House Speaker Chris Donovan said being both one of the most powerful men in legislature and a congressional candidate is “not a challenge” and that he will easily juggle both roles until next May as the General Assembly grinds toward adjournment and the Democratic delegates prepare to choose a nominee.
“It really was the announcement and working on a timeline,” he said when asked about his relatively late entry into the field of four Democratic candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the Fifth Congressional District.
Donovan, 57, had planned to formally kick off his campaign in June on the steps of Meriden City Hall, but canceled the event after it was announced that day that the state bargaining units failed to ratify the tentative labor agreement.
“The president of the United States is busy doing his job and running for re-election, so I can certainly handle it,” he said in an interview at his Meriden headquarters, located in the neighborhood where he worked as a community organizer a generation ago.
One of the other Democratic contenders, Dan Roberti of Kent, has used connections from his father, high-powered Washington lobbyist Vincent Roberti, to raise $557,000 through the quarter that ended in June, compared to Donovan, who in roughly a month garnered $238,000.
“Certainly, he has some financial roots,” Donovan said of Roberti. “I have grass roots.”
Donovan said 700 of his 750 contributors live in Connecticut while most of Roberti’s donors so far live outside the state.
“I’m certainly the frontrunner for the convention nomination,” Donovan said, indicating that he has longstanding relationships with many Democratic officials in the district from his four years as majority leader and his three years as speaker.
“Donovan seems to have the support of the Democratic establishment in the district,” said Robert Marconi of Brookfield, who was the party’s nominee in 2004 before he withdrew from the race.
He said he recently attended a Donovan fundraiser in Danbury that attracted the Democratic leadership from the Hat City and its two Democratic state representatives – Robert Godfrey and Joe Taborsak.
“I think Donovan will win the convention,” Marconi said. “However, as a result of the money that Roberti has raised, I now put him on a higher plateau.”
Donovan said he is “prepared” for a primary and believes he will have to raise “at least $2 million” before the general election to capture the seat in the sprawling district that covers most of northwestern Connecticut. U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy raised $3.4 million in 2010 to win re-election.
Murphy said he knows as speaker and the frontrunner he will “be attacked by opponents no matter what I do.”
Two weeks ago Roberti issued a news release criticizing Donovan for his support in giving Gov. Dannel Malloy more authority to increase layoffs of state employees after they failed to ratify a proposed concessions package. He said Donovan should have considered “all possible options.”
Donovan spokesman Gabe Rosenberg immediately responded by questioning Roberti’s understanding of the issue, since only the governor can make layoffs, and the other options would include higher taxes and reduced aid to municipalities that would hurt “Connecticut’s working families.”
Donovan, a former organizer for the Service Employees International Union, said there is “no alternative” for the state bargaining units other than to ratify $1.6 billion concession package it failed to ratify in June.
Eighty-three percent of the bargaining units are voting again to ratify labor savings and avoid 6,500 layoffs. The voting is expected to conclude Aug. 18.
“It has to be agreed to,” Donovan said of the concessions package. “We’re talking about people’s jobs. We’re talking about the economy.”
Donovan said his performance in helping resolve a projected $3.5 billion state budget deficit during the recent session will enhance his credential in his congressional campaign.
“Compared to other states, we did it in a way that was fair, because everybody pitched in,” he said regarding the combination of tax increases, spending cuts and concessions.
Donovan, who doesn’t plan to run again next year for the state House seat, said he was able to convince Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to revise his initial plan to eliminate a property tax credit for homeowners. Instead, the governor agreed to reduce it from $500 to $300.
“We ended the year without borrowing,” he said, noting that under former Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the state borrowed money to balance the budget.
On issues, he said he is “surprised” by the slow economic recovery.
“I’m disappointed in the resistance of the banking industry toward helping those businesses that worked their way through the recession,” Donovan said. He noted that some of those banks received part of the $700 billion economic rescue package from the federal government three years ago when they were over-leveraged.
“I’m hearing from small businesses that they need help so they can hire one or two more people, and they’re not getting it from the banks,” he said.
Regarding the mortgage crisis, Donovan said he recently worked with mediators at meetings in Waterbury, Danbury and Norwalk in which several homeowners faced with foreclosure were able to come to terms with their lenders.
“There are ways to break the red tape and have people talking with each other,” he said. “We had a 75 percent success rate in the small number that we worked on. We need to do hundreds of these.”
The other candidates for the Democratic nomination are Wesleyan professor Mike Williams of New Preston and former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire.