Former Special FBI Agent Mike Clark said that even when he was gathering evidence against former Gov. John G. Rowland and other high-profile Connecticut officials, “99 percent of the people in government were there for the right reasons.”
He joined the federal law enforcement agency in 1983 and was transferred to Connecticut in 1990, where over the next 15 years he had a role in the convictions of Rowland, former state Treasurer Paul Silvester and former Waterbury Mayors Joe Santopietro and Philip Giordano.
“Even in those days it was just 1 percent that was doing things for their own self interest,” Clark said, recalling that for a while the state had a reputation for political wrongdoing that earned it the nickname Corrupticut.
“At that time, public corruption became a priority for the FBI in Connecticut and nationally,” said Clark, 56, of Farmington. Clark is one of four Republican candidates vying for Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy’s seat in the Fifth District, which covers northwest Connecticut. Ironically it’s the same seat Rowland won back in 1984.
“The FBI is the only law enforcement agency that has the capability to address it,” he added. “It did it mainly because when people stop believing in their public officials, that’s when wheels fall off the government.”
Clark said there have been fewer cases of political corruption in Connecticut in recent years, an indication that the FBI’s investigations have been a deterrent.
However, he said the FBI’s emphasis changed after the 9/11 attacks.
“It went from an agency focused on criminal cases to one that was focused on terrorism,” Clark said, an effort that has succeeded since there has been no attacks “on U.S. soil” since then.
“The terrorist only has to succeed once to terrorize, even if the FBI stops a thousand plots,” said the candidate, who retired from the FBI in 2005 and is now the manager of international investigations at Otis Elevator, a division of United Technologies Corporation.
He was elected in 2005 as chairman of the Farmington Town Council, the only town-wide elected position in the legislative body.
George Reider, who was the Town Council chairman from 1989 to 1993, said Clark, who had no prior elected experience, has improved the town’s finances. Clark said over the last six years debt has been lowered from $72 million to $56 million, no small feat for the town.
Clark said he is most proud that two years ago Farmington received an AAA bond rating, making it one of only 16 municipalities in the state with a rating that high.
He said that was accomplished by maintaining at least an 8 percent surplus.
“There’s always that temptation to go 7.5 percent, but we won’t do it, because we know it’s not good fiscal practice,” Clark said in an interview at Farmington Town Hall.
He took 65 percent of the vote in the 2009 election in a town where, as is the case in the Fifth District, 45 percent of the voters are unaffiliated. He said attracting that bloc will determine who will win the congressional race next year.
“I’ve spoken with people that disagree with some of his policies but still have enormous respect for Mike,” Reider said. “He is friendly and interacts well with people, but he also is not intimidated by anyone.”
Clark, who is not running for re-election in Farmington this year, said he is the only candidate in the Republican congressional field “that has won an election.”
The other contenders are real estate developer Mark Greenberg of Litchfield and former state cabinet member Justin Bernier of Plainville, who both ran in last year’s primary, and health-care business owner Lisa Wilson-Foley of Simsbury, who sought the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor a year ago.
Clark, who entered the race in late March, raised $121,500 through the second quarter that ended June 30. Bernier, who has been running since January, has totaled $220,000 and Wilson-Foley, who announced in April, hauled in $202,000. Greenberg raised $109,081 and lent the campaign $35,040 of his own money, leaving a cash on hand balance of $119,824.
On issues, Clark said the slow economic recovery is partly due to businesses being uncertain about how the debt crisis will be resolved.
“No corporation is going to expand their operations until they know what their tax rate is going to be,” he said.
Clark said even though Connecticut has reportedly lost about half of its manufacturing jobs over the last 30 years, it still can make products.
He said, for example, UTC, the state’s largest private employer, has a fuel cell division in South Windsor that is considered the granddaddy of research in field and will add jobs as that technology becomes more affordable.
“Whichever country develops the breakthrough in energy technology will lead in growth and prosperity,” he said.
As a congressional candidate Clark said he will promote business growth and encourage the federal government to make it easier on businesses to grow by lowering federal payroll taxes and lowering taxes overall. And he hopes to take some of the lessons learned as Farmington’s top elected official with him to Washington D.C.