Former Chief of Staff Remembers Friend and Mentor, Lowell Weicker Jr.

Senator Lowell Weicker shown during a session of the Senate Watergate Commission while examining a witness. (Photo by UPI Color/Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)


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As the state mourns former three-term U.S. senator and one-term governor Lowell Weicker Jr. with tributes from across the political spectrum, his former chief of staff Stan Twardy had a more personal and historical perspective.

Twardy, a longtime partner with law firm Day Pitney, served as Weicker’s counsel in the U.S. Senate from 1977 to 1980, and again as his chief of staff when he became the state’s 85th governor in 1991. Twardy served in that role for two years.

Twardy since has maintained a close relationship over the years with Weicker, who became Connecticut’s first independent candidate elected as governor since the Civil War. In recent years, as Weicker’s health worsened, Twardy would either speak to his mentor and friend in person or over the phone at least twice a month, chatting about baseball, politics and family.

Soon after word of Weicker’s death spread throughout the state and nation on Wednesday, Twardy spent hours speaking to former colleagues, friends and Weicker’s family, reminiscing about the man who, Twardy said, had a positive impact on Connecticut.

Weicker was 92 years old and had been in poor health in recent months. He lived much of his life in Greenwich, but spent his later years in Old Lyme with his wife Claudia.

Twardy first got to know Weicker in the 1970s. His admiration for the French-born Weicker – whose grandfather co-founded the E.R. Squibb Corporation – began when Twardy was a law student at the University of Virginia in 1973. Twardy heard Weicker, then a Republican senator, speak on campus and was mesmerized.

“It was about the time of the ‘Saturday Night Massacre’ [a series of events that occurred during the Watergate scandal], and I was so impressed,” Twardy recalled during a Wednesday interview with CT Examiner. “He had the willingness to speak out for our country [Weicker was the first Republican senator to call on President Richard Nixon to resign]. It was before the Watergate hearings and here was this senator from this small state, my state, willing to speak out on behalf of his country and to put country first. Coming from a law background, this is where I got my respect for the rule of law.”

Shortly after that law school encounter, Twardy, who was in his 20s, began working on Weicker’s campaign in 1976; he quickly rose up the ranks to become Weicker’s legal counsel in October 1977.

“Here I am working for this guy who I just idolized,” Twardy said. “I watched the Watergate hearings and they resonated so much with this idealistic young man.”

Twardy, who was a U.S. attorney for Connecticut from 1985 to 1991, said the man people saw speaking in the Senate Chamber or from the State Capitol in Hartford was the same man behind the scenes. That was rare among politicians, he said.

“What he said, he believed in,” Twardy said. “It’s the old story … it’s better to tell the truth so you do not get caught up in a lie. He never put his finger up to the wind to see which way the wind was blowing. He felt his job was to represent his constituents and to help those who did not have a voice. It was never about getting reelected, but always about doing the right thing.”

Weicker, who was often referred to as a [Nelson] Rockefeller or [Jacob] Javits Republican – meaning strong on fiscal issues but moderate on social ones – was Connecticut’s governor for one term, from 1991 to 1995. Twardy acknowledged that Weicker will forever be known for instituting a state income tax, but said there was so much more to the man than that one issue.

“The income tax is a speck on his career,” Twardy said. “Yes, he is remembered for that because it’s a politically simplistic way to remember him. He was all about principles and caring for those and championing those who had no voice.”

Twardy said there are many examples of Weicker being ahead of his time, including speaking in favor of AIDS research as a senator in the early 1980s when that was not a popular position. 

“He was in the forefront for HIV research and for clinical trials. He was also in the forefront, and this was controversial at the time, because he advocated for replacing syringes with clean syringes so people would not get affected with AIDS.”

Twardy noted that Weicker, while in the U.S. Senate, was the original author of the Americans with Disabilities Act; increased funding for the National Institutes of Health; established school-based health centers; and openly opposed South Africa’s apartheid regime earlier than many of his Republican senate colleagues. He even once got arrested at an anti-apartheid protest, according to Twardy.

Weicker initially campaigned for governor as the standard bearer of A Connecticut Party, opposing the state income tax. That changed after Weicker was elected and faced a projected $2.4 billion deficit soon after taking office.

Weicker reversed his earlier position and stood steadfast for the state income tax, despite ferocious opposition, arguing it was needed to get Connecticut back on strong fiscal footing. The 1991 budget set the income tax rate at 6 percent, lowered the sales tax from 8 to 6 percent and reduced the corporate tax to 10.5 percent over two years, while also eliminating taxes on capital gains, interest and dividends.

But Weicker also reached an agreement in 1992 with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition to reduce Connecticut’s contribution toward pensions, while also extending the payoff period from 30 to 40 years. In exchange for underfunding pensions, unions were granted layoff protections at the time, among other things. 

Twardy said he witnessed Weicker’s courage firsthand when the governor decided to visit an angry mob of protestors in front of the Capitol shortly after taking office.

“I remember him going out into the crowd at the Capitol that was protesting the income tax,” Twardy said. “He wanted to show that he had the courage to stand up for what he believed in. That epitomized the man’s courage.”

Weicker also received the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s Profile of Courage Award for holding firm on his unpopular stance. Two years later, the state’s budget was in a surplus.

One reason for that surplus, Twardy believes, was the deal Weicker cut with the Pequot and Mashantucket tribes and their respective casinos.

“Our state revenues, of what they got from [the two tribes], enabled our state to get a percentage of those revenues [from slot machines],” Twardy said.

The public often saw just one side of Weicker, but Twardy said he saw all of them – the political side, the devoted family man and the caring side.

Twardy recounted when Weicker’s son was in a Connecticut hospital for a minor medical procedure, the then-senator saw another couple enter the waiting room with their young son who had a serious form of cancer.

“The couple turned to him [Weicker] and said, ‘We are so proud of you as our senator,’’ Twardy said.’ In response, Weicker spent a long time talking with the couple and giving them reassurance.

“We walked out of that room and went to the car to go to the Capitol to continue to debate on constitutional issues,” Twardy said. “He [Weicker] then turned to me and said, ‘That’s what the job of a senator is – to look out for the people like that young man and to help them.’’’ 

That, Twardy said, “is what I will take to the grave with me.”

Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950