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D'Amore's political skills shook up Conn. politics

By Morgan McGinley

Publication: The Day

Published January 09. 2014 4:00AM   Updated February 05. 2014 1:03PM

Thomas D'Amore, who died Tuesday at age 72 after a heart attack, was among the rarest of people in political life: He didn't take himself too seriously. And that great gift - as well as his native political instincts and genuine honesty - made him one of the most respected political advisers in four decades in Connecticut.

D'Amore served as a young aide to Gov. Thomas Meskill in 1970. Gov. Meskill then introduced him to Lowell P. Weicker, who had just won election to the U.S. Senate and much later was elected governor of Connecticut. The attraction between Weicker and D'Amore was mutual and instantaneous. They were both quick witted, fast with a sarcastic response when baited and, above all, had no patience for indecision.

Together with Meskill, they strategized successfully to allow independent voters to take part in Republican primaries, a decision upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court but later changed during the administration of John G. Rowland.

D'Amore's political life involved serving as state Republican chairman from 1983 to 1987 and running or advising multiple candidates' campaigns in Connecticut, New York and Florida as well as serving on the Republican National Committee. He was chief of staff to Gov. Weicker.

Later, he served as a broader political consultant in a business in which another ex-Weicker aide - John Doyle - and former Democratic Speaker of the House Richard Balducci are partners.

D'Amore's relationship with Weicker was the most interesting part of his career. D'Amore was able to calm down the sometimes turbulent Weicker and more than that, to talk directly and candidly to him when D'Amore thought Weicker's strategies or ideas were flawed.

It required a particular talent to pull off this role, but D'Amore was able to do so because of a well-marinated sense of humor and a blunt style that were well suited to Weicker's own directness.

The two became skillful political tacticians, but they also became deep, personal friends.

"I'm just devastated. I really am. We just loved each other," Weicker told The Connecticut Mirror.

Just a few weeks ago, Weicker and his wife Claudia hosted a dinner party for D'Amore, Doyle and Balducci at the Weickers' Old Lyme home.

D'Amore's influence in Weicker's decision to run as an independent candidate for governor in 1990 created a schism within the Republican Party that has not healed yet.

Weicker's victory came just two years after a politcal shocker - Weicker's 1988 loss of his Senate seat to Joseph I. Lieberman - the only Weicker campaign for Senate not run by D'Amore.

In a case of turnabout is fair play, D'Amore in 2006 acted as an advisor to political novice Ned Lamont as the cable TV entrepreneur ran on an anti-war platform and upset Sen. Lieberman in the Democratic primary. Lamont, however, would lose in the general election to Lieberman, running as a third-party candidate. It was Weicker who introduced D'Amore to Lamont.

In recent years, Weicker has told anyone who would listen that Connecticut is declining as a state because it lacks a viable two-party system. He had been urging D'Amore to try to help re-organize the party which has been losing one election after another for Congress and the General Assembly. One exception has been GOP victories for governor in the Rowland and Rell terms.

But even as Weicker and D'Amore have produced a true and telling analysis of GOP woes, the Republican Party has been unwilling to work hard to rebuild.

D'Amore's legacy remains intact, though. He will be remembered for his character and integrity. Beneath his wisecracking style beat the heart of a man who cared deeply about Connecticut and who was celebrated for his honesty. Those are substantial tributes to his life in politics.

Morgan McGinley was formerly the editorial page editor of The Day, now retired.

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