Senate approves former Goldman Sachs exec for state post

By SUSAN HAIGHFeaturesAssociated Press

State lawmakers on Wednesday confirmed a former Goldman Sachs executive as the state's new economic development chief, despite initial questions about his role in the national economic meltdown of 2007-08.

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The Democratic-controlled state Senate voted 28-8 in favor of 41-year-old David Lehman's nomination, the most controversial appointee in Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont's new administration.

"I think it's important for us as a body to make sure that the people of this state know we have thought deeply about the individual, no matter which way we vote," said Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, who said he received numerous calls from constituents concerned about Lehman's 15 years at Goldman Sachs and whether he shares any responsibility for the revolving door of toxic mortgages that led to the crisis.

Lehman's tenure included being co-head of the investment bank's Structured Products Group Trading Desk.

Winfield said he reviewed Lehman's record, including his public testimony in 2010 before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. Winfield said he was voting for Lehman's nomination partially because Lamont should have the ability to appoint members of his own cabinet.

Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, echoed that sentiment Wednesday. Looney previously acknowledged being "a little surprised" with Lamont's choice to become the governor's senior economic adviser and commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. The top senator initially didn't commit to supporting the nominee.

"The governor believes this appointment is critical to complement" his economic vision for Connecticut, Looney said of Lamont, a former businessman.

Since his nomination last month, Lehman has met with Democratic and Republican lawmakers and members of the public. Legislative attorneys also pored over a roughly 550-page U.S. Senate investigation into the financial crisis, which led to a deep recession.

"I did not know, at the time, that those securities were going to be worthless," Lehman told lawmakers last month during his confirmation hearing, adding how he has "always conducted myself honestly, transparently and acted in good faith in all my dealings at Goldman Sachs."

Lamont said he is grateful someone of Lehman's caliber "was willing to roll up his sleeves in the interest of public service to our state." He noted that Lehman has "hit the ground running" since his nomination, meeting with more than 30 state business leaders, touring companies in nearly a dozen communities, and meeting with regional chambers of commerce and lawmakers.

"Today's vote was a critical step toward our aggressive commitment to growing Connecticut's economy," Lamont said.

But Sen. Robert Sampson, R-Wolcott, said he voted against Lehman's nomination namely because he supports Lehman's economic agenda, which Sampson said includes "mountains of new taxes" and a higher minimum wage.

"I believe," Sampson said, "we need someone who has a greater vision than that."