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The Public And Private Life Of Dick Blumenthal
The heat was making the attorney general's pants slip.
A cover band was pumping out a disturbingly loud version of ``Beware the Devil Woman'' and there was no shade whatsoever on the dusty grounds of the Elks Club in East Hartford, where the annual charity lobster festival was in full swing, but Richard Blumenthal was diligently working the crowd as if there was no place he'd rather be on a beautiful late-summer Saturday afternoon.
It was his second stop of the day, and it wasn't the last.
The pant slippage problem, a chronic one for Blumenthal, meant he paused every few steps to tug at his belt, which didn't accomplish much except call attention to his reed-thin frame. Along with his tie and American flag pin, he wore a slightly self-conscious expression and a band of sweat on his forehead.
But as he made the rounds introducing himself to people for whom he mostly needed no introduction, he was repeatedly urged to run for governor.
People love this guy.
``I just wish you could be governor and attorney general,'' said David Peters, who was manning a booth for a group that teaches railroad safety. ``You're the only one we got left in this state that's any good.''
Blumenthal, who has been in his job since 1991, laughed a bit uncomfortably and gave his standard response: ``Thank you. You made my day. Right now I'm just focusing on being the best attorney general I can be.''
When a deputy fire marshal subjected him to a long lecture on fire safety, Blumenthal listened intently. There was still no shade and sweat was running down his forehead, but he made no effort to cut the conversation short. A short time earlier, a woman selling hand puppets thrust one in his face and made the doll ``talk'' to him.
That was a year ago. Since then, he's continued to travel the state at a grueling pace, from parade to picnic, fund-raiser to testimonial. Which raises the question: Just what is he running for? He's trounced the competition in each of his four statewide campaigns, and even if he does run for a fifth term or, as many Democrats wish, for governor, that's not until 2006.
So what was he doing at the East Hartford lobster fest?
``It's fun,'' he said, sounding slightly annoyed and, it must be said, unconvincing. Then he added, ``I'm an elected official, and it's important that I listen to people. I learn things.''
As he left the event after an hour, he stopped to chat with a couple of clowns making balloon animals for kids. After patting them on the shoulder and thanking them for their contribution to the fund-raiser, Blumenthal moved on.
When he was out of earshot, one clown said to the other clown, ``You know who that was? The attorney general.''
``Oh yeah, what's his name again?'' the second clown asked.
``Blumenthal,'' the first clown answered.
It turned out the clowns don't even live in Connecticut. When asked how a couple of clowns from Massachusetts know who Dick Blumenthal is, the first clown shrugged and asked, ``Isn't he someone important?''
Certainly, he's important.
The more accurate question is who, actually, is he?
Like the clowns who recognized him, Richard Blumenthal is, in many ways, the ultimate carnival performer, hiding behind a public mask, trick mirrors and spotlights. He's the high-wire act, the sword-swallower, and the ringmaster all rolled into one, tireless three-ring circus.
His show is always on the road.
You know something spectacular is happening, but you have to wonder what's going on behind the curtain.
A Private Life
The quest to profile Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the most media-savvy of the state's public officials, began with a phone conversation that went something like this:
Reporter: ``I'd like to do a story about you. That will mean spending some time with you, meeting your family, visiting your house.''
Blumenthal: ``Well, that would be a problem.''
As he explained, he and his wife, Cynthia, do not allow reporters around their children or in their home for both security and privacy reasons.
The Blumenthals have four children between 10 and 18 -- Claire, David, Michael and Matthew -- but there's more to this guardedness, clearly, than a desire to protect their children.
Take their home, for example.
It requires a good bit of effort to find out how much they paid for it or, for that matter, what it even looks like. Search the land records in Greenwich Town Hall and you won't find the Blumenthal name anywhere.
The 5,608-square-foot house, with a market value of $2.5 million in 2001, was transferred for $1 and ``other considerations'' to the ``John and Abigail Trust,'' named by his wife, Blumenthal said, after the second president and his wife.
``[Cynthia] didn't want it to be reported that the attorney general bought a house on such and such a street,'' Blumenthal said, adding that they own their home.
Given Blumenthal's financial disclosure statement, it would be implausible that they wouldn't. The statement lists 13 trust funds held in either his wife's or children's names, and one blind trust held jointly by him and his wife.
Cynthia Blumenthal is the daughter of Peter Malkin, a Greenwich real estate mogul who heads the investor group that owns the Empire State Building and other Manhattan properties. She and her children owned partnership interests in 30 real estate ventures, including the Empire State Building, according to the 2002 disclosure.
Cynthia, who is rather reclusive by your average political spouse standards, agreed to be interviewed but when a Greenwich location was suggested, she demurred, saying she is too well known in town to have a private conversation in public.
``If we were to go somewhere to talk, we'd be interrupted,'' she said.
The interview took place in a New Canaan coffee shop.
The Blumenthal house, a white colonial on a rural road lined with other large, expensive homes, is tucked behind a tree line and some small hills and is nearly invisible from the road. There's also a gate at the end of the driveway and a fence around the 2-acre property, in case anyone feels like exploring.
Only someone particularly dense could fail to get the message.
For most politicians, private lives and public images tend to merge over the years. Think of Joe Lieberman, with his Orthodox Judaism and working-class background, or former Gov. John Rowland, who proudly proclaimed his Waterbury roots and political heritage.
And most public officials, particularly those who hold statewide office, endure some personal scrutiny by the press. Even Rowland, who was never overly fond of the media, allowed a reporter a glimpse of his personal life a few years ago. In one memorable scene, the governor was sitting in a fishing boat on Bantam Lake with his wife when he opened a can and petulantly declared it to hold ``old, shitty worms.''
It's hard to say what is more implausible -- the buttoned-down attorney general swearing in front of a reporter or going fishing with his wife while a reporter tagged along.
For all the personal privacy Blumenthal insists upon, it's virtually impossible to miss his public act.
From Aug. 26, 2002, to Sept. 26, 2004 -- 763 days -- there were only 92 days on Blumenthal's calendar with no scheduled public events. Although Blumenthal said he does not attend all of these events -- which range from black-tie dinners, fund-raisers and picnics to television interviews and speaking engagements -- it's clear from watching him that he puts a nearly superhuman effort into meeting as many of these obligations as possible.
Blumenthal is so ubiquitous, in fact, reporters joke there must be a cardboard cutout of the attorney general that simply gets moved around from event to event. Whether it's a funeral for a former state official, a press conference, or an election-night victory party, you can count on seeing Blumenthal's face in the shot if there's a camera present.
And the face is always the same. Hair as sleek as an otter's, rows of perfectly straight, glinting teeth, the dark suit and tie -- it's like looking at a portrait of a man, rather than the man himself.
Those who have been on the political circuit with Blumenthal say they feel as though they're up against a very courteous, but relentless machine.
He's famous for swinging into an event, cruising the room, refusing any food or drink, and then breezing out again, off to the next dinner, cocktail party or meeting. And if he's met you once, typically he'll remember your name and ask you about your mother's gall bladder surgery last year.
``It was like competing with the Terminator,'' said two-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Curry, who has campaigned alongside Blumenthal.
But for all the hands Blumenthal has shaken and television cameras he's faced, he remains largely unknown by the people and politicians who have worked with him.
In interviews with a wide range of his past and present colleagues, as well as Democrats and Republicans on the same political circuit, the consensus is overwhelming: Blumenthal is a lone wolf.
``There was a period in my life when I spent more time with Dick Blumenthal than anyone else in my life and I have no idea who he is,'' said Curry.
Speculating about Blumenthal's next move is the longest-running political parlor game in Connecticut, partly because he's so enigmatic.
But it is also because Blumenthal has consistently been the largest vote getter on the Democratic ticket and is viewed as his party's best shot to win back the governor's office after 16 parched years in exile.
Trying to guess what the attorney general will do next, however, is a little like plunking a quarter down at one of those county fair ring tosses. It's a pretty good bet you're not going home with the giant panda.
He has taken a pass on the governor's race three times and, shortly before President Bill Clinton left office, agonized for weeks over an opportunity to be appointed a federal judge, only to pull his name out of consideration at the last minute.
Each time, Blumenthal has offered concise and understandable reasons for staying in his current job -- he likes being attorney general; it would be disruptive to his children to move, etc. -- but there was always the sense of more going on beneath the surface than he was admitting.
We always know what the indefatigable attorney general is doing because he's constantly telling us about it, but we very rarely know what he's thinking or feeling.
For a man who is rumored to have once returned a reporter's phone call from a canoe, who is a more constant presence on the evening news than the governor, and whose brother-in-law delivered the line ``How do you roast someone who is already self-basting?'' at a party for Blumenthal last year, this inscrutability is jarring.
The dichotomy, however, is completely in character -- and a clue, for anyone who is paying attention, to what is happening behind the curtain.
The contradiction of the two Dick Blumenthals hints at an inner turmoil that has haunted him and, by extension, Connecticut politics -- for much of his adult life, despite his remarkable successes.
Where is Dick Blumenthal headed next?
Nobody really knows -- perhaps not even himself.
The Right Stuff
One day, shortly after Blumenthal enlisted in the Marine reserves during the Vietnam War, he was bumming around Washington with some friends when someone suggested they all run in a marathon the next day.
Nobody in the group had ever trained for a race that long, nor did they have the proper shoes, but being Marines they figured they had the stuff to go 26.2 miles.
Race day arrived. The gun went off. Blumenthal's friends quickly disappeared in the pack, and that was the last he saw of them.
Many, many hours later, after he'd hobbled across the finish line, tennis shoes in tatters, barely able to stay on his feet, Blumenthal looked around for his friends. They were nowhere to be seen.
The next day when he asked them where they'd gone, they looked at him incredulously.
``You ran the whole thing?'' they asked. ``We quit after a couple of miles and went to a bar.''
When Blumenthal tells this story he grimaces a little when he gets to the punch line. He knows it's an instructive story for the obvious reason -- who but a person obsessed with achievement would nearly kill himself to finish a marathon he entered as a lark? But he also knows it shows him doing something starkly out of character -- taking on a challenge without much thought --indeed, without any thought, about whether he's prepared.
Even as a child, he was prepared.
Blumenthal's younger brother, David, remembers the way his older sibling practiced pitching. Richard would stand in the schoolyard of their Queens neighborhood for hours, throwing a baseball at the brick school wall. A month or so later, he'd stand rooted in the same spot hitting tennis balls.
``His competitiveness was legendary,'' said David, 55, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the medical director of health care policy at Massachusetts General Hospital. ``There are lots of stories about Richard competing, doing well, taking on the next challenge.''
Didn't he ever lose?
``Lose? Oh sure,'' David Blumenthal replied. ``I think Richard's losses were relative though. I think he wanted to be president rather than editorial chairman. That's the way he lost.''
Richard Blumenthal, born Feb. 13, 1946, at Brooklyn Hospital, was not brought up to lose and, for that matter, neither was David, born two and a half years later.
Martin and Jane Blumenthal had high expectations of their sons. Being born in a democratic society, being intelligent and healthy and athletically skilled, as both boys were, were not just gifts. They were responsibilities.
Martin Blumenthal, particularly, saw it this way. Martin was only 17 in 1935 when he borrowed money to come to this country alone from Frankfurt, Germany, his sons said. He arrived in the United States broke, knowing virtually no one, with little more than an elementary school education.
Despite all of this, Martin Blumenthal built a successful import/export business. He later married Jane Rosenstock, a Nebraska farm girl turned social worker who left the Midwest to attend Radcliffe College, making her the first person in either family to go to college. Richard, as his family still calls him, was the second.
``My father was deprived of the opportunity to go to college by the Nazis,'' David said. ``He sought to be successful, in part, so we could feel the freedom to do the things that mattered to us, not just the things that would make us successful. Succeeding in other dimensions was important to both of my parents.''
Life for the Blumenthal children was secure and loving, but strict.
David said his brother didn't ever do anything really wrong, but got in trouble anyway because he was so argumentative.
``He was a lawyer even as a child,'' David said.
Blumenthal acknowledges this is true, but said it was difficult to abide by all of his father's rules.
``I was probably testing how far I could push the limits of curfews, things that now seem to be very innocent,'' he said, adding somewhat hesitantly, ``My father -- I don't know how much my brother mentioned this -- but my father believed in rules. I don't remember what the rules were, but there were rules and you had to follow them. And I was somewhat rebellious about following the rules.''
Richard and David shared a room, which the elder brother somewhat drolly described as a ``socializing experience,'' and their childhood was typical. Like other boys that age, their heroes were athletes -- Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. There were few frills.
``My father believed very strongly that kids should not be spoiled,'' Blumenthal said. ``He was a strong disciplinarian, and very disciplined. We never had the luxuries that other kids had.''
The one exception was education. The Blumenthals paid for their children to attend Riverdale Country School, a private school in the Bronx, and later footed the bill for Ivy League schools, all the way through law and medical schools.
In Richard's case, that meant four years at Harvard University, where he was captain of the swim team, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Crimson and a magna cum laude graduate, and Yale Law School.
Blumenthal, who is not very comfortable talking about the pressure placed on him by his father, chose his words carefully when describing their relationship. Martin Blumenthal, who underwent brain surgery about three years ago, is under around-the-clock care at his home in Manhattan. He is physically fragile, his elder son said, and in a progressive stage of dementia.
``I'm hesitant to say this because I don't want to make him into an ogre. He was a tremendously caring, compassionate, supportive father,'' Blumenthal said. ``But for a while when he felt my brother and I, perhaps, were taking for granted the idea that we would go to college and he would support us, he said to me, `You're going to earn your own way through college.'``
His father, eventually persuaded that his son was serious enough about ``careers and life,'' abandoned this threat, Blumenthal said, but the message had been received.
Given the pressure to succeed, it isn't surprising that some of Blumenthal's favorite childhood memories are of the unbridled time he spent at his grandparents' farm in Nebraska.
The Rosenstock farm, located just south of Omaha, consisted of a white farmhouse surrounded by 500 acres of fields, a couple of corn silos and a lot of cattle, but to the young boy from Queens it was heaven, even when he was shoveling manure.
``It wasn't particularly glamorous. It was a Nebraska farm,'' Blumenthal said. ``It wasn't campfires in the gullies or pretty, in the sense of a Virginia farm. But I thought it was beautiful.''
His grandfather, Fred ``Fritz'' Rosenstock, raised corn cattle that were shipped elsewhere to be fattened for slaughter. The stockyard office had a couple of desks, a calendar pinned to the wall, and manure constantly underfoot on the bare wood floors. In winter, the wind scoured the frigid stockyard, leaving behind a bleak, raw landscape.
But there were three cousins to play with, the warmth of his grandmother's kitchen, plentiful farm food, and, best of all, time with his grandfather.
``I remember walking with him through the stockyards, listening to him talk to people and watching their reactions,'' Blumenthal said. ``My grandfather was a very warm, engaging person. I don't think my memory of him is completely romanticized. He was a very unusual person.''
The lure of the farm has stayed with Blumenthal. For a time, after he'd worked at two of Washington's most powerful institutions -- the Washington Post and the White House -- he considered moving to Nebraska to take over the family business and open a small law practice.
``It was the end of my first year of law school and I was a little lost,'' Blumenthal said. ``There wasn't much to keep me in one place or another.''
He eventually abandoned the idea-- farming is a backbreaking, uncertain way to make a living, after all, -- but the indecision itself would not be discarded so easily.
The `Eternal General'
One of his sons calls him the ``Eternal General.''
Blumenthal tossed this line off casually at a meeting of the Woodbridge Democratic Town Committee last fall. A few minutes later he told the standing-room-only crowd a short story about putting his 10-year-old daughter to bed one night. He's tucking her in when she looks up at him and says, ``Daddy, you make headlines.''
``I thought, `This is great. She's reading the newspapers,''' Blumenthal said. ``Then she points to my forehead and says, `Daddy, do it again. Make head lines.'''
The crowd cracked up.
Blumenthal's no dummy. He knows what people say about him.
In no particular order, the list of criticisms, gripes and gossip includes the following:
He's running out of time to run for higher office because, let's face it, he's not getting any younger. The man's nearing 60 after all, just look at his forehead.
He's stayed in his current job this long because, and you can take your pick here, he was afraid to take on a tough political fight and run against Rowland; he's an indecisive navel-gazer; his wife doesn't want to move to a backwater city like Hartford.
He has overstepped the boundaries of his office, to the detriment of Connecticut businesses and some state agencies.
He has brought frivolous lawsuits to garner publicity because he's self-serving and an egomaniac.
He's so thin, and people rarely see him eat, because he has an eating disorder.
He's a crashing bore.
To lay a few of these to rest: Blumenthal is not at all boring, nor does he appear to lack humility. He has a head-thrown-back, booming laugh that's somewhat surprising in its frequency, a quick, wry sense of humor and what seems to be a genuine perspicacity of the human plight.
He denied having an eating disorder and said he eats breakfast with his children, skips lunch and waits until he gets home at night to eat dinner. He is rigorous about exercise and swims or runs every day, which explains why he has the emaciated-looking body of a long-distance runner.
He does not smoke or drink, however, or have any obvious vices, unless you count being a workaholic as a vice, and is therefore seen in some circles as a bit of a killjoy.
``If I were Blumenthal I'd invent a few salacious stories about myself,'' said Dick Foley, former chairman of the state Republican Party, who is among those who think Blumenthal is dull. ``I think he ought to sit at home at night and doctor photos of himself and put them on the Internet.''
Blumenthal's reasons for not smoking and drinking aren't as puritanical as they seem, however. His mother's smoking habit contributed to her untimely death from a stroke, he believes, and he stopped drinking about 11 years ago because of a deal he made with his son Matthew, who was 7 at the time.
Matthew, his parents said, came home from school one day all fired up about the evils of the demon rum and proceeded to grill his dad about why he drank wine with dinner. The two made a deal: Matthew wouldn't take up the habit if his father would stop.
Cynthia said her husband has kept that promise despite some ribbing from friends, who wondered why he wasn't drinking when they went out for dinner.
``He'd tell them why,'' Cynthia said, ``and they'd say, `Yeah, yeah. That's a nice story. But he's not here, so have some wine,' and Richard said, `No, I gave my word.'''
His squeaky clean image apparently extends to his love life. Although he dated many women before getting married at 36, numerous sources said there have never been any rumors, as there are of many politicians, about his behavior during these relationships or about instances of infidelity since he's been married.
Ellen Camhi, one of Blumenthal's oldest friends, said he was so good-looking in his younger years that women would congregate outside her house during parties to watch Richard and her husband play tennis. The women weren't looking at her husband, Camhi added.
``They'd literally be lined up,'' Camhi said, laughing. ``He was oblivious, of course, but he was never at a loss for a date.''
Lonnie Reed, a former television news anchor in Connecticut and New York, who now produces documentaries, dated Blumenthal in the late 1970s, when he was a young U.S. attorney. ``He's just the best person,'' said Reed, who declined to discuss their relationship except to say Blumenthal was a ``gentleman.'' ``He talked about issues instead of ambition.''
As for the rest of the criticisms of Blumenthal, there's a little truth in them all, most likely.
He doesn't lack for ego, as would be expected from someone with his intelligence and abilities, but this seems to have only helped him with the voters. Since he began his career as attorney general in 1990, Blumenthal not only gets the most votes on the Democratic ticket, he also invariably receives the highest approval rating of any state official in opinion polls.
The public adoration, for there's no other word for it, calls to mind the statement by the German philosopher and poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who once said the only way to deal with someone more brilliant than yourself is to love him.
The idea might have been a tad self-serving, as Goethe himself was considered a genius, but it holds some truth, nonetheless, when weighing the merits of the Dick Blumenthals of the world.
Blumenthal's popularity is also a consequence of the way he's used his abilities to create an image of a high-brow, conscientious crusader, the knight-errant riding in on his white horse with a legal brief in one hand and a microphone in the other.
By taking on the tobacco companies, HMOs, Midwestern power plants, and various other powerful industries, Blumenthal has endeared himself to a jaded public that's grown weary of corruption and mediocrity in government. In many of these cases, often filed as class actions with other states, he has been successful, reaping millions of dollars for the state and valuable publicity for himself.
But while his supporters hail these fights as courageous and just, his detractors say he has overstepped the boundaries of his office to promote his own career.
It's a criticism that has sparked a number of jokes at Blumenthal's expense. Two of the most common are: ``What's the most dangerous spot in Connecticut? Between Dick Blumenthal and a camera,'' and ``What's the most suspicious line in any news story? `Dick Blumenthal could not be reached for comment.'''
``I think he's done a good job for himself and completely exceeded the authority of the attorney general's office,'' said Chris DePino, former state Republican Party chairman who is now a lobbyist.
But what DePino and others see as Blumenthal's relentless self-promotion is viewed differently by some colleagues and friends. Attorneys who have worked with him say he truly believes he must be accountable to the public; his friends say it's more complex.
``I think he desires to be seen as accessible because he knows he's also seen as inscrutable,'' said Gregory Craig, a Washington lawyer who represented President Clinton during his impeachment hearings and who is one of Blumenthal's best friends from Harvard.
At the same time he's being dunned for being too aggressive, Blumenthal's detractors also criticize him for avoiding fights he perceives to be not winnable. Although the criticisms appear to be unrelated, they are connected by one, overriding complaint: that every move Blumenthal makes is measured against how it will affect his own image and political future.
Put more charitably, Blumenthal has perfected the art of appearing to be nonpartisan in a very political job. He pulls it off, in part, because he has the latitude, indeed, the statutory obligation, to go after the villains who defy party affiliation: sweepstakes companies that prey on the elderly; deadbeat dads; phony charities; the oil company that took customers' money but never delivered during one of the coldest winters in history.
Real people, who all live and breathe and vote in Connecticut, have been getting real money back for almost 14 years because of Dick Blumenthal and, even if the checks pay only for a week's groceries, only a fool would underestimate the political value.
Governors can mail out tax refunds, but eventually they have to take the money from someplace else, hurting some constituency in the process. It's a win-lose, most of the time.
But attorneys general aren't robbing from Peter down the street to pay Paul around the corner. Typically they're suing the anonymous villain, or the business you don't work for. Big tobacco. Microsoft. Drug companies. And if the money doesn't always go directly to consumers, it does go into the state's coffers, helping to fend off those nasty tax hikes and program cuts.
Working for Nixon
``Dick Blumenthal is 23 and at the center of the world,'' begins the 1969 Life magazine article. ``He lives there hungrily, bearing that special guilt of affluent postwar youth, a Harvard magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 100-yard freestyler in 51.0, square jaw, burning eyes, mannered and muted.''
If there was any doubt that Blumenthal was going to have an extraordinary career it ended there.
The day after the Life Magazine article ran, Blumenthal got a call at home from President Nixon's press secretary, Ron Ziegler.
``He said, `Blumenthal, how come we can't get this kind of press?''' recalled Blumenthal, laughing. ``I should have said, `Because you're not a nobody who sits in the basement.'''
Blumenthal was working in the White House for Daniel Patrick Moynihan, his former faculty advisor at Harvard and now Nixon's urban affairs counselor. Moynihan had recruited him.
As a student, Blumenthal had used Moynihan's personal files while researching his senior thesis on the failure of government poverty programs. Moynihan was so impressed with the work, he used some of it in one of his books.
Blumenthal came to the White House by way of the Washington Post. After working as an intern for the Post between college terms, Blumenthal went to Oxford University on a post-graduate fellowship and filed stories from England for the newspaper. He then landed a job as personal assistant to Post Publisher Katharine Graham, where he rubbed elbows with famous journalists, politicians and intellectuals.
Blumenthal assumed he would pursue a career in journalism -- his passion. Even the summer internship at the Post, which promised to be a lot of drudgery and not much glory, did little to dispel the notion he led a charmed life.
``I was sent to cover the Head Start program, to do a color story. Joe Williams shows up, he's 5 years old, his mother's in tears -- the typical stuff,'' Blumenthal explained. ``I noticed that the classes were about half full. I thought that was interesting, that these classes in the nation's capital, Lyndon Johnson's own backyard, during the War on Poverty, were half full.''
He mentioned it to his editor, wrote the story and on his third day at the Post, had a front-page byline.
``It was one of the most exciting times of my life,'' Blumenthal said simply. ``I slept for seven, eight hours, and the rest of my waking hours were at the Post.''
Craig, his Harvard buddy, said he was very surprised when his friend switched careers.
``I scratched my head when Dick went to work at the Nixon White House,'' Craig said. ``Journalism was his obsession.''
But when Moynihan called, Blumenthal said yes. Moynihan later represented New York in the U.S. Senate for 24 years, but his career also included stints in the Kennedy, Johnson and Ford administrations, as well as an ambassadorship to India. He died in 2002.
Even though Moynihan himself was an unabashed liberal, the job under Nixon seemed a dubious fit for an idealistic Ivy League graduate like Blumenthal, who had an abiding interest in public policy, not to mention free speech.
His first assignment was to bring the new director of the office of economic opportunity up to speed on the anti-poverty program. The director was Donald Rumsfeld. When they weren't working, the two men played tennis on high school courts and then went back to Rumsfeld's house for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The friendship has lasted and Blumenthal still corresponds with Rumsfeld.
The pressures of the job soon became apparent to the 23-year-old. The Nixon administration was fighting a war in Vietnam and a different kind of battle at home. Student demonstrations were becoming violent, and the president's staff wasn't handling things well.
Blumenthal, who probably would have been protesting the administration if he hadn't been working for it, was assigned to be a liaison to the protest groups. The ostensible reason, he said, was to avert violence during one of the upcoming marches on Washington.
Blumenthal spent weeks working with police and march organizers to map out the routes, but on the day of the march listened in disbelief to U.S. Justice Department officials talking over a White House radio about how to get the police to confront the marchers.
``I felt completely betrayed,'' he said. ``I'd laid my credibility on the line with the marchers.'' Blumenthal said he quickly contacted march organizers and told them to avoid certain areas. John Mitchell, Nixon's attorney general, found out and was furious.
``Moynihan called me at about 5 p.m. the day of the march and said, `John Mitchell called and told the president that you helped organize this march and are participating in the protest,''' Blumenthal said, smiling.
``Moynihan said, `All right. The president said he wants you fired. If he fires you, he'll have to fire me too.' That was typical of Moynihan. Snap judgment, personal loyalty, extravagance of expression.''
Moynihan then marched off to the Oval Office. Nixon wasn't willing to lose Moynihan, so Blumenthal stayed. But when Moynihan announced he would be leaving the job by the end of the year, his protege figured it was time to move on.
``I had some indication of things to come,'' Blumenthal said. ``I felt I really didn't want to be part of the Nixon White House.''
The day he left the White House, Blumenthal recalled, he met with Nixon, who appeared to be noticing him for the first time. Nixon turned to Moynihan and asked why they weren't trying to find a Senate seat for Blumenthal. ``Mr. President, he's a Democrat,'' Moynihan said with a sly grin.
The unexpected death from a stroke of Blumenthal's mother, Jane, fed his impatience to leave Washington.
Knowing his draft number was about to come up soon anyway, Blumenthal -- like many young men hoping to avoid Vietnam -- enlisted in the Marine Reserves and got on a midnight bus for Parris Island, S.C., for basic training, which he summarizes as 11 weeks of unmitigated misery.
While he was on Parris Island, Rumsfeld offered him a job as director of the government's VISTA program. Accepting the job would have made Blumenthal, at 24, one of the youngest presidential appointees since Thomas Jefferson. But Blumenthal, afraid he would be used by the Nixon administration as a ``figurehead'' at the same time it gutted VISTA, turned it down.
``I was very drawn to it,'' Blumenthal admitted. ``Perhaps I was more attentive or attuned to my mother's sense of right and wrong than I would have been if she'd still been alive.''
David Blumenthal remembers those years. ``I think he had a very hard time, perhaps the hardest time of his life, during his years in the Nixon White House and the time he was offered the job by Don Rumsfeld,'' he said. ``I think he desperately wanted to do it and didn't think he could.''
Blumenthal, who has told this story to various people over the years, uses it as an instructive tale, according to those who have heard him tell it. It was hard to walk away from the job, he has explained, but he knew there would always be other opportunities.
The trick, of course, is knowing when to grab them.
Yale Law? Maybe Not
If it weren't for Ben Heineman Jr., Dick Blumenthal might not be attorney general today.
Heineman, now senior vice president, law and public affairs, at General Electric Company, was walking to class at Yale Law School on a bright October day in 1970 when he ran into Blumenthal, a Harvard friend.
Blumenthal, who started law school five weeks late because he was finishing basic training, was headed back to his car after attending exactly two classes on his first day at Yale. He was so discouraged, he intended to drive off and never return.
``I couldn't understand what was going on,'' Blumenthal said, adding that he also felt conspicuous -- and older than the other students -- in his military crew cut and conservative clothes. ``I decided law school just wasn't for me.''
But Heineman, who was almost through the program, suggested they go somewhere to talk before Blumenthal dropped out. Over coffee, Heineman coaxed him into giving Yale more than half a day's chance.
``I told him, from the luxurious vantage point of someone who was nearly done, that he'd figure it out,'' Heineman says now. ``I'm sure I probably said, `This, too, will pass.'''
Blumenthal took his friend's advice, stayed at Yale, formed friendships with future leaders like Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham, and went on to become editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, landing a clerkship with U.S. District Judge Jon O. Newman, in Connecticut, following his graduation in 1973. A coveted clerkship with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun followed a year later.
The two experiences had a profound impact on Blumenthal.
Newman was a trial judge, which meant Blumenthal learned first hand how wrenching sentencing decisions can be and, in the course of the year, received an invaluable education in legal tactics.The Supreme Court was more political, and cases before the court were never mundane. Blackmun was feeling his way toward more moderate views -- Roe vs. Wade had been decided only a year earlier -- and Blumenthal began his job there at a pivotal time.
On certain issues, such as reproductive rights and environmental law, his time clerking for Blackmun was formative to his beliefs, but Blumenthal says he didn't arrive at any one philosophy or, for that matter, even a clear career path. ``I didn't leave the Supreme Court thinking I wanted to be a judge, or have an ambition to be a judge, but it certainly led me to understand why it would be a challenging and fascinating job.''
In truth, Blumenthal was as undecided as ever about what he wanted to do. He asked the advice of two men -- Newman and Supreme Court Justice Byron ``Whizzer'' White, who died in 2002.
``I eventually went to Jon Newman and said `I don't know what I'm going to do with my life,''' Blumenthal says. ``It wasn't quite in those words, but I wasn't sure I wanted to practice law. I didn't know what I wanted to do.''
Newman, who still serves on the federal bench, suggested that Blumenthal go to work for U.S. Sen. Abraham Ribicoff, a former two-term Democratic governor of Connecticut, who was looking for an administrative assistant.
Newman says Blumenthal's indecision was typical for a young law clerk. ``I don't think Dick is any different than any of the 65 people who have worked for me,'' Newman said. ``Almost all of my clerks have come to me at one point for advice.''
Blumenthal took Newman's advice -- he knew Ribicoff from his time working for Katharine Graham and Moynihan -- but fairly quickly decided he didn't want to be a Capitol Hill staff person.
``I didn't see a direct impact,'' Blumenthal says. ``I didn't feel I was using my legal skills to help people.''
More to the point, though, Blumenthal was unhappy in Washington, which felt to him like a self-centered, one-industry town. ``I wanted the real world. I wanted to be from some place, no matter what I did in life, and have a home and community and know people as friends, who were not only lobbyists or elected officials,'' Blumenthal says.
It was then that he remembered the advice he'd received a year or so earlier from Justice White, a former college- and pro-football player, who served three decades on the court after being appointed by President Kennedy.
Blumenthal, then 28, asked what White thought he should do after the Supreme Court clerkship ended.
White, who was known for his unwavering opinions and daunting physical presence, raised one of his massive fists, brought it down hard on the desk and bellowed ``Roots!''
Blumenthal sat there, puzzled, until White bellowed again.
``Go back to your roots!''
So he did.
Activist Attorney General
When the state Supreme Court slapped Blumenthal's hands two years ago for overstepping his legal authority, his critics somewhat gleefully predicted a more subdued era in the attorney general's office.
They were wrong.
Although the court's rebuke was thorough enough -- the justices rejected Blumenthal's argument that he had broad authority rooted in common law to bring suit against an allegedly greedy school administrator -- it didn't curb the attorney general's appetite for aggressive and, in some cases, problematic lawsuits and investigations one whit.
Among the hundreds of actions by his office since then are a multi-state lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Clean Air Act; a lawsuit accusing the Atlantic Coast Conference, The University of Miami and Boston College of conspiring against the Big East Conference; his unrelenting opposition to the Cross Sound Cable; and, most recently, an investigation into state contracts awarded to the Tomasso Brothers construction companies.
It is too soon to tell, however, whether the Supreme Court case -- Blumenthal vs. Barnes -- will have any significant historical impact on the attorney general's office.
Blumenthal insists it hasn't so far.
``What has been the practical impact of that case?'' he asks rhetorically, adding that his office has not invoked common law authority since the Barnes case.
Even the lawyer who won the Barnes case against Blumenthal rejected the idea that Blumenthal routinely oversteps his statutory authority.
``I was just trying to get my client out of trouble,'' said Bill Bloss, who also admitted to voting for Blumenthal. ``Look, he's been very aggressive. That's his job. He has artfully gored some oxen, but from my perspective, they earned their goring.''
But in both the Tomasso and the Big East cases, Blumenthal's jurisdiction has been called into question.
A judge dismissed the attorney general's lawsuit against the ACC commissioner and three other officers in February, making it the second time the lawsuit was derailed. Five months earlier, the same judge removed the ACC as a defendant in the suit. Both times, the judge determined that neither the conference nor the officers of the ACC had sufficient business dealings in Connecticut to be sued in the state.
In the Tomasso case, Blumenthal argued his office had broad investigative powers under the state whistleblower law to subpoena documents as part of a wide-ranging bid-rigging investigation. A Superior Court judge rejected that argument in March, and quashed the subpoena. Blumenthal has appealed.
Superior Court Judge Kevin Booth, citing the Barnes decision, ruled that the whistleblower statute exempts large state contractors who build or repair public buildings from the investigative reach of the attorney general.
``I'm not concerned with what power the legislature should have given you, but with what power the legislature did give you,'' Booth told Blumenthal during a Feb. 2 hearing.
Blumenthal's response was uncharacteristically intemperate, providing some insight into his sensitivity on the issue. The judge's decision to quash the Tomasso subpoena, he said, ``unnecessarily and improperly impedes on my office's ability to conduct a critical investigation of corruption in state contracting.''
Rather than seeing the Tomasso and ACC defeats as emblematic of a broader error in judgment on his part, Blumenthal said losing is simply part of the job.
``The trial lawyer who goes to court and says he wins 100 percent of the time, he's either got to be lying or he doesn't go to court,'' Blumenthal said. ``And I go to court. I still go to court and I lose in court, myself, personally. I lose cases. I'm not happy about it when it happens and often I think it's unjust, just like every person who goes to court and loses.''
The contradiction between what Blumenthal sees his authority to be and what others, including the courts at times, believe it to be is ancillary to the underlying question of what drives Blumenthal to do his job the way he does.
Blumenthal is hardly alone in his activist approach. Attorneys general around the nation have ramped up the scope and profile of their offices in the last decade, earning the national Association of Attorneys General the derisive nickname of ``Association of Aspiring Governors.''
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, for example, has gone after nothing less than Wall Street itself, winning enormous settlements from powerful investment firms and exposing favoritism in the $7 trillion mutual fund industry since taking office in 1999 -- all while regulators complained bitterly that he had far exceeded his legal authority.
Blumenthal, though, is widely regarded as one of the chief originators of the movement by attorneys general to shape public policy. Although his predecessor, U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, was also an activist attorney general, both the number of cases handled by the office and its budget have ballooned under Blumenthal's leadership.
In a 2002 article in the National Review, author John R. Lott Jr., a resident scholar at the conservative think-tank The American Enterprise, singled out Blumenthal for his harshest criticism, saying the attorney general has gone ``so far into the actions previously reserved for other parts of the government that he often neglects the real duties of his job.
``During 12 years in office, Blumenthal has grown arrogant,'' Lott concluded. ``People in and out of state government are afraid of him and are scared to publicly speak about their experiences. The state Supreme Court has better uses of its time than to monitor the behavior of an out-of-control attorney general.''
Many in the business community, especially, dislike and fear him, as Lott accurately pointed out.
``I just think he's evil. He acts always for himself, with complete disregard for the public,'' said one lawyer who requested anonymity because he has represented clients in several of the industries Blumenthal has sued.
``Like everybody else in the business world, I'm scared to death of this guy,'' said the lawyer. ``He can wreck careers.''
Former attorneys and staffers in Blumenthal's office, however, said what some people mistake for arrogance or political ambition is mostly a combination of curiosity, conviction and an honest desire for the office to be proactive rather than reactive.
``He wasn't content to just permit the attorney general's office to do its daily business,'' said Bob Werner, an associate attorney general for Blumenthal from 1994-97 who now works as a lawyer for the U.S. Treasury Department. Blumenthal possesses ``intellectual flexibility'' and a forceful work ethic, he added.
``A lot of politicians like to tell you the war stories,'' Werner added. ``He's not that way. He doesn't sit around and rehash his old accomplishments. He almost doesn't care what he did yesterday.''
When asked to comment for this story, former President Clinton, one of Blumenthal's friends from Yale, described him in an e-mail as ``intense, quiet, smart and absolutely committed to the law as an instrument of social justice.''
This is notable, perhaps, for what it says about Blumenthal's motivation more than anything else.
While Spitzer has been described as an ethics pathologist, someone who is fascinated by the reasons people can lose their own moral compass, Blumenthal is simply a legal moralist. He's singularly uninterested in the reasons for the malfeasance. He simply wants it to stop, preferably as a result of something he's done.
Blumenthal doesn't see himself as a moralist, he said, somewhat uncomfortably, when asked. He said his job doesn't give him the ``authority to pursue a personal moral agenda.''
But he conceded that personal interpretations of the law and the issues he's directed his office to pursue, the tobacco industry being the most obvious example, can be seen that way.
``Sometimes I make statements about issues I consider to have moral overtones or policy questions that are matters of conscience to me,'' he said. ``We have to be careful that we know we're invoking the law and not just morality.''
Although it was seen at the time as risky at best and quixotic at worst, the early and aggressive position Blumenthal took in the tobacco litigation will be a large part of his legacy as attorney general, both from a moral and a legal standpoint.
``At that point, no one gave us a prayer of winning,'' Blumenthal said. ``The tobacco companies had vowed never to pay a dime, never to negotiate, never to consider settling and never to lose. And no one had ever won a case against them.''
Stamford attorney David Golub, one of Blumenthal's friends, was hired to be the lead attorney from the four firms who ended up working on the case. The controversy over Blumenthal's decision to hire Golub, who ultimately took a share of a $65 million fee that was negotiated directly with the tobacco companies and did not come out of the state's share of the settlement, is immaterial -- in Blumenthal's opinion.
``The most important thing about the tobacco issue is we won,'' Blumenthal said. ``We won $3.6 billion for Connecticut, $5.5 billion counting inflation, and not a penny went to the lawyers.''
Sherman Joyce, president of the American Tort Reform Association, a business-backed group pressing for court reforms, said it is precisely who got the money and how they got it that is troubling.
``The tort system is intended to compensate the people who have suffered an injury. From a legal perspective, the [tobacco] lawsuit lost track of who had suffered injury,'' Joyce said. ``The entity that benefited from the litigation was not the people who suffered the real harm, the dead or injured, but the third party, which is the state.''
Connecticut, along with Massachusetts, went after the tobacco companies using a consumer protection theory. The companies knew about the harm caused by their products, the two states argued, but, through advertising and public statements, consistently denied any correlation between tobacco and cancer.
This theory was supported by state law, which only requires plaintiffs to prove that a company intentionally misled consumers, not that consumers relied on the information or were harmed by it.
What really bothers Joyce, and the industries his group represents, isn't the relative fairness of the settlement, but the fact that states like Connecticut are teaming up with private plaintiff's attorneys to sue big business through the anti-trust and consumer protection laws.
``Plaintiff's lawyers cloaked with governmental authority should not have been the brokers of what amounts to an excise tax being put on an industry,'' Joyce said. ``There was nothing that was accomplished with the tobacco litigation that should not have been accomplished through the legislative and regulatory process.''
Blumenthal, in response to this criticism, said attorneys general would not have been compelled to sue the tobacco companies if the federal government hadn't abrogated its responsibility.
``It's the standard criticism. I've heard it for 13 years,'' Blumenthal said. ```The feds should do this' and then you go to the feds and very often the feds say, `Well, we're going to pre-empt state law and we don't want to do it ourselves.'''
The Clinton administration dragged its heels on the tobacco issue until after the states had successfully sued. And the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the federal Food and Drug Administration does not have authority to regulate tobacco.
But while Blumenthal claims he has joined in the fray against tobacco and Microsoft because of federal abrogation, others have accused him of neglecting his duties at home in favor of the national spotlight.
It's hard to define the exact moment Blumenthal's political career was launched, but one could conceivably pinpoint it to the moment, in 1977, that he met U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell.
Despite his age -- only 31 -- and the fact he'd only been practicing law for nine months and had no trial experience, Blumenthal was in Washington to interview for the prestigious post of U.S. attorney for Connecticut at Ribicoff's recommendation.
He was waiting nervously in the attorney general's rather daunting ceremonial office when Bell, a former U.S. Circuit Court judge, entered the room.
``Well, now, if it isn't the Boy Wonder from Connecticut,'' Bell drawled in his slow, Georgia accent.
Blumenthal got the job and, over the next four years, developed the skills and reputation that laid the foundation for his current career. He regularly worked 14-hour days, immediately ordered that all press inquiries be handled by him personally, and significantly increased the number of cases being handled by the U.S. attorney's office. During his first five months on the job, his staff logged 645 hours before grand juries, more than double the number of hours put in by the same office the previous year.
He also quickly cultivated a reputation for being responsive, too responsive, some said then, to the press, returning reporters phone calls at 6 a.m. or midnight, even when he had nothing of substance to say.
But despite his inexperience and knack for self-promotion, Blumenthal's hard work and good instincts earned him the respect of many who worked for him as he redirected the office to focus on white-collar crimes.
There were many notable victories, including a 1978 case Blumenthal tried personally for eight weeks that resulted in convictions of past and present U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents who sold government data to be used in a drug smuggling and murder plot.
But Blumenthal had detractors, too, and he faced serious criticism in 1980 for allegedly failing to pursue a Stamford corruption case aggressively.
Blumenthal called a special grand jury to investigate municipal corruption in Stamford in 1978, but the pace of the investigation was slow and didn't yield the results his critics expected. Five city officials had been convicted on corruption charges by 1980, but two of the main targets were acquitted and the case appeared stalled.
The critics -- a Stamford Advocate reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize covering corruption in the city and a federal prosecutor who clashed with Blumenthal and eventually left his job -- said Blumenthal was more intent on appeasing the city's Democratic leaders than he was prosecuting corruption because he was planning to run for office.
Blumenthal denied the charge, although he did run for office after leaving the U.S. attorney's job. According to 1980 newspaper stories, all nine of his top assistants strongly defended his integrity and motives.
``The FBI and the DEA can be fairly cutthroat if they find a U.S. attorney who is not confident,'' Blumenthal said. ``They learned pretty quickly that I respected them and ... that I understood that I knew less than they did.''
His aggressiveness caught the attention of Benjamin R. Civiletti, who succeeded Bell as U.S. attorney general. When it came time to appoint a prosecutor to head the Justice Department's investigation of leaks coming out of the high-profile Abscam probe, Civiletti turned to Blumenthal. Abscam was the code name for a top-secret FBI sting that led to bribery charges against a U.S. senator and five members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The appointment put Blumenthal, a former reporter and staunch defender of free speech, in the uncomfortable position of ferreting out which of his colleagues had leaked information to the press. It also garnered national attention for the up-and-coming prosecutor.
Civiletti, who served as attorney general under Carter from 1979-81, says he chose Blumenthal for the simple reason he was ``one of the top five U.S. attorneys in the country.''
``He was almost apolitical. In terms of the other side of politics, being a back-slapper or converting your views according to which way the wind was blowing, he had none of those characteristics,'' Civiletti says. ``He was straight as an arrow on any number of issues. I remember that we had like views that this wasn't going to be a witch hunt against the press. That was probably a small factor in my decision.''
The young U.S. attorney and his team of 30 FBI agents and five veteran prosecutors conducted 1,253 interviews over six months. Blumenthal, who divided his time between Washington and Connecticut during the investigation, later said in a Hartford Courant interview that it was a ``profoundly unhappy assignment for me.'' In the end, two federal prosecutors and five FBI agents were disciplined.
Blumenthal loved his job -- he told Civiletti it was the best job a lawyer could ever have -- but he didn't have any say in whether he got to keep it. Ribicoff's retirement in 1980, along with Ronald Reagan's election as president, left Blumenthal's future in the hands of Connecticut's then-Republican Sen. Lowell P. Weicker, who refused to renominate him.
Blumenthal returned to private practice with the Stamford law firm of Cummings and Lockwood in 1981. It was a disappointment, but at least the decision to make a change, always a difficult one for Blumenthal, was made for him this time. It opened another door for him -- politics.
With his exposure as U.S. attorney behind him, and his marriage into the Malkin family (Richard and Cynthia married on June 27, 1982) boosting his fund-raising ability, Blumenthal was poised to run for office.
He started at a surprisingly low post, given his credentials, and sought the state House of Representatives seat vacated by Stamford Democrat Anthony Truglia, who moved up to the state Senate. Blumenthal won easily and served from 1984-87. A state Senate seat was the obvious next choice. He won a special election in1987 after Truglia died in a car accident.
Then things got interesting. Lieberman, then Connecticut's attorney general, narrowly won election to the U.S. Senate in November 1988. Clarine Nardi Riddle, his successor, pledged not to run for re-election when she was appointed to serve out the remainder of Lieberman's term.
For those who now accuse Blumenthal of turning down opportunities to run for higher office because he's afraid of the down-and-dirty aspect of politics, the 1989 nomination battle between Blumenthal and Democrat Jay Levin ought to be remembered.
Levin, a state representative and former mayor of New London, announced his interest in the attorney general's seat first, but that didn't deter Blumenthal. He flung himself into the race, campaigning, as Ed Marcus, then Democratic state chairman, says, ``harder than I've ever seen anyone campaign.''
It was an ugly, costly fight. Levin questioned Blumenthal's credentials, accused him of lying during the campaign, and raised questions about whether he signed a restrictive covenant when he moved into his former home in Stamford that allowed the developer of the property to discriminate against minorities when the house was sold.
The charges infuriated Blumenthal and he struck back, calling Levin ``morally and ethically bankrupt,'' according to news reports at the time.
Marcus clearly remembers that Democratic nominating convention. As the days before the convention ticked away, the race between Levin and Blumenthal was still too close to call.
``In the last two days before the convention, Dick and I were the only two left on the phones. He never stopped working,'' Marcus says. ``It was one of the toughest nomination fights in Connecticut's history.''
Blumenthal won. Although Levin garnered enough delegates to force a primary, he dropped out of the race and later endorsed Blumenthal in the general election.
The episode is instructive, Marcus and others say, because it shows Blumenthal's mettle when he's sure he wants something. It's when he's not sure, they say, that the Hamlet-like hand wringing begins.
``His entire political methodology is one of caution. He doesn't jump into things,'' Marcus says. ``But he wasn't cautious when he wanted to run for AG.''
Whose Side Is He On?
``Dear Attorney General Blumenthal,'' State Budget Director Marc Ryan's Dec. 11, 2003, letter begins, ``I was very surprised to receive your letter suggesting that your office would not represent the State of Connecticut in the above matters.''
Ryan was disgruntled because Blumenthal recused himself from the state's fight with its largest employee union over an early retirement deal after he received a request from the union's lawyer that the attorney general not represent the state.
Ultimately, the two men reached a compromise and Blumenthal assigned the case to a lawyer in Ryan's office. But it's not the only time the representation issue has come up.
As Blumenthal accurately pointed out in his response to Ryan, his office represented the state in more than 40,000 cases in 2003. This hasn't silenced those who criticize the attorney general for crusading on the big stage at the expense of one of his central statutory responsibilities -- representing state agencies.
Since 1997, when the state first began tracking legal fees separately from other professional services, more than $176 million has been spent on outside counsel by state agencies, according to the comptroller's office. That number also includes the money the state pays out in settlements, as well as court-appointed lawyers in both juvenile and adult cases.
Ryan said his agency, the Office of Policy and Management, has spent millions of dollars setting up a litigation fund, and he said other state agencies have significantly beefed up their legal departments in the last decade.
``Sometimes it's frustrating when agencies aren't able to get sufficient staff time from the attorney general's office,'' Ryan said, when asked about this issue.
But, Ryan added, ``In a general sense we have a very good relationship with the attorney general's office when it comes to ironing out issues with respect to our agencies.''
He also admitted that Blumenthal is correct when he says the state typically hires outside counsel at the request of the agencies themselves -- not at the initiative of the attorney general's office.
The reasons for this are complex, however.
In some areas the state hires outside legal help because it needs specialized services. In other instances, like the tobacco lawsuit, the case might simply be too complex and too wide-ranging for the attorney general's office to handle alone.
But there are also times when Blumenthal's office is seen as working at cross-purposes from the state agencies it supposedly represents, particularly in sensitive areas such as juvenile justice, mental health services, energy and health care.
The state Department of Children and Families, which requested outside counsel in 2001 to represent it in a federal class-action lawsuit, has often been on the receiving end of Blumenthal's wrath. The attorney general has teamed up several times with the state Child Advocate, launching investigations that have exposed serious deficiencies in the agency's care of children.
This raises questions about whether there is a sufficient firewall between that side of Blumenthal's office and the unit that represents the agency. ``That is clearly one area that has concerned us at times,'' Ryan said.
Blumenthal says this is an unwarranted concern. More than 40 attorneys staff the child protection unit, he said, and as the largest unit in the office it also has one of the heaviest caseloads. The second largest department is child support, which handles roughly 11,000 cases a year.
The fact remains, though, that Blumenthal is a Democrat who serves in a Republican administration, and that leads to policy differences that, as he put it, ``can color interpretations of law.''
``In some instances, where the administration's positions have no legal support or have direct conflict with positions I have taken in court, I can't credibly represent them,'' Blumenthal said. Those cases are referred to outside counsel.
But he has also sidestepped some battles he deemed too politically risky, his critics say, maintaining the valuable appearance of nonpartisanship. This was most evident, they say, where Rowland was concerned.
Blumenthal, for example, took a pass in 1997 on a request from Marcus, Democratic state chairman, to investigate Rowland's purchase of the now-infamous Bantam Lake cottage from the White Memorial Foundation.
Marcus questioned numerous aspects of the sale, including the fact that a high-level Rowland appointee served as chairman of the foundation and that terms of the sale were favorable to the Rowlands. He urged Blumenthal to investigate on the grounds that the nonprofit foundation was supported by taxpayer money.
Blumenthal's reaction was no different from that of the State Ethics Commission, which ruled the cottage sale was an arms-length transaction and allowable under law, but it still left the impression that the attorney general wasn't willing to pursue Rowland at a time when he was still popular with voters.
In 2002, some prominent Democrats thought Blumenthal was being played skillfully by Rowland when the governor asked the attorney general to lead the state's efforts to recoup $200 million lost by the state's trash authority -- headed by Rowland's recently indicted co-chief of staff, Peter Ellef -- in a disastrous energy deal with Enron Corp.
Blumenthal, who had already launched an investigation into what he called an ``illegal, unsecured loan'' to Enron by Ellef and others, appeared with Rowland in a memorable press conference outside the governor's office that March, vowing that he would be ``absolutely relentless'' in recouping the state's money.
Although Rowland insisted he had no role in the deal between Enron and the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, it later became clear that the governor had several meetings and phone conversations with Enron officials, including its CEO, Ken Lay, during the time in question. Rowland was also chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and solicited generous donations from Enron during those years.
The timing of the March 2002 press conference was crucial, with Enron becoming a political problem for Rowland in that year's gubernatorial election. It gave the governor important political cover, or at least that's how it seemed to Curry, Rowland's Democratic challenger, and other Democrats.
Curry refused to discuss his previous criticisms of Blumenthal when contacted recently for this story, but he was fuming late last year about Blumenthal's decision to ``defend CRRA rather than investigate it,'' comments he made during a lengthy, interview in Northeast.
When the reporter said Blumenthal was ``obligated'' to defend CRRA, Curry responded angrily.
``I'm sorry, why isn't he obligated to defend DCF? Why can he investigate one agency and defend another? ... People in his office have to help people do their legal work. If there is malfeasance, he is obligated not to defend them and to refer them to private counsel, which was the appropriate step right from the beginning.''
Blumenthal, when asked about Curry's comments in Northeast, said his office did investigate CRRA and issued a lengthy report that led to Ellef's ouster, a complete overhaul of the board and a legislative review.
``I don't know how to be delicate about it,'' Blumenthal said. ``Bill just has it wrong. I never defended CRRA. We sued on behalf of CRRA.''
Blumenthal recently negotiated a settlement with Enron Corp. that resulted in the state trash authority's recovering more than $111 million from the ill-fated deal.
Curry also faulted Blumenthal and Democratic legislative leaders, then-Senate President Pro Tem Kevin Sullivan and House Speaker Moira K. Lyons, for not backing him up when he said the law required Rowland to submit a detailed plan for resolving the state's burgeoning budget deficit before the election.
As Curry tried to gain political traction from the issue, Democratic leaders said the law was ``ambiguous.'' Blumenthal responded by saying his office had not been formally asked to render an opinion.
Curry lost the election soon after that.
A Cautious Courtship
It was a beautiful summer morning in Greenwich when Richard Blumenthal first laid eyes on Cynthia Malkin.
Lovely and lithe in her tennis whites, Cynthia accompanied her parents to a lawn party and was quickly induced into playing a set against them with Richard as her partner.
Walking up the lawn afterward, the 31-year-old lawyer asked Cynthia where she worked, and the ensuing conversation went something like this:
``I'm still in school.''
``Nooo, not exactly.''
``What college do you attend?''
``Actually I'm still in high school.''
Cynthia still laughs when she remembers her future husband's reaction to that disclosure.
``He said, `It's been very nice to meet you,' and poof, he was gone,'' she said.
Blumenthal said his first and only reaction was one of horror -- would Peter and Isabel Malkin, walking behind their daughter, overhear this conversation and think that he, Richard, was trying to pick up their 16-year-old?
But something remained from that meeting, despite the 15-year age difference. Blumenthal hadn't forgotten Cynthia when they met again at her cousin's wedding. She still called him ``Mr. Blumenthal.''
Things gradually changed during her four years at Harvard University, as the age difference ceased to be a problem. But that didn't mean Cynthia didn't have reservations.
``I figured anyone who was that good-looking had to be insufferable,'' she says. ``But he was oblivious to the stir he made when he walked into the room.''
By her senior year, they were engaged. They married shortly after she graduated. He was 36. She was 21.
At their June wedding, Blumenthal read Frost's poem, ``The Silken Tent'' to his young wife. The poem pays homage to a woman with a strong moral and emotional center, which in the poem is represented by the pole, signifying ``the sureness of the soul,'' that anchors the tent to the ground.
The tent is held aloft, Frost wrote, not by any single cord but by ``countless ties of love and thought.''
If Richard was searching for a reason to put down roots, or the ties Frost described, he found it with Cynthia.
Friends of the couple describe the marriage as resilient and loving, and said Blumenthal's solo appearance at events signifies nothing other than a clear division of duties: He runs the AG's office and she runs their home.
``He's got a vibrant marriage with a very independent, strong woman and they're a great couple,'' said Heineman, his Yale friend. ``She could have been attorney general herself. She's a very important part of his life.''
Cynthia Blumenthal, 44, has a vitality and easy charm her husband often lacks. A slender woman with luminous brown eyes, her speech is quick where her husband's is deliberative, and when she tells a story about Richard it is with fond amusement and admiration tinged, at times, with honest frustration.
The topic is his schedule, and she's explaining how she responded when the two oldest boys, who attended the same private school, both had parents' night on the same evening with simultaneous programs. She obviously couldn't attend both.
``I called him and said, `I really think you need to be there. I want [them] to know you think it's important enough to attend,''' Cynthia says.
The night came and Cynthia arrived at the event early because her sons were serving as guides and performing in the jazz band. As she was settling down to wait with a book, her cell phone rang. It was Richard, calling from the car.
``He said, `Things aren't looking good,' and I said, `I don't want to know where you are. Just get here,''' she recounts. The jazz band was practicing at this point and she realized he was going to miss the performance. ``I held up the phone so he could hear them and said, `Don't they sound great?' and he said, `Yes, they really do,' and I said, `Don't forget to tell him you heard them.'''
He arrived late, and it took a bit of hustling to get him on track with the program, which was moving from room to room at a scheduled pace but, as Cynthia put it, ``the bottom line was, he was there.''
The children don't seem to resent the amount of time their father is working because ``they really do feel his care and concern for them is profound,'' she says, adding, ``I have devoted myself to making up the difference.''
It is Cynthia who manages the busy day-to-day schedules of four active children and it is Cynthia who shows up for every school event and practice. Picking up their daughter, Claire, from a field hockey practice last fall, she arrived with a full dinner -- hot meatloaf, ketchup, apple cider.
But Blumenthal is not as uninvolved as people might believe, given his schedule. He has made a point, for example, of taking each child on a special trip when they turn 10, visited colleges with his oldest son, Matt, and returns phone calls from his kids' soccer, baseball and field hockey practices.
Democrats frustrated with Blumenthal's refusal to run for governor have muttered for years that Cynthia's unwillingness to leave Greenwich, where they live five minutes from her parents, is the reason. She says this isn't the case and that the reason he hasn't done so is twofold: He needs to decide where he will have the most impact, and he's been unwilling to subject their family to the kind of publicity that higher office demands.
``[Politics] is a profession with a very high personal toll. The higher you go, the brighter the glare of the spotlight and the harder it is to shield the people you love from that spotlight,'' she says. ``It's a sensitivity that's typical of him and it's also typical that most people don't perceive it, or think it's disingenuous.''
Cynthia says her husband is also very careful to shield their children from the kind of pressure that was placed on him during his childhood.
``He's very aware of the sense of not being good enough,'' she says. ``When [the kids] have done their best, they should feel that it's good enough.''
The horizontal surfaces of Blumenthal's office are lined with photographs of his wife and children, some of which Cynthia took. She worked as a professional photographer after graduating from Harvard, she says, and envisioned spending her life, or part of it, in a Paris studio.
She never imagined herself as a politician's wife.
``I'm not the type of person who is going to stand next to her husband and stare adoringly up at him as he makes speeches,'' she says.
But that doesn't mean she is telling him what to do, either, Cynthia says. If Richard runs for governor, she adds, it will be a decision they have reached together.
Blumenthal, who was not present at this interview, echoes that general sentiment.
``Cynthia is the person closest in the world to me,'' he says simply.
Uncomfortable at Introspection
``All of this is embarrassingly self-indulgent,'' Blumenthal says.
He's sitting in his customary pose in a high-backed red chair in his Hartford office. Legs crossed, elbows propped on the armrests, tapered fingers spread, tip to tip, in front of him. Now 58, he is no longer the golden boy of Connecticut politics.
His good looks -- the wavy, blond hair and chiseled face that earned him a spot on the most eligible bachelors list for more than a decade -- have acquired that unmistakable patina of age. The skin is stretched taut over his bones and there are four deep lines cutting into his forehead. The slicked-back hair has thinned, a condition made more obvious by daily swims in the YMCA pool, but curls still brush the back of his collar.
And his golden touch has faltered lately, too. His recent misstep in the controversy over writer Wally Lamb's writing program for female inmates set political tongues wagging because it was so out of character.
Blumenthal took the position that proceeds from a book written by the inmates about their lives would be taken from the women and turned over to the state's coffers -- sparking a controversy that nearly shut down the writing program and setting himself up as an enemy of free speech. During a ``60 Minutes'' segment on the controversy, Blumenthal appeared uncomfortable and unprepared on camera. Soon after, a compromise was reached that allowed the women to keep most of the royalties from the book.
Foley, the former state Republican chairman, says the passage of time has caught up with Blumenthal.
``When he came up in the House and Senate, he was a bright young man. But the way I figure it, he's been a member of the AARP for the last six years,'' Foley says. ``I think he's let the generational gap hit him.''
Democrats, naturally, disagree with this assessment and say both publicly and privately that Blumenthal still has time to move up, either to the governor's office, a U.S. Senate seat or, if Kerry beats Bush, a high-level position in a Democratic administration.
Whatever his political intentions are, however, he overcame his discomfort answering personal questions to cooperate with this profile. For weeks, Blumenthal gamely tried to answer every question that was posed to him. He agreed without hesitation to release his schedule for the past year. He fetched from home photographs of himself as a child, as a young man working in the White House, as a Marine.
He took questions that stumped him -- simple, conversational questions like ``What is the last movie you saw?'' ``Who is your favorite musician'' and ``Describe your most foolish moment,''-- home for further deliberation (he asked his wife) before coming back with the answers: ``Road to Perdition''; Jim Croce; and wearing a Mickey Mouse hat around Disney World when his two oldest sons were 6 and 4.
He has been unfailingly gracious and expansive, solicitous even. But he is not very revealing.
Indeed, boot camp was wretched. Yes, his mother's death was very hard. Certainly, he's aware that he's not necessarily beloved by other politicians in his party.
But does he talk about how those things make him feel? Not easily, if at all.
It is only when he speaks of his mother, and, sometimes, his wife and children, that he seems to forget someone is listening; his speech slows, becomes almost halting.
Jane Blumenthal died a long time ago. She never saw her oldest son clerk in the Supreme Court, be appointed one the youngest U. S. attorneys in history, or become one of the most popular and enduring politicians in Connecticut.
Blumenthal made a pilgrimage of sorts to Nebraska after her death to see if he could learn something, anything, about his mother he didn't know. He stood outside her old brick school and, while staring up at it, realized he could not place her there, could not imagine her in her youth.
``After my mother's death I realized I barely knew her,'' he says at one point. Asked to describe her, Blumenthal hesitates. Finally he says he cannot describe her.
That Question That Won't Die
The headline on the Slate magazine story, published Sept. 15, 2000, says, ``Richard Blumenthal: He was supposed to be president. So why is he only Connecticut's attorney general?''
The writer, David Plotz, concludes that, ``Blumenthal, once one of the most promising young Democratic pols in the nation, is languishing'' because of a combination of bad luck and a chaotic, rather than hierarchical, political party system that no longer automatically rewards good public servants with U.S. Senate seats.
Although the Slate article touches on a valid point -- Blumenthal has made no secret of his desire for a Senate seat, but neither Christopher Dodd nor Joseph Lieberman appear to be in any hurry to step down as Connecticut's senators. But it only skims the surface of two questions that have haunted Connecticut politics and Blumenthal for years: Why in the world is he still attorney general? And what is he going to do next?
Blumenthal, frankly, is tired of answering them.
He will give, when asked, a variety of answers. One, he loves his job. Two, he has four children and wants to be in a job that allows him time to be with them and that affords them a normal childhood. Three, he hasn't had a better opportunity, one worth leaving his current job which, by the way, he loves, in case you missed that the first time.
Blumenthal is expected to announce in the next two months whether he'll join the already crowded Democratic field for the 2006 governor's race. Democrats who were confident last winter that he would run are now not as certain, citing a number of factors that might give Blumenthal pause.
One of those factors is Gov. M. Jodi Rell's high polling numbers. Rell, who ascended to governor when Rowland resigned July 1, has struck many of the right notes in her first few months in office -- reaching out to state employee unions, appointing an ethics task force and traveling the state to meet personally with voters.
Another is that other Democrats in the race, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, have already hit the $1 million mark in their fund-raising efforts. Both Malloy and DeStefano are expected to fight for the nomination in a primary, whether Blumenthal enters or not. Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, who has not officially declared her candidacy for governor but is still regarded as a serious contender, has raised $770,000 through an exploratory committee.
But neither of these factors should deter Blumenthal if he wants to run, Democrats said.
``Dick is the 800-pound gorilla in Connecticut politics,'' said George Jepsen, Democratic state chairman. ``He's got approval ratings over 70 percent, he has the capacity to raise very large amounts of money and he can survive any level of ethical scrutiny.''
One indication that Blumenthal is seriously considering a change are his recent, private meetings with political operative Roy Occhiogrosso, who was Curry's campaign manager in 2002 and now works for a national consulting firm.
The meetings with Occhiogrosso appear on Blumenthal's calendar. When asked what he and the attorney general have been discussing, Occhiogrosso seemed flabbergasted. He then declined to discuss their conversations, except to deny that he is working as a hired consultant for the attorney general.
``I don't know whether he'll run [for governor] or not and I couldn't even tell you if he's made that decision yet,'' said Occhiogrosso.
Most Democrats assume Blumenthal can win, citing his popularity, fund-raising ability and bulldog approach to campaigning.
Blumenthal works harder than anyone else because he's extremely competitive, but also because he's not a particularly gifted politician. It's easy to tell, watching him work a room, that he's not a natural, not a Clinton or a John Edwards or even a John Rowland.
One politician who has attended many of the same parties and fund-raisers as Blumenthal described it this way: ``His hands were shaking. He would repeat the same thing over and over. There was almost something autistic about him.'' Another said she ``always felt sorry for him'' because he looked as uncomfortable as a 13-year-old at his first dance.
When asked about this, Blumenthal shrugs and then recounts a story from Clinton's first presidential campaign. One winter morning, he says, Clinton's entourage stopped in Connecticut at a diner across from Electric Boat just as the third shift was letting off.
Blumenthal, who was accompanying his friend, watched in amazement as the upstart from Arkansas worked the room, effortlessly wooing table after table of surly, work-worn men, casually picking bacon off their plates as he chatted about domestic policy, the weather and every topic in between.
``I'm not a hail-fellow well-met kind of person,'' Blumenthal says. ``I could never do that.'' But, he adds, ``just because something is hard doesn't mean it's not worth doing.''
Perhaps this, more than anything, has been the flaw in the pundits' logic all these years. Perhaps Blumenthal isn't risk-averse at all but simply has a different idea than the rest of us about what constitutes a real challenge.
Milan Kundera, the great Czechoslovakian novelist, wrote in ``The Unbearable Lightness of Being'' that people can be divided into four categories ``according to the kind of look we wish to live under.''
There are those who long for the gaze of the public or, as Kundera put it, ``an infinite number of anonymous eyes,'' those who must be seen by many familiar eyes, and those who need to constantly be before the eyes of the person they love best.
It is a fourth category that is the most rare, Kundera concluded, the people ``who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers.''
Richard Blumenthal is a combination of the first and fourth categories, an intensely private man who has chosen a public life he feels compelled to obsessively tend, lest he cease to exist if he is not, as his wife puts it, ``constantly proving his worth on the planet,'' and an overachiever who has been placed on a pedestal and then faulted for failing to either tumble off it or climb higher.
The imaginary eyes Blumenthal lives under are those of his ancestors, of course, the people to whom he owes his heart and his intellect, and the anonymous public he believes would benefit from a good and purposeful use of his talents.
There is serious ego attached to this belief, the kind of ego that drives everyone who seeks the spotlight. There is also a deep, abiding aloneness, an aura of isolation that is difficult to reconcile with his public persona. Which, of course, he knows. He runs into it.
``I'll be on the road, typically on the weekend, and someone will be running the opposite way and turn around and run with me, which I consider a tremendous intrusion,'' Blumenthal says. ``I'm sure these people are really offended that I'm not more conversant, outgoing, but I look forward to being alone.''
Gregory Craig, the Washington lawyer, said he wishes that others could see all the facets of his friend's personality, which he described as being a delight.
``I think there's a lot of great material there to be revealed,'' said Craig. ``If he was more comfortable revealing himself he would be happier and the world would be better for it.''
Then, as if to prove his point, Craig told this story:
Shortly after graduating from Harvard, Craig and Blumenthal boarded the Queen Mary and shipped across the Atlantic to study in Cambridge.
After they arrived, Blumenthal lived at Trinity College, in the same building as the 17-year-old Prince of Wales.
One night, Craig says, Prince Charles threw a party that dragged into the wee hours of the morning. The noise from the party made it difficult to sleep, which meant many students were awake -- and watching -- when the prince stepped out into the courtyard to pee.
The next morning, Craig says, Blumenthal went outside to inspect the ground.
The punch line?
``Dick swore there was a single rose growing where His Royal Highness had relieved himself.''