It was his first Connecticut political event since taking on his new role as head of the Motion Picture Association of America, but former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd didn’t skip a beat.
Dodd, who admitted he has no obligation to show up at these political gatherings any longer, said he showed up Monday at the L.P. Wilson Community Center in a black Mercedes with New York plates because of his admiration for Leo Canty.
Canty, a longtime labor leader and vice president of AFT-CT, is running in the new 5th Assembly District against two other Democrats: Windsor Mayor Donald Trinks, and Brandon McGee, a political newcomer from Hartford. The district created by the 2012 Redistricting Commission includes a large portion of Windsor and the north end of Hartford.
Dodd encouraged those in the room who were able to vote in the district to support Canty’s candidacy because of the quality of his character and not necessarily the issues at hand.
“There’s going to be issues that come up in the next two years that you’re not talking about on the campaign,“ Dodd said. “I’m here because of a person I know. I know a guy named Leo Canty.“
He said he wasn’t there to repay a political obligation or debt. “I’m here because I have such respect for this guy,” Dodd said of Canty.
After addressing the crowd for about six minutes, Dodd paused and tried to read them.
“I don’t want to get into a filibuster here,” he quipped. “I haven’t done this in awhile.”
Canty let him know it was okay to continue, so Dodd went on to talk about today’s struggling economy before taking questions from voters in the audience about everything from the Affordable Care Act to which celebrities are actually “down-to-earth.”
Sean Penn and George Clooney topped Dodd’s list of most approachable and down-to-earth actors. While he doesn’t spend much time on movie sets, Dodd said he spent a day in Haiti with Penn and got to have a conversation with Clooney backstage at an event. He said the two are not only good actors, but they’ve done something with their lives and are giving back to the community.
What’s the difference between being a politician and his new gig?
“There’s some pretty heavy egos in politics. There’s some pretty heavy ones in this business too,” Dodd said. “So it was a pretty easy transition.”
Dodd, who was instrumental in passing the Family Medical Leave Act and Affordable Care Act, fell from grace after allegations he participated in a VIP mortgage program with Countrywide. A Senate Ethics Committee later dismissed the mortgage complaint, but it doomed his chances of re-election in 2010. Dodd decided instead to retire and after swearing off rumors he was being courted by the Motion Picture Association of America, that’s exactly where he landed more than a year ago.
Under Senate ethics rules, Dodd is not able to lobby his former colleagues for two years, but that didn’t stop him for being a central figure in the debate over anti-piracy legislation, which died last year after Silicon Valley derailed it. The MPAA supported the legislation, but tech giants like Wikipedia and Mozilla saw it as an infringement on Internet free speech and staged a blackout. The White House released a statement this January essentially siding with Silicon Valley, and effectively killing the bill.
“There’s room here for technology and content to work this out,” Dodd said Monday, answering a question from Windsor Democrat Tim Curtis.
But he also stood his ground on the issue and alleged that many of the movie piracy sites on the Internet are “criminal enterprises” trying to steal your personal information while you’re downloading a movie or browsing their site.
He said the two communities, both of which co-exist largely in California, need each other.
“We’re trying to get these two communities to work together on a product that’s protected from those who would steal it,” Dodd said. “I’m working very hard to see that we can work this out.”
As for the upcoming race between Democrats Susan Bysiewicz and U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, who are vying for retiring U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s seat, Dodd told reporters before Monday’s event that he’s in a new world now.
“I’ll pick and choose my races. I’m here for Leo Canty — that’s all I want to talk about,” Dodd said.
Dodd, who now lives in Washington D.C., said he was excited to visit Connecticut and stay in his East Haddam home. This is the second time he’s been back to Connecticut recently, having attended the wedding of a former staffer who got married in Windsor.