he said.
Both Democratic Town Committee Chair Gene Ruocco and Mayor April Capone Almon said Albis is the likely candidate.
"I think James would be a wonderful asset," said Capone Almon. Albis was treasurer of her first mayoral campaign.
Ruocco stressed that while Albis is a strong contender, the candidate field for Lawlor's seat is open. "We have a process we have to go through." said Ruocco of the nomination.
At the next Democratic Town Committee meeting on Jan. 3, he said those interested in the seat will present themselves, and a nominating convention will be held at a later date.
Lawlor's new gig
Lawlor will be switching gears from law- to policy-making in a field he's long worked in and is passionate about. He's a criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven; a former prosecutor in the New Haven State's Attorney's office; was a consultant for the U. S. Department of Justice; and is current chair of the legislature's Judiciary Committee.
He said he and Gov.-elect Malloy are discussing his salary.
"For someone like myself who's pretty much spent my entire career in criminal justice, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. It's one thing to pass a bill another to [shape] the reforms that you hope will take place," said Lawlor, 53.
Lawlor's new charge as OPM undersecretary will be to write policy and coordinate the various state departments and agencies that have criminal justice arms, to help produce better outcomes for offenders using fewer tax dollars.
"The hard part is getting everyone to communicate with each other because everyone's overwhelmed with work," said Lawlor. "Other states have been very successful doing this in a more managed way."
He guesstimated that Connecticut's total criminal justice tab is $2 billion -- about 10 percent of the state budget which encompasses about half the state workers.
"There are a relatively small number of people using up a really large amount of state services at an enormous cost to taxpayers," Lawlor said of offenders. Taking "broader, more systemic views" could benefit those in the criminal justice system, he said, by providing alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders -- such as job training and outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment -- in an attempt to reduce recidivism.
"Take your typical guy who's got a serious mental health issue, a substance abuser, HIV-positive and has six other diseases, who's spent 50 percent of his life in jail" and another chunk in psychiatric hospitals and homeless shelters, said Lawlor.
"All that stuff costs an enormous amount of money to deal with, with no measurable progress being made. Let's figure out a way to get him into something that might actually work," he said.
Another of Lawlor's goals is to improve the integrity of the system for victims and minorities. "I think African Americans and Latinos have lost confidence in the criminal justice system," he said. "Whether or not that's warranted, it's still a problem and needs to be addressed."
Lawlor not straying far
Though East Haven is losing a popular and admired politician, Ruocco and Capone Almon said Lawlor will still have a direct impact on the town.
"The way I feel is that Mike Lawlor is a brilliant young man and Gov. Dan Malloy obviously realizes that Mike's intelligence will benefit everyone in Connecticut," said Ruocco. "I know he's still going to have East Haven in his heart and in his mind."
"We're not really losing him; he's moving to a different position," said Capone Almon. "He has worked East Haven well for so many years and we've been lucky to have him. People move on and there's change and that can be a positive thing. He's not going too far."
Capone Almon said Lawlor helped show her the ropes when she embarked on her political career five years ago, while she made her sole and successful bid for Town Council.
"He's been a mentor for me. People tend to forget I came out of nowhere with no experience in the public sector and he's really taught me how to navigate the system in Hartford. I know he'll still do that. He'll still be there for me," she said.
Asked if she might also go to Malloy's Hartford, Capone Almon said, "There's no change in my status right now as the mayor of East Haven. Right now I'm enjoying being the mayor." She was recently named to the .
With the impending loss of Lawlor and the uncertainty which of the two major parties will claim his seat, both sides hope for a strong turnout on special election day. If a Republican wins office, East Haven will be represented exclusively by the Republican Party with state Rep. Vincent Candelora and state Sen. Len Fasano.
"It would behoove the citizens of this town to have one Democratic representative," said Ruocco.
His counterpart would most likely disagree.