NEW BRITAIN – As a former Democratic House speaker turned lobbyist, Joe Aresimowicz has a keen perspective on policy making and the world of pitching ideas and client proposals to his former peers – many of whom are close friends.
Aresimowicz spent 16 years representing the 30th House District in the Connecticut General Assembly as a moderate Democrat including four years as Majority Leader, and four as Speaker of the House, from 2017-2020.
It was in his role, specifically as Speaker, arguably the most powerful post in Connecticut outside of governor, that Aresimowicz, former colleagues and political consultants and lobbyists agree, was seen as someone who could work across party lines and seek consensus on many of the hot-button issues of the day.
Aresimowicz, today a lobbyist with New Britain-based Gaffney, Bennett and Associates Inc., the state’s largest lobbying/advocacy firm, told CT Examiner Wednesday that any advantages he might have as being the former Speaker can go out the window fast if he can’t not only deliver for his firm, but also maintain a close working relationship with the top players inside the Legislative Office Building.
“The title only goes so long,” the 53-year-old Berlin native and head Berlin High School football coach said. “It takes a lot of work and these relationships are formed on trust and honesty.”
Aresimowicz joined Gaffney Bennett in January 2021 and, under the state’s revolving-door statute, could not directly lobby for the firm that calendar year, although he was allowed to recruit clients in 2021.
Aresimowicz, who counts AT&T, Hartford HealthCare, Webster Bank and three museums including the New Britain Museum of American Art among his approximately 25 clients he oversees, said the ‘direct ask’ in front of former friends and colleagues in Hartford is difficult to this day.
“There are times in this position that there is a direct ask,” he said. “I was surprised at how nervous and scared I was about doing that. Holding that line between our personal friendships and my professional ask was incredibly difficult for me.”
Aresimowicz said his political friends will always be there, but said there is also a time for getting down to business.
“We all know that we don’t like to disappoint our friends or we want to try to help our friends,” he said. “But, we have different roles now. I want to make sure that they know that no matter what their answer is that I’m still going to consider them a friend. This is business; it’s not personal. It is also tough, and sometimes tough for them [legislators] too. Sometimes your friend will say ‘No’ to you and I’m okay with that and I hope they are also okay with that.”
Longtime Connecticut political consultant and Democratic strategist Roy Occhiogrosso told CT Examiner that Aresimowicz, whom he has known for decades, is successful because he understands politics and policy and what makes people tick.
“Joe is one of the most effective lobbyists I’ve ever known because he checks every box you want a lobbyist to check,” said Occhiogrosso, who runs the Simsbury-based advocacy/government affairs business Roy Occhiogrosso LLC. “He has a unique set of relationships on both sides of the aisle. He obviously has an in depth understanding of the rhythm of that building having served there for so long. He also knows all of the issues because I don’t think there was a public policy issue he didn’t deal with. He knows the building. He knows the people and he’s a genuinely nice guy.”
And, House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, called Aresimowicz “really smart and personable.”
Rojas, who has known Aresimowicz for 16 years, told CT Examiner that “in addition to his personal qualities, he is obviously very knowledgeable and has a strong understanding of how the legislative process works; the nuances of it.”
Aresimowicz said that if you asked him while he was a legislator what lobbyists would be doing this time of the year – when the session is out – he would have thought maybe going on a long cruise or playing sports and relaxing. That’s not the case, he said.
“I never realized just how hard lobbyists really work,” he said. “I always envisioned that after the session, you know, they grabbed their golf clubs and relaxed. But, that’s not the case. There is ongoing work with clients throughout the year.”
The 2023 session ended in early June and the short session will run from Feb. 7 to May 8, 2024.
Aresimowicz said his summer has been spent building relationships in-person throughout the state and even, on occasion, outside of the state. He recently spent time at the Springfield, Mass. offices of the social services non-profit Roca – which serves young, at-risk youth and women in particular, throughout Connecticut.
“I’ve been going out and meeting the clients [during the summer], talking with their boards, talking to their constituency groups, whether it would be a museum and talking to their members and what kind of support they’d like to see from the state of Connecticut to seeing their facilities and what they do on a daily basis,” Aresimowicz said.
Big issues and priorities for the 2024 legislative session for many of his clients will revolve around waste and recycling, nonprofit funding and emerging technologies, Aresimowicz said.
One client, the Regional Water Authority in New Haven, for example, is looking to the state to provide funds for infrastructure to avoid hikes in bills for ratepayers, he said.
“Like many other municipal water companies and other water companies around the state, they are looking for increased costs for infrastructure improvements, and that could include rehabbing the Whitney Dam,” Aresimowicz said. “They want to work in partnership with the state to have safety and security measures in place and increased funding for some of these projects because most of that cost is carried down to the ratepayers.”
Long-time Gaffney Bennett Managing Partner Jay Malcynsky said he brought Aresimowicz on board 2 ½ years ago because he saw someone who could not only provide his firm with another prestigious name but also because he knew the players and how the world of politics was played.
“It’s different, you know, it’s a different game when you are on the other side and you are dependent on people being patient and sharing information,” Malcynsky told CT Examiner. “Some people do not make the transition well, but Joe did. He is patient and he’s not quick to get hot, if you will. He’s got thick skin which is very important [in the lobbying world].”
Malcynsky said “He has a tremendous knowledge of the process – both the legislative process and the administrative process – and what it takes to get things done.”
Gaffney Bennett was founded in 1984 and has 10 lobbyists and about 7 people within the firm’s public relations side. The firm has about 80 clients.