They say absence makes the heart grow fonder.

That seems to be the case for former Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, who, eyeing a return to politics, said he is open to running for U.S. Senate in 2012, or again for governor in 2014.

"I think once it's in your system, it's hard not to miss," Fedele said Wednesday.

Fedele, 56, revealed that a number people in GOP circles have tried to recruit him to run for the Senate seat of independent Joe Lieberman, who is retiring at the end of next year.

"I would definitely consider it in the frame of everything else I'm doing," Fedele said.

A first generation U.S. citizen who was born in Minturno, Italy, Fedele represented Stamford in the state House of Representatives from 1992 to 2002.

In 2006, incumbent Gov. M. Jodi Rell tapped him to be her running mate.

Despite being the early front-runner with name recognition for governor last year, Fedele lost a bitter GOP gubernatorial primary to Greenwich businessman and former U.S. ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, the eventual runner-up to former Stamford Democratic Mayor Dannel Malloy in the general election.

"I miss the people. I miss some of the challenges we face. But I don't miss the process," said Fedele, who returned to his Stamford-based information technology company.

Fedele criticized Malloy's approach to the state's fiscal crisis, which the governor is attempting to solve through $1 billion in tax increases and up to 6,500 layoffs of state workers to close a $3.4 billion budget deficit inherited from the previous administration.

"So I'm somewhat disappointed in Dan that the first thing out is that he got the $1 billion in tax increases," Fedele said. "They're all job-killers."

Fedele also accused Malloy of talking out of both sides of his mouth with respect to layoffs.

"In one sense, he talks very strong about layoffs. On the other, he says he'll be willing to listen to the unions," Fedele said.

Fedele's comments came just hours after layoff notices went out to 328 executive-branch employees, as reported by Malloy's administration and the state Office of Policy and Management.

"The governor was elected to do a job. He walked in the first day and there was a $3.4 billion deficit," said Colleen Flanagan, a spokeswoman for Malloy. "He is doing the best he can in difficult circumstances and asking to share the sacrifice."

Flanagan disputed Fedele's claim that Malloy is being soft with the unions.

"He had hoped not to go down this road with employee layoffs," Flanagan said. "The budget is balanced. It's up to him to ensure that the state has its fiscal house in order."

Fedele acknowledged that Malloy was dealt a difficult hand.

"I knew anyone going into that, including myself, would have a very difficult time because of the fiscal situation," Fedele said.

Fedele argued that one-party rule in Hartford, where Democrats control both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor's office, is hurting the state.

"I think what you had in a Republican governor, there was a firewall," Fedele said. "Now, do I think the Republican governors that we had could have used their bully pulpit to do a better job? Absolutely."

State Democratic Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo characterized Malloy as much more "hands-on" than his Republican predecessors, between his traveling around the state on a listening tour on his budget proposal and efforts to meet with lawmakers.

"That's leadership, not delivering a budget that wasn't even balanced and walking away as we have seen in the past," she said.

Fedele expressed a stronger interest in running for governor than U.S. Senate, but wouldn't close the door to the latter.

"Clearly, the field on the Republican side is wide open," Fedele said. "Actually, my friend Chris Shays may be possibly sticking his toe in the water."

Shays declined to comment about his Senate prospects.

Fedele wishes there would be more officer holders who he said would do what's best for their state or nation, regardless of the political consequences. He identified former Gov. and former U.S. Sen. Lowell Weicker Jr., who caught flack for instituting a state income tax, as an example.

"He had the courage to lead," Fedele said. "You may disagree with what his courage was. He believed that was the right thing to do and he went forward with it."

Between Fedele's background in business and public service, he said he brings to right credentials to the table.

"I think all those things make me a good candidate if the opportunity presents itself," Fedele said.

Staff writer Neil Vigdor can be reached at neil.vigdor@scni.com or 203-625-4436.