Hugh McQuaid photo
Chris Donovan makes his way through the crowd of supporters (Hugh McQuaid photo)

Labor leaders and supporters who have known House Speaker Chris Donovan for years rallied outside Capitol Place in Hartford on Wednesday where they touted his political career in the face of a federal investigation that threatens to derail it.

Two things were clear following the rally: labor unions still stand firmly behind Donovan, and no one in the campaign is willing to talk about the ongoing federal investigation.

Ed Vargas, the former head of the Hartford Teachers Union who has known Donovan for at least 20 years, said Donovan’s always put people first.

“He’s such an ally on people’s issues,” Vargas said as the rain poured down.

The rain, which stopped and started all day, seemed to clear up when Donovan pulled up in his vehicle.

Dave Roche of the Hartford Building Trades said he was absolutely shocked when he learned of the arrest of Robert Braddock Jr., Donovan’s campaign finance director.

Braddock was charged with conspiring to conceal the names of donors to the campaign. He was released on a $100,000 bond and his attorney says he’s not guilty. Donovan, who is not named in Braddock’s affidavit, claims he had no knowledge his position as speaker was being traded for campaign donations by his finance staff. Donovan has since fired Braddock and two others.

“It just didn’t make sense,” said Roche, adding that he has known Donovan for a decade.

Carol Carney of Meriden, a former state employee who attended the rally with her husband, Rick, said she’s positive Donovan is not involved in any wrongdoing and he’s exactly the type of candidate the 5th Congressional District needs to run and win.

“Chris is a wonderful guy and he’s the most honest person I’ve ever met,” Carney said. “When this is all said and done, Chris will be vindicated and people will realize they need to elect him.”

Donovan has built his career on labor relations, open government, and clean elections. Those close to him have said he was the only lawmaker who didn’t have to come kicking and screaming to the table to pass the state’s public financing program in 2005. Donovan himself has said that it’s “ironic” for his campaign to be tangled up over this issue.

“What happened to him could have happened to any campaign,” Vargas said.

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But this is a Congressional campaign and the stakes are high for the retiring Speaker of the House.

Donovan acknowledged that there’s a target on his back. The National Republican Congressional Committee released a statement earlier today calling the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s silence on the race “deafening.”

NRCC Spokesman Nat Sillin said this is “because they know their candidate’s chances are going up in smoke faster than a hand-rolled cigarette.”

“Either Donovan was complicit in the alleged activities — or he was so disconnected from his own campaign that he’s an incompetent manager unfit for federal office. Connecticut voters want to know — which is it?” Sillin asked.

Donovan assured his supporters he had no involvement with the illegal donations and did not attempt to influence legislation.

“No one bought my involvement, my position, or my influence on any legislation. Period,” Donovan said Wednesday. “Until this matter is resolved I won’t be talking about the investigation. What I’ll be talking about instead is fairness, dignity, and respect.”

{medai_1}As far as the DCCC is concerned, there appears to be little contact between the national organization and Donovan’s campaign. Tom Swam, Donovan’s new campaign manager, confirmed Sunday that they haven’t received a phone call yet from the organization.

“Now that they finished with labor in Wisconsin, guess what the NRCC is up to? They’ve set their sights on me — on this campaign as the next labor candidate they think they’re going to break,” Donovan told his supporters Wednesday.

“When times are tough that’s when you learn who your real friends are,” Donovan said. “That’s why I need you to organize like you’ve never organized before.”

After shaking hands with supporters, Donovan didn’t stick around to answer questions from reporters. Stepping into the passenger side of his vehicle, he was asked whether authorities have informed him whether he is a target of the investigation. Donovan and his spokesman Gabe Rosenberg both answered:

“We are not talking about the investigation.”

Though Rosenberg took a number of questions after Donovan departed, most were met with the same seven words.

Rosenberg said none of the unions have dropped their support for Donovan, who was endorsed over the two other candidates in the race, Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire and Dan Roberti of Kent.

“Every single one of them is with us,” he told reporters after the rally.

Asked why the rally was held outside the 5th Congressional District where Donovan is running, Rosenberg told reporters “because you guys are here.”

After the rally Wednesday, Swan said he anticipates the campaign will have enough money to get by.

“Chris has always organized with limited means. We shouldn’t expect this race to be any different. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth and he’s always been a fighter . . . usually with less money than his opponent,” he said.

Swan said the campaign hasn’t hired a new finance director yet and seemed apprehensive about putting someone in the position previously occupied by Braddock.

“We’re definitely hiring but I’m going to think twice about hiring anyone,” he said.