New chief of staff for governor-elect faces demanding job
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — In his relatively brief professional life, Ryan Drajewicz has worked directly with two giants in their fields.
In politics, he worked for eight years with U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd. In business, he worked for Greenwich billionaire Ray Dalio, the founder of the world’s largest hedge fund.
Now, at 39, Drajewicz is facing the biggest job of his life as the incoming chief of staff to Gov.-elect Ned Lamont.
The National Governors Association says the chief of staff’s job is actually 10 jobs in one. Each governor has a different style, but the chief of staff will likely fill all or part of the following roles: chief strategist, policy adviser, office manager, initiative manager, chief operating officer, “guardian of the palace,” headhunter, gubernatorial representative, personal confidante and crisis coordinator.
One of the most important roles — chief operating officer — is being filled by Democrat Paul Mounds in Lamont’s reorganization of the governor’s office. That will allow Drajewicz to focus on strategy and budget issues.
While Drajewicz has been portrayed as a Fairfield County hedge fund executive because of his most recent job, he cut his teeth politically by working at the side of Dodd. Whether loved or disdained for his policies, Dodd was viewed widely as a political master.
“It was the greatest education I’ve ever had,” Drajewicz said, adding that working for Dodd was like getting an MBA and a Ph.D.
Michael Riley, who worked for Dodd for eight years before becoming a lobbyist, said Drajewicz spent more time with Dodd than many other staffers.
“He was the body guy for Dodd, the guy who knows everything and doesn’t tell about it,” Riley said.
“He’s not a know-it-all,” Riley added. “He’s not a ‘yes’ man.”
Dodd himself did not take any credit for Drajewicz’s latest hiring, saying his former employee had developed a relationship on his own with Lamont.
“There’s no more important job for the governor than the gatekeeper, the chief of staff,” Dodd said. “He’s got a tough job. The governor is fortunate to have him.”
With 30 years in the U.S. Senate, Dodd moved in the highest circles of government with frequent visits to the White House under President Bill Clinton. He helped write the controversial Affordable Care Act when Sen. Ted Kennedy fell ill. After Dodd worked on the landmark bill in Washington, he frequently traveled with Drajewicz to Kennedy’s summer home in Hyannis, on Cape Cod, to update him on the legislation.
“Those are moments I’ll never forget,” Drajewicz said of Hyannis. “The historical moments of sitting on that porch with two great American icons of modern-day politics, talking about a massive piece of legislation that was looking to change history and improve people’s lives.”
Drajewicz also watched up close the crafting of the landmark Dodd-Frank financial bill that was prompted by the financial collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank in 2008 and the subsequent Wall Street downturn. Dodd was chairman of the Senate Banking Committee as the country faced the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.
The nation fell into a deep recession, but the banking system was largely saved as the American economy began to grow again.
After Dodd did not seek re-election in 2010, Drajewicz moved to the private sector. The BMW-driving Drajewicz was well compensated as a senior management associate at the Bridgewater hedge fund, but he said he was itching to get back into the political game. Born and raised in Connecticut, including graduating from the all-boys Xavier High School in Middletown, Drajewicz said it was time to get back into public life in an attempt to help his home state as it faces major budget problems under a new governor.
While Drajewicz is 39 and Lamont is 64, the two Democrats do not mind butting heads as they battle over an issue. But they have quickly developed a personal chemistry that has allowed them to solve problems and make decisions in the transition.
Drajewicz had no role in Lamont’s campaign and said he did not meet the campaign staff for the first time until election night.
“Getting to know him a lot better over the last few weeks, I love how many times we disagree,” Drajewicz said of Lamont. “I think it’s great. I think the real value is in the disagreement, in the back and forth. I get to a better place when we’re able to mix it up. . It’s this process that we go through, which I enjoy.”
Drajewicz met Lamont for the first time in the fall of 2006, when Dodd endorsed Lamont after he defeated Lieberman in the U.S. Senate primary. They kept in touch, but their contacts sped up during the past year with telephone calls and breakfast meetings at the Sherwood Diner in Westport.
“About a week before the election, I got a phone call from him, and he said, ‘You know, I don’t want to be presumptuous, but if I do win, would you run my transition?’” Drajewicz said.
Drajewicz describes their easygoing relationship as “simpatico” of two straightforward, open-thinkers who are not afraid of hashing out issues.
“We play off one another well,” Drajewicz said. “There’s a good, healthy, back-and-forth that we go through. You’ve got to be open-minded, but assertive, at the same time, which is a difficult balance to strike. I always try to put myself in the middle of that pendulum. I see that in him, as well. What that means is you’re not afraid to be wrong. You’re not afraid to be open to other’s ideas. . You’ve got to have a willing partner on the other side to go through that.”
Lamont agreed that the two men play off each other.
“He tells me the truth,” Lamont said. “He tells me what he thinks. He gives me his unvarnished view of what’s going on, and I give him mine — and that’s what you need. We both have a little public and private in our backgrounds. We’ve got that in common. We share that.
“He’s very analytical, very strategic. I’m a little more from the gut. That’s not a bad combination, either.”
The average chief of staff serves fewer than three years. Aside from the unusually long six-and-a-half-year tenure of M. Lisa Moody under Gov. M. Jodi Rell, 11 different people have held the job of chief of staff to the governor over a span of less than 22 years.
Gov. Lowell P. Weicker had three chiefs of staff in four years, while Gov. John G. Rowland had five in fewer than 10 years. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had three chiefs of staff in eight years.
Dean Pagani, who served as chief of staff for two years under Rowland after six years as press spokesman, said no chief of staff can be completely prepared for the problems and tragedies that can confront a governor in an around-the-clock operation.
“It’s 24-7,” he said. “The most important thing is to be the last person who talks to the governor before he makes an important decision and to be able to tell him the truth. You need to be the person who can explain all of the ramifications.”
Pagani says the chief of staff needs to understand the immense power of the office and that they are often speaking directly on behalf of the governor. As such, the chief of staff can set the tone of the administration and often does not need to adopt a tough approach.
“Everybody knows you have the sledgehammer,” Pagani said. “It’s not necessary to show it.”
Drajewicz said unforeseen problems cannot be avoided, but they can be managed.
“There’s always going to be crises and always going to be things coming at you,” he said. “But the governor needs to remain above that. . My job is to ensure that the state runs . and that the governor can stay really focused on the strategic priorities of the administration.”
Information from: Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com