By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press
WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) _ Mike Clark was a young FBI agent when he came to this long-struggling western Connecticut city, chasing a corrupt mayor through the streets and hauling him off to prison.
Some of the state’s most promising and ambitious young Republicans built their careers here, only to have Clark and the FBI’s corruption squad take them down. He helped send two Waterbury mayors to prison, and supervised an investigation that sent Gov. John G. Rowland, a beloved figure in this city, to prison for 10 months for corruption.
Now Clark is headed back, without handcuffs, asking the Republican establishment to send him to Congress, to the same seat that launched Rowland’s career. After years of working quietly behind the scenes, Clark is not a familiar face to some Republican leaders but is making the rounds to meet with them.
“I’ve got this unique perspective that I’m bringing to the table,” Clark said.
Clark is seeking the nomination for next year’s election in the 5th Congressional District, which includes wealthy Hartford suburbs and cities such as Waterbury and Danbury.
Clark said the public won’t have to worry about him taking bribes.
He faces plenty of competition, including House Speaker Christopher Donovan on the Democratic side and several fellow Republicans. Rep. Chris Murphy, a Democrat who holds the seat, is running for the Senate.
“I don’t see any real definite frontrunner at this point,” said Gary Rose, a politics professor at Sacred Heart University.
Clark, 56, would join two other FBI agents in Congress. His FBI background could help him, though it could pose concerns for some more liberal voters worried about civil liberties and aggressive law enforcement, Rose said
“The notion of law and order and being tough on crime, I think that plays out quite well among a lot of the ethnic working class Republicans here in the 5th district,” Rose said.
Several voters interviewed in downtown Waterbury agreed.
“I think Connecticut would be lucky to have someone with his background in Congress,” said Dan Bowen, a 60-year-old used book dealer. “The people in Waterbury are basically conservative. They want law and order and they want politicians held accountable.”
Anthony Carosielli, a 52-year-old plumber from Waterbury, expressed concerns about FBI agents.
“Sometimes they’re too gung-ho,” Carosielli said. “They’re very straight-laced, non-bending individuals.”
Two decades ago, Clark chased former Waterbury Mayor Joseph Santopietro through the street to arrest him.
Santopietro, elected mayor at 26, said he had just left church and ran from Clark out of fear, not sure who was chasing him. Santopietro, who spent more than six years in prison for corruption, said Clark has the right to run.
“Good luck to him,” Santopietro said. “It’s a free society. He’s welcome to do that.”
Francis Donnarumma, Waterbury’s attorney at the time who was convicted of a tax charge and cooperated with government investigators, recalled Clark visited his home the day before his sentencing in a show of support.
“I found that to be out of the ordinary and really extraordinary in fact,” Donnarumma said.
Donnarumma said he was “thrilled” to learn Clark was running for Congress.
“It was interesting to see someone who has been through that side of government corruption investigations willing to jump into what is often a treacherous body of water,” Donnarumma said. “He has seen the worst of it. He must perceive a certain goodness in his fellow citizens that he’s going to jump in and fearlessly go where others have fallen.”
Clark is not as well-known as other candidates such as Lisa Wilson-Foley, a businesswoman who ran unsuccessfully last year for lieutenant governor. He favors abortion rights, a stance that could pose a challenge winning over conservative voters.
“I don’t even know what the guy looks like,” said Bill Harris, chairman of the Waterbury Republican Town Committee.
Wilson-Foley said job creation is the key issue.
“Mike Clark is a great guy,” Wilson-Foley said. As for his FBI background, she said, “I don’t know that it’s relevant to this race.”
Clark also said job creation is a top issue and understands the challenges facing business because he has been working for Otis Elevator as manager of international investigations and compliance since he retired from the FBI in 2004.
Clark said he didn’t intend to go into politics when he retired, but with the encouragement of friends, ran successfully for the top elected position in Farmington and found it rewarding. He said his father, a World War II veteran, instilled a strong sense of patriotism and public service in him and that has not waned, despite the corruption he has seen up close.
“There is some irony,” he admits, in becoming a politician after spending a career investigating them.
While plenty of politicians conduct listening tours these days, Clark said he really learned to observe and listen at the FBI as he tried to unravel complicated schemes.
Federal agents were wiretapping former Waterbury Mayor Philip Giordano for a corruption probe when they were startled to hear a woman was arranging a rendezvous for Giordano with two girls, aged nine and 11.
Clark and other FBI agents arrived at the girls’ home at 2 a.m. to rescue them.
“They were confused and afraid,” Clark said. “It was very tense, very emotional.”
Giordano, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, was sentenced to 37 years in prison in 2003 for abusing the girls.
“It made me feel we made a difference,” Clark said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)