Photo: Susan Haigh / Associated Press
It seems Gov. Ned Lamont will see his choice to lead the state’s economic development efforts, David Lehman, confirmed by the state Senate, likely within the next week. This is in some ways how it should be — as state Senate President Martin Looney has indicated, a governor should have wide discretion in choosing his economic advisers, barring something disqualifying.
For the choice of Lehman, that’s proven to be a close call. If Lamont has made reference over the last year to being in “the room where it happens,” a reference to “Hamilton,” then Lehman could be said to have been in the boardroom where it happened — “it” being the financial crisis that brought about the Great Recession.
Lehman, as most of the state must know by now, was a key player at Goldman Sachs in its dealings with toxic assets and the resulting panic as the bill came due. When asked to account for his actions, he’s offered up a generic “mistakes were made” defense. For his part, Lamont has said, inaccurately, that Lehman was too young and new to have done anything serious at Goldman. It’s enough to wonder whether either of them is taking the issue seriously enough.
Regardless, Lamont is now governor and he will have the benefit of his chosen team to lead the state’s economic development efforts. As that work begins in earnest, it is essential for Lamont and Lehman to understand that the world from which they have risen — their hometown of Greenwich being an exceptionally affluent outlier — is not the world that needs the most economic help.
Lamont won his governorship by virtue of his strength in the cities, and that is where the most help is needed. Hartford, Bridgeport and Waterbury, as well as New Haven, Danbury, Stamford and Norwalk — these are where the greatest needs and greatest potential for growth can be found. They must be foremost in the nascent administration’s economic plans.
None of this means the suburbs should be ignored or that pockets of need do not exist in even the wealthiest communities. They shouldn’t and they do. But there can’t be any question where the top priorities are — the cities are not only where the most people live, but where the best chance for sustainable economic growth can be found.
They do not have the kind of terrain on which Lamont or Lehman made their names. Lehman’s professed knowledge of opportunity zones is not the same as having on-the-ground experience in the neighborhoods and on the streets. If they are going to make this partnership work, it will require stepping away from the skills that brought them great fortunes. Making government work is not the same as success in the private sector.
Lehman’s past work on Wall Street may not prove to be disqualifying as far as the state Senate is concerned. But he still needs to earn the trust of Connecticut, and the job starts immediately.