A Stamford lawmaker believes his compelling life story will help catapult him toward the top of the pack of candidates considering a run for retiring U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s seat.

Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, said Monday that he has not made a decision yet about whether to enter the race, but has been talking to friends and potential donors in both Connecticut and Washington about running for the U.S. Senate.

“A huge piece of this race means having the resources to run a competitive statewide campaign,” Tong said Monday.

Tong, the first Asian American elected to the General Assembly, believes he provides a good contrast to U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy and former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, who already have announced their candidacies for the Democratic nomination.

“Both Chris Murphy and Susan Bysiewicz would make fine U.S. Senators,” Tong said of his potential opponents.

Mark Bergman, a spokesman for Bysiewicz’s campaign, said “Susan is running for the US Senate because she wants to stand up for Connecticut and make sure we can keep good paying jobs right here. Obviously Susan would welcome anyone to race that chooses to run and welcomes them to be part of the discussion.”

Murhpy’s campaign was unavailable for comment.

But “people in the Connecticut Democratic Party want somebody who is new and exciting and somebody who has a balanced legislative agenda,” Tong said.

As a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School where one of his professors was President Barack Obama, Tong said he wants to bring back some of the excitement that inspired people to head to the polls in 2008. 

“That was one of the most exciting times in our history and I want to get that feeling back,” Tong said.

The son of Chinese immigrants, Tong is a first generation American citizen and Connecticut native who grew up in the Hartford area. He now resides with his wife and two children in Stamford. He grew up working in his parents’ Chinese restaurant on Park Street in Hartford.

Tong said his father arrived in Bloomfield back in the 1970s with 57 cents in his pocket. He later made enough money working in a Chinese restaurant to open his own in Hartford, when one of his competitors reported him to immigration authorities. Tong said his father wrote a six-page letter to then President Richard Nixon about discovering the American dream, and a week before Tong’s family was going to voluntarily leave the country, a letter arrived from the U.S. Attorney’s office telling them they could stay and get in line to become U.S. citizens.

It was that letter that made Tong want to become a U.S. Attorney himself, but last year after being a finalist for the position he was passed over for David Fein.

Legislative career

Tong, who considers himself a fiscal conservative, voted against almost every budget proposal since the 2007 legislative session. Sources say this may better position him to win a general election.

But he also has been a leader in criminal justice reforms such as the passage of the law requiring people to report lost or stolen firearms, and the implementation of a new criminal justice information technology system.

Tong also supports legislation which allows undocumented students to pay the same college tuition rates as Connecticut residents.

“I don’t think it’s easy to pigeon-hole me,” Tong said of his legislative agenda.

Currently, Tong works at the Stamford law firm of Finn Dixon & Herling LLP and also co-chairs the legislature’s Banks Committee.

He is a graduate of Phillips Academy Andover, Brown University, and University of Chicago Law School.

Asked when he will make a decision about whether to enter the race, Tong said, “shortly.”