Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat vying for the Democratic nomination in the 5th District, has been fairly quiet about the federal investigation involving one of her Democratic opponents in the race.
In contrast to Dan Roberti of Kent, who has come out swinging against the third Democrat in the race, House Speaker Chris Donovan, Esty has been publicly reserved.
“I don’t think it’s my place” to discuss the investigation, Esty said during a recent interview. “I don’t think it would be productive for me to take any other role. These are serious allegations that are being investigated. That takes time.”
Robert Braddock Jr., Donovan’s finance director, was arrested for conspiring to conceal $20,000 in campaign donations from donors seeking to influence legislation before the General Assembly. Braddock’s attorney has said he’s not guilty.
Esty said she has been praised by a wide range of Democratic voters for her conduct.
“I’m getting feedback from a lot of people,” Esty said. “It is coming from people who are undecided and from my supporters and some of the speaker’s supporters. They appreciate that I am focusing on the issues.”
“I think people respect that Elizabeth is being the adult,” state Rep. Linda Schofield, D-Simsbury, an Esty supporter, said. “She is not piling on, which would be gratuitous.”
Deputy House Speaker Bob Godfrey of Danbury agreed.
“I think this has been an indication of her good character,” Godfrey, a Donovan supporter, said.
But will that make a difference to voters?
Robert Marconi of Brookfield, the 2004 endorsed Democrat in the 5th District, said that although the investigation into Donovan’s campaign “has had some impact,” he believes the speaker, who has the backing of several unions, is still “a strong favorite unless some other negative information surfaces.”
“When I was at the Donovan satellite headquarters opening earlier this month in Danbury, all the supporters that you would expect to be there were on hand,” Marconi, who is backing Donovan, said.
“There is a wide variability about what people know” about the charges against Braddock Jr., Esty said. But she’s continuing to focus on the issues voters care about most, including “their jobs, how they’re going to keep their homes, how their kids are going to go to college.”
“[Donovan] said he didn’t know what his campaign finance director was doing,” Linda Chapman of Waterbury, a Democrat who plans to vote in the primary, said after meeting Esty at a church service last Sunday.
“I’ll look at the other issues and give him a chance,” she added. “We’re all concerned about the economy.”
On that issue, Schofield said “there is a big difference” between Donovan and Esty.
“Elizabeth realizes there needs to be a commitment to needy citizens, to education and the environment, but she is more fiscally responsible,” she said. “The speaker is going to the far left in the primary, which is not going to put him in a position to win the general election. I think Elizabeth is positioned to get a lot of the unaffiliated voters, which make up almost 44 percent of the electorate.”
Esty said the tepid economic recovery is partly due to the lack of small business growth and that she will soon sponsor a forum to try and find a solution.
“Everybody agrees that there is this disconnect right now,” she said. “They see that in theory there should be credit available, but in fact we can’t access small business people to capital with credit.”
She said the lingering housing crisis has hurt consumer confidence.
“The  bank bailout addressed the issue for the banks and restored bank solvency,” Esty said. “What it did not deal with is the underlying problem, such as people with negative equity in their homes. That remains an issue.”
She said she believes there should be “some effort to set aside specific funds that would allow some of these [mortgages] to be written down.”
Roberti has criticized Esty’s fundraising efforts alleging she’s using her husband’s influence as the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner to get donations.
Last week, Roberti said that Federal Elections Commission reports indicate that Esty “has accepted tens of thousands of dollars from organizations that have been – or potentially could be – subject to regulation by her husband,” Daniel C. Esty, the commissioner of the DEEP.
“These donations, though legal, are clearly unethical,” Roberti added.
But Esty dismissed the criticism.
“I’m not sure what he’s looking at,” Esty said while campaigning door-to-door in her hometown of Cheshire. “I would dispute those figures.”
“Have I accepted contributions from people that do business with the state of Connecticut?” Esty said. “Absolutely, yes.”
But she said it’s not from her husband’s connections, it’s from her own connections.
“I served with distinction on the Energy and Technology Committee, which is a complicated committee with complicated issues. I’ve received support from the co-chairs of the Environment Committee of the legislature. I’ve received support from environmentalists in the state and across the country.”
Some have been puzzled by Esty’s fundraising success.
Godfrey said he has “been surprised” that Esty, who served on the Cheshire Town Council before serving one term as a state representative, leads the combined field of Democrats and Republicans in fund-raising.
Through the pre-convention period, Esty had received $1,261,813, compared to $1,119,821 for Roberti, the second highest total, and $1,001,732 for Donovan, who had the fourth highest amount among the combined field of candidates. Of the four Republican candidates, Lisa Wilson-Foley has enough money to place her in third, but most of the money was donated by the candidate herself.
“It’s been a lot of time on the phone,” Esty said. “I don’t have professional fundraisers making calls for me. These are calls that I’m making.”
Donovan, who trails his Democratic opponents in fundraising, has admitted it’s one of his least favorite campaign activities. Some of Esty’s early support can be attributed to Emily’s List, the political action committee that helps elect pro-choice women candidates.
“Emily’s List has been strongly supportive of my efforts,” she said. “That has put me in touch with donors across the country.”
But according to the Register Citizen, some of that support seems to have dropped off in the last fundraising quarter.
Esty received about $35,000 in bundled contributions through Emily’s List, which is less than half of what she received in the previous quarter. According to Esty’s most recent Federal Elections Commission filing, she had received $86,534 through Emily’s List, most of which was received by the campaign in the period between January and March.
The seat, which is open for the first time in 22 years, is being vacated by three-term U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy of Cheshire, who is the endorsed candidate in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary.
Esty, who entered the race in April of last year, said she curtailed expenses through the first eight months by primarily working from her kitchen table.
She said she this spring she started ramping up the operation and now has 14 full-time paid staff members and 10 to 30 volunteers canvassing neighborhoods each weeknight and an even larger contingent on weekends.