Clay Cope, the latest Republican to challenge U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, is a Texas native with an immigrant life partner. He co-owned a fashion design house for nearly three decades before becoming Sherman’s First Selectman.
Cope, 53, announced his candidacy Wednesday at Danbury Town Hall surrounded by Republican leaders from around the 5th District, which stretches from Danbury to the Farmington Valley, New Britain, and Litchfield.
Cope has been elected five times locally. He moved from Texas to Connecticut in 1995. His job in fashion brought him to New York and eventually to Sherman. He started serving as a lector in his church and then was asked to sit on the Sherman Library Board. He was later approached by the Republican Town Committee and asked to run for the Planning and Zoning Commission, which he did.
When his involvement in the fashion industry was coming to an end in 2011, he was asked to run for First Selectman. Cope said he didn’t believe his chances were very good. But he ran against a four-term incumbent Democrat, and won.
“I like to work hard,” Cope said Wednesday in a phone interview.
And he’s not afraid of a challenge.
The Connecticut Democratic Party was quick to try and define Cope and his candidacy. It sent out a statement claiming Cope would be in lockstep with Republicans in Congress on healthcare and gun control.
After hearing what they had to say, Cope bristled: “Why are they trying to put me in some type of a box? They don’t know me.”
Cope said he’s a firm believer in the Second Amendment and, as First Selectman, he personally signs off on all the pistol permits in town. He said he understands there are concerns, “but the Second Amendment is the Second Amendment.”
As far as immigration is concerned, Cope said he’s had a front-row seat to the process. His life partner, Andres Sanchez, immigrated to the United States from Lima, Peru.
“There is a process in place for people to legally enter this country,” Cope said.
There’s always room for improvement, but he sees immigration as an issue where he has very different views than the incumbent. Cope said the steps Congress recently took to strengthen the visa waiver program aren’t enough to ensure American citizens are safe.
There are 41 cities and towns in the 5th District. There are more unaffiliated voters than Republicans or Democrats in the district, which last elected a Republican in 2006. It’s the most Republican of Connecticut’s five Congressional districts. There are only four big cities — Danbury, Meriden, New Britain, and Waterbury — which tend to lean Democratic.
Esty first won the seat in 2012 after defeating Andrew Roraback by just 3 percentage points. She easily defeated Mark Greenberg in 2014.
Greenberg attended Cope’s announcement Wednesday and offered his support.
Matt Maxwell, a small-business owner from Newtown, and John Pistone of Brookfield, also are seeking the Republican nomination.