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Channel 30's Tom Monahan Reflects On His Long Career

Veteran Political Reporter Calls John Rowland The Best Politician; Lowell Weicker Earns Low Marks

MaryEllen Fillo

October 30, 2010

Tom Monahan has been providing political analyses, election-night results and candidate profiles for decades in Connecticut. On Nov. 19, the veteran WVIT, Channel 30, newsman with the basset hound eyes and no-nonsense approach is stepping down from his nonpartisan platform.

A former radio personality who first joined the West Hartford station to do voice-overs 45 years ago, the Irish-Catholic Bristol native has covered it all, from sports to state income tax. As he prepares for Tuesday's election, his last as a full-time political reporter, Monahan (who scoffed at makeup when his station went hi-def) shared bits of his life, his career and his future plans while "spilling the beans" with Java.

Q: How did you get here?

A: I started in radio first, a small station in Massachusetts and then at a station in Bristol. I was in Bristol when I started at 30 part time. It was extra money. Once I got my foot in the door, they let me do sports because they needed someone, so I did sports part time. I was kind of getting a little bit of a name in the market, and the boss then said they were cutting back on sportscasters and that I should get into news. They hired me full time, and by then, it was the late '80s; Gov. O'Neill was stepping down, and the state was looking at its first huge major budget deficit, and the decision was made that a full-time political reporter was needed. Everyone, including me, went under the table because politics is a lot harder to cover than something like a fire. But it was "take the job or take a hike," so I became the political reporter.

Q: Do you think you have been good at what you do?

A: I think I was fair, in the grading sense. I could maybe give myself, maybe squeak by with a B-minus. When they put me in the job, I figured the least I should do is be able to make sense of it all. I did a lot of reading. I was not familiar with the process. I learned a lot by simply being there and going through it and making mistakes and asking stupid questions I didn't know. Over time what has it been now, 22 years over there? I finally got the hang of a lot of it. But even today, I don't know everything.

Q: So many people in Connecticut are disenchanted with politicians and government in general. Are they right?

A: I think of lot of those feelings are because of the ads, the negative ads. And really, they have been around for a long time. You can believe me, or you don't have to, but 98 percent of those elected here do their jobs with good intentions. They may go around with the crowd; they may make mistakes; they may do a lot of things you don't approve of. But I think most go in with good intentions. They are decent people, damn good people.

Q: Who is the best politician you ever covered?

A: John Rowland. I think he was best in terms of being able to get elected. I would say he was as effective as he could be with a Democratic legislature. It is pretty tough to ram things through when you have a legislature that is a different party. Democrats, Republicans they took to the guy, and he got elected in tough times, got things done before everything else happened to him. I remember there was a big fire in downtown Stamford, and he stopped by. There was a huge crowd. He checked things out, and someone yelled his name, and he went over and ended up signing autographs for about 150 people. He was almost like a rock star.

Q: Who was the most less-than-stellar?

A: I have to give that quite a bit of thought and am editing it to a degree to make sure I have a good reason for choosing who I am choosing. Let's put it this way. I hate to say it, but maybe Lowell Weicker, only because, in hindsight, he was, I think, wrong about the income tax, and that took money out of the economy. I don't know, but I think he did not cut the best deal we could have had with the casinos, too. And that also took an awful lot of money out of the economy.

Q: What is the biggest change you have seen from the beginning of your political career to now?

A: I think right now everybody, for the most part, politicians, have aspirations, and they want to be put in the best positive light. They think if you support a governor from an opposing party, it is going to backfire. And what happens is it is the populace that suffers. And I think there is a lack of respect. When I first started, there was more of a "let's get the job done" attitude, and now it's "let's see what can we get accomplished but still keep our political identity."

Q: What have you enjoyed most, your best story?

A: Breaking the Patriots story, when we thought they were coming to Connecticut but didn't. I had bumped into Pat Sullivan when I was getting my car fixed and asked him what was going on. He said he had heard the Patriots could be making an annoucement. At the time, there was nothing out there about it. Rowland's people weren't saying anything, so I called [Hartford Mayor] Mike Peters. All he would say is, "You people are good." And when I pressed him, he said, "You will be all right." So I went with it at 3 p.m. in the afternoon and worried all night if I had made the biggest bonehead play of my life. The other one was Lieberman being named as Gore's running mate. We got wind of it, and I think there were just three of us media people outside of his house in New Haven. He came out, and I said "congratulations" to him, and he said "thank you," which was a little bit of confirmation. But then his wife came out, and we had a good interview with her.

Q: The worst?

A: I butchered a lot of them, but one was when Sen. Dodd announced he wasn't running. We were outside his house in East Haddam, and it was cold, and we were in a snow bank, and we thought we had lost contact with the station. I was fiddling with the earpiece and didn't know we were live and said, "What a piece of crap this is." We packed up and stopped at a gas station, and Dan Kain from Channel 3 was there, and something about me having a "tough night," and I thought he was talking about the technical problems I thought we had. I get back to the station, and the boss is waiting for me and calls me into his office and says, 'Watch this' and plays the tape. I never felt so bad. But frankly, I guess I could have said something worse. I am not a curser but have on occasion.

Q: What can people say about you with certainty as far as your coverage over the years?

A: I would hope they would say I was fair. I made every attempt to be. And that I treated people the way I would want to be treated.

Q: Are you a dying breed?

A: Oh, yeah. Few people want to get into the political reporting arena. And I think few newscasters stay in one place with one station for so long. It's kind of ironic that I ended up on TV because I am painfully shy, maybe not so much so now. Ironically, I had wanted to be a broadcaster for the Red Sox when I was young. And I do not have a college degree, and I think that makes me a dying breed as well. I nearly flunked out of college, and my folks were very worried about me and what I would do next. My Uncle Tom wrote me a letter once and said, 'I can tell you right now that in a million years, your folks never would have thought you would work on a TV station and do a halfway decent job.

I think I did.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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