City Hall 'Hammer' Quits MATT HENNESSY • Why does a chief of staff have to be excessively harsh?
August 19, 2009
The resignation last Friday of Matt Hennessy, the strong-arm chief of staff to Hartford strong-mayor Eddie Perez these past eight years, has caused a metaphorical sigh of relief from many of the denizens of Hartford city hall who were intimidated by his presence. "No one is sorry to see him go," said one longtime figure in the city's municipal government, still mindful of Mr. Hennessy's clout with the mayor.
It's too bad, but Mr. Hennessy — who is intelligent, competent, insightful, politically connected and has been an intensely loyal gatekeeper for Mr. Perez — also had a penchant for creating bad will.
"Matt always believed he was the smartest guy in the room and he didn't believe anybody else had anything else to contribute," said councilman Kenneth Kennedy, who has had major run-ins with Mr. Hennessy and the mayor.
"You can be a harsh No.2 without being vindictive, and Matt was vindictive and unnecessarily harsh," Mr. Kennedy added.
The councilman was far from alone in feeling that Mr. Hennessy's oppressive personal style and healthy appetite for wielding authority created a climate of fear in city hall that kept people with different views from speaking out.
Some associates say he played the role of chief of staff well: the bad cop to the mayor's good cop; the one who fulfilled the essential job of saying no; the lighting rod who took the blame and spared the mayor criticism; Mr. Perez's bull whip. Mr. Hennessy himself says his personal style wasn't particularly relevant and that what was important was whether the mayor's agenda was advanced.
Mr. Perez's administration has had its successes, to be sure, and Mr. Hennessy played no small part. But perhaps the agenda would have been further advanced had the mayor and Mr. Hennessy — who is leaving to take an undisclosed "private sector" opportunity — been more positive, respectful and accommodating to state and federal officials who can help Hartford, as well as to city department heads and employees, who make city government run.
Imagine Mr. Hennessy channeling the pleasant and cooperative Elliot Ginsberg, former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, or John Bazzano, who played the same role in the same way for Mayor Mike Peters, rather than the bully-boy style of former Gov. John Rowland's field marshal Peter Ellef.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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